Monday, July 30, 2007

Mrs Verney's Moist Lemon Cake

The cake-baking has become a bit of a 'thing'. I now feel that if I don't produce a cake for a friend's birthday, I have somehow failed as a friend. It is fortunate that I love nothing better than a spot of the old baking, however, I've got a little bored of the birthday cupcakes now and so decided something different was in order for the latest birthday. I asked the birthday girl for her favourite cake flavour and was thrilled when she named two of my favourites; ginger cake and lemon drizzle cake.
Unable to decide which to go for, I plumped for both. And served both for tea along with cucumber sandwiches and smoked salmon sandwiches (crusts removed, naturally). It was a teatime feast that we managed to devour despite being just two in number! Never knowingly undercatered, that's my motto.
For the ginger, I whipped up the deep and dark ginger cake about which I have already posted. This time, I refrained from smothering the sticky gingery treat in lemon icing and simply drizzled a little over the top. More artistic, certainly....

For the lemon, I turned to a trusted recipe that is easy-as-pie as you simply throw all the ingredients into the food processor together. I altered it slightly by including some orange rind and juice as well as the lemon. It was, I think, a good adjustment to make.


4oz butter

6oz caster sugar

6oz self-raising flour

1 level teaspoon baking powder

2 large eggs

Grated rind of 1 large or 2 small lemons (or replace for one lemon and one orange)

2 1/2 fl oz milk

1. Pre-heat oven to 180C. Grease and line a loaf tin.

2. Place all ingredients in the food processor and whizz until smooth. Yes, really.

3. Pour into prepared loaf tin and bake for 40-45 minutes, until a skewer comes out clean.

4. Whilst baking, prepare the syrup. Dissolve 3 tablespoons of sugar in the juice of the lemons (and oranges) that you grated for the cake. Heat until starts to bubble.

5. Remove cake from oven and prick all over with a skewer. Pour over the lemon syrup. Leave in tin until cool. Sprinkle with a little sugar if desired.

The cake is deliciously moist and keeps fairly well in an airtight tin. Not that we got the chance to discover - we made short work of both cakes on day one and finished the rest in our respective offices the next day!Both were delicious, though the ginger perhaps a touch more photogenic...!

Saturday, July 28, 2007

In the Bag - July

This is my first ever attempt at a food blogging 'event'. Each month, a selection of seasonal ingredients are chosen and food bloggers have to create a dish using said ingredients. This month's event is organised by Julia at A Slice of Cherry Pie and the ingredients in question are:


My slight concern here is that a) I only found the event today, and strictly speaking the entries are due in today and b) being such a novice at all this, I am not sure that I will 'tag' my entry properly and may therefore not be able to enter. Oh well - it is still a good culinary experiment!

Having just returned from a holiday in Provence, I was in just the mood for these ingredients. One night I cooked up an oven-roasted ratatouille from Delia's Summer Cook Book.
It was superb - I particularly enjoyed the way the vegetables kept their shape better than in the usual method. As Delia says, 'once you've tried it roasted like this, you'll never want to go back to the original method'. And I wouldn't want to argue with Delia. Anyway, I had also been wanting to try a recipe from BBC Good Food for stuffed baked courgettes - I LOVE courgettes. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to combine the two. I also made some basil oil just a few days ago which came in very handy.

The results were very good - all the flavours of the Mediterranean in a different-to-usual form. I was transported back to my holiday and after one bite, decided to take supper outside (a first for this summer, what with the awful weather we have been experiencing). Sadly, all hopes of an alfresco evening were dashed when, within moments of my sitting down, the rain started to fall. Oh well, if I can't have summer outside, at least I can enjoy a ray of sunshine inside with this dish...

Courgettes stuffed with aubergine and red pepper ratatouille

Ingredients (serves four as a side dish, or 2 as a main course)

2 courgettes (I used one green and one yellow)
1 medium aubergine
1 red pepper
1 medium onion
2 medium tomatoes
1 clove garlic
Half a red chilli (optional)
Handful of basil leaves
Olive oil
4 tablespoons of breadcrumbs mixed with 6 tablespoons of grated Parmesan

1. If possible, a few days prior to making the recipe, tear up the basil leaves and place in a jar with olive oil. Leave to infuse.

2. Pre-heat oven to 200C. Peel half of the aubergine (see notes) and chop into 1cm cubes. Place in sieve over a large bowl (to catch the juices). Sprinkle over 1 dessert spoon of salt, place a plate on top and weigh down for an hour. The salt helps to draw out the bitterness.

3. Meanwhile, half the courgettes and scoop out the middles with a teaspoon -

4. De-seed the pepper and chop into 1cm cubes, along with the chilli, if using. Do the same with the onion. Finely chop the garlic clove.

5. Make a small cross in the base of each tomato and pour over boiling water. Leave for one minute. Drain. Peel tomatoes and chop into 1cm cubes (no need to de-seed).

6. Squeeze any remaining liquid from the aubergine and dry thoroughly with a piece of kitchen roll. Place in a bowl with the pepper, tomato, chilli and garlic. Pour over a couple of tablespoonfuls of the basil oil, adding a little freshly torn basil too. Mix thoroughly with your hands so all is well-coated.

7. Stuff the aubergine and pepper ratatouille into the hollowed out courgettes. Place carefully in a baking dish and cover with foil.

8. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes at 200C.

9. Remove from oven and remove foil. Sprinkle over the breadcrumb and Parmesan mixture and return to oven for 20 minutes until golden and bubbling.

Notes -

I chose to peel half the aubergine as I find the skin to be quite bitter. Peeling half gives just enough flavour from the skin, without the bitterness. The salting and weighting down also helps.

I ate this as a side dish with a herby, chargrilled lamb steak. A delicious combination. But it would also be good as a light lunchtime meal.

Wine Notes -

I enjoyed this as a side dish with chargrilled lamb. It was perfect with a full-bodied rosé from the South of France.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Lemon Sole with Pea Purée

I have an embarrassing confession to make. If someone asked me to name my favourite vegetable, I have a sneaky suspicion that I might name the common or garden pea. No, not even a sugar snap. Just the plain, ordinary, bog-standard pea.

I am embarrassed by this on various levels. Firstly, it seems somewhat unimaginative. With all the wonderful vegetables now available to us, why would I choose something so... routine? Secondly, and this really pains me to write, but I have a slight preference towards the frozen variety over the fresh. Yes. Really. Ok, so a freshly shelled pea plucked from the stalk moments ago takes some beating, but once they have been packed up and sat around for a few days they seem to develop a nasty, hard texture and loose all their sweetness. Frozen peas seem to retain their lovely pea flavour for longer. Is it just me? I hope not.

Anyway, my love for the humble pea is bordering on obsession. I throw them liberally into pasta sauces, pour a few into a risotto, simmer them in ham stock and whizz them into a soup. Pair them with almost anything and everything. Imagine my sheer delight when I discovered that my newest brother-in-law shares my passion and insists on them with the Christmas turkey. In a bit to make him 'feel at home' my mother grudgingly permitted them to be served with the festive feast last year. A triumph for the simple pea.

Last night I fancied some fish. As you do. I picked up a bit of lemon sole. What to serve with it? Peas, of course. Better still, a pea purée. I picked up a some fresh peas - surprisingly good ones with a lovely sweetness. I'll eat the remaining ones raw tonight in a salad. This was a simple and quick supper but good enough to impress if you had guests. It is pleasing both on the eye and the palate.

Ingredients - for 2

2 fillets of lemon sole
juice and grated rind of half a lemon
Knob of butter
Sprig of thyme

1 leek or small white onion
4 good handfuls of peas (fresh or frozen)
Vegetable stock cube
1 tablespoon cream cheese or creme fraiche
Salt and pepper

Pre-heat oven to 200C
1. Place each fillet of sole onto a large sheet of foil. Top with lemon rind and juice. Dot with butter. Season well with salt and pepper and sprinkle over the thyme leaves.

2. Fold foil around the fish to create a parcel, leaving a little space between the fish and the foil at the top so that the fish can 'steam' within the parcel. This will ensure it stays moist.

3. Bake fish in oven for 10 minutes.

4. Whilst the fish is cooking, sweat the leek or onion in a little butter until translucent. Add the peas and a little boiling water. Add the stock cube and simmer for a couple of minutes, until the peas are cooked.

5. Drain the peas but RETAIN the water. Place peas in blender along with a little of the stock and whizz until fairly smooth - add more stock until desired consistency. Add cream cheese or creme fraiche to taste. Season well.

6. Pour purée onto plates and top with the cooked fish.

Notes - I served this with some crushed new potatoes under the fish. Don't do as I did and use chicken stock rather than vegetable - I found the flavour of the chicken stock a little overwhelming with the fish.

Wine Notes - I enjoyed an Alsace Pinot Blanc from Josmeyer with this.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Lamb Inn, Hindon

It is wedding season. I've reached that age where I am entirely able to identify with Hugh Grant in 'Four Weddings and a Funeral'. Everyone I know (with the notable exception of yours truly) seems to be heading down the aisle. Fortunately, I love a good wedding. Everything from the mad dash to some far flung corner of the muddy countryside to the uncertainty about the selected B&B. I love a good rendition of 'Bread of Heaven' in the church, admiring the dashing men (all married, of course) in their morning suits, shedding a tear at the arrival of the bride, the endless Champagne, the speeches, the hopefulness of the table plan (perhaps it'll be the man of my dreams...? ''Oh, Great Uncle Geoffrey. How lovely to meet you.'') and the dancing. Oh. I love the dancing.

One of the great attractions of weddings is the chance to spend a weekend in some part of the country previously unexplored. It is terrible that one should need an 'excuse' for a mini-break in one's own fair nation, but this sadly seems to be the case these busy days. So, this weekend, I headed through the floods to the Dorset/Wiltshire border for the wedding of a very dear friend (super wedding, by the way, in case she is reading). I stayed at a rather dodgy B&B nearby (think lots of lace doilies and strange ornaments). I was hoping that following this trip I would be reporting on a wonderful meal at The Museum Inn near Blandford Forum. Sadly not. We tried. We failed. The chef stormed off in a huff and refused to cook our meal due to the late hour (despite being promised it would be fine and the orders taken!). To be fair, the staff couldn't have been more apologetic and produced a good 'cold plate' and lots of free wine. I shall be back for a second attempt.

However, I can be very complimentary about the excellent Lamb Inn in Hindon. Sunday was unsurprisingly a somewhat hungover affair. The sort of day where everything is hysterically funny. Kicked out of the B&B at 10.30am, we headed off in search of amusement and sustenance. First stop: 'Home Farm Shop', a cracking farm shop selling all sorts of culinary deliciousness from organic meats and vegetables to wonderful chutneys, cakes, spices and freshly-laid eggs.
We stocked up on various goodies, had a chat with the resident Bantams...
...and managed to resist the cute little tea-room, 'Abigail's Kitchen'...
...and headed onwards, towards Longleat Safari Park (yes, we really were in quite a silly mood).

Driving in convoy, I was slightly alarmed when the leading car veered off the Longleat road to some village called Hindon. Why were we going there? As we pulled up in the very charming high street, it all became clear. The Lamb Inn. Of course. The Lamb, according to the blurb, began trading as a public house as early as the 12th century. Today it is owned and run by the Boisdale group, responsible for the two excellent Scottish-style restaurants in Belgravia and The City. The Belgravia establishment renowned for its jazz and cigars.

The Lamb is dark and heavy to tartan. A glance at the bar reveals that this is a place that takes its whisky seriously. Hair of dog, anyone? Pale faces take on a definite green tinge. Lime and sodas, all round then. Lots of fireplaces - this is definitely more of a winter place rather than summer.

Our request to sit outside is met with some surprise. It is a rather chilly day for July, but we are clearly in need of fresh air and are prepared to brave it. The menu arrives. Such joy. It all sounds delicious in a comforting, undemanding sort of way. Roasts dominate the Sunday menu - we just know that the meat will be a serious cut above the average.

My loin of pork arrives - one smell and my mouth is watering. The meat is sliced thinly and fairly well-cooked (some might say over-cooked, but it was still moist and the flavour was superb). Mustardy mash was perfectly flavoured and the accompanying cabbage came with bits of smoky bacon. The wonderful gravy was divine.

Roast beef had great flavour too and came with the most enormous Yorkshire puddings ever.

This was great, delicious British food at its very best. Cooked simply, the quality ingredients sung out. No need to fancy presentation or artistry. It simply smelt and tasted divine.

The best surprise was the bill. Admittedly, we stuck to those lime and sodas and we didn't have any extras. But the bill was £30 for three. Just the ticket. Those accompanying me will be disappointed if I don't say this one more time: 'it was great value for money'.

We headed to Longleat fully satisfied. Hangovers long forgotten.

The Lamb Inn, Hindon, Wiltshire SP36DP
Tel - 01747b 820 573

Home Farm Shop, Tarrant Gunville, Near Blandford Forum, Dorset

Friday, July 20, 2007

Retro Cupcakes

As regular readers will know, I love to bake. I am passionate about cakes in all their forms. By this, I do not mean beautifully presented, delicately decorated cakes. I simply do not have the artistic flair (or patience) required for such confections. For me, some of the best cakes are those that are entirely without glamour, but that taste surprisingly delicious. An innocent-looking carrot cake can be a thing of beauty without the need for elaborate embellishment. A fruit-packed tea-bread may not look exciting but can be sensationally satisfying.

Whilst I would generally chose to bake a 'whole' cake for a birthday, there is something appealing about a tray of brightly coloured cup cakes. And something practical too. No need for knife - everyone can simply help themselves. This is the third time I have produced a tray of these beauties for friends' birthdays and they always seem to go down well. It would be wonderful to decorate them beautifully and dream up some fancy flavours, but I can leave others to that ( As I mentioned, I lack patience and small fiddly things drive me insane. So, instead, I choose retro.

Bring on the dazzling artificial decorations of my youth! Hundreds and thousands, check. Orange and lemon slices, check. Silver balls, check. Food dye, check.

This time, I chose to make half lemon cupcakes (2oz flour, sugar and butter to each egg, grated rind of one lemon plus a little milk to reach desired consistency, whizz together and bake for around 15 minutes at 200C) and half chocolate (a marginally more complex recipe from Nigella's 'How to be a Domestic Goddess').

The lemon cakes were topped with (of course) lemon icing (make as usual, substitute water for lemon juice), which I dyed in pretty pink and green. The chocolate ones were treated to a delicious, tooth-achingly sweet chocolate fudge icing, the recipe herewith...

Heat 175g butter and 6tblsp water with 225g caster sugar.
Once sugar has dissolved, bring to boil. Once mixture is boiling, remove from heat and add 100g drinking chocolate and 350g icing sugar. Beat until thoroughly mixed. Cool before use.
Notes - Sieve the icing sugar before use. Do not cut corners here - it will be lumpy!
I am uncertain of the provenance of this recipe - it came from my mother.
Anyway, once the little fellows are iced, the fun begins - decorate as garishly as possible, I say.

A nice touch is to leave some unadorned (if you can resist) and then pipe the birthday girl/boy's name across the centre.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Tsumani, Clapham North

So, I am going out for dinner with a friend. What do you fancy eating? is the usual question. My usual response - 'anything but Moroccan or Japanese'. I may be a foodie, but this does not necessarily mean that I enjoy all kinds of food. I try to be as adventurous as possible, but there are, I am afraid, one of two things that simply do not float my boat.

One of them is the combination of fruit and meat. Or fruit and anything savoury in fact. I can handle apple sauce with my pork and plum sauce with my duck but that is about where it ends. Coleslaw with sultanas? Please, no. Gammon with pineapple? Definitely not. A salad involving peaches? Only for pudding. So Moroccan tagines, as you can imagine, are not top of my list. I love the idea of the slow-cooked meat with all those lovely spices, but then the whole thing is ruined for me by the addition of dried apricots or similar fruity pieces.

As for Japanese food, I have to admit to not being too fond of raw fish. I am not sure why - I enjoy smoked or cured fish, so it is not a question of texture. For me, the flavour of many of these fishes is just more pleasing when it is cooked. And as for sushi - I am simply not hugely fond of all that sticky rice.

So. It was with some trepidation that I accepted an invitation to a birthday party at Tsunami, a restaurant in Clapham North whose kitchen is headed with an ex-Nobu chef. My dear friend Laura, knowing only too well my dislike for raw fish and my very unfortunate allergy to shellfish, assured me there would b plenty of other options that would please me. I trust her implicitly (she is similarly foodie) and braced myself for the experience.

And what an experience it was. I am ashamed by my naive assumptions about Japanese food. It was stunning. Platter after platter of divinely flavoured fish and meat was placed on our table to share. It was beautiful to look at and even better to taste.
The modern, unremarkable-to-look-at restaurant is located in the most unlikely of places. Tucked in a backstreet near Clapham North tube station - you would never find it unless you had received a tip-off. Clearly plenty of people had received said 'tip-off' - the restaurant was busy, a well-known politician amongst the diners.
We started with Japanese soy beans with rock salt - perfect with the celebratory glass of Champagne. Next we savoured melt-in-the-mouth chicken dumplings and seared salmon sashimi.

Next came sushi and the gleaming raw fish - I nibbled on a bit of sushi. It was excellent, as sushi goes. But I remain unconvinced. Still. It didn't matter as there were so many other wonderful dishes to enjoy. Vegetable tempura was light and tasty and, as with everything, came with wonderful dipping sauce.

The meat dishes were spectacularly good. I was surprised as I had expected the fish to be the star. Beef fillet was tender and flavoursome and accompanied by a delicious soy-based sauce. Teriyaki, perhaps, but I couldn't be sure. There was also good chargrilled lamb with wasabi pepper sauce that was memorable.

Sea bass was spectacularly presented...

I thought that the strong flavours of the accompanying sauce might overwhelm, but they complemented the fish perfectly. The best by far, however, wast the eagerly awaited black cod with sweet miso. This dish is legendary and harks back to Nobu. I felt sure it would disappoint, such was the build up. But oh no. Truly marvellous. I am unable to understand how the flesh of this fish could be made to seem to rich and luxurious beneath its sweet, sticky exterior. It was divine. I was disappointed that I had eaten so much already as I couldn't manage as much as I would have liked. So. A definite thumbs up for Tsunami. And a turn-around for me and my blinkered view of Japanese food. This was truly one of the best meals I have eaten in some time. In fact, I think it could be one of the best ever for the interesting flavours, varying textures and faultless service from the Tsunami staff. On the matter of service, the staff were informed ahead of time that I was allergic to shellfish. As each platter was placed on the table, three waiters would individually come and explain (discretely) what I could and couldn't eat, offering substitutes where necessary. I was seriously impressed.

Next stop, Morocco! Any suggestions?

Tsunami, 4-7 Voltaire Road, Clapham North, London, SW4

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Spiced Indonesian Stir-Fry with Cucumber Salad

Whilst looking for inspiration for a quick and easy supper on Sunday night, I picked up one of my many cookery books and started to browse. The book, entitled 15 Minute Cook by Anne Willian was given to me as a birthday present many years ago when I was a student, just starting out in the kitchen. Despite the useful-sounding title, I have never tried any of the recipes. This particular recipe appealed as I had almost all of the ingredients in the cupboard and fridge so minimum effort was required.

It is versatile as the flavours work well with beef, pork or chicken. I had a spare chicken breast, but actually I think next time I would make this with strips of beef fillet.

I adapted the recipe to fit in with the ingredients I had at home, adding some red onion and mange tout. I also changed the quantities for one person. This worked fine, though I wouldn't divide by four as you won't have quite enough sauce.

Ingredients (to serve four)

2 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon crushed dried red chilli pepper
2 teaspoons ground coriander (I very lightly crushed some coriander seeds which added a nice texture, plus were more aromatic than ready-ground, I think)
2 teaspoons ground ginger
3 tablespoons dark soy sauce
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 large red onion
750g chicken, beef fillet or pork fillet, cut into strips
2 tablespoons vegetable or groundnut oil
Mange tout or other green veg.

For the cucumber salad -
1 large cucumber
Small bunch fresh coriander, leaves only
250ml plain yoghurt (low-fat is fine)
Salt and pepper

1. First, make the salad. Half the cucumber and de-seed. Slice thinly and place in a bowl. Roughly chop two thirds of the coriander and add to cucumber with yoghurt and plenty of salt and pepper.

2. Finely chop (not crush) the garlic. Mix with the chilli, ground coriander, ginger, soy sauce and vinegar. Set to one side.

3. Thinly slice the red onion. Heat the oil in a wok and stir-fry the onion and the meat until almost cooked. Add the mange tout or other veg.

4. Add the spice mix and stir-fry for another minute or so, until the meat is cooked through (chicken/pork) or slightly rare in the case of beef.

5. Scatter over the remaining fresh coriander and serve with the cucumber salad and rice, or, as I did, noodles.

Notes - I served this with Pad Thai noodles that you cook in the wok - add just before serving and stir-fry for a minute or so, until soft.

Next time, I might use fresh chilli and ginger (although I would also use some dried ginger as this had a more intense, spicy edge to it.)
I did not have any rice vinegar - I used a little white wine vinegar, which seemed to work fine.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Alsace; the food, part 2. My first Michelin 3 stars!

Day two in Alsace bought further joys for the tastebuds. After a heavy morning's tasting (wonderful pinot noir at René Muré was a particular highlight), we were treated to lunch at Restaurant L'Esquisse in Guebwiller. The chef used to work at the Auberge de l'Ill (Alsace's only 3 star Michelin restaurant, more on which later). The food was beautifully presented and deliciously fresh. We started with a Gazpacho of tomatoes and marinated salmon which was topped with a frothy basil... froth. The accompanying tapenade toasts were the ideal accompaniment. This was a refreshing starter - the salmon added an unusual texture which grew on me as I progressed through the dish.

Next up was a fish called 'Rascasse' served on a bed of ratatouille. But this was no ordinary ratatouille - the vegetables were very finely diced and pan-fried for just a minute or so. The pleasing 'bite' was ideal with the flavoursome fish. Our French colleagues translated this fish as 'rock fish', but a quick glance in the Collins Robert tells me that it is, in fact, scorpion fish. In any case, it was delicious and a welcome lighter dish amongst the richness and excess of the trip to Alsace...

Pudding was a triumph. My beloved Fondant au chocolat. I just adore the way the chocolate oozes from the centre when the spoon in plunged in. Heaven. It was served with a grapefruit sorbet - equally delicious, but I wasn't convinced that it went well with the chocolate. I chose to eat the two separately.

This was an excellent meal. But nothing could have prepared me for the excitement of our final day. After a tougher-than-expected exam on the final day, we were rewarded with a six course meal at the Auberge de l'Ill. This stunning restaurant boasts the coveted three Michelin stars and was my first experience of such a celebrated eatery. Was I excited? Is Jimmy Saville slightly odd?

This glorious repast started in the garden with Crémant d'Alsace Brut, Cuvée St Julien from Dopff au Moulin. Dry, flavoursome and crisp it set the right tone. A few enticing nibbles were munched upon whilst sitting on the bank of the river Ill, flanked by glorious weeping willows. Here, the results of our 'exam' were announced. I was hugely surprised to be awarded third place (I had been fearing I would be sent to 'La Truite', a rather grim looking restaurant across the road which was to be the fate of any students who failed to impress!). After the short graduation ceremony, plus obligatory graduation photo....

...we were ushered into a very lovely timber-clad private room. Then the fun began. First a little amuse-bouche involving egg mousse and asparagus. Much more heavenly than it sounds. Then, onto the main event...

Terrine of Foie Gras 'Auberge de l'Ill' came first. Goose, of course. The very best. It simply melted in the mouth. It was accompanied by Pinot Gris Léon BEYER, Cuvée des Comtes d'Eguisheim, 2000. Interestingly, this was a dry pinot gris. Foie gras is commonly served with sweet wines - a glorious match, but not a great way to start a meal as it is hard to go from a sweet wine back to a dry. This worked remarkably well, proving that sweetness is not always necessary for a good foie gras match. I needed no more. I was already in heaven...

Next up was a speciality. A 'mousseline' of frog 'Paul Haeberlin'. Paul is the head chef. And this dish is masterpiece!

The 'mousseline' part was made of perch (I think). The frog (legs, I am presuming) was lovely and tender, but the true triumph was the riesling sauce, garnished with plenty of chives. Buttery, creamy and delicious. As Jean Trimbach said, 'why have olive oil when you can have butter'?! The accompanying Riesling JOSMEYER Grand Cru Hengst Samain, 1997 was superb. Pure, minerally and long, it went beautifully with this dish.

Next up, the fish course. Filet of sea bass with watermelon risotto and wasabi cream. Watermelon risotto? Really? Yes. Any good? Oh yes. The refreshingly crisp bite of the fresh watermelon was a welcome contrast to the creamy richness of the risotto. Trimbach's Riesling Cuvée Frédéric Emile, 1998 was equally wonderful.

You might be thinking that I was fairly full by this stage. Indeed. But we were only half way through this epic food odyssey. Next we hit some meat. An excellent excuse to head to MURE for some Pinot Noir. The Clos St Landelin, 2002 was an extremely fine and complex accompaniment to the pigeon, wrapped in cabbage, topped with a generous sprinkling of truffles and surrounded with crisp puff pastry. And the sauce. Oh. So rich and gorgeous it defies description

Time for a breather. A quick trip to the kitchen to meet the chef and see the workshop for these masterpieces. Then back to our table for cheese. Munster, of course. What else? Four variations on Munster this time - a small new potato filled with hot, runny Munster. Some young, fresh Munster and some more mature Munster, pungent and memorable. Accompanied by a very fine, aromatic Gewurztraminer from SCHLUMBEGER. Grand Cru Kitterlé, 2002 was still on the young side but it was easy to appreciate the potential.

Pudding was divine. A 'croustillant' of pear, chicory ice cream and caramel sauce was spectacularly good with the wonderfully sweet and exotically flavoured Gewurztraminer HUGEL Sélection de Grains Nobles 'S', 1997. You'd think, by this stage, we might have had enough. But oh no! The petits fours. Divine. Each person had a plate filled with various sweet treats. On the table were placed bowls of cherries, platters of freshly made chocolates and... the best... homemade marshmallows. Divine.

What a feast. Truly a meal of a lifetime. Huge thanks to our hosts, the Grandes Maisons d'Alsace for this wonderful experience.

Auberge de L'Ill, 2 rue des Colonges de Mont d'Or, Illerhausen

Restaurant L'Esquisse, 140 rue de la République, 68500 GUEBWILLER

Friday, July 06, 2007

Lovely lemon curd soufflés

So. The first piece of good news is that I have finally figured out how to do accents on the blog. Finally I can write about soufflés without worrying that people will think that I don't realise there should be an accent on the 'e'. I worry about these kinds of things, you know. Next thing you know, I'll be able to insert links into my posts so you can click on a word or recipe title and it magically transports you to the relevant page. The wonders of modern technology are hopefully within my grasp so bear with me, I'm still fairly new to all this.

Anyway. Soufflés. If you asked me what I would eat for my last meal, I have a feeling that a soufflé would feature somewhere along the line. For pudding probably. There is something so heavenly about the fluffy lightness of it all that seems entirely appropriate fodder to precede a meeting with one's maker. It would be tricky though as I a also especially partial to a fondant au chocolat. Perhaps seeing as it its the last meal, I could have both?

What flavour? Those who know me well would probably bank on chocolate. But they'd be wrong. For me, it would have to be lemon. There is something about airy citrus eggyness that I just adore. Oddly enough, until Sunday night I had never made a lemon soufflé. A cheese one, yes. A chocolate one, of course. But never lemon. My mother came to stay on Sunday and I thought it was the perfect opportunity to test out a Delia recipe which involved making an easy lemon curd to dollop into the bottom before topping with the whisked lemony egg top. If you think I love chocolate, you should see me with a jar of lemon curd.

So, Delia says that these soufflés are 'everlasting'. That they do not sink as much as the usual kind. As you can see from the photos, this was not strictly true - if you take a look at her site, you'll note that hers look somewhat more impressive. However, they did retain their light fluffiness and by the time they reached my mother, they were still reasonably risen (she has endless patience and put up with my photography of the puds even though they were sinking before her eyes). To be fair to Delia, I had a slight accident with one of the eggs so I was one egg white down. I adjusted the recipe accordingly but think I would have had more 'rise' with the additional white, and also had my ramekins been a little taller.

Anyway, most importantly, how did they taste? Delia came up trumps. Divine.

Here is the all-important recipe, re-written with my notes.


For the lemon curd -

Juice and zest of one medium lemon

1 egg

1 1/2 oz golden caster sugar

1 oz unsalted butter, cut into cubes, straight from the fridge

1 level teaspoon cornflour

For the soufflés -
3 large eggs
2 oz golden caster sugar, plus...
1 tablespoon of golden caster sugar
Zest and juice of one medium lemon

1. Make the lemon curd. Lightly whisk the egg in a saucepan. Add other lemon curd ingredients and heat slowly whisking with a balloon whisk until the mixture thickens (a few minutes). When thickened, simmer gently whilst continuing to whisk for 1 minute.

2. Remove from heat and spoon into four, lightly buttered ramekins. This can be done well in advance, but cover the ramekins and leave at room temperature.

3. The soufflé part needs to be done when you are ready to eat. It is EASY - they only take a few minutes to whisk up and guests will probably appreciate a pause in proceedings after the main course! Pre-heat oven to 170C.

4. Separate the eggs. Put the yolks into a medium-sized bowl and the whites into a large, very clean bowl. Whisk the whites until to stiff-peak stage.

5. Add one tablespoon sugar to the whites and whisk in.

6. Add lemon and remaining sugar to the yolks and mix well. Then fold in the egg whites carefully so that you keep as much air in as possible.

7. Pile the mixture gently into the ramekins. Bake in the oven for 15-17 minutes until risen and gorgeous.

8. Remove from oven, sprinkle with icing sugar and place ceremoniously on the table. Wait five minutes for the lemon curd to cool down before plunging in your spoons. It is hot. Trust me!

Notes -

I missed out the cornflour when making the lemon curd. It did not seem to matter.
Use a decent sized ramekin (Delia prescribes 2 inches of depth, mine were a mere 1 1/2).
Be careful not to push too much air out of the whites when folding into the yolk mixture.

Wine Match -

Hmm. Interesting one. Eggs can be a little tough on wine, to say the least. I think I might go for a lightly botrytized Chenin Blanc from the Loire with this (this means the grapes have been affected by 'noble rot' which feeds of the grapes, sucking moisture and thereby concentrating sugar, flavour and acidity). Possibly a semillon/sauvignon based pudding wine, such as Sauternes or Barsac. But I wouldn't want too much concentration. I didn't try this with a wine on Sunday, but will do next time, and I'll report back!