Monday, 30 May 2011

Chilli and thyme spiced nuts

Crisps are usually my snack of choice, but I do occasionally switch to a nut-based option. Nice as they are salted cashews are now a bit ubiquitous, so I thought I'd make something a little different when snacks were required this weekend.
These walnuts and pecans flavoured with chilli and thyme are incredibly simple to make but very tasty. It's probably a bit much to call the below a recipe, as you can adjust any of the amounts or the type of nut as you see fit.

Recipe (enough for one generous snacking portion)
Handful of walnut halves
Handful of pecan halves
1 tbsp olive oil
Around 1/2 tsp chilli flakes
Around 1 tsp chopped fresh thyme leaves
Around 1/2 tsp coarsely ground salt
A few grinds of black pepper

Heat up the oil in a small frying pan until it's warm (but not seriously hot). Throw in the nuts and toast over a medium heat for a couple of minutes, and then add in all the other flavourings. Keep things moving around in the pan until the walnuts have changed colour to a golden brown. This should take about six or seven minutes, but do not leave the pan alone as the nuts will inevitably catch and burn. When they're done, scoff while making hi-larious jokes about hot, salty nuts!

Thursday, 19 May 2011

The Willow Tree, Bourn, Cambridgeshire, UK

I was taken out for a rather nice dinner last week. The Willow Tree gastropub in Bourn is about twenty minutes from central Cambridge. It's one of those places that you'd find quite hard to just randomly stumble across, and I'd never heard of it before. However lots of other people obviously had as it was pretty packed out for a week night in the countryside. The pub has a really lovely shabby chic look inside, and a highly impressive specials board (see below).

The menu is a combination of some pub classics such as burgers and fish and chips with more restaurant-style dishes. The main menu is pretty big in itself, and with specials for each course there also seemed to be an emphasis placed on local and seasonal ingredients.

Best specials board ever.

I kicked off with a starter of fresh crab and smoked salmon mille feuille with a chard and radish salsa. This was a perfect light summer starter, which had very generous amounts of flavourful crab and salmon. The Male Companion Person (MCP) went for a bresaola and mozzarella salad, one of the specials, which was also declared delicious.

For my main course I reverted back to pub-style and went for fish and chips, while the MCP stuck with the more 'gastro' pan-fried sea bass and spring vegetables. My haddock came in a light batter, which could have been a little crisper, but was still very tasty. The chips were somewhat on the giant side (really not sure if I approve of the trend towards brick-sized chips) but again were cooked very well. And I really liked the pea puree, which retained the natural sweetness of the peas. The sea bass disappeared very rapidly, and was still being talked about several days later.

I was unfortunately far too full to sample a pudding but did manage a cafe mocha. This was also notable for how nice it was, made with proper coffee rather than from a sachet. Also of note was my glass of Cabernet Sauvignon Spanish rosé wine. This was beautifully fruity, and though it may have been a little sweet for some, it was perfect for me.
So all in all, with the lovely surroundings, prompt and attentive but not over the top service, and delicious food, there was very little not to like about The Willow Tree. I think it was reasonably priced for the quality of food it offered, and though the MCP paid on this occasion you can get an idea of prices from the menu. So props to the MCP for discovering this gastropub, and I am very much looking forward to a return visit!

The Willow Tree
High Street
Cambridge CB23 3SQ

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Foreman and Field smoked salmon

I remember back in the day when smoked salmon was a real treat to be ooo and ahhh over. These days it's more of a daily commodity; a mainstay of office meeting catering that can often be taken for granted. However there are still producers that make smoked salmon that rises above the average supermarket offerings.

I had heard of Foreman's smoked salmon and their mail order arm Foreman and Field courtesy of some other food bloggers, so when I was asked if I'd like to try some of their London cure smoked Scottish salmon I said yes (very quickly).

I was sent 200g of their London cure, and wanting to keep things simple I used it in a big grilled asparagus, rocket and watercress salad for two, and two rounds of toast and scrambled eggs the following day. I think this actually might have been the nicest smoked salmon I've eaten. It was beautifully rich, but with a very mild smokiness that really let the flavour of the salmon come through. This delicate flavour meant that it was particular good with the eggs, and didn't dominate either dish.

As you might expect this quality doesn't come cheap, with 200g priced at £9.95 but this amount would easily serve four people as a generous starter (or an equivalent permutation). This is not really an everyday purchase, but is a great example of a product that is really worth a premium price and I quite like the idea of smoked salmon being something for special occasions again.

H.Foreman London cure Scottish smoked salmon from Foreman and Field
I rate it 9/10
Cost: From £9.95 for 200g

Thanks to Foreman and Field who sent me my smoked salmon for free and gratis.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Home-made pizza success

The idea of making my own pizza from scratch never occurred to me until quite recently. I'm not really sure why, but it probably relates to my fear (and poor track record) of making things involving yeast. However this recipe by Deepa on her Lazy Giraffe blog looked both pretty simple and very delicious. I followed Deepa's recipe exactly for the base, but had to omit the broccoli from the topping as I didn't have any. However the pizza turned out really well with just the garlic, creme fraiche, mozzarella and a sprinkling of herbs in a bianco style. As you can see from the picture, I had some oozing over the side issues so the lesson for next time is not to over-do things with the topping, but apart from that this pizza was amazingly good! Fully cooked through, light in the centre with a crisp crust, plenty of melting cheese, and authentic 'air pockets' (or whatever the technical term is).

I used more of the dough to make an alternative version with some bought sun-dried tomato pesto, more mozzarella cheese and some thinly sliced red onion- which was also fab.

Here are a few extra things I discovered while making this pizza:
i) I ended up with quite a lot of liquid leftover from the initial recipe so just chucked in some extra flour and made more dough. I split this into individual portions and put it in the freezer (in some well oiled freezer bags). I defrosted the dough in the fridge overnight when I wanted to use it, and it the next day it was perfect to roll out . Thanks to Deepa for this tip.
ii) I found this dough quite sticky, so you'll need a well floured board and hands to roll it out.
iii) I didn't heat up the tray the pizza went on, but did pre-heat my gas oven on the highest setting for about twenty minutes and put the tray on the highest shelf in there. The pizza took around 10-15minutes to cook.

So in conclusion, there are times when you wonder if it's worth making something at home that you can easily buy in the shops, but in this case it is definitely worth it. The recipe is simple enough to make as a quick post-work dinner (even with the proving time), and you can choose whatever you want as a topping- bonus!