Friday, December 22, 2006

More Christmas Biscuits

Thurs 21 Dec 2006

You could be forgiven for thinking that I never bake anything that's not sweet, and this is partially true. Which is a bit odd because I am far fussier about sweet food and have a tendancy to prefer savoury. Anyway, there's been a bit of a recent baking frenzy, as I'm going away for over a week and I am almost in shock from the thought of being without my kitchen (and food processor!) for so long ...

I spotted these cheddar and stilton biscuits in the free Asda magazine for December and thought I should have a go ... with a food processor, they're very simple. As usual, a few changes along the way ...

Take 225g of plain flour and add 1/2 tsp of Keen's Curry Powder (the original recipe said 1/4 tsp of cayenne and 1/4 tsp mustard powder) then process with 125g of unsalted butter. Add 75g of cheddar (finely grated, or, with a food processor you can just chop it) and 50g of stilton (crumbled). Finally add 1 egg and process until it comes into a ball.

Lightly knead the dough, wrap in cling film and rest in the fridge for about half an hour.

Roll out to approx 5 mm thick and cut into biscuits. Bake at 180C for about 20 minutes. Leave on the tray for about 10 minutes, before transferring to a wire rack to cool.

The verdict: Housemate and I both really liked them, although I would be tempted to go for more curry powder/cayenne. At work, I had one request for discrete pieces of stilton (easily done - crumble the stilton and knead it though the dough rather than processing it in), two requests for the biscuits being less well cooked (in which case, I'd use an egg wash to help them brown up) and one request for the biscuits to be crisper.

I guess this proves you can't please everyone at once!

The biscuits are great by themselves, but if you're entertaining you could always top with a sliver of parma ham and some tapenade or anchoiade.

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Thursday, December 21, 2006

Christmas Presents!

Wed 20 Dec 2006

Well, I doubt hardly anyone can escape Christmas's relentless and onward march. You might have gathered that I've been doing a fair bit of eating and drinking and not a lot of writing ... just saving up a lot for the new year!

Anyway, Santa came a bit early to the Eating Leeds grotto ... and deposited a sausage making machine! I've spent the best part of the last year going on about making my own sausages and it's finally going to happen (well, first weekend of January anyway!).

The machine is a very impressive Bomann number: as it's German I'm quite confident it will do well in the sausage making stakes, and I'm just gutted that I can't remember the fantastic German name for it (something involving the word 'fleisch' - which I think just sounds brilliant!).

Along with the machine (which, incidentally, comes with a biscuit making attachment) I also received enough natural casings to make about 200 lbs of sausages, as well as a rusk mix which will enable me to make about 20 kg of sausages! So I have a lot of sausage making to do!

In the first instance, it will be a case of slowly, slowly ... but early in 2007 you should get to see photos of the machine in action and its end product!

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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Shortbread II

Tues 12 Dec 2006

At the risk of getting into trouble about the lack of both Australia and Newcastle posts I am going to write about the next adventure in shortbread comparison. As I've mentioned before, sheer laziness makes me love this biscuit. Now, last time I tried out a recipe which used polenta - a novel inclusion (after all, Larousse's version is just butter, sugar and flour), which made the shortbread a lovely colour, and added a certain savoury something. No one complained.

Now, I've moved on to a recipe contain ground rice. This recipe I found on the Undiscovered Scotland website, which claims to be 'the ultimate on line guide'.

As this is fast becoming an exercise, I am more interested in ingredients and quantities than process (other than cooking temperatures and times), so everything went into the Magimix, was blitzed up and was then pressed into my baking paper lined roasting dish (more mixture this time, and also ended up with thinner shortbread).

So, for recipe number 2 we have ... 200g of butter, 60g ground rice, 85g caster sugar and 175g of plain flour. I cooked at 150C for pretty much bang on 35 minutes.

At the risk of sounding a little like a very well known chef who is appearing on UK television in search of perfection, the proportions in the two recipes are VERY similar. In fact, the proportions of flour and sugar are the same while recipe number 2 has slightly more butter and less secondary grain product.

This is interesting because the comment at work was 'this is sweeter than the last lot'. In fact, the vote overwhelmingly went in favour of batch 2 at both home and at work.

Now - is this to do with the subtle proportion shift, cooking for less time (and producing a thinner biscuit), using ground rice instead of polenta - or making the two almost two weeks apart and no one really remembering?

I have to say that in recipe number 2 the higher porportion of butter is noticeable in both the taste and texture of the biscuit.

I'm tempted to stick with the second lot of proportions - I'm really enjoying the noticeably buttery, crumbly shortbread. And I am very tempted to mess with the 'fourth ingredient' - but will the next batch be with rice flour, with no fourth ingredient, or will it contain cumin? And will we all have to wait until next Christmas to find out?!

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Monday, December 11, 2006


Sat 9 Dec 2006

I know there is still a lot to catch up on but ... as it's the run up to Christmas I thought I'd drop in a quick recipe for the ideal winter and red wine snack. These little cheese puffs, which apparently originate from Bourgogne (Dijon, Tonnerre), are excellent winter warmers and very easy to make - ideal for random visitors who need something to soak up the wine!

We had them on Saturday night, with smoked salmon, some brie and some cashel blue, some crusty bread and a bottle of champagne. A very proper way to celebrate the weekend!

Preheat the oven to 200C. In a saucepan put half a cup of milk, half a cup of water and 50g of chopped butter (normally I would use unsalted but circumstances meant I used lightly salted). I also added a couple of sprigs of thyme, to infuse the milk.

Bring this mix to the boil (the butter will melt) and remove from the heat, stirring in 2/3 cup of plain flour. Ensure this is well combined, before returning to a low heat to cook out the flour. Keep stirring.

Remove from the heat and add 3 eggs, one at a time, ensuring each is well mixed in before adding the next. Obviously, as the choux mixture is hot you need to keep stirring, stirring so you don't end up with scrambled eggs. Add a generous tablespoon of Dijon mustard and a good 50g of finely grated gruyere. Ensure it's all well combined. Have a taste and adjust seasoning as necessary. Remove the thyme sprigs if using.

Spoon out the mixture onto baking trays (parchment lined to save hassle, or at least rubbed over with some flavourless oil) and bake for about 20 minutes, until puffed and golden. You could do teaspoons of the mixture and produce some dainty finger food for a party, or you can do massive, generous tablespoons of mixture, which is more supper-size than society-size. This recipe produced about 14 big ones. All duly scoffed. You rarely have to worry about left-overs with these, which is a good thing as they don't keep.

This recipe is based on that which appeared in the November 2002 issue of Australian Gourmet Traveller. AGT suggested brushing the gougere with an egg wash before cooking, and also adjusting the temperature part way through cooking (only down to 190C). The egg wash sounded a bit of hassle and if you bake and you know your oven you'll have a gut feeling for when these are done.

They are very soft, hot, squidgy, gooey numbers. You most certainly don't want them cooked through like a biscuit. And of course you can vary them to your heart's content. I prefer the addition of some parmesan (a bit sharper than the gruyere), and also a little paprika or chilli powder. The only thing that you need to be careful about is not overloading the choux pastry mix with cheese, otherwise they won't puff up!

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Thursday, December 07, 2006

Eating Newcastle I

Sat 2 - Mon 4 Dec 2006

Every year I say it is my year of visiting different places in England. And every year I am lucky if I make it as far away as, say, York or Sheffield.

Finally, I've managed a bit of a change of scenery. My first ever glimpse of Newcastle was from a train window, as I was on my to Aviemore. That was in 1994, and all I saw was a bit of the Tyne Bridge and some snow. It didn't overwhelm me.

For some reason, subsequently, I've had a real bee in my bonnet about visiting ... so, with train fares booked, it was just a case of finding somewhere to eat ...

Actually, first (food related) stop was a coffee at Coco V, a bar in Bewick House, near the station. It was a really light airy bar, the coffee was really cheap and really good. What was even better was that the coffee was served with REAL sugar! Not sugar in little paper packets, and not even a bowl of bog standard sugar - but a bowl of gorgeous, caramel coloured lumps of brown sugar. I don't take sugar in my coffee, but I made an exception ...

Next stop was lunch at Cafe 21. The visit didn't start too well, as when I rang to make the reservation there was a bit of confusion, and when I queried the availability of the set lunch menu the woman on the end of the phone told me she didn't know as she had only just started. Maybe a bit of a hitch in the training department. I was eventually told that the Christmas menu would be on (and obviously, more expensive than the usual lunch menu).

Time for a rant. Christmas menus are clearly designed for those people who eat out once a year. For this little trip, it turned out that the two restaurants I wanted to eat at both had Christmas menus on (and both full of 'appropriately' seasonal food). Why would I want to eat TWO Christmas menus in the space of two days? Indeed, in the space of a month? I'll have Christmas menu on Christmas Day, thank you. I'm more than happy to eat seasonal menus, and I think it's quite reasonable for restaurants to offer a special menu for Christmas parties, but WHY waste menu space with roast turkey and Christmas pudding for those of us coming in for a normal lunch?

This made me cross before I even got to Newcastle, but when we arrived at Cafe 21 we were given the a la carte menu and a non-Christmassy lunch menu. What a relief!

Our table wasn't ready, so we waited at the bar with a couple of drinks (no sparkling wine by the glass - shock!). We did have a 2pm reservation, and I'm prepared to concede a small wait while the table turns around, but I'm not sure about the half hour we actually waited.

After all this whinging, the food was pretty good. I started with the Northumbrian game pate. This was very good - a lovely chunky terrine, with different meats, served with good sourdough bread that had been lightly toasted and cornichons. The toast was a bit cold, but the bread was such a massive improvement on the incredibly sad (and rather nasty) baguette that was served as table bread, that I was prepared to overlook it. The pate was served with some salad and a sort of apple and onion chutney (I don't really get the sweet chutney thing, so I can't comment on how good or otherwise it was).

Andy started with morteau sausage served with puy lentils. A pretty hearty and warming starter! This also tasted good, but I rather thought that I won with the game pate.

Mains (as ever, following swiftly) were roast chicken with bubble and squeak for Andy and fish cakes with buttered spinach and parsley sauce for me. Andy thought the bubble and squeak quite sweet, and while my fish cakes with their spinach and sauce were absolutely delicious, the shoestring 'fries' that came with them were a little bit ... sad. What's wrong with some proper chips?!

And so we moved on to dessert. As usual, it was left to me to do the valiant thing and while there were quite a few things on the menu that appealed, I decided on the apple tart with cinnamon icecream (mainly for the cinnamon icecream). Unfortunately they were out of apple tarts and while I could have had a creme brulee I opted for the icecream on its own. It was delicious and was served with the most beautiful small shovel like spoon! How appropriate!

Shovelling finished, wine drunk (Painters Bridge Zinfandel - at £21 in the middle to lower end of the price range of the wine list) and coffees digesting the only thing left was the bill. Which came in at around £65 for the two of us. It was the drinks that cranked it up, as the lunch menu is only £16.50 for 3 courses. Personally, I think that given we were on time for our reservation and had to wait so long something should have been knocked off the bill. Even if my icecream hadn't pushed me up to a 3 course (rather than 2 course) meal I would have been impressed.

Overall, Cafe 21 does good solid food in a really relaxed and pleasant atmosphere. I'd definitely be keen to go back and eat from the a la carte menu (which is significantly more expensive). However, there are some service and food issues that do need ironing out: diners don't want to see a waiter carting a rubbish bag out through the restaurant (I'm not joking), diners don't want to wait 20-30 minutes for a reservation, and diners would like at least one sparkling wine to be served by the glass, good bread and decent chips!

Well, that's this diner anyway!

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1. Coco V, Bewick House, Bewick Street, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 5EF, phone 0191 2301522
2. Cafe 21, 19-21 Queen St, Newcastle Upon Tyne NE1 3UG, phone 0191 2220755
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Wednesday, December 06, 2006

News Round

The big exciting, and food related, news of this week is that not one but TWO of EatingLeeds' friends have scored partial scholarships for the University of Adelaide/Le Cordon Bleu Professional Certificate of Gastronomy course! A competition was run by Sumptuous magazine, in association with Le Cordon Bleu, with the main prize being a full scholarship. But both Maureen Prichard (that's my mum!) and I were among those Highly Commended who won partial scholarships. At the risk of sounding self-congratulatory, well done to us! The course takes place over three months at the beginning of next year. Fortunately (or is that unfortunately?!) I can study online, as the commute to the University of Adelaide might be a bit tough!

In other more immediate news, if you've been living under a rock you won't have noticed the hullabaloo about the Threshers 40% off voucher. You can head over to Spittoon to download it, but you have to make use of it before 10 December. Note that you can make use of it at Thresher Group outlets, so that includes WineRack and Bottoms Up. And you can spend up to £500. No catch (and yes, I have already used mine!).

While you're thinking about saving money, if you live in Leeds and have more than a passing interest in food you might want to consider signing up (or signing up a loved one) for Harvey Nick's Bite club. Sign up before the 9th and you'll receive a £30 voucher towards dinner in January - and the restaurant has just been voted best in Leeds!

Enough of the bargain hunting!

My random blog of the week is Tastes of Life. At the minute it's very wine oriented (well - it is the season for imbibing!), but it's interesting to to read the thoughts of an 'ordinary' drinker (in quotes, because Victoria does seem very keen).

In EatingLeeds news - stay tuned for (finally!) a description of dinner at the Grange Restaurant, Cheong Lieuw's fusion flagship restaurant in Adelaide, and also tales of eating and drinking in Newcastle (Tyne and Wear, not New South Wales). And I will be making some more shortbread too!
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Friday, December 01, 2006


Wed 29 Nov 06

As it's coming up to Christmas, and the guys at work have been deprived of biscuits for a while, I thought I'd put together some shortbread. This was driven by sheer laziness on my part, as shortbread is nice and easy to make. Housemate was hoping for millionaire shortbread (caramel and chocolate topping), but last time I made that it took me all night, and I ended up with loads of left-over caramel which turned into my dinner for about a week (healthy, I know).

I spotted this recipe on Chocolate and Zucchini, and was intrigued by the use of polenta. Once I started doing some reading I found many variations on a theme. A lot seem to add rice flour or ground rice to the mix. I was tempted to do this myself, as I had some ground rice left over from my bakewell tart making. By this point my prevarication was doing Housemate's head in, who suggested that I just use the first recipe.

So I did. Into the Magimix went 150g of unsalted butter (Clotilde at C&Z uses salted but I'm yet to be convinced about salted butter doing anything other than going on toast or crusty bread), 70g golden caster sugar, 70g polenta, 1/2 tsp of vanilla extract and 150g of plain flour. The Magimix did its business, and before I knew it I was pressing the mix into a baking parchment lined baking dish (a 23cm rectangular one - it made a nice thick shortbread). I didn't bother with any kneading - just straight from food processor to baking dish. For a bit of traditional decoration, I attacked it with a fork before putting it in the oven.

I preheated the oven to 160C and cooked it for about 50 minutes. I cut it into squares (I think it was about 20) as soon as it came out and let it cool in the pan.

It really was that easy. No excuses for not carting some homemade biscuits round to friends' houses when you go for Christmas drinks!

The polenta makes the mix the most wonderful yellow colour - so much less anaemic than just flour. One of the requests from work had been for shortbread which was slightly chewy in the middle, which this wasn't. I enjoyed it because it wasn't overwhelmingly sweet, and it was lovely and short and crumbly. I can't see what salted butter would have offered, although I should probably give it a go at some point. Actually, given the number of shortbread variations there are, I'm quite tempted to do a survey ...

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