Friday, December 9, 2011

system down

at the moment the system is down and i cannot send newsletters. my blogging has been infrequent to say the least but i may have to up the frequency to make up. we've also got some christmas goodies to give away as well, so watch this space.

Saturday, November 12, 2011


i made my first membrillo last night and tasted it today. i'm on a not very good vegetarian day today because i bought some manchego to go with it. there is not a lot of chance that it is veggie but cheese is usually my downfall. i'm afraid that it all started when i first tasted gruyere, there is something preternatural about alpine cheeses and the rennet question is ignored. that is not to say that restaurants should not be aware. whilst i am happy(ish) to eat these cheeses, i would not serve them to the customers. anyway, if you can get some quince, this recipe will work.

some quince, peeled, cored and chopped into chunks. it's best to peel them because they have a weird fur over them that i would not fancy in my membrillo.

boil in water with the halves of two lemons, juice reserved for later, until they are soft, then drain and blitz in a food processor. measure the volume and then add the same volume of sugar and the reserved lemon juice. i use jam sugar because it has extra pectin.

bring this to a boil and then simmer for about an hour, stirring every now and then. cover the inside of a oven dish with cling film and pour in the quince mix. place into the oven at 120C and dry for an hour or two.

cool and place in the fridge to fully set.

enjoy with manchego, or another cheese.



Saturday, September 10, 2011

some recipes at last

since i've been banging on about other stuff recently, i thought i'd better do what this blog is supposed to and put some cooking in it. i'll put some of the recipes from this menu and start with the carrot and sweet potato bhajis.

you need to grate a couple of carrots and a decent sized sweet potato. you can add a very finely sliced onion as well. season with salt, add some thai green curry paste, thai taste is best if you haven't made your own, and a good slosh of lime juice. you need to let this sit for a couple of hours to allow the salt and juice to start the cooking of the vegetables. this will draw out a little moisture and you know add gram flour to this mix and you should add enough to make a loose batter; too much and the bhajis will be too bready. the best way to do this is to test by deeo-frying a test one, if it breaks up, add a little more flour.

heat oil in a deep-fat fryer to 190 and fry until golden.

red pepper humous

one tin of chickpeas
one small shallot
one clove of garlic
a tablespoon of tahini
two roasted red peppers, or a small jar in oil and use the oil (aldi do some nice ones)
salt, pepper and lemon juice to taste

blend in a food processor until smooth

variations: add any veg that you want to your basic hummous mix, e.g. roasted pumpkin (see a forthcoming menu) or spice, e.g. black cumin.

vegan mousse cake

this is a very nice cake but as i called it white chocolate, everyone is expecting a milky bar moment. it isn't that chocolatey because we use vegan white chocolate, which isn't as rich as the dairy version because of the lack of cream etc. i'm pretty sure that i've put our white chocolate cheesecake on this blog somewhere, so this is the vegan version.

a biscuit base of blitzed non-dairy digestives mixed with some melted soy margarine. put into a springform pan and bake until golden in a 180 oven.

wet mix: 350g of white choc chips in a jug just covered by soy milk. microwave for 3 minutes then blend with a hand blender. add a packet of silken tofu and blend until smooth. in a separate jug mix two teaspoons of no egg (ener-g is best but orgran is ok) and 50 ml of soy milk. blend with the hand blender to bring together and add to the tofu-chocolate mix and blend. pour over the cooled base and bake at 130 until risen and set, about 30 minutes. it shouldn't wobble.


pick fresh blackberries and elderberries.

elderberry syrup.

take elderberries of the stem with a fork. wash and put in a pan. cover with water and bring to the boil. allow to simmer for ten minutes then mash with a potato masher. separate the juice from the pulp and measure the juice. the recipe for jam/jelly is 1 pint of juice to one pound of sugar, so if you're doing this, and i shall be, add the correct amount of sugar, some lemon juice or ascorbic acid, and bring to a rolling boil. check the setting temp, 107C, with a sugar thermometer or just let it go for five minutes and pour a teaspoon onto a cold plate. if it jellies slightly, i'm happy. i like mine a bit more runny. for the syrup, halve the quantity of sugar.

to serve, poach some blackberries in some syrup.

elderberry syrup is amazing, the flavour complex and it's, sugar excepted, pretty much free.

take some scissors and cut some elderberries.



Tuesday, September 6, 2011

taking the hits

today we are back at the restaurant to do our pre-autumn big clean. we get all the ovens shifted, cleaned, the back tiles done, hand and knees on the floor, scrubbing brush in hand, shelves to clear etc etc. so that we can start afresh for the autumn. the first few menus will be transitional, we'll be trying to use as much of the allotment produce that we can before we have to move to root based menus later in the year. i've not been up there too much but i've not received the letter asking me to pack my stuff yet so it can't be that bad.

i'll be struggling a little with the cleaning as i'm still suffering a little from the holiday. during the white water rafting we were offered the chance to float down the river on our backs for a couple of hundred metres. floating has never been one of my strong points and this was exposed quite starkly when about 30 metres in my coccyx was hit by the first of three rocks, bang, bang, bang. my offered cursing had no effect on the pain and i found sitting, but especially getting up, painful for the next few days. fortunately we didn't get our mountain bikes until the pain had subsided quite a bit, but every day after that the smashing of backside against, extremely small, seat lengthened my period of recovery.

add to that a slip off the pedal which brought the pedal smashing back into my shin and i've still a few aches and pains to get rid of before i can start my training proper for this year's half marathon.

those said the worst hit of the week was walking my son to school on his first day of comprehensive school. as we neared the school he said he was ready to walk alone, i said ok and before i had a chance to say goodbye he was gone. biggest hit.



Sunday, September 4, 2011

the food ratings

i don't remember all of the food that we have eaten at the christiania but here are my ratings of what i did eat.

Lentil and kidney bean stew (7)

very tasty, nicely seasoned and a good start

Goat cheese salad with chilli jam (8)

very nice jam and goat cheese is a favourite of mine. only an 8 because it was starter and there was not enough salad. made the forgettable main better although i can't remember what it was.

Red pepper risotto (5)

rice a little undercooked but not as much as the vegetables. too dry.

Leek crumble (2)

the low point. we were to have chickpea dijonaisse but this sounded good. no leeks, no flavour and the crumble was baked baguette that was as inedible as the toast we served with the beetroot tartare, sorry about that by the way.

Chocolate tart (4)

my children loved it, so too sweet and pastry not good.

Fruit crumble (5)

the crumble was good but the fruit had little flavour, even though it had been poached.

Veg sausage and burger with fries (1) positional

this is a positional result because it was a meal after rafting. we came in last, the fries had been cooked in one go and by the time that we got to them there were more stuck to the tongs than in the bowl. a mess that could have been averted had the fries been cooked in batches. i'd rather wait than have soggy, greasy mashed potato.

Chocolate fondant (5)

decent attempt but no saucy middle and drowned in aggressive chocolate sauce. if you wqant to make these, cheat. take some of the sauce and freeze it in small portions. when you put your mix in ramekins, pop your cube in the middle and bake. guaranteed oozy centre.

Thai curry (5)

nice enough but lacked the thai element. buy some decent curry pastes in the UK and supplement with fresh coriander etc.

stuffed pepper with red cabbage and dauphinoise (6)

this is for the cabbage. the pepper wasn't far from raw and was only half a pepper anyway. possibly stuffed with the forgotten chickpeas and topped with cheese.

i'm looking forward to the new menu now. i feeel inspired to cook and eat.



Friday, September 2, 2011

nice surprises and not so nice ones

five days in to our activity holiday in the ski resort of les gets and, bizarrely, i bump in to one of our customers in a hot tub at the hotel at which our friends are staying. it's a small world, or so they say, but i've also bumped in to thousands of people that i've never met and who haven't been to the restaurant. so, very nice to meet you luke.

the food has been a curate's egg. a nice lentil dish on the first night followed by a disastrous leek crumble the following day. that said, it was to be a chickpea dijonaise but that was deemed to bad, i'm assuming and the leek thing had no leeks. tonight was a decent curry with heart attack soup to start.

off to do the quiz now and enjoy the rest of the holiday.



Friday, August 26, 2011

potatoes, potatoes

when making gnocchi, potatoes are key. the standard recipe for gnocchi that you will see in many cookbooks is about 1 kg of mashed potato, either achieved by baking or boiling with skin on etc., 300g of flour and a couple of eggs, or maybe one egg, one yolk. you see the problem lies in the potato itself; some are more floury than others, some are already most of the way to wall paper paste. the amount of water that is in your potato determines the amount of extra moisture that you may need to add via eggs, but also the amount of flour, and to get a good gnocchi you need to be as sparing as possible with the flour. the key to making good gnocchi is to make them often. i did most of my training with my children, who fell for the interactive element and like making a mess with flour. with a decent baking potato, and egg youlk and a little flour you can have homemade gnocchi in ten minutes. just microwave the potato, scoop the flesh, give it a mash and then add the egg yolk and enough flour to make a soft dough. alternatively you can make them in bulk and freeze after poaching because they freeze brilliantly. my tip for the additions would be that you add the flour first to the potato and use a fork to incorporate. they should form a nice breadcrumb consistency that you can pinch together to form a dough. then add your egg and work together. i shall be putting a video up on the website in september to show the next bit because it is probably the most difficult bit, you need to take your dough, work it and form it into long sausages that you then cut and shape using your thumb, very quick, or a fork, pretty but not so quick. poach, then cool and freeze, or cool and reheat by frying in olive oil or butter.

so why this missive. well this menu the gnocchi have been coeliac (gluten free flours) and vegan (no eggs). this can pose a problem; gluten feee flours tend to be powdery and have no wish to combine and the no egg exacerbates the first problem. the solution, it appears, lies with the potato. usually when making gnocchi you want a nice floury potato, just like the ones that i used yesterday. up until then we had used a potato that was a little more starchy and whilst the gnocchi were nice and easy to make (the sausages rolled perfectly) i wanted a floury potato. well i got them yesterday and to say that it was a nightmare would probably be over-stating it a little. it was certainly a pain in the proverbial. the problem was that once i had added the flour that i wanted, a combination of tapioca, potato, rice and buckwheat, and brought it together with my fork, the bloody dough refused to have any elasticity; as soon as i started to roll my sausages, they fell apart. i could have worked around this by adding water and more flour but then you end up with potato gnocchi where the star ceases to be the potato and can be gluey. the solution was to roll each gnocchi in my hand separately. i made round gnocchi, big gnocchi, small gnocchi, loads of forking gnocchi and that is why we have gnocchi on as infrequently as we do. so good bye gnocchi, until christmas, and potatoes, potatoes to you all.



Monday, August 22, 2011

beginnings and endings

a good week and a bad week. on thursday we said goodbye to andy at the castle chase burial grounds in usk and on the same day my niece achieved an A* and two As at A level and so moves on to a degree at Imperial College. one sad day, one happy day and one link between them.

the menu continues to evolve and we have changed the beetroot dish on the basis of reviews to include a horseradish and cashew cream. it doesn't add any more bulk but does add another flavour.

as you know, i'm a little bit obsessive about reviews. i cannot help but come out and ask if things were ok (anathema to AA Gill of the sunday times, apparently, you are asking people to lie) and also check out the web reviews. this week is the first time that the reviewer has complained that there was not enough food. usually our plates are a little too busy but if you were to order the ravioli, tartare and, horror, the gnocchi then i can understand the problem. our ravioli are always served in twos but the gnocchi are a little on the meaner side of generous. the portion is determined as much by aesthetics as a desire to fill up; it has to look good. i made this my aim after eating gnocchi alla nona in a restaurant in lyndhurst in the new forest. the sauce was one i made myself for the restaurant, a blue cheese and cream sauce. the problem was that the dish went for size over quality; it was massive and we didn't go home hungry but it was like eating at a trough, i hope that in some way the aesthetic slightly masks the empty(ish) stomach.

anyway this is the filling for the ravioli. it's ingredients that we have been recycling over the last few menus (the courgette canneloni, primavera ragu)

you will need vegan ricotta (make your own with cashew nuts, soy milk, salt pepper and lemon juice) or ricotta, peas, double shelled broad beans, mint and salt pepper and lemon juice to season.

work on one part ricotta to one and a half of peas and broad beans, by weight. blitz together with a handful of mint and season(if using ricotta, use an egg yolk to set your filling when it poaches). fill your pasta with the filling and poach in boiling water. serve with a brown butter and poppy seed sauce.



ps. i can't wait for this week to end, holidays, here we come.

Monday, August 15, 2011

menu review: thanks a lot angela

we are one week into the new menu and it is gratifying to see that it has been well-received, at least by one person ( As for me, i've found it a hard menu to prep and one that i'm not that happy with. the newsletter will have informed everyone that, for the first week, the gnocchi were not going to be made in house. this was the first time that we had gone down this route and it will probably be the last. i knew that we'd be under pressure on the first weekend, mainly because i was bicycling en famille in the new forest, so we decided to but in the gnocchi. we did so on the basis of a review of gnocchi by angela hartnett, of ramsay fame, but the product is in no way comparable with our own and i'll be making fresh this week.

at least one table did not enjoy the menu as much as i would have liked and for that i apologise. i shy away from pasta but in retrospect i should probably have put a pasta main course on the menu. this would have allowed more scope for getting the other mains just right. i'm pretty happy with the starters, especially the ravioli after we upped the broad bean content and the desserts are also very nice. i had a nightmare with pancakes for the crespelle, trying to make them all gluten free. this should not have been a problem because we had just come off a menu of gluten free galettes and the pan worked perfectly (analon). when i tried these, i'm not sure if it was the mix of flour that i was using but the pan would not behave, everything sticking. fortunately, leanne and tony pointed out that the menu said gluten free option and we tried some vegan pancakes with wheat flour and the pan started to behave again. why? i have no idea.

so this week we will aim to get everything to the proper standard. it's funny that the comment from the table that did not think that much of the food was that we should try the food at 'the gate' in london. two years ago when we were nominated in the vegetarian society awards we went to eat there because we were up against them in the best restaurant category. we didn't think that their food was as nice as our own but i guess that it's all down to taste; you can't please everybody but you have to try and be guided by what works for you.



Thursday, August 11, 2011


one of the best rewards that i have had since opening the restaurant is the number of incredible people that i have met through the shared interest in food, both cooking and eating. over three years ago when we were open in the day, we had finished the day service when we heard a bang at the door. we usually answered these bangs quite suspiciously and looked through the window, a rather scruffy looking guy (please, who am i to talk) on a mountain bike. we opened the door and this was the first time that we met andy. he hadn't been in to eat, threatened to do so soon and embarked on a wide-ranging conversation about the lack of good food in cardiff; he was coeliac. pretty soon he was coming in regularly, along with anne and sometimes gaz and sometimes a raggle taggle of others. always we'd end up in conversation, usually lamenting some problem with the political or social process. like me, andy's politics were left of left and whether discussing the politics of rosa luxemburg or the merits of tony blair, i always felt slightly better for his coming in. it is with unbelievable sadness that we are devoting this menu to his memory. anne rang us today to let us know that he had died last week, the exact details of which i do not know because if i heard, i did not comprehend. the world is a less interesting place today.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

the brilliant ian and that recipe (if you couldn't get at it)

i have to thank ian for sorting out the card machine. i've written about occam's razor before, so won't bore you again, but it appears that when transferring to BT thay put loads of stuff on your line that you don't ask for, like call waiting. the small distortions caused by these 'services' interfere with the card machine, causing it not to work. ian came in and disabled these by doing something with the phone (i think #42 was something) and it's working again. hurray.

for those people who couldn't view my recipe for the napoleon biscuits that appeared on the previous blog, this is it.

for the recipe, this is one that i'm happy with. it's a bit fiddly but worth it. i first saw the technique used by john burton race on the great british menu and decided to give it a go. the problem was that he used some kind of fondant icing and melted that, which gives a clear finish, i just burnt loads of pans trying to do the same and ended, convinced that his icing was different to the rubbish that i had bought in town. the recipe is for the biscuits in the napoloeon but the start of it will allow you to do loads of stuff.

start by making a caramel from caster sugar (say 200g), 30ml of water and a teaspoon of glucose, or golden syrup. this will stop it from crystallising. you need to keep it on a moderate heat but don't leave it. first it will melt, then it will start to darken on the edges. you are looking for a deep brown but one that is not burnt. it needs to reach about 140C but don't check it with anything other than a sugar thermometer. once it is brown and smells like a nice caramel tip it onto a tray that is covered with baking paper and allow to go cold. (you could have added nuts etc. to make your own nutty slack or some bicarb to make honeycomb, back then)

once cold, smash it up (the damned) and grind in a coffee grinder until fine and like caster sugar again. the beauty of this sugar is that because it has been heated to that temperature, in order to melt the sugar again it only needs to attain a fraction of 140C. what burton race did was to blitz with basil and then spread a thin layer of the sugar/basil mix on to baking paper. put that in the oven and you create a kind of glass from the sugar that, if you have scored it, can be used to make boxes etc for mousses. what we do, for our chocolate almond mousse cake is mix this with almonds, say 50:50, and then spread thinly and re-cook to make very fine nutty slack. this is the basis of the biscuit but because cranachan has oats, you need oats. my first attempt used porridge oats and was not good so i decided to try granola. we used lizzies organic or lizzies pecan or other from waitrose. simply blitz it up and add to the sugar in 50:50. spread thinly and score to create square biscuits. melt in the oven set at 140c for 5-10 minutes and the sugar will melt. allow to cool for a couple of hours and then create your biscuit shapes.

to make the napoleon, layer with raspberries and cream.



Wednesday, July 27, 2011

sorry, thanks, hair and recipes

Dear all
Apologies for and many thanks to all of the people who have been in recently and have had to endure our ongoing telephone issue. As some may be aware, we transferred from tiscali to bt some time ago and the changeover was beset with difficulties. I’d like to say that those are now behind us but they aren’t. the broadband situation has been cleared up but now the answer machine and the card machine do not work. The line has been checked and there is apparently no problem, other than the fact that we cannot operate. Thanks go to everyone who has had to walk to Lloyds bank or tescos to get cash. Anyone who feels that they may be able to help and is willing to work in exchange for food and wine, please get in touch.

Other news: part of the current menu is for dave, whose wife’s 40th birthday I recently attended. It was a 70’s theme so I went as a punk, with coiff’ed hair, brothelcreepers and safety pins. this is what it looked like up close.

full length and less drunk,

i was quite pleased to be able to get an almost decent quiff but it got me all emotional for my quiffs of days gone by so i thought i'd share a couple with you.

this is the rock'n'roll suicide djs from north staffs poly, 1985/6, with hair going from the left of nick, h, rich, me and bill.

a quiffed me on the bus from luxembourg, possibly with a hangover and the very uncomfortable earphones of the walkman. and lastly a full length shot from poland with ian cock (yes, really, trying looking him up to get back in touch, adding in that he's from the brighton area, on google) looking moody (and hungry)

for the recipe, this is one that i'm happy with. it's a bit fiddly but worth it. i first saw the technique used by john burton race on the great british menu and decided to give it a go. the problem was that he used some kind of fondant icing and melted that, which gives a clear finish, i just burnt loads of pans trying to do the same and ended, convinced that his icing was different to the rubbish that i had bought in town. the recipe is for the biscuits in the napoloeon but the start of it will allow you to do loads of stuff.

start by making a caramel from caster sugar (say 200g), 30ml of water and a teaspoon of glucose, or golden syrup. this will stop it from crystallising. you need to keep it on a moderate heat but don't leave it. first it will melt, then it will start to darken on the edges. you are looking for a deep brown but one that is not burnt. it needs to reach about 140C but don't check it with anything other than a sugar thermometer. once it is brown and smells like a nice caramel tip it onto a tray that is covered with baking paper and allow to go cold. (you could have added nuts etc. to make your own nutty slack or some bicarb to make honeycomb, back then)

once cold, smash it up (the damned) and grind in a coffee grinder until fine and like caster sugar again. the beauty of this sugar is that because it has been heated to that temperature, in order to melt the sugar again it only needs to attain a fraction of 140C. what burton race did was to blitz with basil and then spread a thin layer of the sugar/basil mix on to baking paper. put that in the oven and you create a kind of glass from the sugar that, if you have scored it, can be used to make boxes etc for mousses. what we do, for our chocolate almond mousse cake is mix this with almonds, say 50:50, and then spread thinly and re-cook to make very fine nutty slack. this is the basis of the biscuit but because cranachan has oats, you need oats. my first attempt used porridge oats and was not good so i decided to try granola. we used lizzies something or other from waitrose. simply blitz it up and add to the sugar in 50:50. spread thinly and score to create square biscuits. melt in the oven set at 140c for 5-10 minutes and the sugar will melt. allow to cool for a couple of hours and then create your biscuit shapes.

to make the napoleon, layer with raspberries and cream.



Tuesday, July 5, 2011


yesterday i did some recipes and forgot the sauce for the's a bit strange because it has some red curry paste in it but it works well with the braised pineapple.

you'll need about 3 heaped teaspoons of good peanut butter, whole earth is the best one. also about 15ml of lime juice, 75g of palm sugar or agave nectar, one tin of coconut milk and two teaspoons of red curry paste. you may also need some water.

put all ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. it is cooked when the palm sugar has dissolved. if it sticks add some water. blitz with a hand blender and pass through a sieve.

if you want it hotter, add more paste etc etc.

tonight i'm making quick black beans. i fancied some fajitas (fried onion, pepper, mushrooms and tomatoes, seasoned with lime juice and tobasco) and wanted the taste of chilaqulies. this is the recipe that i cooked at the cowbridge food festival.

soften an onion and some garlic in oil. add one teaspoon of good instant coffee, one teaspoon of chipotle paste and some 100ml orange juice. cook down for 3 minutes and then add 1 tin of organic black beans and some veg stock. cook down until thick then blend or eat as is. add to your fajitas with mature cheddar and sour cream.



Monday, July 4, 2011

some recipes

had i not found that something was broken in the first box that i had opened, this blog may have been about my attempt to put up an umbrella, but fortunately it was broken, so now i can do some recipes.

the moussaka in full

i really fancied doing this so we had a go at it, making the whole thing vegan. you'll need to get a few things in if you want yours vegan, otherwise make non-vegan substitutions.

white sauce:

corn flour
soy milk
nutritional yeast flakes
salt and pepper and lemon juice

make a roux with the oil and cornflour, 25ml to 25g, and add the soy milk, about a pint. cook out and thicken. add the yeast flakes for a cheesy/nutty flavout, the tahini and the seasonings to taste.


sweat an onion and carrot in oil until softened. add garlic and cook for a couple of minutes. add cumin seeds, black cumin and mixed herbs. chop a jar of sun-dried tomatoes and add with the oil. add 250ml of red wine and burn off alcohol. add 500g puy lentils and 500 ml of stock. cook lentils until soft ( you will probably need to add extra stock). if the mix is too loose when the lentils are cooked, thicken with a slurry of cornflour and water.

aubergines should be sliced into rings and brushed on both sides with seasoned oil, and then cooked until soft in a 180C oven.

potatoes should be thinly sliced, 1 pound coin thickness, and par-boiled until just starting to cook, about 5 minutes. cool quickly in iced water.

assemble:place some slices of potato in the bottom of a ring mould. (you can use a tin, say a large pineapple tin, with the ends cut off(we did but had to buy some real ones because kelly kept cutting her hands))place some lentils on top, followed by a ring of aubergine, lentils, aubergine, then top with the sauce. chuck a slice of tomato on top.

bake at 180, 15 minutes. or you could just make a big one in a casserole dish.


1 small onion
1 clove of garlic

finely chop and add to a food processor. add one tin of chick peas, and lemon juice, olive oil, tahini and tabasco sauce to taste. blend until smooth.

pineapple sorbet

100g sugar dissolved in 100ml water
1 tin of pineapples

blend with a hand blender until smooth and place into an ice cream maker.

pineapple and coconut cake

1 tin of pineapple
100 ml oil

heat pineapple in juice in a microwave for two minutes. add the oil and blend until smooth.

200g flour
130 g caster sugar
1 tsp powdered ginger
50 g dessicated coconut
1 teaspoon bicarb

mix together and add hot wet mix. cook in oven at 160C until springy.

braised pineapple

make a stock from 400g muscovado sugar and 500 ml water. add 6 cardomom pods and a vanilla pod.

peel a fresh pineapple and take slices from the central core. braise in the sugar stock for 3 hours, adding water if necessary.

i hope these work



Monday, June 27, 2011

Not a handyman

if you've read some of the past blogs, you'll be aware that i'm not that good at doing stuff and that i don't enjoy it. last week presented me with two more opportunities for failure, or if not failure, frustration. the first was the continuation of the bt saga; the router arrived. this was good news, we'd have broadband, and bad news, only if i could install it. the instructions were clear, concise and easy to follow and with only 20 minutes wasted, we had broadband. success.

the second was a planned trip up to castell coch on the taff trail. my younger daughter's bike had a problem with the rear innnertube and it was not a pucture. to replace the innertube, i would have to take the back wheel off and that meant i'd have to take off, or at least upset, the gears. i had done this many times as a young person but the gears back then seemed a more simple design but i gave it a go.

out came the depleted socket and spanner set (i lose one piece per job on average) and i was happy to find that i had the correct spanner.

undo nut 1

undo nut 2

back wheel won't budge; there's a screw holding the gears in place, slight panic.

undo screw, pull on wheel and out it comes and something hits the floor. it's silver and had something to do with the screw, but what?

take faulty innertube out and replace with repaired ex-faulty innertube that had come out of the front wheel many months before. slightly happy but a little concerned with silver part.

now put wheel back every which way that i try the gears is wrong.

realise problem, too few hands. try to grow more, useless.

ten minutes of muttering, swearing, cutting hand and still no success.

bring in other daughter's bike. ha ha, that is where the silver bit goes.

helps a bit but not a lot. another scrape and swearing become more voluble. just not enough hands.

what would bellman suggest. break it down into little jobs. epiphany. screw the gears on first, then put the wheel back on. hurray.

put on the chain and check that the wheels move. they do but only just.

*~**^*~~#### the brakes are sticking now. ten minutes of messing with these then give up. take them off altogether, just use the front brake.

all in all nice day.

hope you enjoyed the menu, i'll do the recipe for the vegan moussaka later in the day.

don't go fixing any bikes



Tuesday, June 21, 2011

beards, bt and beauty

this morning, possibly last night, 5.00 a.m i finally gave in to my urge to shave off my beard; the constant itching on the pillow was driving me to distraction, so with the help of my 1950s style razor i became de-bearded. i still couldn't get to sleep but no matter. a haircut later and i looked like a different person, but not one ready to take on the intransigence of bt. we changed our telephone and broadband back to bt and were told that the changeover would be painless. it was not so. to get the necessary codes off tiscali was a marathon and their insistence that should i stay i would pay £5 per month less made me even more determined to go. after arguing with the man on the other end of the line, who insisted that i was being irrational turning down the price cut (i felt like screaming 'why not treat me as a valued customer and offer it to me before i threaten to leave?' but could not be arsed so settled for the promise of the code), i eventually got everything sorted and the (painless) move to bt was instituted. Fot 3 hours today i have been speaking to bt, who neglected to tell me that when the changeover takes place i would have to re-configure my router. never having configured anything before, re-configuring was a step too far. i needed usernames and passwords that i did not have and anyway the letter from bt promised a new router. ring bt.

no sir, there is no router.

it says that it will arrive with my welcome pack.

it shouldn't say that.

it does.

well it shouldn't. i'll ring back

there's nothing i can do. we have to charge £79 for a router or ring siemens.

i can't i don't know the number and i have no internet.

try config\all and look for gateway ip

okay, done it and the router won't let me in. llet me speak to a supervisor.

i can't do that, ring this number.

60 minutes later, sat at home

i was told to ring this number, i need customer options.

ok, i'll transfer you. just in case the line goes dead, here is a direct number.

15 minutes of the same minute of vivaldi's 4 seasons (tedious)

i'm connecting you now.

thanks (line goes dead, several swear words)

ring the number that i'm now paying for.

you're in a queue, it's very busy but we value your call (that sort of shit)

20 minutes of ring ring with interspersed above message.

hello you've reached ........

a very nice person as it turned out and we should be back on line on thursday.

as i was online at home and i missed cardiff singer of the world on sunday, i decided to watch on i player and my love of life returned. wow, wow, wowish, wow, wowee. those were my judgements. the wowee was not so much for the singing but for the singing plus beauty. she won but i preferred the second wow who sung a brilliant ulrica from un ballo, to rival the one that i saw with wno when one of the judges, dennis o'neill, was also singing. the winner was a stunning lady from moldova who sang an aria from my favourite opera, lucia and reminded me of the wno tosca with francesca patane. well worth a watch but i wouldn't change your broadnband to often.



Tuesday, May 31, 2011

the gimp in the bright blue mask

friday last did not start at all well. i had a feeling that i had a dentist appointment but could not remember the time. i had been prevaricating for a couple of months anyway; the root canal that was promised had no hold over me. i rang the dentist to find that i had to be there in 15 minutes, cowbridge to bridgend. quick change, no shower and a quick brush of the teeth to remove the last of the morning's conflakes and i was in the car. five minutes late, i arrived. usually you have to wait another 20 minutes or so, while the overbooking sorts itself out and you take up your seat at the time allotted for someone else. usually i'm not a fan, on root canal day, i may have been, had not my thoughts been interrupted by the call for a 'wayne thomas?' Son of a bitch, i was up and walking in. usual pleasantries over with and i'm sat in the chair, huge liz taylor glasses over my own and the whirr of a drill behind my right ear. regular readers of this blog will know that when this tooth really started to kick, i would have done anything to be in the position that i was now in, but now the tooth had stopped kicking. out came the filling and then out came the big metal thing and the bluee latex mask.

i have a 'thing' about knowing what is about to happen to me, so i stopped mr owen in his tracks and demanded, in my meekest voice, 'what's all this for'. 'just put the pool ball between your teeth and bite down' he replied. actually no he didn't, he said, 'this is to isolate the tooth and for the next twenty minutes i had a piece of blue latex obscuring my mouth completely with a big metal frame, rather like a clamp, keeping it stretched. i have a feeling that the cheeky so-and-so was also hanging bits of kit on the side of my mouth. by this time i was too scared to care. i tried to meditate, failed misearbly and then it was all over, new glass stuff in my mouth and a threat of something in three months.

to celebrate, lets have some sweet recipes. the cooking sensation of the moment is the elderflower meringue, so lets have that.

elderflower cordial.

you will need about 15-20 good sprigs of elderflower
50 ml lemon juice
500g sugar
500ml water.

add the lemon juice, water and sugar to a pan and boil for 2 minutes to make a stock syrup, everything should be dissolved. this is a sweet one because i need that for the next bit. whilst hot, add the washed elderflower (there is tons around) and steep in the hot liquid. allow to cool than strain through a clean tea towel or muslin.

elderflower meringue mousse; this makes quite a lot

6 egg whites
1 tsp cream of tartar
60 ml elderflower cordial
350g caster sugar

place in a large bowl and place over a pan of simmering water, so that the bowl is suspended above the water, it must not touch. using an electric whisk, whisk the mixture until it reaches a temperature of 70 C. take off the heat and continue whisking until thick and stiff. cool and transfer to a plastic container. place in the freezer until needed. this is a great method and can also be used to make queen of puddings, snowdon's pudding, baked alaska etc.



Monday, May 23, 2011

i may have made a mistake

in the last newsletter, just published, i made mention of a smiths gig that i attended wjich featured james as the support act. i said 1985, whereas it was march 1985. i remember this gig vividly because

1. i wriggled to the front of the audience and sratched morrissey's hand in trying to shake it.

2. it was (one of) the gigs during which morrissey was assaulted by sausages. i was beginning to think that i had made this up, because other people told me that this had happened elsewhere. i remember the stage clearing, save for johnny marr, and there being rumours that he would not come back on, having been hit in the mouth by a sausage and maybe having bitten it. thankfully he did return and it is now catalogued on the web that this happened on the 16th march 1985.

'twas a great gig and i must thank nick hallam, with whom i lived in my first year, for buying the tickets.

Monday, May 16, 2011

review madness

i'm a little anal when it comes to reviews. every day i take a look at the guestbook to see if someone has written something, or google the restaurant name to check for new reviews on the web. mostly there is nothing but every so often people write and we get the feedback that we crave. we've been very lucky because mostly it's been very good, occasionally we have a middling one and once in a while something awful. it stands to reason that we cannot get it right every time but, at the time of writing, we were standing proudly atop the list of cardiff restaurants, as judged by the trip advisor crowd. that is soon to change as, i believe, a middling review of the penultimate menu will drop us back down. that review was very fair and just indicates the problems that you face if you want variety; the more you change, the more risks you take, the greater the chance that your taste and those of the diners might diverge. the dishes in question were, for the most part, very well received, but a beetroot gazpacho is probably not to everyone's tastes and tofu burgers will never be anything other than soft.

the issue of taste was highlighted again on thursday when a plate of pineapple carpaccio with sorbet returned to the kitchen with not a piece of pineapple touched. leanne knows that this is likely to turn me into a blubbering wreck but the lady in question did not like pineapple. i put this to jackie later when i went out to speak to everybody and the problem was that we had used lime to marinate the pineapple and this had not been to her taste. she would have ordered the panna cotta but was unsure of the gelling agent, so, for jackie, here is the recipe.

150ml double cream
250ml dulce de leche
300 ml milk
1 sachet vegegel

place into a jug and blitz with a hand blender. microwave on full power for 4 minutes, re-blending after 2 minutes, then each 40 seconds. if you have a probe thermometer, you're looking for a core temperature of 70+ degrees centigrade.

pour into ramekins and allow to set for 4 hours minimum.

these will have a nice wobble. for those who like it a little more risky, go an extra 25-50 ml of cream and really push the wobble.



Saturday, April 30, 2011

deaths, tamales and the monarchy

the last few weeks have been a little trying. two deaths in two days, one a very good friend, the other a very good step father-in-law, my birthday and a change of menu. this week we have had two funerals, one menu chnage, one poor first attempt at tamale and now, to top it all off, a cancellation because i've called the menu 'no to the monarchy'. whatever happened to a sense of humour or the ability to respect someone else's view whilst maintaining a different one. ah well

the tamales have been my headache for this menu. it's been a while since i made them and i forgot the acid test; once you've made your dough, check that a small amount will float in water. my first batch were a little heavy and, to my surprise, someone who came in on thursday, was aware of that. tamales, not being that commmon in the uk, are something that i thought that i could get away with. apparently not. i've now re-discovered my touch and will be teaching tamale today in the restaurant.

the other dish that i'll write down now is the sorbet. in fact i'll write down three of the four that we;ve done. the fourth, the coconut sorbet, i never felt was right.

green tea, kaffir lime and vanilla.

two green tea bags, half a vanilla pod and a couple of kaffir lime leaves. place in a pan with 400ml water and 300g sugar. bring to boil and then allow to simmer for five minutes. steep until cold, then sieve and place in an ice cream maker.

green apple sorbet

two green apples, one and a half peeled and the other half unpeeled, diced.
200ml of apple juice.
100g sugar and 200 ml water.

boil the water and sugar and allow to cool. add the rest of the ingredients and blend. pour into ice cream machine.

pear and lime sorbet.

one tin of pears, 30 ml lime juice, 100g sugar, 100 ml water.

boil the water and sugar and lime juice to make a syrup and allow to cool. add the tinned pears and blend. pour into an ice cream machine.

to steve and rhodri and all of the people who are struggling in this world, dieing of starvation and disease and in wars to which they have contributed nothing, and good luck to the happy couple and a system that is perpetuated and which will do nothing to bring about an end to the suffering.



Sunday, March 13, 2011

the decembersits and the thali cafe

last tuesday the webmaster and myself were on furlough in bristol to see the decemberists at the o2 academy. i can report that it was an excellent gig. it wasn't perfect, they didn't play all my favourites but i've never been to a gig where the band has done. we were pretty lucky to get a good view because that is the one downside of the academy; the view is not great, and by that i mean there isn't one, unless you are at the front of any of the several balconies (i'm too old for the floor fight these days).

i had hoped to get to cafe maitreya before the gig. this is bristol's premier veggie restaurant but when i tried to book, it transpired that they were decorating that night but recommended the thali cafe, just down the street. other than the fact that driving to easton means that you have to suffer the worst roundabout in britain, the destination is well worth it. what you will find is a street of great restaurants/cafes and excellent produce stores; the thali cafe is towards the end of the street. it is very reasonably priced, has interesting furniture and is nice and big. i ordered the north indian thali plate which was rice, daal, paneer curry, raita and possibly a chutney. we had also ordered some poppadoms that came with lovely chutneys and i had a chappati (i was pretty hungry, earlier i'd had a pretty awful sandwich). what made me sit up and take notice was the fact that we do curries like this, usually the more chutneys etc. we use a risotto cake as the rice. this means that we can plate up rather than bowl up. on the current menu we have two curries that we could easily make as part of a thali dish. i love daals so there will always be room for one of those and i also like making different chutneys, especially as i have the ingredients to two of the ones we were served at the thali cafe. i'm now on the look out for some stainless steel plates, so if anyone knows of any, let me know.



Monday, March 7, 2011

Moroccan onion jam

someone asked for this so here it is.

fry a few large onions in a small amount of oil until soft. add a few teaspoons of ras el hanout and fry for a couple of minutes to develop flavours. add a teaspoon of rose water and a teaspoon of orange blossom water, a tablespoon of date syrup and a tablespoon of pomegranate molasses. add zest and juice of one lemon. cook for a minute or so, then add 50 ml cider vinegar and 50g sugar. cook for a minimum of ten minutes until the mixture is reduced and starting to look jammy. check that you have the right blend of sweet and sour and adjust as you wish, more vinegar if too sweet etc. allow to cool.

ras el hanout means 'top of the shop' and is a blend of spices used in making tagines. a typical recipe, taken from the web is

2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cardamon
2 teaspoons ground mace
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground coriander seeds
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground anise seeds
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

i like to add some sweet paprika as well, and some dried lime but you can add what you want.



Sunday, March 6, 2011

an admission and some recipes

sometimes somethings go wrong. sometimes the things that go wrong could be eradicated if we had more time, sometimes they just go wrong; a cake that doesn't rise one day and is beautiful the next, same recipe. this weekend there were two smallish errors. the first, the koftas. i spent alot of saturday night explaining why they weren't as they should have been and they were not. the fault lies with me and so does the fact that i didn't put it right; i simply didn't have the time. the menu is called 'double booking the cooking' because i double-booked myself this weekend. you would imagine that in this age of mobile phones and planners that this would be impossible but i'm afraid that that is not the world that i inhabit. i prefer to live my lief according to the old rule that it probably won't happen and when it does we'll deal with it. as you can imagine, at times like these i am not very popular. so the koftas. when i instructed leanne in putting together a base for our koftas, the bit that has all the flavour, i left out the part about seasoning; the salt, pepper, lemon juice part that gives the koftas their bite. we made a batch and on saturday i had meant to come in and re-do them. what with looking after the kids and a hundred and one other things, time got on top of me, and saturday the not so good batch had to be served. we knew that the lentils were really good, that the sauce was smoking and that the salad was flavourful but you just couldn't get by those koftas. so i apologise to you all and thank you once again for your patience, i can only do better.

next dish, the pannacotta. this is a dish that scares me every time that we put it on the menu. why, because veggegel is a brutal setter; follow the recipe on the box and you'll regret it, it's like chewing a rubber ball. you have to put in more liquid because you need the soft set, the problem is, how much more? too much and the cream doesn't set and you unmould a blob, too little and you can't get past the tightness. i've tried three different quantities and am iterating towards the correct amount. this is my current recipe.

300 ml double cream
275 ml semi-skimmed milk
200ml dulce de leche
one sachet of vegegel

blend all ingredients together in a large jug and microwave on ful power for 4 minutes. stir and microwave for a further two minutes, stirring after one. pour into dariole moulds or ramekins and leave to set, four hours minimum. unmould by inserting a knife in the side and tipping over.

the real star of this menu is our gnocchi. the recipe should do about 4-6.

125ml water
60 g butter
95g plain flour
20 g grated cheese
chopped fresh herbs, tarragon, basil, parsley, lemon thyme, about three tables spoons
1 teaspoon of wholegrain dijon mustard
2 medium eggs

this is a choux pastry base so put the water and butter into a saucepan and bring to the boil. turn down the heat and add the flour all at once, stirring rapidly with a wooden spoon. it'll be a bit messy at first but the mixture will eventually pull away from the sides of the pan. The dough should be glossy and smooth but still moist.

transfer to a bowl and add the mustard, cheese and herbs and beat with the wooden spoon. i've got a hand blender with dough attachment and use this because it's easier. you may not have one and so use the spoon. if you have a stand mixer, a kenwood or the other make that i've forgotten, you can use those, which is really easy but remember to keep pushing down the sides. this part of the recipe just reduces the heat of the mix a little. throw in the two eggs and beat until fully incorporated and you have a nice smooth glossy mixture.

take this mix and put into a piping bag with a big nozzle on and now comes the hard part. push the mix down in the bag and have pot of simmering water ready. with one hand, your left or at least my left, press out the dough and with the right hand, holding a sharp knife, cut the dough off after about an inch and allow to drop into the water to poach. if you are quick you can do about 30 in one go and your mix should make about 80. allow to poach for about three minutes and then take them out with a slotted spoon. place on greaseproof paper to cool. once you are finished, heat some butter and olive oil in a good frying pan and lightly fry the gnocchi until golden brown and slightly souffled.

the sauce: these are the ingredients. onion, garlic, chestnut and shitake mushroom, butternut squash, lemon thyme, parsley, sage, lemon zest and juice, butter. the puzzle is how to cook it. i'm too tired to tell you but i may when i tell you the secret to one-step italian meringues that i've just made with my daughters. have to go and make a curry for our tea, or two curries.



Sunday, February 6, 2011

playing with fruit

those of you who have tried our recipes, dessert recipes in particular, will know that i love to use fruit purees in place of eggs. the sticky toffee, the granddady and inspiration for this substitution, uses pureed dates, the choc fudge, pureed prunes, our take on black forest, pureed cherries and on this menu, pureed pear. the playing with pears dessert has been a big hit, so this is the recipe.

for the cake you will need 200g self-raising flour, 150 g caster sugar, i tsp bicarbonate of soda. mix these together in a bowl, sift if you like. i added some almonds, 50g or so and a little almond extract as well but you don't have to.

the wet mix is pealed and cored pears, let's say four small to medium and a little water. place this in the microwave and heat for a couple of minutes. blend this mix and you need about 450-500ml of hot puree. mix in 100 ml of veg oil and then pout over the dry mix. you need to work quick because the bicarb will start to react straight away, so get the oven up to 160C and have a cake tin ready (it's easier if you use the teflon type things). bake for a minimum of 30 minutes and then check to see if it's springy.

pear and lime sorbet: this was the last addition, 25ml of lime juice, 150g caster sugar and a little water. place this in the microwave and heat to dissolve the sugar. add three pealed and cored pears and puree. i add a little xantham gum now, probably about an eighth of a tsp and puree this in. cool and than place into an ice cream maker and you'll have a sorbet in 30 minutes.

pear and ginger jelly: three pears, some water and one sachet of vegegel. you need about 500ml of liquid here. puree pears with a teaspoon of crystallised ginger and the vegegel. heat in a microwave until boiling, taking care to take the mix out and stir every minute. place in a tray and allow to set.

poached pears: peal and core the pear, cutting the end so that it will stand up. make a sugar syrup from sugar and water and add whatever spices you want; star anise, cinnamon, vanilla ....depending on how ripe the pears, poach until tender.

we plate a little of the cake, a pear, a scoop of sorbet and some jelly, and add a little toffee sauce for good measure.

hope you enjoy this because it is a recipe that can be, and will be, adapted for many fruits.



Saturday, January 15, 2011

drip drip and drips

the weather in the last two winters has meant that the physical geography that i studied almost 30 years ago is finally paying off. the erosion caused by the freezing and expansion of water, causing scree slopes in glacial areas, has ruined the roads, and all of the repairs that were undertaken have now become unrepaired.

what we didn't expect was to see this in action in the restaurant, but we, along with all of the customers on thursday, did. the upstairs, which is not part of our lease, is in a little bit of a state. one day i would not be surprised to find that the upstairs was no longer part of clifton street but was in the road in topaz street; the lean has been measured to be more severe than pisa and they stopped people going up that. what had happened is that the freezing and expansion of water had forced the render off the brick work and water was coming in upstairs, travelling through our ceiling and coming out in the restaurant. thankfully thursday's customers were, like all our customers, understanding. it is one benefit of being a relaxed place, most of the people who come in are also relaxed.

what is less relaxing is the loss of the daily show from more4. the idiots in charge will send out a form letter should you complain, even if the subject of your letter deals with the issues in the form letter in the first place. since FX removed the colbert report, i've had to use anchor free to watch it and now i have to do the same with the daily show. i'm writing this following 12 colbert reports and 1 daily show, that dealing with the arizona shootings, and if more4 can equate this with friends then theymust be idiots.

cookbook is coming along nicely and the 2nd daily show is starting, so i'll sign off.

as of yesterday the leak was fixed but it may be an idea to bring in a hat next time you're in.