Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Xmas and Boxing Day Dinners

Well, we did it. Survived the in-laws staying for Christmas and the mammoth logistical task of transporting the entire - mostly cooked - dinner to someone else’s house (don’t ask). 

On reflection our menu over the two days reads like a who's who of celebrity chefs but hey I'm not proud, it worked!  The starter was difficult to choose once I adamantly declared I wasn't doing more than one so we would all have to eat the same thing.  Jamie Oliver's pea and watercress soup recipe fitted the bill - okay so it says it's for summer, but who wants to eat a wintery stodgy old starter at Christmas!?  Topped with pea shoots and a parmesan crisp this kept everyone round the table more than happy - fresh, light and packed full of peppery watercress goodness.

Starters over with there really was only one option for Christmas dinner - vegetarians aside - Nigella Lawson’s spiced and super-juicy roast turkey.  This recipe has been a friend of ours for many years and has never let us down.  Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without having that plump turkey swimming happily for a day or two in a bucket of brine and spices.  And it was a triumph.  Ridiculously easy to cook yet succulent and delicious. 

Then it was on to Boxing Day.  Shaking off the fug of excess food and alcohol from the previous day, we cracked open the bubbly and excitedly turned to the recipe for Boxing Day.  We had searched high and low for the perfect Salmon en Croute recipe, before stumbling upon this one from Gordon Ramsay, which leans slightly towards a koulibiac.  With a few minor amendments to accommodate a whole side of salmon rather than individual portions, this turned out brilliantly.  Good old Gordon. 

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Mussels in Brussels

It was a work trip, I was on my own, and knew none of the people I was going to meet.  The only thing I could console myself with was that there should be juuuuust enough downtime to do the Brussels tourist thang - Christmas market, chocolate shops, mussels, Grand Place (have I missed anything?).

First some drooling through the windows of, and being tempted to part with a ridiculous amount of money in, various amazing infamous chocolate shops.  

Then a whistle-stop walk around the various sights. 

Finally it was time for food, or specifically, mussels. Admittedly Restaurant Vincent is absolutely in the touristy trap restaurant zone around the Grand Place, but there’s something that feels more individual about the place.  Entering through the kitchen and past the display of meat hanging in the window, there’s a buzz that hits you immediately.  I was squeezed in to the busy dining room beside another lone diner but had a perfect view of the restaurant and the fabulous 1920s tiled murals.   

The service in Restaurant Vincent is the perfect reminder you’re dining in the Continent - brusque, aloof, disdainful - thankfully the happy animated chatter of fellow diners is the perfect antidote.  Also, no need to take a book if you’re on your own; what the waiters lack in personality they more than make up for in performance.  A service station in the middle of the room means you can watch as they prepare the sauce for your steak or flamb√© your crepes.
I couldn’t, however, see past ordering the mussels.  Served a la marini√®re with lip-smackingly crisp frites (my obsession with chips will no doubt feature in a blog post another day).  These were plump and tender molluscs in a slurp-worthy wine, butter & garlic sauce - thankfully a pile of French bread helped to mop up the juices and save my fellow diners from my slurping.  Stuffed to the gills I unfortunately couldn’t manage dessert and only managed to waddle happily back to my hotel room.
A tad expensive - yes - but then I thought pretty much everything was in Brussels (not least with the abysmal exchange rate).  I’m sure there are less touristy and better value places further off the beaten track, but with limited time available this made for a great Brussels dining experience overall.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

A seriously good chocolate cake

This really is a good cake.  Easy too.  It's rich and dense, and a little goes a long way - but in my opinion that's what chocolate cake should be all about.  The covering and decoration is optional - a chocolate buttercream would be a good alternative in place of the ganache - but the least I would do is slice and fill it.

For the cake:
250g butter
300g light brown sugar
200g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
5 eggs
300g dark chocolate

For the ganache:
125ml double cream
250g unsalted butter, diced
500g plan chocolate (50 - 70% cocoa solids)

Method for the cake

1.  Heat your oven to 160C/fan 140C.
2.  Line the sides and base of a 20cm round cake tin with baking parchment. 
3.  Using an electric whisk or mixer, beat together butter and sugar in a bowl until pale and fluffy. 
3.  Beat in the eggs one at a time, add 1 tbsp of the flour after each egg. 
4.  Melt the 300g chocolate in a bowl set over a pan of simmering water.  Once melted, leave to cool slightly.
5.  Pour the chocolate into the cake mixture, beating as you do so. 
6.  Fold in the rest of the flour with a large spoon. 
7.  Pour in to your prepared tin and bake for 1 hour 30 minutes.
8.  Leave in the tin to cool completely and then take out of the tin. 
9.  Split the cake horizontally. 
10.Fill and cover with either chocolate buttercream or the ganache, below.

 Method for the ganache

1.  Heat the double cream in a saucepan until it just comes to the boil, then remove from the heat.
2.  Melt the butter and the chocolate in a bowl over a pan of simmering water.
3.  Pour the cream over the chocolate and butter, and stir to combine.
4.  Now beat the ganache well with a wooden spoon until it is rich and glossy.
5.  Use this ganache straight away for pouring over the cake - I'd advise you to 'crumb coat' the cake first with some chocolate buttercream.
6.  Leave the ganache to cool to room temperature for filling and piping.


Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Bluerapa Thai

It's always the way.  The closer a restaurant is, the less inclined you are to go.  It's probably because you think you could go anytime you want, and so instead favour slightly more difficult to get to places.  Or because you think there's no way a local place can be as good as somewhere that takes more effort.

Anyway, probably both and more of those reasons are why we have only just now made it along to Bluerapa, which is literally spitting distance from where we live.  I mean seriously, we can actually see the place from the windows of our flat.

Before you get all judgmental on me, it's totally not because the place has variously hosted a greasy kebab shop and maybe even a brothel (no wait, that was a few doors along).  I absolutely wish more places in Edinburgh were like Bluerapa - small, authentic, byob.  So all I can say is that I'm glad I didn't pander to my drinking buddy's 'eating's cheating' approach on a night out.  I instead managed to drag him to a restaurant, but only as it was extremely close to the local hostelry.  I'm just rather glad that happened to be Bluerapa.

I should also at this point declare a slight bias against Thai food in Edinburgh (well, to be fair, anywhere outside of Thailand).  We spent a delicious week training under the fantastic Chef Sompon in Chiang Mai and quite frankly have never looked back.  This coupled with the superb Thai supermarket in Dalry means we are generally blissfully unaware of the Thai restaurant scene in Edinburgh.

I do though like to see local places doing well, and many an evening I've lamented that Bluerapa's few tables were sparse with customers.  I would gloomily have predicted that we would see yet another local business shut up shop. Happily though, we got the only table available late on a Friday night, and there was a really nice buzz about the place.

So once settled in with our carry-out of beers, to the menu.  Aaah salads.  The one dish that doesn't appear to make its way on to Edinburgh Thai restaurant menus as often as it should.  The salad for me is the quintessential Thai dish.  The ultimate salad dressing of nam pla, sugar and lime perfectly lubricating meat, vegetables & (lots of) chillies.  It was the salads at Blurapa that indicated to me we were on to something.  These salads were great. OK so they didn't have the 20 scud or 'rat shit' chillies per portion that would be usual, but still seriously delicious, refreshing and different - and still a good chilli hit.

Namtok Grilled Beef - tossed with powdered rice, spring onion, shallots, coriander, dried chillies, mint and a hint of lime juices.
Yum Thai style chicken - tossed with cucumber, tomatoes, shallots, mints, apples, coriander, spring onion and hot & sour dressing.

On the table, condiments of sugar, nam pla, dried chilli flakes and seasoned vinegar gave the option to balance the sweet, sour, salty ratio to taste, but I think they should have the confidence to assert the skill of the chef.  In reality I'm not sure many people would take the opportunity to tweak their dishes.  For me, extra dried chilli is always welcome, but we discovered that a quiet word with the staff should assure more authentic levels of spice anyway.

On to main courses.  Whether it's because I think I make a mean pad Thai and always feel the need to compare, or because I was in yet another comfort noodly mood, it had to be done.  Just delicious.  Thick rice noodles, silky, salty, spicy, sour, and with the obligatory accompaniments - crushed peanuts, lime & dried chilli - exactly as it should be.

Pad Thai stir fried with egg, beansprouts, spring onion and homemade sweet Pad Thai sauce.
The spicy seafood dish was executed really well.  All the seafood - mussels, squid & prawns - succulent and delicious.  While not as spicy as advertised, again a quiet word to the staff would guarantee more authenticity.

Spicy Seafood - mussels, squid and king prawns with red curry paste, peppers, bamboo shoots and basil.

Overall, what an absolute gem.  Lovely staff and service, and fantastic quality food.  Some may be put off by Bluerapa's size and basic decor, but quite frankly the food here doesn't need to be supplemented by decadent surroundings; it definitely speaks for itself.  Even my friend admitted it was worth breaking away from the pub to visit.