Spiced quince ice-cream

October 20, 2011


Earlier this week my neighbour appeared on the doorstep with a carrier bag. Did I want some quinces? Yes I did, thank you.  When I was three we had a quince tree outside our block of flats in London SE26 and I made a pre-schoolboy error of picking up a windfall and trying to eat it. Not a good experience and I’ve rather steered clear ever since, but everyone deserves a second chance.

Remarkably a few minutes later I got an email from a new cyberchum and fourth generation ice-cream maker Ben Vear with a link to recipe for autumn-spiced quince ice-cream. Serendipity had struck.  I won’t give you the full recipe here  – please go over to Ben’s site (Ben’s Kitchen Blog) – but it’s straightforward enough if you’re familiar with ice-cream making.  Basically it’s steep some cream and milk with cinnamon and nutmeg, whizz the fruit, make a custard, mix, churn and freeze.

The quinces were a little tricky to deal with – there’s some hardness around the core which is difficult to get rid of and may leave a slighty grittiness even after a prolonged spell in the blender – but they do have a really unusual, perfumed quality. I suspect the ice-cream won’t be to be everyone’s taste, and I’m sure it’s best left as a seasonal speciality rather an everyday flavour, but on this occasion I loved it  – it was all I could not to just eat it up at the custardy stage.

Adma Shawarma

October 19, 2011

I vividly remember my first doner kebab. It was in the late 70s and I was visiting my friend Anne at Bournemouth Polytechnic. One of her flatmates offered to go out for kebabs and minutes later returned with this pitta bread full of strangely spiced strips of meat that were a revelation to one raised on fish and chips.  Oh brave new world that has such foodstuffs in it. Even now the thought brings back the heady rush of carefree student life like madelaines for, well, you know the rest.

Within five years it seemed every highstreet corner had an elephant leg in the window from which was carved bland, cardboardy meat-type substance, made edible by the addition of nuclear chilli.  The doner had become defined as the late-night snack of choice for Brits too cash-strapped or too inebriated to sit down in a curry house.

Adma Shawarma

The ubiquity of cheap, poor quality kebabs might partly explain why shawarma isn’t as widespread here as  in other parts of Europe and of course the Middle East. Shawarma is made from cuts of meat stacked,  skewered and grilled on a rotisserie, but done well the resemblance is to the debased doner is co-incidental. It  is generally served  as cuts of meat sliced from the stack and wrapped in lavash-style flat bread with a pokey garlic sauce and selection of pickles.

And that, I’m pleased to say, was lunch today.  Adma Shawarma is tucked away on Bowling Green Street, Leicester,  (round the back of Fenwicks?) in the premises that some will remember as the Durham Ox. It’s now a pleasant Lebanese cafe offering a range of lamb and chicken grills  at around £2.50/£3 (shawarma, kafta, shish tawouk, farruj mashwi), mezze including baba ghanoush, kibbeh, stuffed vine leaves and salads such as tabbouleh and fattoush. My takeaway shawarma was not haute cuisine but it was a boost to a jaded palate – gobbets of sticky chicken, seriously garlicky mayo and little taste bombs of crunchy pickles.  Staff were engagingly cheerful, though the arrival of three people at lunchtime seemed to cause a bit of crisis – I’m sure they’ll sort that out.

Well worth a little diversion for lunch, or for a cup of tea with baklava or other pastry. They’ve also got some intriguing-looking sachets of  Lebanese spice mixes which I’ll be back for.

Had a nice chat this morning with Nigel and Zoe Brady, owners of a new fishmongers on Stoneygate’s Allandale Road.  Zoe is a local, Nigel a Dubliner with a background that varies from butchery to cancer research but the couple have been planning a fish and seafood shop for a couple of years.

We’ve got a fish market in the city centre, and of course big supermarkets tend to have fish counters, but I think there has to be a place for a neighbourhood fish shop. Especially one like this that seems to do it the right way.  They get deliveries from South and East coast ports every morning at 7am, all from day boats, so the emphasis is very much on freshness, seasonality and sustainability. Nigel reckons 95 per cent of his fish is from British waters, and while they do stock North Atlantic cod and haddock they are very keen to wean people off these traditional species and inspire and educate people about alternatives.  So the relatively small and beautifully displayed stock includes dabs, at just £1 each, red gurnard fillets, gilthead bream as well as Scottish langoustines and Norfolk crab and lobster. Scallops have been flying out this week thanks it seems to a colour supplement recipe at the weekend, and also on the slab today were brill, turbot, monkfish, squid, razor clams and oysters.

They cater for a lunchtime market with hot dishes to take away – today’s dish was mussels in tomato and chilli – and home made dishes including fish pies, smoked salmon pate, taramasalata and pasta salads. Recipe cards to inspire creative use of their fish are planned and the shop is licensed so they can recommend and sell you a nice chilled bottle of Sancerre or Champagne if you’re in the market for it.

The shop is open until 6pm early in the week and until 7pm on Thursday and Fridays, making it highly convenient for picking up something for the weekend. I just picked up a few extras today such  as nam pla, smoked Cornish seasalt and a few chillies, but I’ll be back soon to try the fish.

Edit January 2013: Nigel and Zoe have relocated their business to Northamptonshire -specifically to the wonderful Beckworth Emporium near Mears Ashby.It’s worth a drive out to this huge garden centee and mega-farmshop – if you do make it and see Nigel, tell him I sent you.


October 5, 2011

This is supposed to be a Leicestershire food blog so maybe this post is ultra vires, but then I’ve always thought of Somerstown and the rest of the area around St Pancras as “our” bit of London, so maybe this is relevent after all.

Thanks to my erstwhile colleague Marina O’Loughlin (I’m stretching it a bit here, she reviews restaurants for Metro in London, I used to review for Metro in Leicester. There’s a difference) – for alerting me to the creation of Eat.St just round the back of St Pancras station – a “micro-market” of the best and most interesting street food traders in the capital. Launching on Thursday and Friday this week, early traders include Ribman, who promises baby back pork ribs in hot, homemade marinade either on the bone on off the bone in  a “roll” (this is the local word for cob – quaint eh?). Also paella from Jamon Jamon and Bhangra Burger  – offering among other things a lamb burger with curry in a warm flatbread wrap.

It all sounds ideal for those times when you’re travelling back from t’smoke and you really feel you could do better than a pasty or sandwich from M&S.  So, you fancy I’ve-got-a-10am-meeting-in-Westminster types, let us know your reaction if you are able to check it out (this means you, Alex Stutz).

The Leicestershire Cook-off

October 4, 2011

Just spent an entertaining lunchtime watching the Leicestershire Cook-Off, a project prompted by Leicester City Centre management body Le-One and designed to come up with a signature dish for the county.  Winning submissions in four categories were invited to a cook off at St Martin’s House where a voting system that combined public acclaim with the views of five judges saw Clarendon Park baker Rosie Clark win with her selection of three Leicestershire loaves. As well as winning a range of kitchen goodies, Rosie gets her bread put on the menu at the restaurant at John Lewis Leicester – which must feel like a bit of a result.

Turns out Rosie is a real bread evangelist for Virtuous Bread, a network that is trying to kickstart small scale baking businesses in communities.   As she lives nearby hopefully we’ll fix up something more from her in this blog but for now here’s one of her winning loaves,  billed as Leicestershire Stilton Irish Soda Bread. It looks simple and if you can get it as good as the sample I tried, is well worth trying.

275g Claybrooke strong white stoneground flour

250g buttermilk

1 tsp salt

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

2 tsp sugar

50g crumbled Stilton cheese.

Mix ingredients in a bowl, kneading to ensure ingredients are well incorporated. With wet hands scoop into a ball  and place on a greased baking tray. Make a cut in a cross shape that is about one third through the bread. Bake at 200 degrees for about 20-25 mins.

Rosie Clark with fellow finalists and chef James Tanner (centre), chair of the judges

Other finalists included a delicious venison curry from Amadeep Singh Amand, inspired he says by a visit to Bradgate Park. This was served to the public as a canape though the published recipe involves a red wine sauce and a Red Leicester-stuffed naan. Amadeep is chef at the soon to open Arabic-Indian-Italian fusion restaurant Endimaj – must say I’m more inclined now to give it a try.  Catering student Coaralie Featherstone had won the aged 16-18 category with a dish of stuffed pork tenderloin with flavours of apple, mustard and honey, while the fourth finalist was Maurice Flynn with a delicately spiced apple and mulberry crumble cake.


Living for the weekend

October 2, 2011

Some weekends really make you feel that, despite everything, it really is worth perservering through this vale of tears. This has been one such.

It started on Friday evening with a cold drink with former colleagues in Manahttan 34, a welcome addition to the bar scene in in Leicester’s Cultural Quarter.  Then I helped win 2nd prize in a pub quiz at Leicestershire Tennis Club. An auspicious start I’m sure you’ll agree.

Saturday, with the temperature rising to extraordinary highs for the end of September,  I took a lovely drive through the Leicestershire countryside to the East Midlands Food Festival in Melton – an annual highlight that gives an opportunity to renew acquaintances and check out new businesses. My peronal highlights included refreshing blush-pink apple juice from Discovery appples, a big slab of wild boar belly, some nose-blasting horseradish and habanero relish, a plum and gooseberry pastry from a little business called the pantry in Kettleby,  and Du Pain Frier (right), a delicious piece of Mauritian streetfood  – deep fried chickpea bread with green herbs and spices and a tomato salsa.

Then it was back to Leicester and a sun-drenched, glorious 4-0 defeat of Derby County, celebrated duly with a fine pint of Landlord. And then on to Sunday, with the weather still being more like July, and a four mile hike around classic English countryside in Rutland complete with a 12th century church. We finished up fortuitously at a stylish dining pub in the shape of Braunston’s Blue Ball – the oldest pub in the county and a nice mix of cosy nooks and crannies without the clutter and tutt.

The food was really rather good too. It’s a serious restaurant and we found the starters all showed deft touches in cooking and presentation and qaulity ingredients. Home cured juniper and citrus salmon ( left top) came with a delicious, refreshing cucumber sorbet, while fat seared scallops (left middle) perched on Grasmere farm black pudding withe a lemon beurre blanc dressing and my spinach and ricotta tortellini (left below) sat on a fricasee of wild mushrooms and a fantastic parmesan crisp. High quality posh pub grub this.

Mains didn’t really come out in the picures but imagine big satisfying plates of roasted loin of venison with a lentil and herb cassoulet, honey glazed duck, topside of beef and roasted leg of lamb from nearby Launde. My lamb had a marvellous flaovur though it was slathered in a fairly undistinguished gravy, but few pubs – even ones this good  – seem to get that right in my experience.

Our deserts included a very good sticky toffee pudding, a selection of superior ice-creams which were restrained in flavour (honeycombe, ammaretto and coffee) but beautifully creamy. Sadly a  creme brulee disappointed with it grainy texture – a big cross against that but it didn’t spoil our sense of well-being.  Service had been helpful and the atmosphere was jollied along by  sounds of a great hotjazz duo drifting in from the bar to our little alcove. The Blue Ball has long been a destination pub but has had it ups and downs over the years. On this showing I wouldn’t mind going again.

And then it was home to contemplate the rain, wind and darkness that will settle on us for the next six months. A memorable weekend to help carry me through, though.

Edit: having now reread this post I feel compelled to add the following link:http://www.thedailymash.co.uk/news/society/everyone-lying-about-how-great-their-weekend-was-201110034373/

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