Archive | December, 2011

Granger & Co

27 Dec

It’s the day before Christmas Eve in West London. A black car sits waiting by the curb across the road from a grand London townhouse. Young professionals wander down the streets and into boutiques for a spot of last minute Christmas shopping. Mark Ronson casually walks across the road and clambers into the black car, careful not to knock his large white hat on the way in. Passers by don’t look twice. Such sightings are normal in these parts.

Across the road, a new restaurant buzzes. Granger & Co, the first and long awaited London based restaurant from Bill Granger, Australian culinary God, opened in November.

A long bar runs down the right hand side at which diners sit, casually eating their food whilst watching baristas perfecting their latte art. Objects adhering to the gold and cream colour theme adorn the bar and the windowsills around the room, including a beautiful lamp that I wished I could slip into my handbag. Tan leather banquets line the dining room, which the morning brunch brigade fills, along with a number of tables in the middle of the room.

The restaurant features an all day casual dining menu and is another to follow the ever popular no booking policy. As brunch is my favourite meal of the day, we arrived at 10.30am and snagged a table in the window.

We ordered two flat whites (£2.50) to start and I was delighted to see that the beans are sourced from Allpress Espresso. Anyone who knows me will be well aware that I have trawled London for the last year looking for the perfect flat white. And I think I have finally found it. Never have I had milk so silky, the perfect temperature, the coffee just the right strength.

The menu features sweet dishes such as bircher mueli (£5), toasted grain cereal (£5) and porridge (£5), alongside a range of specials from the bakery, including daily baked muffins (£2.75), toasted coconut bread £4.40) and gravalax & fresh curd with rye (£10.50). Customers can also enjoy ‘Bill’s Classics’ such as sweetcorn fritters with roast tomato, spinach & bacon (£11.90) or ricotta hotcakes with fresh banana & honeycomb butter (£10.50).

If I wasn’t already excited enough about the coffee, I spotted that the bread is supplied by the St John Bakery, which is, in my eyes, the best bakery in London. My sweet tooth would usually beg me to order the ricotta hotcakes but something was drawing me to a dish that I have never seen on a breakfast menu before – mozzarella & sage toasted sandwich (£7). We also ordered the avocado on rye with lime & coriander (£5.60), a dish that I had for breakfast nearly every day when I was in Australia.

The toasted sandwich was served on two doorstep slices of sourdough bread, which was heavily oiled and deeply filled with creamy buffalo mozzarella and fresh sage. The mozzarella left welcome a milky residue on the bread and I enjoyed this dish more and more after each mouthful.

The avocado on rye bread was also a delight. Perfectly ripe avocado placed on a thick wedge of rye bread, lightly toasted and doused in extra virgin olive oil, served with sprigs of coriander and a wedge of lime.

As both of us were eyeing up the banana & chocolate bread with fresh ricotta (£4.40), we ordered a portion to share for dessert, along with another couple of flat whites. The bread was light and fluffy, although ever so slightly dry, but the fresh ricotta was on hand to correct this minor problem.

The bill arrived (no, not that one unfortunately) and we were pleasantly surprised to see that it came to a mere £30, including service charge, for a whole load of delicious, fresh and unbeatable breakfast dishes in a calming and beautiful surrounding. I’ve already planned my trip back next week.

Granger & Co
175 Westbourne Grove
London
W11 2SB
0207 229 9111

Granger & Co on Urbanspoon

First Great Western Pullman Carriage review

21 Dec

It’s Friday evening and London Paddington is buzzing with tired commuters awaiting their ride to freedom for the next couple of days. Sushi and sandwiches are munched, cans are cracked open and the aroma of (bad) coffee fills the air. I find myself sitting in a quiet and brightly lit waiting room, filled with complimentary refreshments. I grab two packs of biscuits, a couple of clementines, a plateful of nuts and sandwiches and a cappuccino from the self serve machine. I watch in distain as the coffee machine pours hot milk out of the nozzle into the cup before spurting out a small amount of coffee on top. As I take my first sip, I wince and place it on the coffee table not to be touched again. I sometimes wish I wasn’t such a coffee snob.

The platform number of my train emerges on the screen and I wind through the tables with my suitcase onto the platform and onto the train, which is almost full after only a few minutes of opening its doors. I walk to the Pullman Carriage in First Class and see one silver laden table for two free by the luggage rack. A couple on the verge of distress talk to the train manager armed with a clip board claiming that the table is for a journalist “if they turn up”. Seems I got there at the right time.

The journey ahead of me was four and a half hours long. I calculated that I could fly to Russia, Turkey or Poland in that time. But I wasn’t going abroad, I was venturing to St Austell in Cornwall for the weekend.

I sat back and reclined my large leather seat and not long after the train pulled off, the staff were round to take our orders. “How would you like your steak cooked madam” were not words that I was expecting to hear aboard a train. “Medium rare”, I replied and was sure it would arrive anything but medium rare.

Shortly after, a small but well formed smoked salmon souffle with sliced smoked salmon and a horseradish cream sauce (£8.50) arrived at the table. The second starter of stilton and broccoli soup (£7) was then carefully ladled out of a large silver bowl by one of the four waiting staff on hand for the journey. The former was impressive, considering we were on a train. The smoked salmon slithers on the side accentuated the subtle salmon flavour of the light and airy soufflé. The latter was also enjoyable. Each mouthful brought with it a strong but not overpowering taste of stilton, the broccoli being present mostly in colour. The same cannot be said about the bread rolls that accompanied the soup – my guess was that they were of the ‘part baked’ variety that I’ll only ever purchase from my local Lidl if I can’t find fresh.

The used plates were whipped from underneath us as soon as we had finished, making way for the mains. Warmed plates were placed in front of us and each member of the waiting staff walked out of the kitchen, one by one, brandishing metal plates of the different elements of our dish. The fillet steak (£22) arrived first with a smattering of red onion sauce. Each of the waiting staff ran back and forth through the carriage, carefully passing each other without even a slight bump. They had done this before, I thought. Potatoes and vegetables were dished out, sauce was poured and we were left in peace for the next fifteen or so minutes to devour our dishes. I nervously cut into my steak and was happy to see a small amount of crimson red blood seep into the gravy. It was medium rare. It was also delicious and tender. The dauphinoise potatoes were creamy and garlicy and the veg very well cooked with a slight crunch.

I glanced at the dessert menu and wished I hadn’t gorged on waiting room fruit and sandwiches. I was totally full. To the brim. But I’m not one to pass up dessert so I ordered walnut and honey tart (£6.50). The combination of walnut and honey intrigued me as it is not your usual tart combination – pecan and maple syrup, yes, but I’d never heard of walnut and honey before. The pastry was impossibly short and the filling warm, sweet, gooey, crunchy and nutty. We shared. Bad idea. We wanted more. Having also ordered the West Country cheese board (£7) (purely for research purposes), I only managed to finish the Cornish Yarg. The two other varieties, Cornish blue and Chatel cheese were also good but a little too much for the already bursting stomach.

I admired the woman serving coffee for afters. Precision and acute balance is needed in order to pour the coffee so that it doesn’t spill over the side of the cup and onto the saucer. As we swerved around the corner, the stream of coffee was interrupted from its path and almost spilled. The waitress made a sudden move and brought it right back on track. They say practice makes perfect…

I was fastinated by the table of four sat next to me. Despite not knowing each other, they talked for the whole journey about their lives, their loves, their different paths in life. One woman proclaimed that a fellow 18.03 service from Paddington to Penzance passenger had set up an 18.03 group on Facebook to keep in contact with all of the people they had met on their weekly journeys. I investigated and found nothing. But I like the idea.

The meal in the Pullman Carriage was almost catastrophic at times but also totally and utterly romantic. It’s a far cry from the cardboard sandwiches and microwaved bacon sandwiches on my regular train service up North. I hope other train providers take note in the future as it’s a fantastic way to travel.

Food For Think was a guest of First Great Western.

First Class tickets from London to St. Austell start from £40 each way.

Sponsored post – clementine marmalade glazed ham recipe

21 Dec

You may notice that this is a sponsored post but all of the views expressed in my little intro paragraph are my own. I am a huge Le Creuset fan, despite not actually owning any of their cookware. In fact, my mum called me on Saturday when I was dying in bed with a hangover after my work Christmas party asking me what I wanted for Christmas. It wasn’t exactly what I wanted to be thinking about at that moment in time but my first answer was a Le Creuset cast iron pan. My second answer was slippers. What? A girl has to be comfy around the house in winter!

If you want a change from the usual Turkey this Christmas (I know I do), the below recipe for clementine marmalade glazed ham is a pretty good alternative. And if you have left overs, wedge them between two slabs of sourdough bread for a Boxing Day sarnie.

Clementine-Marmalade-Glazed-Ham

Clementine Marmalade Glazed Ham

Ingredients

3-3½kg (6½ lb) boned, unsmoked gammon joint
3 bay leaves
2 onions, quartered
2 carrots, chopped
2 eating apples, quartered
½ teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon juniper berries
Handful of fresh parsley
500ml (4 cups or 1 pint) dry cider or pressed apple juice

Glaze

3 tablespoons Clementine marmalade (see Cook’s Note 1)
3 tablespoons light muscovado sugar
2 teaspoons wholegrain mustard

Method

1. Place the gammon joint into the 3-ply Stainless Steel Preserving Pan cover with water and bring to the boil over a medium heat.

2. Once boiling turn off the heat and allow to cool slightly. Remove the joint and discard the liquid from the pan.

3. Return the joint to the pan and add the prepared vegetables, apples, spices, herbs and cider.

4. Add enough water to the contents of the pan to cover the joint and bring to the boil once more.

5. Once boiling, lower the heat to maintain a very slow simmer. Cover the pan with foil to keep in the moisture.

6. Cook for 2¾-3 hours checking the level of water in the last hour of cooking and topping up if necessary.

Preheat the oven to moderately hot 190ºC/375ºF/Gas Mark 5. Fan Oven 170ºC.

Allow the ham to cool slightly before removing from the stock into a roasting dish.

7. Carefully remove the top layer of skin leaving the fat layer. Score the fat, using a sharp knife, diagonally 2-3cm (1 inch) apart both ways creating a diamond pattern

8. Mix the glaze ingredients together and apply liberally to the scored ham fat using a silicone basting brush.

9. Place into the oven and cook for 30-35 minutes until the top of the ham is deep golden brown.

Allow to cool slightly before carving. Serve generously sliced, hot or cold.

IMPORTANT POINTS:

A gammon becomes a ham once it is cooked hence the terminology changing from gammon in the raw ingredients list to ham in the method.

Don’t waste the ham stock, as it can be frozen and used later to add extra flavour to delicious homemade soups such as creamy pea and ham, pumpkin or squash.

This is a guest recipe by Nicola Winters on behalf of Le Cresuet, the cast iron casserole dish specialists.

Eden Project

20 Dec

Last week I walked around a rainforest. In England. Really, I did. I also took a stroll past olive trees, lemon trees and fragrant herbs in the Mediterranean. Don’t believe me? Then you obviously haven’t heard of the Eden Project in Cornwall.

Situated in a former China clay quarry, the Eden Project opened in 2001 and has fast become a world wide tourist attraction. And I can see why. We were lucky with the weather on our visit – it’s mid December and there were no gloves, hats or scarves needed. The sun was shining over the whole site and as a result each and every part looked stunning.

During the winter months, the main stage area is turned into a magical ice skating rink. Guests can hire skates and take to the rink for a mere £5 for 40 minutes. But if you have forgotten your knee pads and prefer to watch, you have the option to sit and watch on a viewing deck whilst eating a Cornish pasty and drinking a steaming cup of hot chocolate.

The Biomes that I mentioned earlier are the main attractions at the Eden Project. As I stepped into the jungle I immediately became overwhelmed by the heat. Tights, thick jumpers and coats definitely aren’t the correct attire for such climates! My camera even suffered – I took the lens cap off to take a photo and the lens was a steamy mess.

photo

Upon entry to the rainforest, I read a sign that told me that an area the size of the biome is destroyed every ten seconds, something I had heard before but seeing the size in real life really put it into perspective. Did you know that it is the job of the rainforest to control our climate? They help to feed and water us, not to mention keep us cool. The rate in which the rainforests are being destroyed is alarming and more needs to be done to reduce climate change. They also produce some of our favourite treats – home to the cola and cocoa plants, plus delicious fruits such as papaya and bananas. Click here for more information on the rainforest biome.

Next up was the Mediterranean biome. The temperature ranges from 9 degrees in Winter to 25 degrees in the summer. Entering this biome was a welcome change from the intense heat of the rainforest. We passed giant lemon-like fruits called citrons, lemon trees, olive trees and vines on our journey through the Mediterranean, South Africa and California. Click here for more information on the Mediterranean biome.

Last year, huge floods wiped out the restaurants at Eden Project. But rather than sinking (sorry), they decided to create a bakery, using the finest locally sourced ingredients and fantastic bread and cakes baked fresh by in house artisan bakers. Watch the cooks hard at work before helping yourself to a range of dishes, sides and fresh bread. On offer on our visit were two soups, stuffed butternut squash, open rolls with hot fillings and an aubergine, ricotta and tomato open sandwich, which we shared with a side of honey roasted winter vegetables. Rather than plates, all lunch is served on wooden boards and drinks are served in mugs that hang above the communal tables. The aubergine with ricotta and tomato (£3.50) was served on a thick slice of home made whole grain bread and was utterly delicious. The winter roasted veg (£1.50) consisted of carrots, squash, parsnips and had a subtle sweetness.

Due to the fact that we were booked in for a cream tea only a couple of hours later, we didn’t have pudding, which was hard considering how marvellous they looked. The victoria sponge stood tall, while the scones were the largest I have ever seen. I sampled a taster of the lemon polenta slice, which wasn’t as lemony as I’d hoped but the polenta created a beautiful coarse texture. As the portion sizes are large, we only needed to share one main and side. With a mug of home made lemonade (£2), the bill came to a mere £7. Fantastic value. I left full, satisfied and wishing this cafe was closer to home.

General entry into The Eden project is £22 for adults, £15.50 for concessions, £8.50 for children ages 5-16 and children under 4 go free. Discounts available online.

Eden Project
Bodelva
Cornwall
PL24 2SG
01726 811 900

The Lugger, Cornwall

19 Dec

“Ohhh, you’re so lucky”, exclaimed my workmate when I told her that I was going to be spending my birthday weekend at The Lugger in Cornwall. Being from Cornwall herself, she had once treated herself to a night a couple of years ago and loved it.

Driving down the narrow country roads in pitch black, I only had the memories of images I’d seen on The Lugger website. Upon arrival I had to imagine the beautiful view that I would be waking up to in the morning. And when I woke at 8am, I wasn’t disappointed. Having not closed the shutters intentionally, I opened my eyes and watched the sea lolling, causing small waves to lap the shore.

photo

The room that we stayed in for two nights was quaint with low ceilings, white walls and New England style furnishings. A large desk / dressing table stood by the window and was surrounded by windowsills furnished with cushions, two bedside tables, an old alarm clock (which I had to hide under a large pillow due to the loud tick tocking) and a huge kingsize bed. The bathroom was equipped with a bath and drench shower.

DSCF9560

Breakfast on day one was pleasant but not a total success. Our freshly squeezed juices were just that – freshly squeezed and delicious. The mini pastries from the buffet table were the perfect sized treat before our hot breakfasts arrived. And the damson jam that I used to accompany the croissant was sensational. We ordered The Cornish Breakfast and Haddock with poached eggs. I’d never normally opt for Haddock for breakfast but since it’s freshly caught daily nearby I thought this was the best option.

Both dishes were tasty but disaster struck with the poached eggs. The quality of poached eggs in a breakfast can make or break the dish and unfortunately all three were overcooked. I’m happy to say that the same problem did not occur the next day. This time I ordered Kipper with parsley butter and grilled tomatoes. A slight mishap with the order meant that we received poached eggs instead of grilled tomatoes but they were quick to arrive when we asked. Despite the bones, which can be hard work with any whole fish, the kipper was an absolute delight and was by far the best breakfast I’ve had in a long time. The eggs benedict was not nearly as special in comparison, although the runny egg yolks made up for it.

Dinner at The Lugger is a whole different culinary experience. A few familiar faces from breakfast and three other couples, all guests at the hotel joined us in the small dining room. Due to the fact that the room is so small and there is no music, at times I felt slightly conscious that everyone could hear every word we were saying and speaking in hushed tones started to take its toll by the end.

We ordered honey glazed pork belly, scallop and spiced carrot (£10.50) and Mussels ‘mariniere’ (£9) to start, followed by baked turbot, celeriac cream, spinach and potato gnocchi, glazed shallots and veal jus (£20.50) and West Country lamb fillet and breast, glazed Parisienne potatoes, pesto, dried tomato and olives (£20.50) with salt caramel parfait, cappuccino and praline sugar (£7.50) for dessert.

The pork belly was beautifully presented. A small rectangle of tender and fatty pork belly lay on a bed of spiced carrot puree and was topped by two thin strips of crackling. The mussels, we both agreed, was one of the best dishes of our trip down. The sauce was creamy and herby with just the right balance of white wine to cut through. My only criticism was that there weren’t enough mussels in one bowl to satisfy two people’s cravings!

The mains arrived and again the presentation was impressive. I loaded my fork with a morsel of each element of the baked turbot dish and my taste buds came alive. The intense flavours of the gnocchi and veal jus drowned out the turbot slightly but this did not matter. One little bit. I was in heaven.

The lamb dish was yet another example of a fine main course. The fillet was cooked perfectly, pink inside and tender to the bite and the accompanying tomato, pesto and potatoes were perfect additions. I wouldn’t have known that olives were present in the dish had the menu not stated it and I’m not sure if the breast was needed – I would have been perfectly happy with another couple of slices of fillet but I am certainly not complaining.

Too full for a dessert each, we asked for two spoons and shared the salt caramel parfait, cappuccino and praline sugar. The name of it confused me. Well, the cappuccino part. I had visions of a parfait arriving on the same plate as a mini cup filled to the brim with creamy cappuccino with praline sugar on the side. The waiter either didn’t seem too sure what I was asking him, or he didn’t know the answer but he assured me that the dessert did not come in the form of a cappuccino. The presentation was fantastic but I’m not sure this dessert did what it said on the tin. That’s not to say I didn’t like it, because I did. But I hardly detected any salt in the thin caramel layer on top of the parfait, which disappointed me ever so slightly because of my love for salt caramel. The cappuccino element of the dish came as a small dab of foam on top and was so slight that I only detected it in one mouthful. But it didn’t bother me because the smooth and cold dark chocolate that surrounded the parfait was delicious and the praline sugar was crunchy and sweet. Maybe the dessert just needs a change of name.

The Lugger in the winter is cosy. Guests can sit by the log fire whilst drinking a glass of wine before or a coffee after dinner. And the surrounding area is perfect for the walkers out there, although it can get quite slippy up on the hills so I’d recommend taking shoes with a good grip.

I’d love to go back to The Lugger in the summertime to enjoy more delicious food and to see more of the beautiful surrounding coast line with more hours of daylight.

Food For Think was a guest at The Lugger.

Rooms priced from £150 for two people – Rates quoted are per night for 2 sharing a room including bed, breakfast & VAT.

Eggy bread with berries, crème fraîche and maple syrup recipe

18 Dec

Christmas party season is in full swing. Knowing that I had my work Christmas party on Friday evening, I bought all of the neccessary food supplies for the weekend on Thursday evening after work. And I’m so glad I did.

I have a huge amount of eggs in the house at the moment so thought of ways to use them up. One idea was eggy bread, something that my mum used to make me every weekend when I was younger. I adored it but for some reason I’ve never made since I flew the nest. It is best made with brioche but I used granary bread and it was still delicious.

Eggy bread with berries, crème fraîche and maple syrup (Serves 2)

Ingredients

4 slices bread / brioche
2 large eggs
120ml whole milk
1/2 vanilla pod, deseeded
2 tbsp golden caster sugar
2 tbsp crème fraîche
100g butter
Handful of berries
Drizzle of maple syrup
Dusting of icing sugar

Method

1. Whisk the eggs, icing sugar, milk and vanilla pod seeds together in a bowl
2. Place the slices of bread in a tray and pour the mixture on top. Leave for a couple of minutes and turn over so that the dry bread soaks up the remaining egg mixture
3. Heat the butter in a pan until melted. Turn the heat down slightly and place the eggy bread into the pan. Cook on each side for three minutes, or until brown on each side
4. Place two slices on each plate. Place a handful of berries, a tbsp of crème fraîche, a dusting of icing sugar and a drizzle of maple syrup on top.

ENJOY!

Carrot, ginger, apple and celery juice recipe

13 Dec

Trying to be healthy at this time of year just doesn’t work. But it’s a time when we all need to try a little bit harder. Illness is a plenty and most people I know have been hit with the dreaded lurgey over the last couple of months, myself included.

I explained how awful I was feeling to a friend over breakfast a couple of weeks ago and she gave me some great advice. Make a fresh juice for breakfast. Not only do they cut down on the calories but they are packed with vitamins needed to keep those winter blues at bay. So the first thing I did was dust off the juicer, buy two huge shopping bags full of veg and set to work.

It is best to drink the juice as soon as you have made it, otherwise you run the risk of losing the essential vitamins. But if you haven’t got time to juice in the morning, do it at night before you go to bed, place in an air tight bottle and drink in the morning.

IMG_8333

Carrot, ginger, apple and celery juice recipe – Makes one large glass

6 carrots
1 ½ inch ginger
3 apples
1 stick celery

No need to peel or prepare anything, simply juice and enjoy!

Michel Roux chocolate fondant recipe

7 Dec

Everyone loves a good dessert. You’re mad if you don’t. There’s nothing I enjoy more than a sweet and decadent treat at the end of a meal but when it comes to looking for inspiration to create my very own, the first person I turn to is the god of all pastry chef gods, Michel Roux.

I received his newest book, Desserts, to review last week. I flicked through and stopped in my tracks when I arrived at the warm chocolate fondant recipe. There is no doubt about the fact that I’ll always choose this dessert if it is on the menu. No doubt. But for some reason I’ve never attempted making it at home, probably because I thought it would go wrong and I’d end up smashing it up with a fork – yes, this has happened in the past and that little tantrum has become a joke in my household.

Enjoy with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or a generous glug of double cream.

Warm chocolate fondant recipe – serves 10 – 12

Ingredients

200g butter, softened, plus 20g to grease
200g good-quality dark, bitter of Manjari chocolate, preferably Valrhona, finely chopped
200g icing sugar, sifted, plus extra to dust
4 eggs, mixed with an extra 4 egg yolks
55g plain flour
35g dark, bitter cocoa powder

Method

Use a brush to lightly butter the insides of 12 metal rings, 5 cm in diameter and 3.5cm high and line each with a band of greaseproof paper.

Preheat the oven to 190 degrees c / gas mark 5. Put the chocolate into a heatproof bowl and set over a saucepan one-third filled with hot water, making sure the bottom of the bowl is not in contact with the water. PLace over a gentle heat until the chocolate has melted, then take off the heat and set aside in a warm place.

Using an electric whisk, beat the butter and icing sugar together until pale and aerated, then slowly incorporate the eggs, whisking constantly to keep the mixture smooth. Reduce the mixer speed and incorporate the melted chocolate a little at a time. Sift the flour and cocoa together over the mixture and fld in carefully, using large metal spoon.

Fill the prepared moulds with the fondant mixture to the top of the rings.

Bake in the oven for 8-10 minutes. To check to see if they are done, inserts a small skewer into the centre of one; if the centre feels liquid, it is not yet cooked. If it feels soft, and the skewer meets with no resistance, they are done – the centre should be vert slightly runny. Remove from the oven and leave to rest on the baking tray for 30 seconds.

Lift the rings off all the fondants, slide a small palette knife under one, transfer it to a serving plate and remove the band of greaseproof paper. Repeat with the rest of the fondants. Dust the tops with icing sugar and enjoy served with double cream. Serve immediately.

WIN an Extra Special Christmas hamper from Asda

5 Dec

COMPETITION NOW CLOSED

WIN a Christmas hamper of Extra Special foodie goodies courtesy of Asda. I recently tasted a small range of products from the hamper and was impressed! If you’re the lucky winner, your bursting hamper will arrive just in time for Christmas – good luck!

Asda Extra Special Leiths Hamper

Competition details

You can use any of the following methods ONLY ONCE to enter the competition. If you enter using all three methods, you have a higher chance of winning. YOU MUST LEAVE A SEPARATE COMMENT ON THIS BLOG POST EACH TIME YOU ENTER. Good luck!

1 – FOLLOW FOODFORTHINK ON TWITTER
Follow @foodforthink and leave a comment below to say you have done so. Just say if you are already following.
2 – BECOME A FAN OF FOODFORTHINK ON FACEBOOK
Go to Food For Think’s Facebook page and click on the “Like” button. Leave a comment below to say you have done so.
3 – TWEET THE FOLLOWING
#WIN an Asda Extra Special Christmas hamper in @foodforthink ‘s competition. Click here to enter.
Please read the T & C’s carefully.
The competition closes at midday on Thursday 15th December and the winner will be announced shortly afterwards.

TERMS & CONDITIONS
• The winner is randomly chosen by the Random website.
• Competition only open UK residents.
• Entrants must be 18 years or older.
• If the winner hasn’t replied within one day to the organiser’s email to receive his prize, a new winner will be randomly drawn.

Christmas food guide

2 Dec

One word springs to mind when I think of Christmas – FOOD. When I was younger I would count the months, weeks and days before our yearly trip to the wholesalers. It was the one time of year that I was allowed to run riot around the isles, picking up whatever I wanted (within reason), pop in into the supermarket trolley and devour as much of it as I could over the festive period. Granted, most of what I put in the trolley was pure rubbish – fizzy laces, flying saucers, space invaders, jelly babies, fizzy drinks, you name it, I got it.
I have to say though, that I didn’t join in with the rest of the family when it came to breakfast on Christmas day. As everyone else tucked into their smoked salmon and scrambled eggs, I was left to enjoy scrambled egg on toast. My tastes have come a long way since then and smoked salmon is one of my favourite breakfast foods. And of course I love a good fry up – every once in a while.

I have been busy tasting lots of Christmas foods over the last week and here is my guide to the best foods for the Christmas period this year. I’ve set it up into sections – Christmas dinner, Christmas day breakfast, stocking fillers and the best bits for the all-important Christmas snacks. After all, what else is there to do when you’re stuck in the house for a few days in the depths of winter?

Christmas breakfast

Macbeths butchers is a small family run business, based in Forres, Scotland. They rear traditional Scottish beef using Highland, Shorthorn and Aberdeen Angus breeds on their own farm and are supplied free range chicken and rare breed pork from neighbouring farm Geddes Free Range. Macbeths has, quite rightly, won a number of gold taste awards over the last couple of years. Head to their website to find out more.

Their pork sausages won not one but two Gold Taste awards in 2010. They are made with lean pork shoulder, which would explain why they didn’t leak fat all over the pan, something I’m not overly fond of! (Priced at £4.25 for 500g)

The dry cure back bacon, also winner of a Gold Taste award was delicious and didn’t shrink in the pan, unlike a lot of supermarket bought bacon I’ve had in the past. (Priced at £3.49 for 250g)

The black pudding won a Gold Taste award in 2009 and arrived neatly sliced. I fried both for around 7 minutes on each side. It wasn’t like cheap black pudding that I have had before – it was extremely flavoursome and had a lovely course texture. No surprises as they have been refining their recipe for 20 years! (Priced at £3.58 for 5 slices).

Other Christmas breakfast foods I would recommend

Clarence Court Burford Brown eggs – these eggs have the most fantastic golden colour yolks and produce a deep orange scrambled egg. They are without a doubt my favourite egg brand. If you want to try something different, they have a whole range of eggs, from Duck to Quail and a wide range of seasonal eggs. They even sell quails eggs in a Christmas tree shaped pack for the festive season. (Pack of 6 Burford Brown eggs is priced at £2.09).

Frank Hederman smoked salmon. I first tasted this salmon at Eat Like a Girl’s market in Covent Garden where she served it with her home baked soda bread and pickled cucumber. It was totally delicious. Frank Hederman produces some of the finest fish around, including smoked silver eel, smoked mackerel and smoked mussels. Visit the website for further information.

Denhay. The Dry Cured Unsmoked Back Bacon from Denhay is something else! I recently used this in a spaghetti carbonara recipe one evening, followed by a cracking bacon sarnie the next morning. Thick, flavoursome and not too salty, this is some of the best bacon I’ve tasted in a while. The Dry Curing technique sees a mixture of dry sea salt and nitrate, which is hand applied and rubbed onto the meat. The loins and bellies are then cured for between two and three weeks. Selected sides are then gently smoked over beech wood logs. (Priced at £2.99 for 200g).

Christmas dinner

Macbeths butchers provided me with a rolled sirloin fillet to test. The meat came from a highland cross shorthorn animal reared on their Edinvale farm. All of the animals on the Macbeths farm are grass fed and not fed any growth promoters or pumped full of nasties. (Priced at £28.95/kg).

Riverford Organic Farm. Be sure to order your veg box for the Christmas period. I have been to the fields where these very veggies grow and I can vouch for the fact that they are lovingly attended to, picked and delivered fresh to your doorstep the next day.

After dinner cheeses – Westin Gourmet provide customers with really great tasting cheeses in bulk at wholesale prices. I tried a large wheel of brie, which was smooth and creamy. The perfect addition to your after dinner cheese board.

Neal’s Yard Dairy – need I say more?!

Owen Potts’. For some, Christmas isn’t complete without Turkey. And Turkey isn’t complete without cranberry sauce. But if you find some cranberry sauces too tart, Owen Potts’ has created the perfect alternative – sweetened with honey. (Priced at £1.89).

owen-potts-CN-HNCR-01

Other Christmas dinner foods I would recommend

Goose fat. Catusse is my favourite. I first tried cooking roasties with Goose fat when I tried the recipe from Valentine Warner’s ‘The Good Table’. If you haven’t tried it yet because you’re worried about the high fat content, now is a good time to do it. Christmas is not a time for calorie counting. (Priced at £3.99 for 350g – available from Waitrose)

Christmas snacks

I was sent a hamper from Asda to try their Extra Special Christmas range. Leiths school of food and wine has given their seal of approval so I thought I’d test them for myself and see.

All butter mince pies. I found the pastry crispy and the filling was lovely, spicy and very Christmassy. (Priced at £2 for 6)

Stollen. The almonds and hazlenuts were a little soft for my liking but the cake itself was lovely. The rum is not overpowering and the cherries add a nice sweetness and texture. (Priced at £3.89).

Belgian chocolate Florentines. These are absolutely delicious and perfect for those who are not able to splash out on unneccessarily expensive brands, or don’t want to spend time in the kitchen making their own. I have tried to make my own before and I’m not sure I’d bother again when you can buy such fantastic ready made ones. (Priced at £2.70).

Forest fruit crumbles. I liked these but I found the jam ever so slightly over powering. I liked the fact that they were small and bite sized – so you can have a small sweet treat, which is if you don’t end up eating five in one go. (Priced at £1.50).

Castle MacLellan pates. Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without pate, would it? Catle MacLellan have three delicious flavours, perfect for the festive period – Chicken Pâté with Brandy, Duck Pâté and Smoked Salmon Terrine. My particular favourite is the Smoked Salmon Terrine – a tasty blend of smoked and poached salmon, cream cheese and crème fraiche with a hint of horseradish and lemon. (Priced between £2.49 – £2.99).

Fudges. If you’re planning a showstopping cheeseboard this Christmas, it won’t be complete without a range of delicious biscuits. Fudges is a family run bakery based down in Dorset (run by the Fudges!), which produces a tempting range of sweet and savoury biscuits. The biscuit selection contains the buttery Rosemary Rounds, the rustic Oat Crackers and Malted Wheat Biscuits, along with Oat and Seed topped Flatbreads. (Priced at £3.45).

Other Christmas snack recommendations

Fortnum & Mason white chocolate Florentines. These are some of the best Florentines that I have ever had the pleasure of sinking my teeth into. Rich and buttery with just the right amount of crunch, covered in utterly luxurious Belgian white chocolate. (Priced at £7.95 for 150g).

Stocking fillers

Sharpham park. Perfect for the health conscious out there – click here to see why. I would absolutely love to receive any of these as gifts. The spelt rigatoni tricolore is the prettiest pasta I have ever laid my eyes on – I almost didn’t want to eat it. But of course they’re going to make their products look pretty, Sharpham Park was founded by Roger Saul, founder of Mulberry. (Priced at £3.99 per pack).

Sharpham Park organic spelt shortbread and oatcakes. The perfect stocking filler for your foodie relative or friend. I was impressed with both products – the texture is slightly more coarse than the wheat flour alternative but that is no bad thing. The shortbread was delicious and buttery. And as spelt is so high in iron, zinc, riboflavin and other vitamins and minerals, it is one of today’s healthiest grains. (Oatcakes priced at £2.25 and Shortbread priced at £2.95).

Choconchoc. I had seen this brand before when I was perusing the chocolate shelves of Selfridges and Peter Jones in Chelsea. I love the different shapes that they create. I was sent samples of the cow with a santa hat on and a Christmas present. Each one is filled with delicious handmade white and dark Belgian chocolates and dusted with pretty edible glitter. The chocolates are created in a Somerset barn and are the perfect stocking filler for all ages. (Priced at £10 for a pack of 4).

Le Palais des Thés. This luxury French tea brand produce rare and legendary teas from around the world. I tried the thé des songes leaf tea (flavoured Oolong) Red Caddy, which was delicious, light and floral. The perfect (and healthy) treat for a cold winters day. Exclusively stocked in Harvey Nichols (£12.95 for 125g).

Pariya chocolate Pashmak. This really impressed me – extra fine silky strands of chocolate flavoured hand woven Persian fairy floss. I had to take quite big handfuls to get the full chocolate hit but when I did it tasted delicious. A quirky little stocking filler. (Priced at £9.95 per pack).

Indulge in a delicious white chocolate champagne truffle with the Harvey Nichols Marc de Champagne Truffle Trinket Box. Smooth milk chocolate butter combined with Marc de Champagne and dusted with extra sweetness. It’s the perfect stocking filler or a gift for guests. (Priced at £5.95).

The Garlic Farm. Rhubarb and pear chutney may sound strange but don’t knock it until you try it! The rhubarb provides the tang, the garilc the texture and the pear juice sweetens the lot. Delicious and perfect with cheese. The apricot, garlic and ginger may also sound a little… different, but the flavours match so perfectly, you have to try it. My favourite though was the onion marmalade with garlic. (All priced at £3.50 per jar).

The amount of times I’ve drooled over the delightful looking chocolates at MELT in Selfridges is ridiculous. MELT is one of my preferred chocolate brands. Not only does the chocolate taste delicious, it is fun too. The MELT hot chocolate blocks are probably my favourite and at £2.50 (or 4 for £8) they don’t break the bank. But if you’re wanting that something extra special this Christmas, why not go for the MELT Christmas golden ball, filled with chocolate pearls. (Priced at £50).

Joe & Seph’s Gourmet Popcorn. This is, without a doubt, the BEST popcorn that I have ever tasted. I opened my bag of Mince Pie (yes, really) popcorn and before tasting was slightly dubious. I’ve had many a sweet treat that claims to have a certain flavour but that ‘flavour’ always gets masked by something less pleasant. Not with this popcorn. Chewy, spicy, boozey, fruity, nutty AND buttery, my bag was devoured literally within five minutes. I wish I would have savoured it but I just couldn’t. If mince pie flavour isn’t your thing, there is a wide range of other gourmet flavours, including savoury options such as Goats Cheese & Black Pepper, Mature Irish Cheddar. Sweet options include Toffee Apple & Cinnamon, Caramel with Belgian Chocolate and Smooth Caramel, Vanilla & Cream Cheese. Wow. (Priced from £4 per pouch – 3 pouches for £12 or 6 pouches for £19.95).

Jelly Belly. Do I need to say more? This bumper gift pack with no less than 50 flavours will keep kids and adults alike very happy this Christmas. (Priced at £22.98).

You can also have a bit of fun with Jelly Belly Cocktail Classics. Inspired by the most elegant of shaken, stirred and poured cocktails, Jelly Belly bean mixologists blended the finest ingredients in the perfect balance to transport you to the golden age of the cocktail. They left out the distilled spirits so these “mocktails” have all the flavours and none of the hangover. (Priced at £5.36 for 125g).

Christmas tipples

Biddenden Monks Delight strong spiced cider is sure to warm the cockles this Christmas. Mull it and sip to your hearts content. (£4.51 per litre).

Bolney Wine Estates. It’s always good to support local produce isn’t it. Bolney Wine Estates is about as local I can get in terms of wine. I tried three bottles and was utterly impressed. The estate lies in a fantastic south facing position on the beautiful South Downs and is a family run business, which has been going since 1972. The 2009 Lychgate Red is a medium bodied smooth dry red wine and was incredibly easy to drink! It is made from a blend of Dornfelder and Rondo grapes and was aged for six months in a one year old oak barrel, half French oak, half American oak. I enjoyed a glass with a joint of beef and it matched perfectly. (Priced at £121.44 per case – £10.65 per bottle).

If you’re after more or a celebration drink, the Cuvée Rosé 2008 is perfect for you. Made from 100% Pinot Noir grapes, this wine was aged for 18 months and goes perfectly as a pre dinner tipple. I tried a glass with pan fried sea bass and it matched very well. (Priced at £284.88 per case – £24.99 per bottle).

I also tried the Cuvée Noir 2009, which surprised me. I didn’t think I’d enjoy it but it was surprisingly light, fruity and delicious. Made from 100% Dornfelder grapes. (Priced at £239.28 per case – £20.99 per bottle).

I have thoroughly enjoyed testing a lot of these Christmas foodie treats and I recommend each one of them wholeheartedly. I wish you a Merry Christmas.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 4,077 other followers