Friday, 28 June 2013

Taylor Wimpey - My Dream Dinner Party Menu

I love dinner parties!  It’s a chance to show off my creative flair, and to utilise all those tens of plates and table knickknacks that I keep purchasing everywhere I go (that frustrates my husband no end), but does make my dinner parties feel special, and go with a bang.

Romantic dinner party for 2
I have had some good ones over the last few years, and I know I spend far too much time prepping for them, but it always is worth the effort.

Raclette dinner party for 4
The good people over at Taylor Wimpy Homes have set a challenge to devise a dream dinner party menu.  As I don’t actually have to cook it and photograph each dish, or need a brigade of chefs to help me (as my menu would take an age to cook all by myself), I felt I could really let my imagination go into overdrive!

So what would my menu comprise of and why?  Well first off as we live on the Hampshire coast and have fresh catch daily, it would be a travesty to not include some wonderful fresh fish.  Secondly I would love to boast about the dish containing fresh herbs from my own garden (and you can’t get more locally sourced than that).  And thirdly, a consideration for seasonal ingredients is a must to any serious cook as it’s bringing the best taste OTM straight to the table.   

So without further adieu, here is my dream dinner party menu entitled

'The Best of British'

Welcome drink:
Frozen Elderflower Liqueur and Sparkling Wine Cocktails with Popping Candy.
Since discovering this liqueur I’m hooked, and I couldn’t think of a better way than drinking this on the terrace with your guests on a hot summers evening, with the addition of popping candy running through the mixture to create excitement and help imitate that sparkling element on the tongue. Elderflower is in season this month too, so some fresh flowers to decorate would make a nice touch.

Mackerel Tartar, Beetroot Gazpacho, Horseradish Ice Cream, Watercress Oil.
Johnson’s fish market two miles from my doorstep provides me with fresh fish that has been sourced locally, and Mackerel when cured to make a Tartar is one of the best dishes I have tasted.  As beetroot is bang in season, piling this fish tartar in the centre of a plate with a gazpachio and adding a small scoop of creamy horseradish ice cream on top would make such a flavourful and visually captivating starter. Not forgetting our famous Hampshire watercress made into watercress oil and drizzled over the dish!

Loin of Hampshire Buffalo, Cauliflower Puree, Parsnip Crisp textures, sautéed Cabbage and Bacon, Port and Jasmine Tea jus.
OK, this may at first glance sound a bit wintry, but trust me as the British summer sun disappears around 8:30pm, we all know how quickly it cools down, so I couldn’t think of a better full bodied dish to have after a light starter. Buffalo is not a meat we have that often in the UK, but I’m always seeing it at my local Southsea Farmers Market, and it’s just as versatile as beef.  With lashings of port and jasmine tea jus made from the base of a good quality meat stock, it's sure to be truly mouth-watering! Brownie points with my guests too for finding a different flavoursome chic alternative to beef!

Lavender Crème Brulees with Rosemary Tuille Biscuits.
Quite simple, it needs little explanation, but how about showing off my homegrown lavender and rosemary in this stunning little dessert to end the evening!

Jacob’s Creek Sparkling Shiraz.
Hard task this, but if I could only chose one wine then it would have to be this.  A red wine that would go with the main course, yet it’s sparkling, so would be light enough on the pallet to pair with the beetroot notes in the starter.

Well although I may not be able to manage cooking all these dishes for one dinner party, after devising this menu, I feel sure that I should include some of the dishes in my future dinner parties, so people watch this blog for updates!

Friday, 7 June 2013

Florette One Minute Wonder Salad Recipe Competition

This is the kind of challenge I love!  Can you create a salad that can be made in under 60 seconds?

Florette Salad challenged it's customers to do just this.  So I got my little grey cells into action.

It's very easy to just think of a few of your favourite ingredients and chuck them in a bowl together, but I didn't want to be guilty of devising a bland, dry salad that looks good on paper, but would leave you gasping for a jug of water at the end of it.  So a dressing is essential. This was my starting point. I'm always making honey and mustard dressings at home, as it only needs 4 store cupboard ingredients to make.

From this as my base idea, I then decided how well pork marries with the honey and mustard elements of the dressing, and so too does apple, and a few moments later my salad was born....

Ham, apple and Brie Salad, with a Honey and Mustard dressing!

Remember there's only a minute to make this so, I didn't want to over complicate things.  This I feel is a well balanced salad, with sweet, and savoury elements, fruit to add texture and interest, and Brie for that added indulgence, all brought together with a tasty dressing.  It also has an all year round appeal, great for all family members, and the ingredients are easy to come about in their raw state - so no cooking needed!!

I was invited to London to showcase my salad making skills in front of the camera, and explain a bit about it.

5 of us regional finalists now go head to head on Facebook for the public to vote which salad they prefer.  The winning dish will appear on a national TV advert this summer.

So why not log on to the link below and support the South of England by voting!   

Every vote is eligible to win a spot prize, so it really is worth a few seconds of your time.

Ham, apple and Brie Salad, with a Honey and Mustard dressing  
  • 1 Bag of Florette Sweet Crispy Salad Leaves
  • 1 Apple
  • 100g Brie
  • 100g Wiltshire Cured Ham
  • 1tbsp Wholegrain Mustard
  • 1 tbsp runny Honey
  • 3tbsp Olive Oil
  • 2tbsp Red Wine Vinegar
Slice 4 sides off the apple discarding the core.
Lay the sliced apple next to the wedge of brie and ham slices, and using a large knife quickly finely slice all three together.
Shake or whisk the dressing ingredients together and dress the salad leaves, tossing through the sliced ham, brie and apple

Friday, 24 May 2013

My recipe rolled out in Jamie's Italian Restaurants for Food Revolution Day

The Jamie's Italian chain were looking for a Spring inspired pasta dish created by one of it's customers to be sold for a week in May in all it's branches nationwide, with £1 of proceeds going to Jamie's Better Food Foundation.

Food Revolution Day was on on 17 May! If you don't already know about it, it was a chance for people who love food to come together and share knowledge, cooking skills and resources to get people to improve their eating habits and get them cooking from scratch.

I love a recipe challenge, so decided to enter my dish of Smoked Trout & Spring Leaf Pasta with a Rocket Pesto Crostini.  The pasta dish is a staple in our house especially after a workout, it's a great low fat but tasty bowl of goodness as the sauce is made with creme fraiche and horseradish.  It was a worthy winner and I was proud to see it on the menu and to go down to my local restaurant at Gunwharf Quays to try it out.  There were recipe cards too issued to anyone ordering the dish.  So here it is:

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Koh Thai Tapas - Southsea

The old 8 Kings Road building has certainly changed hands a few times in recent years, with each restaurant venture proving unsuccessful, so when I saw a new Thai restaurant emerging, it's hard not to assume a similar fate.

But this may not be the case this time.  It would appear that Koh Southsea is not the only one.  Both Bournemouth Boscombe and I believe Bath all have a Koh, so this evidently is a small independently owned chain emerging in a time of little growth.

The interior is quite dark and sultry, and would appeal to the younger crowd for sure.  The interior a far cry from it's predecessors, with it's dark woods and predictable feel.

Friends gave me mixed reviews, so I went with an average expectation.

Service was swift, and the waitress pleasant.  We ordered 7 tapas dishes including Squid, Satay Chicken, Spring Rolls, and a couple of tapas size Thai curry's. Satay Chicken and Spring Rolls are not my usual choice, but if a restaurant does this well, you can get a good idea of what to expect from the rest of the menu.

I was not impressed by the first three - they seemed very average to me (so not much to say that you wouldn't already guess), but I did however think the Thai curry dishes were tasty and I would order these again.  We had the classic Green curry and the other was a Duck curry made with a red curry paste base with pineapple and grapes in with the sauce.  I thought it sounded wacky, but a few cocktails in, I was curious and glad to say I really enjoyed it uniqueness.

I have no images to share as it was so dark in there they never came out on my iPhone! 

I was not blown away by the food, but I'm sure Koh Southsea will be a success as it will cater for the masses.  However, on a positive note they do a takeaway/delivery service and I would be happy to try that out and just order from the Thai curry dishes on offer, as there were several inventive sounding dishes that caught my eye.

Top tip:  The couple sat next to me had ordered 9 tapas dishes and they all arrived at the same time!  Perhaps they requested this, but if this was the case - bad idea.  Cold food is never excusable or pleasant!

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Coast to Coast Gunwharf Quays

Main courses were the best dishes on the menu by far.

I was invited to the launch night at Coast to Coast a few weeks after it’s opening.  Coast to Coast is Gunwharf Quays new American Restaurant and Bar.  This is always the best time to try a new restaurant; once they have settled in.  Coast to Coast is a small chain with Gunwharf being the fourth to open, and others to come.  The whole restaurant was filled with other invited guests and members of the public who had won the chance to dine for free, so there were absolutely no paying customers.  The atmosphere was energetic due to the live band and Radio DJ Steve Power hosting.  They had a neat P.R stunt upon arrival; snapping everyone on a red carpet before they entered the building, and during the evening issuing us all with the OK! Magazine Style photograph covers.

So what about the reason I was there for – the food!  I’m usually not a fan of American Restaurant’s in this country, as they offer little resemblance to the authenticity of true American food.  But Coast to Coast claims to be different than the rest, and created out of a desire to put this right.  I'm only three months back from an epic food fuelled trip to Orlando, Florida, so was this the case?

I purposefully chose dishes that you find in most American restaurants to see how they were better here, and I also chose dishes that I feel to be more authentically American.  However the outcome was mixed.

I couldn’t praise the cocktail menu enough – the Red Berry Cheesecake and French Martini (£5.95 each) were drinks most of us girlies take one sip out of and immediately fall in love with.  It is well worth just nipping in here on a night out to the bar area only with cocktails this good, and cocktails certainly not found anywhere else in Gunwharf like this.

The bread and olives board (£4.95) was average. With fresh vibrant green olives such as Castelvetrano now available in supermarkets and other chain restaurants, it was disappointing to see jarred, pitted and marinated dull green olives arrive. 

The appetiser menu hosted the usual suspects, so we opted to test out the Calamari (£6.55) which is often a poor show in many restaurants, and blue cheese mushrooms (£4.95), which too can be a let down.  Sad to say these did not hit the right notes.  The ‘lightly fried calamari’ was heavy in batter, chewy and over greasy, and the mushrooms with blue cheese had far too much blue cheese. It was sickly even for a blue cheese lover like me.

I was looking forward to the main courses ordered.  Burgers, steaks, hot wraps and sandwiches, fajitas, pizzas, pasta’s and salads can all be found on the menu at Coast to Coast.  Uber trendy pulled pork featured on the menu a few times, so this was a must, and we also ordered a classic steak.  Suddenly the meal was redeemed! The pulled pork dish I ordered was in the form of a burger, and sat on top of a 6oz beef patty – a pure meat feast.  It was delicious (although very sweet), and I have not had that combination together in a burger before, as you usually find one or the other inside the bun. (£11.95).  The steak was an 8oz, 28 day matured fillet steak (£21.95).  I’m glad we ordered it as it was beautifully executed to medium rare, and the sides of ‘homemade slaw’ and sweet potato chips were every bit contemporary American and elevated the dish. We opted for the 5 grilled prawns as an extra with the steak, but they were flavourless and a little superfluous.

Desserts were lacking in creativity and the choice was as you would expect to find in American restaurants. The cherry crumble came with a scoop of ice cream and custard on the side in miniature bowls, but the ice cream was unpleasant and very manufactured in taste, as was the crumble.  I’m not actually sure what flavour the ice cream was supposed to be, and the cheesecake too was just ok.

The service was sharp and the staff very pleasant, always willing to engage in conversation.  They were more than happy to change the dishes I was not overly keen on – and although I stuck with what I had ordered, this was refreshing and nice to see. 

Coast to Coast is definitely one of the better American chains.  However, as my meal was hit and miss, when I return it will be for cocktails and main courses only! 
 I would recommend a visit though.

Blue Cheese Mushrooms

Cherry Crumble