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Marks & Spencer Valentines Meal

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Tonight's meal was from the Marks & Spencer's 'eat-in' range. For Valentine's weekend they did a version which cost £20 but included starter, main, side dish, dessert, sparkling wine and chocolates.

Crab Salad
Our starter was the mini dressed crab which we served with a mixed-leaf salad.

Sea Bass
The main course was Sea Bass with chilli and coriander butter. The fish was simply baked then the skin and backbone needed to be removed before serving. It was a little bit fiddly but the fish was very good. We chose the mixed vegetable layer for side-dish, which contains peas, shredded courgette, cabbage and broad beans.

Strawberry and Champagne Souffle
The Strawberry and Champagne souffle was a posh trifle. The jelly contained large pieces of strawberry, topped with a thick layer of fluffy champagne flavoured cream.

The Rosado Cava we picked turned out to be a particularly good example of a cava. It was dry but with a discernible fruity flavour.

The deal also included chocolates but at the time of writing we haven't eaten those yet.

Sloe Gin

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I made sloe gin again last year, starting with a similar recipe to the one I used earlier. I froze the sloes first which helps to split the skins and softens the fruit, which helps extract the flavour. After a few weeks in the freezer I put the sloes and sugar in a pan and warmed them through before putting everything in a jug.

When it came to straining the sloes, there was a lot more sediment than normal. I ended up with one bottle of clear sloe gin and one bottle of alcoholic sloe smoothie, which will probably work well with a mixer or fruit juice. The sloe gin was quite sweet so I poured some more gin on the sloes, without any sugar, to extract a bit more flavour. I gave this a few weeks then strained it and blended it with the first bottle. The end result was quite good but was more work than the old method.

I won't bother warming the sloes again. It results in too much sediment and is more hard work in the end, I'll stick to just freezing then infusing in gin.

Pizza Express

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We have been to the 'old' Pizza Express restaurant in the city centre but this was the first time we'd been to the new one in Belgrade Plaza, next to the theatre. We tried two of their new pizzas: I had the Da Morire Romana which was the winner of the competition where customers could invent a new pizza. It was quite a brave pizza, with a lot of strong flavours including pancetta, blue cheese and rosemary. The flavours worked well together and didn't clash or overpower it. Emma had the Monte Bianco which was a chicken pizza using bechamel sauce instead of tomato. We both enjoyed our pizzas.

For dessert we had the new Doughballs with Nutella. Although the menu didn't describe it as such, this was more suitable for sharing than individual servings.

The food was good, the service was friendly. I felt a bit guilty ordering dessert and asking for the bill at the same time but we had tickets for the theatre and only had a few minutes to finish eating and leave.

Kale Pesto

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We received a lot of food related presents for Christmas, including some fancy multi-coloured pasta. Here we served some of it with a home-made chicken and kale pesto.

Kale Pesto

  • Chop and fry 2 cloves of garlic
  • Finely chop 2 handfuls of kale and add to the pan with the garlic. Fry until it wilts.
  • Put a tablespoon or so of pine nuts (or a similar seed mixture) in a food processor and blitz to a fine powder.
  • Add the garlic and kale to the food processor and blitz to a paste.
  • Add a tablespoon of cream and a couple of spoons of grated parmesan
  • Season to taste.
  • Mix in some sliced cooked chicken and serve with the pasta.

Not quite instant soup

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Yesterday we went to the supermarket and bought a loaf of fresh-baked multiseed bread. We thought it would go very well with some soup for lunch but we didn't have any packets or tins of soup in the house. I thought I'd make a simple leek and potato soup but I realised we didn't have any stock (either fresh or cubes) so I would have to make everything from scratch.

I realised that we had a lot of vegetables in the house, some were 'staples', some were leftover from Christmas, others (such as the celeriac) were bought yesterday from the 'reduced' section of the supermarket.

I started off by dicing the veg and adding them to a pan with just enough water to cover everything. In went 1 sweet potato, 1 onion, ½ leek, 1 carrot, 3 cloves of garlic, ¼ celeriac, 1 cooked potato, and some of the leftover roast butternut squash from the freezer. I added a sprinkle of fresh parsley and 1 diced chicken breast, and simmered everything until the veg were cooked.

Everything went in the liquidizer. To serve, we added some jerk seasoning to add salt and spiciness (no salt went into the cooking liquid) and some double cream.

It ended up a bit more complicated than the simple leek and potato soup I intended to make but it was good, and there was enough left over to go in the fridge for another day.

Good Food Show

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We went to the Good Food Show at the NEC today. The ticket included entry to the Saturday Kitchen, a live version of the BBC TV show hosted by James Martin. It featured a lot of the usual items from TV, including the Omelette Challenge (with guest chef Lawrence Keogh) and wine tips from Olly Smith. The celebrity guest today was 80s singer Paul Young (who has started to look a lot like Gary Glitter as he's got older). The chefs cooked a spiced breaded chicken for him (a bit like home-made KFC).

Back to the show, we noticed garlic and chillies seemed to feature prominently. There were a few stalls selling garlic bulbs, including some Elephant Garlic where the individual cloves were bigger then normal garlic bulbs. We tried quite a lot of chilli based foods, including chilli sauces, cheeses, chilli vodkas and liqueurs.

Each year I normally manage to eat something new and different. This year it was a scorpion. One of the vodka stalls had a jar filled with scorpions and the bloke there dared me to try one. It tasted of vodka but it wasn't a very pleasant experience. I had to chew it a lot before I could summon the courage to swallow. The texture wasn't very nice and I'm sure I could feel all the legs as I chewed.

I also 'ate' some gold flakes, but that was much more pleasant. The first bit of gold was from an sample of Goldschlager. I'd never tried it before - I first heard of it several years ago in Wetherspoons. Someone in the queue ahead of me tried to order it and the bartender mis-heard and thought they wanted a Grolsch Lager. The second bit of gold was a sample of a sparkling wine which contained gold flakes.

Cornsilk Tea

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We planted sweetcorn in the garden again this year but it was very late ripening. I only harvested it this week after the plants had started to die off. When I opened the cobs none of them were fully ripe, so I hung them up to dry. I'll have a go at making popcorn with them at a later date.

I can't remember where I first heard about cornsilk tea but I decided to give it a go tonight. I separated the long strands of silk from the cobs and cut off the brown dried ends. I put a handful in a jug and poured boiling water over. After about 5 minutes or so I strained it into a cup. The drink was a strange yellow green colour and smelt of tinned corn. It wasn't a very appetising smell and the drink didn't taste very nice. I only managed a couple of sips before I decided to pour it away and make a proper cup of tea.

I think I will stick to 'normal' tea from good old Camellia sinensis. I don't mind whether it's green, black, white or oolong. Although I will also drink Rooibos or Lemon Verbena too.

Yellow Raspberries

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I had some Waitrose vouchers to spend so this afternoon we went to Kenilworth to have a look around the shop. The idea was to get there in time to get some good bargains as food was marked down before they closed. Most of the food we bought was merely on special offer, such as the yellow raspberries. They looked novel so we bought a punnet.

They tasted ok but the flavour was a bit mild and they didn't have the sour flavour which raspberries sometimes have. While we were in the shop we also bought some redcurrants. I've never eaten them before and they were also on offer. They were quite sour eaten on their own but worked well stuffed inside the raspberries. Eaten together, it brought out more raspberry flavour and the sourness of the redcurrants was much reduced.

Naan bread pizza

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The pizza base was made using a naan bread recipe:

  • Make a yeast starter using 1 tsp of yeast, 1 tsp of sugar and a couple of tablespoons of warm water. Leave for a few minutes for the yeast to start working.
  • Add 200g of flour, 1 tsp of black onion seeds, 1tsp of chilli flakes 1/2 tsp of baking powder and a pinch of salt.
  • Add a couple of tablespoons each of milk and yoghurt and mix together to make a dough. Knead for a few minutes.

The pizza sauce was a mixture of tomato purée and curry paste.

The first pizza was a chicken curry, topped with onion, pepper, chillies and a slightly sweet cheese with bits of ginger in it.
Chicken Curry Pizza

Chicken Curry Pizza

The second pizza had prawns, the same vegetables, and a garlic and herb cheese.
Prawn Curry Pizza

Prawn Curry Pizza

Emptying the Freezer

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Out freezer needs defrosting so we are trying to empty it by avoiding buying frozen food, and eating what's already in there. Unfortunately some of the food has been there rather a long time. For 3 days this week, I found myself some fairly out of date things.

  • Tuesday: The first out of date food of the week actually came from the fridge. We recently bought some falafel but the pack had got pushed to the back of the fridge and forgotten about. It was a week past its sell-by but it smelt ok. I cooked it anyway and it tasted fine.

  • Wednesday: We have had a bag of salmon steaks in the freezer for ages and they had started to look a bit 'freezer burnt'. I decided to make a salmon paella so I put the steaks in a pan of cold water and slowly brought them to a simmer. After leaving them to cool, I removed the skin and cut off the dry or discoloured bits. The texture wasn't great - it was a bit chewy compared to decent fresh salmon.

  • Thursday: When I took the pack of bean burgers out of the freezer, I thought it felt a bit light. I didn't bother checking the weight but I took 2 out and put them in the oven. After the recommended cooking time, I took them out and put them on a plate. They had gone all dry and crunchy and were really awful. They were only 3 months out of date. There were still 2 more in the pack so I tried to rescue them by pouring a couple of spoons of stock over them, wrapping them in foil and cooking them in the oven. They were a bit better but I still had to cut away some crunchy bits.

Friday: Got home from work fairly late. Couldn't be bothered cooking. Bought take-away instead.


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We bought the miniature whisky from the Food and Drink show last year but I didn't get around to opening it until tonight. I think this is probably the strongest whisky I have tried: at 62.8% it is over half as strong again as normal whisky.

As expected it has a bit of a kick to it but it isn't too harsh when sipped.

Indian Whisky

The Cross, Kenilworth

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The food was a bit more expensive than we're used to - 3 courses cost £56 for the two of us, without wine. I think it was probably worth it though. Everything was well cooked and well presented.

I started with the Chilli Squid (from the weekly specials) and Emma had the potted prawns. My squid came with a couple of 'baby' octopuses which I wouldn't normally eat but I decided to give them a go.

My main course was the Pork Tenderloin, which came with sweet potato mash and a 'black pudding scotch egg' which had a tiny quail egg in the centre. For dessert I chose the pistachio and chocolate tart, pictured below.

The Cross, Kenilworth

Frankie and Benny's Pizza

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We ate out at Frankie & Benny's in Coventry tonight. The restaurant was a bit noisy but the food was good. We shared two pizzas: Top - Chicken Caesar Salad. Bottom - Seafood Supreme. Composite of 2 pizzas
The Seafood Supreme had anchovies, prawns and clams. The other pizza was a chicken pizza topped with tomato and lettuce in a caesar dressing. It was unusual to have a dressed salad on top of a pizza - we have often topped a pizza with a strong leafy salad such as rocket or watercress but we'd not thought of using a dressed salad. It was a surprisingly good combination.

Lobster Pizza

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We had a frozen lobster which we'd bought from Iceland a few weeks ago. The last time we bought lobster there was barely enough to cover a half-bagel each. There seemed to be slightly more meat in this lobster - it was sufficient for one pizza.

lobster pizza

Other toppings included anchovies and capers. The photo above shows the pizza before the cheese was added. The photo below is the cooked pizza just before eating.

lobster pizza

We recently bought a few tins of chunky crab meat - this is better than the cheaper shredded crab meat but I think it's actually better than the cheap lobster meat, which was a little bit chewy.

(Cross-posted from the Pizza Blog)

Bargains from Waitrose

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While we were in Kenilworth last night, we decided to pop into Waitrose. It was half an hour before closing and there were a lot of good food bargains to be had. Nearly everything we bought had been greatly reduced. Only one item was full price (Blackcurrant High Juice squash), two items were on special offer (cider and a half-price chicken). We normally buy the M&S chicken which is raised to the RSPCA 'freedom food' standard. The Waitrose chicken didn't say it was to that standard but claimed to use high welfare standards. Since you tend to expect Waitrose to be better than normal supermarkets, the chicken should be ok.

Other food bargains included bread rolls reduced to 5p each, cottage cheese, cooked salmon, Duchy Original milk. The milk was semi-skimmed but not homogenised and there was a lump of cream stuck to the lid. It tasted so much better than the skimmed milk we normally buy.

Oxford Isis Cheese
Oxford Isis mead-washed cheese. Very smelly. We had to put the tub in a sealed bag in the fridge to stop it stinking out the kitchen.

Strawberry Syrup
Strawberry Syrup. At over 80% sugar, I'm surprised it was pourable.

The total cost was just over £11 but would have been well over £25 at full price. Of course we wouldn't have bought most of the items at full price but it's always nice to find a bargain.