Thursday, 2 February 2017

Petit Fours #8

Thursday, February 02, 2017
Braised Lamb Neck with Apricots in Le Creuset

At the end of the month, we share our 'Petit Fours': notable, bite-sized pieces of life in our kitchen and beyond. We'd love to know what your January 'petit fours' are in the comments below.

From the kitchen

Roast leg of lamb & smoked mash
Leftover lamb biriyani
Homemade Marmalade (Delia recipe)
Roasted Gammon
Warm winter salad with creamy burrata

Out to eat

The Queen & Castle, Kenilworth
Olive Tree, Bath

The Hit List

Adams, Birmingham
Rofuto, Birmingham
Peels, Hampton in Arden

The rest

Being thrifty in January, and making roasted meats go further
Seville oranges appeared in the supermarket, and so C made her first ever batch of marmalade
Enjoying lots more frothy coffee, with our super new gadget (review imminent)
It was our turn to be wined and dined: Andy and Emma served us an amazing meal in the last week of Jan - check out our Instagram!
C bagged a new job *hooray*

Monday, 16 January 2017

The importance of winter entertaining

Monday, January 16, 2017

Whole Milk Club - Sticky Toffee Pudding & Whiskey Ice Cream

It has only been in the last year or so that we realised how much we enjoy entertaining.
As anti-social creatures by nature, who prefer to stay at home drinking hot chocolate with an episode of Lewis, the revelation took us by surprise. But I suppose that it the beauty of food. It is always its best when shared. As first morsels brush lips, whether at home or in a restaurant, I wait with eyes down for those noises and exclamations of relish (some of which come from myself); when the whole group concurs that it's a bloody good sauce, and we all love scallops. It feels good to instigate that kind of pleasure through your own cooking.

Whole Milk Club - Artichoke Velouté with bacon mousse
Whole Milk Club - Lamb chops

Entertaining is fun in the summer, but there's something romantic and distinctly "hygge" (yes, I went there) about inviting friends in from the cold on moody winter evenings, to a candle-lit dinner table, handing them a G&T, and feeding them up. What better way to beat the so-called 'winter blues' than to eat, drink, and howl with laughter? I whole-heartedly believe that if everyone made time to do this semi-regularly through winter, and not just in December, we'd all be much happier during those gloomy, grey days.

We got together with friends a lot over the last few months of 2016. In December, of course the occasions were coined as 'Christmas gatherings', but there were others, too. Here's a sample of one such occasion where we cooked for six of us.

Artichoke velouté with a smoked bacon mousse and artichoke chips
Joseph Drouhin Rully Premier Cru 2014

Lamb chops, pumpkin pureé and glazed pickled beetroot,
served with gratin savoyard
Knipser Kalkmergel Spätburgunder 2012

Sticky toffee pudding with homemade whisky ice-cream
St Stephan's Crown Tokaji Aszu 5 Puttonyos 2007

Whole Milk Club - Sticky Toffee Pudding and Whisky Ice Cream

As is M's habit for "fancy" home entertaining, he invented most of the dishes himself, to include ingredients we'd obtained recently and wanted to experiment with. The artichokes were from his mum's garden; the cheese in the savoyard our recent favourite, Westcombe cheddar; and the pumpkin from my hoard of supermarket freebees. It was my first time making a sticky toffee pudding, but this James Martin recipe worked like a dream.

What have you been cooking up this winter? How do you feel about entertaining at home? We'd love to know in the comments below.

Monday, 9 January 2017

The Wilderness

Monday, January 09, 2017
The Wilderness graffiti venison

The Wilderness, 1 Dudley Street, Birmingham

As The Wilderness' following is growing, it's becoming harder and harder to get a table at the quirky, backstreet wonderland. Weekends for them seem to be chocka, a few months ahead, but if like us, you can make yourself available on a weeknight, we advise you go as soon as possible.

After a round about journey to get there, we eventually made it to their discreet premises, tucked under a bridge on Dudley Street. Turns out it's much simpler to turn left out of the John Lewis exit at Grand Central and follow the road round, but as non-natives, we took the scenic route.

The Wilderness entrance
The Wilderness gold plaque

The dining room is all foliage, trees and moss, surprisingly well carried off.
The staff are the right mixture of courtesy and perfect friendliness.
The menu is in tasting format. Six courses, each with it's own drink (often a cocktail, rather than a wine) £100 all in.

So weeknight or not, we settled in for the "full story".

The Wilderness interior
The Wilderness mushroom trout dashi
The Wilderness pork celeriac pear granola
The Wilderness cocktail bar

Dashi with trout and mushrooms served with acorn G&T
Pork belly with celeriac and pear with a cider brandy cocktail
Pollock and crispy chicken skin with an Australian Touriga Nacional
Venison with squash and beetroot (named "Graffiti Venison". Very photogenic!) with a plum liqueur
Apple crumble inside a black toffee apple (awkward to eat, but worth the effort)
Chocolate, cep and cherry (yes, with cep - completely delicious combination as it turns out) with another cocktail of a cherry-ish disposition.
A coffee and a tasty salted caramel to round things off, and that was that. Wilderness tried.

The Wilderness pollock carrot chicken skin
The Wilderness graffiti venison
The Wilderness black toffee apple
The Wilderness chocolate cep cherry
The Wilderness petit four salted caramel skull

The food was all very good, and well presented. Sometimes innovative, sometimes classical, often with a story attached and always interesting, it is very difficult not to like The Wilderness. Their brand and ethic are woven through everything they do. The staff are charming, service ran smoothly, and the environment is relaxing.

There are things I would like to change; I wish the Venison had been served with a 'jus'. possibly just a personal preference. I enjoyed the cocktails, but there's a little part of me that loves wine too much to give it up so easily. It adds complexity. And I can't decide whether I enjoyed the toilet facilities or not. Unisex and complete with freaky art installations, they resemble something from a dystopian hospital.

But these are small grievances in the context of a lovely evening. I would recommend reserving your table now.

N.B. We booked and paid for dinner at The Wilderness ourselves, and all opinions are our own.

Monday, 2 January 2017

Spiced Pumpkin Cake with Vanilla Frosting

Monday, January 02, 2017

A couple of days after Halloween, I popped in to one of the bigger Supermarkets to find that they were giving away all their pumpkins. For FREE. This was both great, but also very sad. If people didn't take these pumpkins, they were going in the bin that evening. I placed a couple in my already heavily laden trolley and took them home with me.

The reason I'm introducing this post with the source of my pumpkin, is that I made this cake only a couple of weeks ago from fresh pumpkin, which demonstrates how well pumpkins can last, and just how wasteful it is for them to all go in the bin once Halloween is over. It also occurred to me how few people actually cook with fresh pumpkin in the UK. Sure, plenty of people buy them for carving faces in to at Halloween, but I haven't encountered many people buying them purely to eat. Once dissected, they freeze really well as both chunks or puree, and like many other root veggies, they're incredibly versatile.

This recipe is very similar to the way I normally make carrot cake. Just swap out the pumpkin for carrot and the pecans for walnuts, et voilà!


250ml sunflower oil
4 large eggs
250g light muscovado sugar
200g grated pumpkin
50g pineapple chunks
50g currants
300g self raising flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp sea salt
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp vanilla extract
75g pecans, plus 12 halves

75g butter
50g icing sugar
260g full fat cream cheese
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp maple syrup


Preheat your oven to 160C/180C fan. Grease and line two deep 8" cake tins.

Combine the oil, eggs, and sugar in a large mixing bowl, whisking until you have a thick and light-coloured mixture. Fold in the pumpkin, pineapple and currants, followed by the flour, baking powder, salt, spices and pecans. The mixture should be evenly mixed, but not overly.

Divide the mixture between the two tins, and bake in the oven for 35 minutes, or until golden and shrinking away from the tin's edges. (Check that a skewer dipped in to the middle comes out clean if you're not sure.) Remove the cake from the tin, take off any greaseproof paper and leave to cool while you prepare the frosting.

Cream the butter and icing sugar together until smooth and light, then combine with the cream cheese, vanilla extract and syrup until smooth and silky.

Spread half of the frosting on to one of the cakes, place the other on top of that, then spread the remainder of the icing on top of that. Finish by decorating with the pecan halves.

Saturday, 31 December 2016

Petit Fours #7

Saturday, December 31, 2016

At the end of the month, we share our 'Petit Fours': notable, bite-sized pieces of life in our kitchen and beyond. We'd love to know what your December 'petit fours' are in the comments below.

From the kitchen

Pumpkin cake with vanilla cream cheese frosting
Mexican night! Tinga de pollo & salmon in tamarind sauce from 'Wahaca'
Beer soup
Champagne poached salmon
Roasted fillet of beef
Coquito cocktails

Out to eat

The Wilderness, Birmingham

The Hit List

Adams, Birmingham
The Wilderness, Birmingham
Rofuto, Birmingham
Peels, Hampton in Arden

The rest

We finally booked a table and travelled over to Birmingham on a school night to eat at The Wilderness (review coming in Jan)
Hosted Mexican/board game 'Christmas social' with friends (Thomasina Miers' 'Wahaca' book never lets us down)
Annual pre-Christmas Christmas with friends - boys cook, girls drink. Fillet of beef this year!
All 3 of C's Nigella Christmas puddings were enjoyed and demolished at 3 separate addresses
Between us we've added some awesome new titles to our cookbook collection (see above!)
Lots of lazing, snacking and reading before hitting 2017 head-on

Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!
See you in 2017.