Starters


I used to HATE blue cheese. Growing up, even the whiff of blue cheese would send me running from the room. Then I met my boyfriend, who loves it.

He  forced me persuaded me to try it again and gradually, I actually came to like it. Now, I absolutely adore it and eat it all the time. It just goes to show, that even if you think you don’t like something, it’s worth tasting it occasionally to make sure that your tastes haven’t changed. I’m not sure this applies to everything though. I keep trying olives with the expectation that one day I’ll find them delicious, but to no avail! They still taste like perfume to me.

 

Pears with blue cheese and walnuts

Pears with blue cheese and walnuts

Since blue cheese is a fairly new ingredient for me, I’ve been looking for new ways to use it and since I love pears this seemed like the perfect thing to try. It would make a delicious starter for a dinner party, no?

From Delicious Magazine

  • 2 large pears, not too ripe
  • 1 tbsp clear honey
  • 50g creamy blue cheese, such as cornish blue
  • 20g shelled walnut pieces
  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180c/fan160c/gas4. Heat a griddle pan over a high heat. Slice the unpeeled pears in half lengthways and scoop out the core. Lower the griddle pan to medium and cook the pears cut side down for 3-5 mins.
  2. Transfer the pears to a roasting tray, cut side up and drizzle with honey. Roast for 10-20 mins until tender. The roasting time will depend on the ripeness and variety of the pears.
  3. Lay a slice of cheese on each pear and roast for 1-2 mins until the cheese melts. Remove, scatter with walnuts and serve.

Kieran and I just got back from a week in New York. To say I loved it would be an understatement. We’re already planning to go back next year; it’s such a vibrant, interesting place that I don’t think you could ever get bored of it. We certainly didn’t get bored of the food. We went from Michelin to street food, from Korean to pizza and back again. You may be surprised at which food we preferred…

Firstly, 3 Michelin starred Eleven Madison Park.

This restaurant only has one taster menu; there’s no a la carte. So everyone has the same thing, which presumably would mean that the menu would be innovative and the food would be perfectly cooked since they only have one menu to concentrate on. Hmmm.

The set menu consisted of 16 courses for $195.00 per person, not including tax. With drinks and tip, we dropped about $600.00 for two of us.  I probably enjoyed about 5 of the courses, out of the 16. Disappointment is a bit of an understatement.

Outside the restaurant

Outside the restaurant

The first course was a box of black and white cookies, which I’d not heard of, but they’re apparently a ‘thing’ in the states. These looked like sweet black and white cookies, but were in fact, savoury.

Oyster, sorrell. buckwheat and champagne

Oyster, sorrell. buckwheat and champagne

The next course was an oyster, which I enjoyed, but Kieran doesn’t like them so he was non-plussed.

White asparagus custard, lobster consomme, rhubarb and caviar

White asparagus custard, lobster consomme, rhubarb and caviar

This is where the meal began to kick off and I started to look forward to what was to come. Both the flavours and the presentation were delightful. It was smooth and light, and the caviar underneath was a lovely surprise.

Clam, pickled lemon, fava beans, potato and garlic mousse

Clam, pickled lemon, fava beans, potato and garlic mousse

The potato and garlic mousse in this was brilliant and had loads of flavour. I liked the little moments of lemon flavour that came through. The fave beans provided texture, but I couldn’t taste the clam.

The next course was underwhelming. More shellfish, which we’d had for the last two courses. I was hoping for some actual fish for one of the fish courses, but alas, there was none to be found. This course also had clam, which we’d had (but not tasted) in the previous course. We were told  to eat the shellfish before enjoying the chowder. The presentation on the shells meant that eating the whelks and clams was a fiddly process, though they were fresh and pleasant. I poured the chowder into bowls before noticing that we had not been provided with spoons. Were we supposed to eat it after all, or merely enjoy the aroma?! After being perplexed for a minute or so, I picked up the bowl and drank it. Have no idea if we did it right. It was thin and tasted of seafood.

We were then served some bread with a duck fat butter, which was very tasty. A foie gras terrine arrived a couple of minutes later, with truffle cream and asparagus jelly. Now, I don’t eat foie gras for moral reasons and think that it’s a very controversial thing to serve someone who hasn’t asked for it. This has happened to me before in another restaurant and I’ve refused to eat it. However, the waitress did, at the start of the meal, ask us if there was anything we didn’t eat and I completely forgot to say that I don’t eat foie gras, so it’s really my own fault. Being so delighted to have something in front of me that wasn’t a clam, I admit that I wolfed it down. I bloody love liver and shamefully for me, this was probably my favourite course.

Next, a waiter came and attached a grinder to our table. Great, I thought, we’re having some kind of tartare, possibly tuna, or steak. Imagine my excitement when he brought  out a couple of carrots and began to grind them at the table. He then smeared some on a board of condiments, told us to mix it all together and enjoy it.

I’m sorry, but I defy anyone to eat mashed carrot mixed with an egg yolk, horseradish, sunflower seeds, chives and mustard seeds and tell me they’ve eaten anything other than posh baby food. The only reason that it was presented in the mix-it-yourself fashion and the carrot was ground in front of us, was to try and pretend that we’d not just been served a mashed carrot. Imagine if it had been served already ground and mixed in the kitchen. It would be an unappetizing, orange blob; which is exactly what it looked like when we’d finished mixing it. It tasted exactly as it sounds, like mashed carrot. The chef here clearly thought he was being innovative, but I was just annoyed that he thought this was good enough. I hated it.

Lobster with meyer lemon butter, sweetbreads, morelle mushrooms and lobster bisque

Lobster with meyer lemon butter, sweetbreads, morel mushrooms and lobster bisque

Thankfully, we were back to edible food with the next course. We were also back to shellfish. This course was actually one of the best. The lobster was cooked perfectly, the sweetbreads were delicious and the bisque was full of flavour. I’d never tried a morel mushroom before and they’re delicious. Really woody and deep.

Creamed nettles, goats cheese and peanut potatoes

Creamed nettles, goats cheese and peanut potatoes

I didn’t enjoy this course at all. In fact, I actually got so bored of it, that I left some on the plate. That NEVER happens. I even ate all of the carrot goop from earlier. It was just bland. The little globules of goat’s cheese were nice, because I like goat’s cheese. But I just couldn’t be bothered eating two piles of nettles, that had no discernible flavour. Kieran thought it was ‘nice’ though and ate it all. At least it wasn’t another clam.

Duck broth

Duck broth

This was bloody delicious. It was packed full of rich, duck flavour. Why serve it by itself though?! This should have been the broth that was poured around something more interesting in the middle.

Duck breast with coriander, fennel, carrot, pistachios, citrus jus. Served with duck leg, foie gras braised in red wine with creamed potatoes.

Duck breast with coriander, fennel, carrot, pistachios, citrus jus. Served with duck leg, foie gras braised in red wine with creamed potatoes.

Next was the main course. We got a choice between beef and duck and we chose the duck. We got a sliver of beautifully cooked duck breast, crusted with spices. This was served with a fennel salad, which was also lovely. There was also a little ‘shepherd’s pie’ type dish on the side which was braised leg in red wine, with ‘creamed potatoes’. The potatoes layer had WAY too much cream in it. It was runny. Runny potatoes aside, this was a really nice part of the dish. Apparently there was also foie gras in there, but I couldn’t taste it.

Next was the cheese course, served in a basket. I thought this presentation was quite fun as you had to unpack and lay it all out yourself. I was disappointed to find only one type of cheese, which was a strong flavoured, but tasty brie (I assume – could have been camembert). With that, we got pretzel bread and pale wheat ale to wash it down with.

A drink of malt syrup, milk, soda water with olive oil

A drink of malt syrup, milk, soda water with olive oil

The next course was a drink that was made for us at the table – an egg cream malt soda. It was nice, sweet but refreshing.

Celery cream cake with apple sorbet, walnut crumble

Celery cream cake with apple sorbet, walnut crumble

This was a celery flavoured cake with apple sorbet and walnut crumble. It was nice. The sorbet was a highlight, but honestly, I didn’t love it.

Mango cheesecake, with a peanut base. Bourbon chocolate and a lime chocolate

Mango cheesecake, with a peanut base. Bourbon chocolate and a lime chocolate

This dessert was served by the waitress doing a card trick to reveal the flavours of the chocolates, which was nice touch. Kieran thought it was a cheap trick that didn’t add anything.  One thing we did agree on was that neither of us particularly liked the dessert. I gave Kieran my chocolates. I actually gave away chocolate, people.

The final course was chocolate pretzels (that weren’t made of pretzel bread, more like some kind of cookie), sweet black and white cookies and some godawful apple brandy.

Overall, we were very underwhelmed. How this restaurant has three stars, based on the menu we ate, I have no idea. We had read such great reviews such as this one from Will Travel For Food which helped us pick this restaurant to eat at, but this was when they had their old ‘grid’ based menu, so perhaps with the new set menu, they have lost their way. We’ve eaten two stars in Rome before, and one of the 13 courses we had il pagliaccio outshone the entire menu here. I don’t know if the american michelin reviewers hand out stars willy nilly, but I’ve never been so disappointed by a supposedly luxury dining experience.

It was Kieran’s birthday on the 14th January, so we went to Kaleido on the following Friday night for his birthday meal. Kaleido is a fairly new restaurant, situated at the top of the newly reopened Urbis centre. I’d been to the restaurant before when it was the Modern and always found the food lovely, but slightly disappointing , so was keen to see whether Kaleido had stepped it up a bit. Thankfully, it did and was one of the best meals I’ve had in a Manchester restaurant and will be a new regular haunt for us, especially as it is literally on our way home.

First, let’s get the only con out of the way. We were a bit surprised that we had the entire restaurant to ourselves for the entire meal. It was a 8pm on a Friday evening, after all. However, it was the last Friday in January before  payday, so I can’t imagine that any restaurant was full that evening. It was also the  night when Manchester was pretty much shut down sue to snowy conditions, which probably didn’t help.

What may have also had an effect is that everyone I’ve subsequently spoken to about Kaleido had never heard of it and had no idea it was there. And that includes my foodie friends. To be fair, the only reason that we know about it, is that we walk past it every day on our way home. They really need to advertise more to get the word out.

Now, the good stuff.  The decor in the restaurant is classic, simple and tasteful. Still have no idea why the Urbis has those stripes covering the windows, so only one end of the restaurant can see the view of Manchester city centre, but I doubt that the restaurant can do anything about that. I was just glad that we were seated at a table with a view!

View from our table.

The decor.

The service, from start to finish was slick, efficient and friendly. Kieran ordered wine by the glass, since I didn’t feel like wine and he found a red that was both reasonably priced and delicious. I settled on drinking my favourite drink –  Mojito cocktails – which were lovely.

Wholegrain mustard ice cream on toast, with beetroot puree

Wholegrain mustard ice cream on toast, with beetroot puree

We were given an appetizer to begin, which was wholegrain mustard ice cream. Though I know that savoury ice cream has been trending in the culinary world for a while now, this was the first time I’d tried it, so was quite excited by this. It was brilliant. The tartness of the mustard flavour was complemented by the sweetness of the beetroot and the coldness and smoothness of the ice cream was really interesting and new. Loved it.

The menu at Kaleido is great and there are a number of dishes that I’ll be coming back for in the future . I decided on the duck liver starter, since there isn’t a liver dish on the planet that I can resist.

Seared duck liver, goats cheese beignet, pine nuts  £6.50

Seared duck liver, goats cheese beignet, pine nuts £6.50

There aren’t enough words to describe how much I love this starter. I adore liver anyway, but this duck liver was cooked to pink perfection, served with a sauce full of flavour and I loved the texture that the crunchy pine nuts brought to the dish. The strength of the liver was perfectly offset by the creaminess of the goat’s cheese.  I could have eaten three courses just of this.

Kieran went for the pumpkin risotto beignets. He said that the pumpkin flavour was delicious and the beignets were lovely and crispy on the outside, but the dish could have done with more of the chestnuts.

Roast pumpkin risotto beignet, candied chestnut, crème fraiche (v) £6.50

Roast pumpkin risotto beignet, candied chestnut, crème fraiche (v) £6.50

Both starters were a good portion size, too.

For mains, I ordered by saying what I’ve always wanted to say in a restaurant; ‘I’ll have the lobster’.

Whole lobster poached & grilled £20.00

Whole lobster poached & grilled £20.00

Kieran and I both ordered the lobster, which was served simply as it should be. Poached and grilled, with thrice cooked chips and béarnaise sauce.

Kieran was a lobster virgin, so he was keen to try something new. As I am lucky enough to have an ex- trawlerman as a father, lobster brings back memories of being a small child, all of us sat as a family armed with teaspoons, furiously digging out lobster flesh from claws and legs.  This lobster didn’t disappoint and tasted just as nice as the ones my dad used to bring back off the boat. Kieran loved it and is now a lobster fan, like me.

We decided to go for a cheeseboard instead of a dessert and chose to have 5 cheeses.

British artisan cheese board, walnut and raisin bread,quince jelly 5 cheeses: £10.50

British artisan cheese board, walnut and raisin bread,
quince jelly 5 cheeses: £10.50

The cheeses were lovely, but neither of us liked the walnut and raisin rye bread. Rye bread is not a favourite of ours and we would have preferred crackers. The quince jelly was lovely, but the whole cheese board would have been lifted by something like candied walnuts, or fruit. This cheese board felt like an after thought to the meal rather than a proper course in its own right.

Overall, I would urge everyone to visit. I loved the experience and we’ve already booked again for Valentine’s Day. It saddens me that truly terrible chain restaurants with a celebrity chef name above the door *coughjamie’scough* is full to the rafters, when this place has tables free. Support your local restaurants, especially the ones that deserve it. And Kaleido definitely does.

Incase you’re sick of the rich food you’ve been eating over the past two weeks and fancy something green, this pasta could be the dinner for you.

Pesto pasta, with leeks and peas.

Pesto pasta, with leeks and peas.

You might want to make your own pesto for this, but frankly, as it’s New Year’s Day, I just reached for the jar of Aldi’s pesto genovese at the back of the fridge (which is actually the nicest jar of pesto I’ve had!).

  • 175g spaghetti
  • 140g frozen peas
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 large trimmed leeks (about 250g), thinly sliced
  • 1 tbsp basil pesto
  • freshly grated Parmesan (or vegetarian alternative), to serve (optional)
  1. Cook the spaghetti according to pack instructions, adding the peas for the final 2 mins. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a frying pan, add the leeks, then gently cook for about 5 mins until softened. Stir in the pesto and 3 tbsp of the pasta cooking water, then simmer for a few mins.
  2. Drain the pasta and peas, then add to the frying pan, tossing everything together. Divide between 2 warm bowls and sprinkle with a little grated Parmesan, if using.

We recently had a vaguely american themed dinner party and for starters, I served chicken wings. Having searched the web for a few recipes, I decided on following this one from instructables as I liked the idea of steaming and baking them, rather than deep frying them. As well as being healthier, this method also promises a moister wing. Beware though, preparing and steaming batches of wings takes a long time, so prepare ahead and bake later!

SAM_3742

Buffalo Wings

 

Ingredients

Wings

  • 1/2 as many whole chicken wings as you’d like to serve
  • Salt and pepper

Buffalo Sauce

  • 3/4 cup hot sauce
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar

Dipping Supplies

  • 4 large carrots
  • 4 pieces of celery

Blue Cheese Dressing

  • 2 1/2 ounces blue cheese
  • 3 tablespoons sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 1/4 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • salt and pepper

Prepare the chicken wings by cutting off the wing tips, and then cutting the wing into two by slicing down the joint. If you cut in the right place, you will be able to cut right through the ball/socket. I found it easier to bend the wing back to pop the joint out of place before cutting.

Prepare the steamer by filling a pan with a few inches of water and inserting a steam basket. Steam the chicken wings in batches – 10 minutes each. Don’t crowd the steamer. This means that you’ll need to do more batches, but it’ll be worth it.

Steam the wings in batches

Steam the wings in batches

When cooked, pat dry with paper towels and leave to cool. It’s important that they are patted dry, so they crisp up properly in the oven.
To cook, place in a hot oven (220C) for 20 minutes on each side, or until they are significantly brown and crispy.
Meanwhile, heat all the sauce ingredients in a pan until fully mixed. Mix all the blue cheese dip ingredients in a bowl. Chop the celery and carrot into sticks.
Blue Cheese Dip

Blue Cheese Dip

When the wings are ready, quickly coat them in the mixed sauce and serve immediately, so the wings remain crispy.

These are very spicy, so you’ll need some kind of dip. If you don’t like blue cheese, a sour cream and chive dip would serve nicely!

Eat lots of them - they're good!

Eat lots of them – they’re good!

It was my birthday last week and now I am the ripe old age of 28. Yes, firmly parked in the ‘late twenties’ category. I’m not dealing with ageing particularly well so my boyfriend decided that the perfect way to take my mind off my ever closer death was to take me on a trip to London! We went last weekend and we had a great time!

Kieran always plans the most perfect presents for my birthday – and this year was no different. We went to see Les Miserables on the Saturday evening, which is my favourite musical. I adore it and the cast were so amazing. For lunch the next day we went to Maze, which is one of Gordon Ramsay’s restaurants. I know that Jason Atherton used to be the exec chef at Maze before leaving to open Pollen Street Social, so the reputation of Maze was high. I did try and find out who the chef was now, but to no avail. Whoever they are, they deserve the Michelin star the restaurant currently has that’s for sure!

It was glorious in London and about 30 degrees C – until the moment we got out of the tube station to walk to the restaurant. Then, it started to rain hard. And thunder. Therefore we entered the restaurant in the most ungraceful manner as possible – Kieran dripping with water and me with my jacket held over my head. Classy start.

Once I’d been to the bathroom and towelled myself down, we were shown to our table in a really modern and chic looking restaurant. It was nice, but a bit bland. I didn’t like the bar – which to me looked like it belonged in a 70’s disco with it’s purple lights. The rest of the floor looked lovely and sunlight streamed in from the windows (the rain obviously stopped the moment we stepped inside).

Service was a bit…disorganised and was the only downside to a fabulous meal.

Wine list on an ipad. *eyeroll*

Obviously, the wine list was on an iPad. I really wish that trend would stop. Unless you can click on a bottle of wine and it orders it for you, there really is no point. It’s just a list  – for which a normal menu is perfectly adequate, thank you (and in my opinion, classier).

We didn’t want to drink wine, so I enquired about the cocktails. Then someone came and tried to give us two gin & tonics that were for the table next to us. Then, I was brought a drinks menu and then no-one ever came back to take my drinks order. So I didn’t order a cocktail after all.

Everyone seemed to have very particular roles. There were the drinks waiters, who took orders and brought you the drinks (or not, in our case). There were the food waiters, who took your food order and brought you your food.

And then there were the people who brought the food into the dining room from the kitchen, but were apparently not allowed to deliver the food to the table. Instead they would stand a few feet away with a tray and wait for our waiter to come and collect the food and give it to us. Therefore a few times we were waiting for some minutes while our food was sitting on a tray a few feet away – but we couldn’t have it until our waiter was free.  At one point there were three ‘kitchen elves’ stoically stood in a queue with trays of food, while the intended recipient was watching it potentially go cold. Odd.

The format of the menu at Maze is slightly unusual. You are given a list of savoury and sweet courses and you can order four of them in any order.

Savoury

Chilled watercress soup, cured sea trout and lemon yoghurt

Marinated Sea bass ceviche, nori seaweed, passion fruit vinaigrette

Pressed duck and foie gras, flat peaches, Sauternes gel and bitter almond

Quail, confit leg, girolles, smoked sweet corn veloute

Sea bream, fennel, green olives, radish, citrus vinaigrette

Pork dumplings, radish, aromatic mushroom broth

Braised beef feather blade, pomme purée, shimeji mushroom, togarashi spice

Sweet

Apricot parfait, black sesame, apricot curd and Amaretto caramel

Frozen yoghurt and granola sandwich,Daiquiri sorbet

Apple terrine, rhubarb and custard ice cream

The idea is that you have two small starters, one main and then one dessert. We saw a waiter go over to the table next to us and explain this to them. However, no one came to explain this to us so when it came for us to order, there was a bit of confusion. We also saw someone a few tables away have the same confusion, so felt the menu format could be better explained.

However, service gripes aside, the food is what mattered and it was fantastic, start to finish. For my first ‘starter’ I ordered the quail.

Quail, confit leg, girolles, smoked sweet corn veloute

I loved this. The quail was pink and moist, but it was the smoked sweetcorn veloute that was the star of the dish. Very light smokey flavour with the sweetness of the corn. Absolutely beautiful and very light.

Pressed duck and foie gras, flat peaches, Sauternes gel and bitter almond

Kieran had the pressed duck and foie gras, which I didn’t try as I won’t eat foie gras. Kieran tells me it was lovely though.

Marinated Sea bass ceviche, nori seaweed, passion fruit vinaigrette

This was my next course – the whole dish was really light. The best of this for me was the crunch of the passion fruit seeds, which was a great texture with the softness of the fish and the avocado cream.

Sea bream, fennel, green olives, radish, citrus vinaigrette

Kieran had this dish next, which I did try and I actually thought it was better than mine, despite the fact that I don’t like olives. The fish was perfectly cooked and the radish/fennel garnish was the perfect compliment.

Braised beef feather blade, pomme purée, shimeji mushroom, togarashi spice

Kieran and I both had the beef for main. Doesn’t it look like a dessert?! This is one of the best pieces of beef I have ever had. It was so soft and full of flavour. There some fat on it that tasted amazing. Yes, they managed to make beef fat taste awesome. The spices really elevated the dish from Sunday lunch ingredients to a stand out dish. I could have eaten this fifteen times over – my only criticism is that the jus was slightly over reduced and set on the plate in the swirl shape, so it wasn’t a sauce so much as a solid that you had to scrape with your knife.

Apple terrine, rhubarb and custard ice cream

I had the apple terrine for dessert, which together with the accompaniments, tasted like a deconstructed apple pie. This is not a criticism – somehow I got the tastes and flavours of a stodgy, yet comforting dish in a light and fresh dessert. That rhubarb and custard ice cream was exceptional.

Apricot parfait, black sesame, apricot curd and Amaretto caramel

This was Kieran’s dessert. I didn’t try this because I hate both apricot and amaretto, so this was never going to be for me. I looks beautiful though, doesn’t it?!

Overall, this was one of the better meals I’ve ever had – and also a complete steal for £25.00 for four courses. For lunch at a Michelin star restaurant, that’s more than reasonable. Loved it and would absolutely go back for dinner. Sort your drinks staff out though Gordon!

I’m a massive paté fan. Huge. My early memories of eating paté were in sandwiches on days out with my mum and later, ordering ‘farmhouse paté’ as a starter for a meal out with my dad when I was about 10 years old. ‘You won’t like it’, he said. Little did he know that since that day, if paté has been on the menu at any restaurant I’ve been to, I’ve ordered it. I bloody love the stuff.

Smoked Mackerel Pate

I’d never made a mackerel paté before, and when I saw the recipe for this one it looked so lovely that I thought I’d give it a try. I have to say that I was slightly disappointed. I can’t believe I’m actually going to say this, but it was a little bit too fishy for me. Now, I love fish. I’m a fisherman’s daughter, for crying out loud. I’ve been eating kippers for breakfast all my life – and you can’t get more fishy than that! But this paté was SUPER fishy. So much so that I could only have one cracker’s worth and I could taste it for the rest of the day. Kieran wouldn’t even sit next to me while I ate it – and he loves mackerel paté usually!

Looking about the internet, I can see that a lot of smoked mackerel paté’s use cream cheese, or sour cream which would temper the flavour slightly  – so next time I think I’ll try that instead of using this recipe. However, if you decide you want to make the FISHIEST paté in existence – the recipe is below.

From BBC Good Food

  • 25g unsalted butter , melted
  • zest ½ lemon
  • 160g pack smoked mackerel (split fillets), skinned
  • 1 spring onion , roughly chopped

Tip the melted butter, lemon zest, mackerel and spring onion into a food processor and blend until smooth. Spoon into a ramekin and smooth the top.

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