Monday, February 29, 2016

Restaurant Review: The White Hart, Chipstead

A busy car park is surely the sign of a good pub - but it can also be a problem when there is no space. My fiancé's mum had suggested we go to the White Hart for dinner with some friends as she had a voucher she wanted to use; when we arrived in the car park, there wasn't a space to be found. We were on the verge of giving up and cancelling the reservation until my mother-in-law went inside to speak to the owner, who she knows a little, and he suggested parking on the other side of the hedge that separated the pub and its car park from the main road. My fiancé let us out and moved the car, and wasn't very happy when he came back to report he had to walk along a muddy grass verge as there was no path and in the dark he'd walked into some barbed wire! So my advice if you are going to the White Hart is go early if you want to get a parking space - and be careful where you walk!

While the carpark was full the pub didn't look that busy inside, with a lot of empty tables in the restaurant part - so it was surprising that our food took a long time to come. Our starters arrived after about half an hour, and our main courses another half hour after that, which is quite a long time to wait - we were getting very hungry!

To start, I had "lightly curried carrot and cumin soup with coriander creme fraiche and crusty bread (£4.95)". I expected the coriander crème fraiche to be sitting on top of the soup but it must have been blended in, and the bread was a bit too crusty - I couldn't eat it on its own and had to break it up and drop it in the soup to soften.

It took me ages to decide what to have for my main course as several options sounded good, but it was such a cold wintery day I didn't fancy fish, or any of the meals that came with salad, so I had the
8oz steak burger topped with grilled bacon and Cheddar, which was served with coleslaw and chips (£12.45). The burger was not bad but not great - I would have preferred to be asked how I'd like it cooked, which I didn't think of until afterwards when I realised it would have been much nicer if the meat was slightly pink. The chips were really good though - fat and fluffy.

Everyone was having dessert but I didn't want anything heavy, so I chose one that sounded really intriguing: pear three ways. This consisted of a poached pear (lovely), pear sorbet (really nice) and diced pear jelly (a bit strange) with three little biscotti. It looked like the sort of thing you would get in a really posh restaurant!

My mother-in-law had a voucher she'd received on a previous visit that was inside a sealed envelope, promising either 25%, 50% or 100% off your meal. You weren't allowed to open it until you asked for the bill, so we were hoping it would have been one of the bigger discounts, but of course it was 25% off. That made the meal a very reasonable price per head, but I do think the food is expensive for what it is. I know there are overheads and so on, but if I'm paying as much as £12.45 for a burger I'd want it to be better.

Meal Planning Monday Week 10

It was a busy weekend as I went down to Dorset for my wedding hair and makeup trial - and this week I have to finish a cake for a showstopper challenge at work, which I'm probably going to have to make on Sunday, decorate on Tuesday and hope it is still OK to take into work on Wednesday!
Monday – out at a blog event
Tuesday – something quick that my fiancé can cook as I need to finish my cake for a bake-off at work tomorrow! Chicken burgers and chips
Wednesday – out at cake decorating course
Thursday- fish and vegetables for me, gammon and mashed potatoes for him
Friday – working from home. Butternut squash and goat's cheese enchiladas from Slow Cooker book
Lunch- pasta bake
Dinner-  roast chicken leg with roast potatoes. Dessert: slow cooker ginger cake
Lunch- with my family for mothers’ day
Dinner – probably back late

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Sweet Potato Soup with Pomegranate and Sumac

Sumac is a spice I have only started using recently, and since I bought a packet I’ve kept a look out for any recipes that used it. When I was planning to have a vegan friend over for lunch (which didn’t actually happen in the end) I was looking for an easy recipe I could make in advance and heat up for lunch and came across this Sainsbury’s recipe for sweet potato, pomegranate and sumac soup.
As I’d bought the pomegranate already before the lunch was cancelled, I decided to go ahead and make it anyway and was glad I did! The soup did me a couple of days worth of lunches and was really filling and tasty.

To serve 2, you need:
half an onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/2 red chilli, deseeded and roughly chopped, or a pinch of dried chilli flakes or Very Lazy chopped chilli to taste
1/2 tsp sumac
1/2 tbsp. coconut oil
200g sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into cubes
150g tomatoes, chopped - the recipe said to use vine tomatoes but I used tinned as I wanted to make this using store cupboard ingredients
400ml vegetable stock
1 tbsp. pomegranate molasses (available in big supermarkets)
to garnish:
pinch of sumac
pomegranate seeds
thin slice of lime

Fry the onion, garlic, chilli and sumac in the coconut oil and 1 tbsp. water until the onion has softened.

Add the sweet potatoes, tomatoes and stock. Bring to the boil and simmer until the sweet potato is soft.

 Add the pomegranate molasses and blend until smooth in a food processor or blender.

I returned the soup to the pan and added a little more water as it was too thick

Finally, garnish with pomegranate seeds and a slice of lime.

This was a really tasty, filling soup and has the added advantage of being both vegetarian and vegan.

I'm sharing this with Extra Veg, the blog challenge hosted by Michelle at Utterly Scrummy this month and also Helen at Fuss Free Flavours.

I'm also sending it to No Croutons Required, the soup and salad challenge hosted by Jacqueline at Tinned Tomatoes.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Mardi Gras King Cake

Mardi Gras in February is celebrated in different ways all over the world, but the festival is perhaps most synonymous with New Orleans. I visited New Orleans as part of a US road trip in September - you can read my travel review here - but while we missed Mardi Gras, we were able to see behind the scenes at Mardi Gras World.

Essentially a factory tour, we were able to see the floats and giant centrepieces of the parade being built and painted. Our visit began by watching a film explaining the origins and workings of the parade and we were able to try on some costumes, and eat some King Cake.

King Cake, we were told, is eaten from epiphany until Mardi Gras, and represents the three kings who went to visit the baby Jesus. It is made from a sweet dough that is sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar and rolled up into a ring or crown shape, then always decorated with the same three colours - purple, which symbolises justice, green, which represents faith, and gold for power.

I found it quite amusing that in the same way that traditional English Christmas puddings contain a silver sixpence, bringing luck to the person who finds it in their portion, King Cake for the same reason contains.. a little plastic baby Jesus. I saw packet mixes for the cake which proclaimed on the front of the box "complete with plastic baby". Quite.

I decided to make a King Cake this month for Mardi Gras and to remind myself of my trip to New Orleans, but I was a bit delayed as I ordered the sanding sugar in the correct colours online - from different sellers - and the gold never turned up! I found I had some yellow at home already but it was about 10 days after Mardi Gras by the time I got around to making this.

Mardi Gras World

You know how your mother or school teacher always said "make sure you read the recipe properly first?" Mary Berry always advises that on the Great British Bake Off technical challenge as well. I feel that I've properly learnt my lesson  after searching for a King Cake recipe online and choosing this one from My It was only as I added the flour - one of the last ingredients - that I thought the quantity of ingredients seemed a lot, and went back and looked at the recipe again. And saw at the top it said "makes two cakes".

Why? Why would you do that? This isn't a cake where you bake two layers and sandwich them together - you literally end up with two separate cakes. One for you, and one for a friend I guess! By the time I realised it was too late, so I did indeed end up with two cakes.

Go to the link above for the full recipe - it's quite long but pretty straightforward. Here I'm melting the butter with sour cream

I used my Kitchenaid to knead the dough

It was very easy to roll out - pliable but not too sticky. I sprinkled the top with sugar and cinnamon though in retrospect I would have used more.

Roll up and form into a ring

After baking in the oven it is very puffed up!

I mixed up some icing and spread it over the cake

Adding the coloured sugars in sections

The King Cake in all its glory, complete with Mardi Gras necklaces and a mask I bought in New Orleans. The cake was delicious - it reminded me more of an iced bun as it's a milky sweet pastry rather than a cake really. I didn't put a plastic baby into mine but I think it's none the worse for it!

I'm sending this to Love Cake, hosted by Ness at JibberJabberUK.

I'm also sharing it with the Food Year Linkup, hosted by Charlotte's Lively Kitchen.

Food Year Linkup February 2016

Friday, February 26, 2016

Alphabakes Round-up February 2016: Y

We didn't have the easiest letter for Alphabakes this month and I think it may have left a lot of you wondering why.... or Y! Unsurprisingly there were a lot of yogurt entries and a fabulous looking one involving a giant Yorkshire pudding. Here are the recipes you shared with us this time.

I love the name of this Morning Glory yogurt loaf from Suelle at Mainly Baking. It's a breakfast bread popular in America and very moist as it contains pineapple as well as coconut and raisins. Suelle says it's a bit like what we call in the UK a tea bread and I definitely like the idea of cake for breakfast!
I made this chocolate Yule log just after Christmas but didn't get around to blogging about it until this month! It's a less sinful recipe from Lorraine Pascale's Lighter Way to Bake.

I also made this fruity yogurt brulee which is a lovely light dessert and also really nice for breakfast! It was nice to find a use for my cook's blowtorch again.

This is a very healthy and quite unusual recipe from Chardonnay and Samphire. Here we have yuzu-spiked cauliflower and roasted buckwheat. Yuzu is a Japanese citrus fruit with a distinctive zesty taste that apparently goes really well with cauliflower; this sounds great either as a side dish or a main course.
Yuzu Spiked Cauliflower & Roasted Buckwheat

My Alphabakes co-host Ros at The More Than Occasional Baker made this plum and blueberry yogurt cake; the blueberries on top look very bright and colourful. The addition of yogurt makes it nice and light.
This Greek yogurt and honey cake with a honey yogurt buttercream glaze from Dom at Belleau Kitchen was actually inspired by Ros's cake above. You can tell just from looking how light and fluffy it is.

I had some yogurt left over from my yogurt brulee so decided to use it in these fruity yogurt cookies. I made them gluten-free so a colleague at work could enjoy them too. They are not much to look at, but tasted good!

Jean at Baking in Franglais made this orange and ginger bundt cake using natural yogurt; the shape of the cake was inspired by the song 'River Deep, Mountain High'!

orange and ginger cake2

Here's a great idea from Dom at Belleau Kitchen - a Yorkshire pudding dinner plate. Basically you can serve an entire roast dinner, or anything else, on top of a giant Yorkshire pudding and then eat that too! It's been ages since I've had one of these but it might be making a reappearance on my menu soon.
Thanks to everyone who entere - visit Ros' site on March 1 to find out which letter we are baking with next month!

Thursday, February 25, 2016

USA Travel Review: Chicago Part 3

The last part of my 2015 USA road trip - part 3 of Chicago.

A few months before our trip we’d bought a Weber barbecue which my fiancé loves (and I love it because it means in the summer, he does a lot of the cooking!). I was surprised to find there is a Weber Grill restaurant in Chicago, set up by the people who invented that brand of barbecue, and it was just down the street from our hotel! I checked the menu online to make sure my future mother-in-law, who is a vegetarian, would find something to eat but she seemed happy with it.

The restaurant looked busy but it is huge so we were seated very quickly. You can see the chefs using the Weber barbecues in the kitchen so I spent a few minutes standing at the bar watching, which was pretty cool. It’s actually a fairly high end restaurant in terms of the food and prices, but the atmosphere is very relaxed. The menu is quite extensive and I found it hard to choose!

There are grill-fired pizzas (which I tried doing myself last summer), salads, seven types of burger, some ‘fire inspired’ main courses including beer can chicken which I also made myself not long ago, grilled bourbon salmon, parmesan-crusted tilapia and pasta margherita (the tomatoes are grilled). Then you get on to the ‘backyard barbecue’ section, which has some of their signature dishes – Weber’s BBQ beef brisket, and BBQ ribs – and that’s before you get to the steaks, which have their own section on the menu. The side orders sounded amazing as well and I would have happily have eaten most things on the menu!

I had a combo of BBQ ribs, which were so tender the meat fell off the bone, and the beef brisket, which is smoked over hickory for 14 hours. It came with two sides so I chose garlic mashed potatoes and broccoli which was so good. It was a shame we were too full for dessert as they sounded amazing as well!

The cocktails were amazing too and I had a 'flirtini' - a mixture of Chambord, raspberry vodka, pineapple juice and Prosecco. I might have to make that at home some time!

For our last bit of sightseeing we did an architectural boat tour with Chicago Line Cruises which was recommended by the concierge in our hotel. It lasted 75 minutes and gave us some fabulous views of the city. It wasn't cheap - about $50 per person - but I would recommend it. The river goes right through the centre of the city so you have all the landmark buildings on each side with great photo opportunities. You can move around the boat easily to take pictures - it was much better than just being on the water taxi to the Navy Pier. The tour guide was excellent and I learnt a lot about the city and the architecture.


The boat has free Starbucks coffee, soft drinks and cookies on board which was a nice touch (and the cookies were really good!).