Mince pies

November 26, 2011

Saturday afternoons when City are away have now become my regular time for baking. It seems to take the edge of the tension of waiting for us to hang on/ concede another  away late equaliser. Today’s task has been mince pies. You might feel why bother making something like mince pies when when every shop shelf  is bowing under the sheer weight of them  – but if you see me on a Saturday afternoon walking around a supermarket choosing between Finest or Duchy originals, you have permission to shoot me.  I have to confess I didn’t get round to making the  mincemeat – maybe next week.

When it comes to mince pies I hold with the shorter, the richer, the better. This pastry is basically 3-2-1 parts of flour, butter, sugar. So 300g of plain flour, 200g butter, 100g of flour will make a good dozen pies. Whizz it in a processor with an egg and maybe two tablespoons of water and you’ll get a nice sticky dough ball (you could add a little ground almonds if you like).  Break off a piece about the size of a golf ball and on a floured surface press into a circle, leaving it fairly thick – maybe 3mm – and then line a little paper cake case, gently pushing it down. Fill with about two teaspoons of mincement, then press out a pastry lid in the same manner  and lightly crimp the edges to make a seal.  Bake for around 15 mins (I put them in a muffin tin)  at gas 6, keeping a close eye on them.

Dust with sugar if you want.

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Han Dynasty

November 16, 2011

I can’t pretend I know anything about Chnese food.  Sure I’ve read stuff but you don’t learn that way do you? You learn by trying the good and trying the bad – and I’ve just not eaten enough of the former.

You’ve got to respect the efforts of the Hong Kong immigrants who’ve put Chinese food in every town in the nation, but we all know they presented a simplified version of a complex cuisine in order to attract the timid locals. But our relationship to China is very different now. Earlier this year I patched up two separate friends  who both happened to be on business in Shanghai at the same time – inconceivable a few years ago.  And of course it works  both ways – friends who teach in higher education say their classes are packed with Chinese students.

All of which means we’re leaving behind the chow mein years.  Chinese restaurants are catering for Chinese clientele who expect what they enjoy back home.   Thus it was that four of us paid a visit at the weekend to Han Dynasty on Abbey St, near St Margaret’s bus station in Leicester.   From the moment we entered it was clear it was going to be fun but also that we were well out of our comfort zone.  The joint was jumping,  packed full of young Chinese, with large pots bubbling away on their tables.  Once seated we were asked if we wanted a la carte or “hotpot” –  we jumped in and said hotpot, which resulted in big approval from the staff. Our waitress, who had the biggest smile I’ve ever seen on a human being, promised to explain what to do.

Each table has an induction hob at each setting and and barbecue grill in the centre.  You choose a soup flavour, which becomes your cooking broth steaming away on your hob.  Then a visit to the buffet bar to create your dipping sauce from a wide range of ingredients, most of which we were in the dark about. Then it’s collect a variety of marinated meats and fish and a selection of raw veg, varieties of tofu, dumplings, salads and other stuff. Back to your table to grill what needed grilling, poach what needed poaching and dip what needed …well you get the picture.  It took us a while to get up to speed, somewhat nervously looking around to see how were others doing it.

Once we realised we were along the the right lines we started to relax – the Tsingtao helped  – and realised some of this was really nice food. Can’t tell you much about precise ingredients but certainly the prawns and squid were great, the meat was tasty and there were many hits and as well as a few misses among the unfamilar stuff. Best of all  we felt was the concept – good fun, very communal, flexible and interactive. We were having a really good time, and this seemed preferable to loading up with fried food and sticky sauces keeping warm under lights. A few things confused me – once we’d loaded up the soup with noodles and veg, it started to reduce down into a really tasty mixture. Then before you could stop them, someone filled it up with some watery stock. Maybe I’m missing the point.

So apologies to all you sophisticates for this naive newbie account, but we all start somewhere. Han Dynasty has branches in Birmingham, Nottingham and Plymouth – if you’ve been to any of these  or indeed to similar places in downtown Beijing, and have tips on the best ways to enjoy, please do share.

A couple of reminders. Currently screening on Channel 4 is Jamie’s Great Britain and some of you will remember last summer the Essex boy was in Leicester market filming with Amita Mashru of Paddy’s Marten Inn. The episode featuring Paddy’s will now be shown on Tuesday 15th November, 9pm – not sure what footage made it in to the final cut but will be nice to see Paddy’s and the market place on national telly. The restaurant is also featured in a lovely spread in the book of the series which I assume is staying  top of the sales charts between now and Christmas.  To make sure they take advantage of the publicity the restaurant has also now got round to getting a website together so check it out at www.paddysmarteninn.co.uk .

Mushrooms at Leicester Market’s Winter Food Festival

Leicester market will also be hosting its winter food festival on Sunday 20th November 10am to 5pm. It’s been a really good event for the last couple of years and, whisper it quietly, it seems this year it could be graced by the presence of Levi Roots. Good place to think about food-related Xmas presents.

The Red Lion, East Haddon

November 4, 2011

Another full-on delivery day yesterday, this time over in Rutland, Northants and Cambridgeshire. I wasn’t going to get caught out like yesterday , and called a halt around 5.30 once I’d arrived at The Red Lion in East Haddon, near Northampton.  It’s a smart but by no means intimidatingly posh gastropub.  Co-proprietor Adam Gray recently returned to his roots having worked with the likes of Raymond Blanc and most recently as head chef at [Gary] Rhodes 24 in London. The pedigree shows – there’s nothing fancypants here rather a focus on doing simple things well.  My belly of pork was beautifully done – fat rendered, meat tender and very flavoursome, crackling extremely noisy. Even the mash was noteworthy, while the gravy was winey and so damned tasty I sneaked a glug from the little jug when no-one was watching.  An apple tart – heavily touted by my waitress was a bit ordinary – pureed fruit, no great depth of flavour – though the clotted cream ice-cream that came with it was fantastic.

Looking at the rest of the menu it seems admirably unfussy – pumpkin soup with oxford blue cheese fritter, slow-cooked lamb with turnip gratin and buttered leeks – and  I’m not surprised the Michelin crew  have already given it a Bib Gourmand.  There’s a small but smartly kitted out cookery school attached too.

Might be worth a drive for those in the South of Leicestershire and it’s certainly worth considering a small diversion if you’re travelling home on the M1 or A5 –  as the crow flies it’s about two miles from Watford Gap services.  I know where I’d rather go.

A strange day out

November 3, 2011

I’m claiming a world first tonight. The first person ever to visit a two Michelin star restaurant and sit outside finishing off a Gregg’s Steak Bake.

It was probably the most surreal moment of a pretty strange day that had seen me visit dozens of the region’s finest restaurant, delis and cafes – and leave without eating in any of them. I was helping deliver the new edition – indeed Christmas edition –  of Great Food magazine to sales points and some prestige restaurants  who are keen to have a few copies for diners to browse. It was a day done at breakneck speed around Melton, Grantham and Nottingham. It was a great chance to visit venues such as the  the newly-Michelin listed Berkeley Arms in Wymondham  but very frustrating to  just drop and go (I know what I’m having when I do get back there – pork and black pudding terrine with crab apple jelly and toast, followed by roasted guinea fowl with wild mushroom and pearl barley risotto and carmelised poached pear with blackcurrant sorbet.)

A steak bake recently

Eventually then I was parked up in Nottingham dropping off at venues such as World  Service and Harts and time was getting short. It was 6.15pm and I had to be back in Leicester in a hour. I’d not eaten all day, I had  a £20 note and I needed  change for the car park. Well what would you have done? Gregg’s it was. But I had one last drop to make – under the flyover on Lenton Lane at Restaurant Sat Bains.  I felt somehow that I  was sullying the car park by bring in the salty, rather gristly pasty thing, but there you go – we all have to get by as we can.

It was worth rushing back to Leicester  – a tasting of rieslings at the splendid Evington’s.

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