Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Gordon Ramsay's Cream of Cauliflower Soup

Gordon Ramsay's Cream of Cauliflower soup
After watching the Hairy Bikers talk about cauliflower on the BBC's Great British Food Revival the other week, we decided to try and find some interesting recipes for it. We've previously only used cauliflower as an accompaniment to a roast meat, or had it with cheese sauce at The Parents'. We were inspired by the recipes from the programme, but knowing full well that our local Morrisons and Lidl would not stock Romanesco cauliflower, we decided to find something else.

I'd previously made cauliflower and broccoli soup, but the cauliflower was overshadowed and just bulked out the soup. I also have memories of a childhood visit to a small bookshop and cafe in St Andrews in Scotland where I had the most lovely cauliflower soup, and I've never properly attempted to recreate it. So soup it was.

A quick search on the internet found this Gordon Ramsay recipe on the Good Food website. Surely a recipe from Gordon would be a safe bet. We didn't do the mushrooms, as we wanted to taste the soup just as it was.

Recipe (directly taken from Good Food, without the mushroom section)

1 large cauliflower (about 1.3kg/3lb), stalks discarded and florets chopped
1 large potato, peeled and chopped into large chunks
1 medium onion , chopped
25g butter
4 tbsp olive oil
1.2l light chicken or vegetable stock
600ml full-fat milk
142ml carton double cream
1-2 tbsp finely snipped chives

1. Put the cauliflower, potato and onion in a large saucepan with the butter and half of the oil. Gently heat the contents until they start to sizzle, then cover with a lid and sweat over a low heat for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. The vegetables should be softened but not coloured.

2. Pour in the stock and bring to the boil, then pour in the milk and return gently to a boil. This way, there will be no scum forming from the milk. Season to taste then simmer, uncovered, for 10-15 minutes until the vegetables are soft. Pour in half the cream.

3. Blend everything in a food processor or blender, in batches. For an extra creamy texture, push the purée through a sieve with the back of a ladle. Stir in the rest of the cream. (If preparing ahead cool, cover and chill for up to a day.)

4. Check for seasoning and ladle into warmed bowls. Sprinkle lightly with the chives.

This soup was fantastic. The specific yet subtle flavour of the cauliflower came through well. The texture of the potato was there but not too overpowering, and the creaminess was just right.
One thing to note with this soup was that it was rather thin. It would work well as a starter when you don't want anything too heavy, or as a light lunch (especially with no bread). What it lacked in thickness it certainly made up for in flavour. This soup has more lovely cauliflower flavour than any boiled florets alongside a roast dinner. We will certainly be making this soup again.

Again? This leads to another issue. One which was raised in the BBC's Great British Food Revival. British farmers now only receive around 20% of the retail value of each cauliflower which has decreased recently (according to the programme), and most cauliflowers in the supermarkets are imported. Why should this be? Especially since one farmer interviewed for the programme said that cauliflowers were grown all year round in this country.
Our next mission was to find local or British cauliflowers for our next recipe.
Morrisons (at the time) didn't have any British in, but Lidl did, and on offer for 79p. Plus we've since bought local from Kenyon Hall Farm (£1.20) and have noticed that the stock in Morrisons is now British (£1.98).

We will no longer think of cauliflower as a vegetable just to go with a roast or cheese, and we will continue to try different ways of using it.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

The Banyan Tree, Manchester

It had been a while since we last took advantage of an offer from Groupon and with a voucher to The Banyan Tree in Manchester fast approaching it's expiry date we had to make the effort to head into town on a Wednesday night to see if it lives up to the impression it gives on it's website. 
I have had discussions with people local to The Banyan Tree about whether it is a bar with a restaurant or vice versa.  I was told primarily it was a bar but the website certainly does not give that impression and in fact describes itself as a Restaurant and Bar.  For me this may be the root of the slight issues I had with the set up and service we experienced on the night.

First impressions were a little disappointing as we were expecting a restaurant and on arrival there was no area to wait for our table.  There seemed to be very few staff and had to wait at the bar behind people ordering drinks to ask for our table.  Normally if I book a table I would expect to be shown to the eating area and seated without having to queue awkwardly at the bar.  I feel it would be easy to introduce a small waiting area near the door where restaurant reservations can wait to be seen.  It would probably only need a small stand in the porch area.  That said, it didn't take long to be seen at the bar and the few staff we came into contact with were very pleasant and we soon settled down to browse the menu.

The restaurant was very busy for mid week which may have been due to the Groupon voucher coming to an end.  The waitress even asked if we had a voucher so do not expect we were the only ones.  One big plus was that the waitress remembered our telephone booking when we explained again that we would need to know which options were gluten-free.  It was great she remembered us but again we were a little disappointed to discover that the only option available for Fran was the Duck.  It was a good job this was the dish Fran would have chosen anyway.

We ordered a bottle of Spanish White which was very pleasant as I looked through the rest of the menu.  The voucher we had was for 2 starters and 2 mains. 

Fran ordered a Cabrese Salad for starter which consisted of the world's biggest tomatoes, mozzarella, some leaves and a red pesto dressing.  All in all Fran thought this was fantastic.  More red pesto dressing would have been nice but that is because she could have drank it from a jar, it was that good.

I ordered vegetable samosas and a soy and sesame dipping sauce.  The chilli sauce on the picture was changed.  These were again fantastic.  Big and chunky and full of flavour and obviously hand cooked by a talented chef.

As mentioned, Fran ordered the confit of duck for main.  This came with new potatoes, roasted beetroot, some green veg similar to Chard and a sauce (now wish we had taken a photo of the specials menu as we cannot remember the description).  Fran says the beetroot was lovely and fresh.  The duck could have been more tender but was still very flavoursome.  Although not being sure what the greens were  -could have been chard or beetroot tops, they were still a delicious addition.

I ordered Sea Bass with coconut gratin, roasted tomatoes and a chervil and turmeric veloute.  The flavours were just amazing.  There really is someone very talented in that kitchen.  In some ways the flavours were so good that it almost didn't need the sea bass on top.  It has to be said though that I thought the fish had got a bit dry and the sauce a little thicker than when it was put on the plate  This is just an assumption but I fear the dish may have sat for a little while before being brought to the table.  This is a real shame as other than that I thought it was beautiful.

In summary we would say that the food was excellent but our experience suffered a little bit as we feel they were a bit understaffed for the volume of diners that night.  The service was by no means bad but it did seem the waitress was run off her feet all night.   We would also like to see more gluten-free options on the menu.  There were some dishes that really should or rather could be gluten-free with a little bit of thought.  For instance, I am sure the chervil and turmeric veloute could be made by reduction and not flour, if in fact it was as we couldn't find any other reason why it was out of bounds.  We were also a little confused as to whether the place is primarily a bar or restaurant.  A system for meeting diners at the door could easily solve this.  As for prices, the specials seemed reasonable at around £15 and the main menu is all under £10 a course so cannot argue with that.

We don't want this post to sound too negative as we would recommend it, however we are unlikely to return given the limited choice of gluten-free options.  We are aware, however that the specials do change from day to day so this might not always be the case, although it is a little out of town to just drop in and check what is on the menu.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011


Yes I know its over a week late, but this post is more about a kind of revelation. 

While I searched for inspiration for a savoury pancake last week I remembered something foodie that must have dug itself deep into my head. Some time ago, I knew of an Italian chef who ran a small village restaurant. His food was excellent and his passion for his restaurant and customers was second to none. He ran a traditional type of Italian where the pasta could be the starter, then a salad or veg, followed by the meat or fish. There was not a pizza in sight (This is street food, not restaurant food!). He was a character. I remember him once insisting that Cannelloni was not pasta, but pancake.

After googling this, I couldn't seem to find a definitive answer to whether Cannelloni is supposed to be pasta or pancake. I found out that it can be. I also found out that manicotti is also the name for a dish of pancake tubes, filled in the same manner as cannelloni. But then when searching further, it seems that mancotti can be pancake or pasta. All very confusing. But also very simple.....

Being gluten-free now, this means my pasta choices are limited. Generally there is fusilli or penne available, and incresingly so spaghetti and sometimes lasagne. But that's it. So here is the revelation. If cannelloni/manicotti can be pancake, it certainly will be in this house! Gluten-free pancakes are no trouble, but finding and cooking lasagne sheets and constructing rolls would involve so much more faff (and cost).  A workable way of making interesting baked pasta dishes has now come into my life! Hurrah!

What I made came straight from my head and I didn't follow any recipe, but I will attempt to document it here as best I can. Apologies for the picture, not very appetising. I promise it tasted much better than it looks!

I used a standard pancake recipe of 100g (gluten-free) flour, 1/2 pint milk and egg. There are so many recipes and recommendations out there so I won't re-write the method. I made a batch of 6 pancakes and let them cool between sheets of greaseproof paper.

A few mushrooms, chopped
Bacon lardons
Red onion, chopped
Dried sage
White wine (optional)

Cheese, grated

1. Gently fry the bacon, onion and mushrooms together. They want to be softened rather than browned.
2. Add a dash of white wine if you have any in (and open - its not that important) and reduce.
3. Sprinkle in some dried sage. I like sage flavour so added about a heaped tsp.
4. Pour in some cream and stir. The amount I used was enough to make a sauce, but not make it runny. This is actually the stuffing rather than the sauce, so it needs to be chunky.
5. Make a bechamel sauce with the butter, flour and milk (Delia's recipe (within her cannelloni recipe) uses cream and nutmeg which I left out - there are so many calories already!). Stir through some grated cheese, saving enough for the top.
6. Construct the cannelloni by spooning some bacon mixture onto each pancake and rolling it up. Place the rolls side by side in an oven proof dish. Pour over the bechamel sauce and sprinkle with the remaining cheese.
7. Bake until heated through and the cheese and sauce are bubbling. We serves it with a dressed green salad.

P.S. The picture at the top is of dessert. A standard pancake with the obligatory nutella and a generous drizzle of cream. Lovely!

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Cajun Chicken Quinoa Salad

In celebration of receiving our first issue of our subscription to Good Food Magazine here is a recipe based on one we found in that, the April of the magazine.
This was another week day lunches solution and was very very tasty indeed. It has enough flavour from the seasoning and stock to stop the cravings for anything salty and fatty that might be calling to you from the vending machine (or is that just me?), and with the lentils as well as the quinoa it was very filling.
The recipe in Good Food Magazine uses apricots, but I'm not a big fan of those, so I used a couple of peppers instead. Not really a logical substitute, I know. Also the recipe says to use 4 chicken breasts, but I think this is because it is for a main meal for 4. I only used 2, to keep the costs down and to make it lighter.

2 skinless chicken breasts, cut into small chunks
1 tbsp cajun seasoning
100g/4oz quinoa
600ml/1pint hot chicken stock
1 red pepper, cut into dice
1 green pepper, cut into dice
2 red onions, sliced
175g lentils
Olive oil

1. Heat the oven to 220C/gas 6. Coat the chicken with the cajun spice and place on a baking tray. Drizzle with a little oil and cook for about 20 mins until cooked through.

2. Cook the lentils according to the pack instructions. This involves, rinsing, and simmering for around 40 mins until tender.

3. Cook the quinoa in the chicken stock until tender. This takes about 15 mins and is when you see the germ start to separate from the grain.

4. Drain both the lentils and the quinoa and mix with the chicken and all it's juices.

5. Fry the onions and peppers in a little olive oil until soft, but not brown. Then mix with the rest of the ingredients.

This was so good, I will make it again and again. In fact I think I will be living off it for lunches at work for a while!

Friday, 11 March 2011

Ainsley Harriott's Maddie Haddock

Last week, when cooking for one, I fancied something tasty, quick and relatively cheap.
I'd cooked Ainsley Harriott's "Maddie Haddock" recipe before some time ago, and remembered that it was easy, used store cupboard/fridge ingredients and was quick and tasty.
It comes from Ainsley's book All New Meals in Minutes which I've had on the shelf for a while. The recipe is called "Maddie Haddock" after his daughter as apparently it is one of her favourites.


I called in at Morrisons to buy some fish, and after watching and reading about The Big Fish Fight I was determined to use some white fish that wasn't cod or haddock. It seems that since Fish Fight Morrisons Fish counter has expanded and is now full of all sorts of different fish. I bought some Pouting fillets, which the fish monger skinned for me, for the grand total of 54p. Bargain. The fillets were quite small so I bought a couple.

I didn't follow the recipe from the book exactly, but modified the amounts, and obviously used gluten-free flour. I actually think I went overboard with the topping ingredients as there seemed to be loads of it. I've copied out the recipe below (with a simplified method), so you can see how it supposed to be done.
What you will need (from Ainsley Harriott's All New Meals in Minutes):

2 ripe tomatoes
150g mature Cheddar
2 salad onions, trimmed and finely chopped
4 tbsp mayonnaise
2 tbsp plain flour (we use gluten-free)
4 x 150g haddock fillets, skinned and boned
1 tbsp sunflower oil
a knob of unsalted butter
salt and pepper
(Serves 4)


1. Dice the tomatoes, removing the seeds. Chop the spring onions and grate the cheese. Mix all this with the mayo and season.

2. Preheat the grill to high. Dust the fish with seasoned flour and fry in a little butter and oil for around 2 minutes on both sides (until almost cooked).

3. Transfer the fish to a gratin dish and spread with the mayonnaise mixture.

4. Grill for 2-3 minutes until the cheese is golden and bubbling.

This is a lovely recipe, and with fish other than cod or haddock, is very cheap to make. It uses ingredients that most people are likely to have in already, and perhaps with more care than I took (since it was just me), it could be quite an impressive main course for a dinner party. I served it with a balsamic dressed salad.

Monday, 7 March 2011

Houmous (3 ways)

I found a really simple recipe for Houmous in Olive Magazine's 101 Global Dishes.  The first time I tried it I found I needed to add a little more water to get the consistency I wanted and after tasting felt there was too much tahini so last week I tried again and altered the proportions slightly.  To add a bit more interest I decided to add some more flavours to create 3 different kinds of Houmous.

So we ended up with:

Houmous, Plain and Simple
Houmous with Olives
Houmous with Roasted Red Pepper and Chilli

Here is what you will need:

Chickpeas (1 x 400g tin, drained)
Light Tahini Paste (2 tbsp)
Garlic (tsp crushed)
Olive Oil 3 tbsp
Ground Cumin 1 tsp
Lemon 1 juiced
4 tbsp Water
Red Pepper 1/2 medium
Medium Red Chilli (deseeded and halved)
A dozen black olives such as Hojiblanca (fresh from the deli)

First, make the basic homous to which the other ingredients will be added to make the interesting alternatives.

Add the chickpeas, garlic, tahini, olive oil, water, lemon juice to a food processor and season well.  Blitz for a minute or 2 depending on what consistency you want - add more water and blitz for longer to achieve a very smooth texture. 

Divide into 3 bowls - cut an olive in half to garnish and pop on top of one dish and that is your plain and simple one finished.  Allow to chill for at least an hour.

For the others it might be best to use a mini chopper as there will only be a small amount to blend through with the other ingredients. 

Take a handful of black olives (around a dozen halved) and add to the mini chopper with one of the houmous portions and again blitz for a minute.  Olive Houmous done.

For the final one - drizzle a red pepper and medium chilli with olive oil and roast in the oven at 200 degrees for about 20 minutes till softened and beginning to blacken.  Then add this to the final portion of houmous and blitz in the mini chopper.  This is wonderful and sweet with heat - I will make this again for sure.

Serve with toasted pitta, carrots, peppers and anything else you fancy dipping.  makes a lovely sociable supper.

Friday, 4 March 2011

Cafe Rouge, Deansgate, Manchester

When a friend came up to visit Manchester for the weekend, our choice of eatery was dictated plainly and simply by the vouchers we had! We're not proud of this, well actually, maybe a bit, something for nothing is always a good thing, but I would generally try to eat at independant places, or at least smaller chains, who don't necessarily offer discounts all the time. Although when a voucher presents itself, it would be rude not to use it. The voucher in question was free birthday champagne. You now see why we chose to use this! Anyway, I digress.

We'd booked Cafe Rouge on Deansgate for 4 people for 8 o'clock. There were some small concerns from my friend over this, as their website (or at least their voucher website) didn't seem to say there was a branch there. However, after checking the reservation was OK by telephone, the manager for the night introduced himself and promised that we would be looked after when we arrived.

We arrived to join the rest of the party, who had already ordered a bottle of wine for the table. We chatted for a while, and were given menus. I requested the gluten-free menu, which we were told was just being printed out. It was then delivered to the wrong table. After it finding its way into the right hands I was delighted to see that the dishes I had spotted from the main menu were also on the gluten-free menu, with hardly any adjustments. The gluten-free menu print out was also a print out of the lactose-free options. Something I've not seen before, but then again, I've never had the need to ask for this! Further reading of the menu, and I was a little disappointed. The steaks were listed as gluten-free, but not with every sauce. Only the mushroom sauce (I think, don't quote me) was fine, but not the others. To me, that sounds like all the sauces are bought in, as surely it doesn't take that much effort to substitute the flour (or in fact thicken with reduction) when making it fresh.

Our party ordered the baked camembert to share (with celery and carrots for me instead of bread) and the Goats Cheese Crouton salad for starters. And then two portions of mussels, a steak and the Poulet Breton. We did cause a bit of confusion with the side orders and which was going with which, and who was swapping with who, but the waitress coped fine, and knew exactly what we wanted.
The starter came, and was nice. I thought the size of the camembert was a little small, but it was meant for 2, and there were 3 of us eating it and I do love my baked camembert. So to be fair, that is just me. No-one else seemed left wanting more.

Then the confusion started.

The starter plates were cleared away and the mussels were brought. We sat waiting. And waiting. And waited some more. There were quite a few waiting staff - not waiting, but busying around. Doing what exactly, we're not sure. Our waitress spotted us and scooted off to find out what was going on. She came back to explain that mussels are often ordered as a starter so they came out before the other mains.
When the remaining mains came out, they were fine. My main dish was quite a large portion, and rather nice. The flavour of the tarragon and parsley coming through the sauce. The mash was creamy, and again, there was loads of it.

The side orders of fries that were supposed to accompany the mussels arrived half way through our mains.

We did order deserts. I had the "gluten-free" creme brulee as it was described as placed in front of me. But I suspect that it was actually identical to the "other" creme brulee we ordered. And the Tart Tatin seemed to be appreciated.

All this led to a discussion about service. My friend used to work at a restaurant where the waiting staff were responsible for making sure all the people at the table were served together, whereas here, that seemed not to be the case. We felt the timing of our meals was not acceptable, but the way our waitress explained how things had gone wrong, and the way she was very apologetic seemed to diffuse the situation. She dealt with us all night, and was faultless, even when we couldn't decide on who was eating what. The amount of staff around the restaurant, which wasn't actually very busy, shouldn't have led to the delay and the mix up, but the service from that one member of staff was very good. We were in two minds whether to leave a tip. We may not go back again given our experience, but the food was good enough (would be even better with a buy one get one voucher), but was the actual "service" received, the bad enough to not leave a tip?

Oh, and the Champagne? Not a branded bottle, but the bubbles did go down well!

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Indus Tandoori, Denton

Before I write about this restaurant I just want to be clear about the way we review.  It may seem as though we love all the places we visit, however, as we mention in our profile, we are not food critics or experts which means we don't go out to find restaurants to rate.  The way our blog works is to talk about food we have enjoyed.  What this means in practice is that if we eat somewhere we are not keen on we generally won't write about it so our reviews are really recommendations.  Unless we feel compelled to tell you about a particularly bad experience, this is the way we intend to keep doing it.

With that in mind comes our latest discovery, Indus Tandoori in Denton.  They sadly don't seem to have a website but I did find this.

We have now been to the restaurant 3 times.  The first time was in its 1st week of opening and it has steadily improved since.  We have sampled a good number of their dishes now and think we can see what they are all about.  The 1st time we went we enjoyed the food but found it a little bland.  We had great discussions as to whether we had got used to such impactive flavours that when something more authentic/normal came along we weren't as bowled over.  The other concern was the plastic plates and smell of new fixtures.  We let them off for this as they had just opened.

On our second visit we were their only customers but again had a pleasant meal.  We were a little concerned, however, by the visit from licensing while we were eating - thought I was going to lose my beer!  Thankfully not.  Throughout our visits the service has been excellent and we really hoped that the place would get popular enough for them to invest in decent crockery!  Also, I think they may have suffered a little for opening so near Christmas time as I suppose people don't take too many risks when planning a festive night out and would more likely book somewhere they know.  We, on the other hand quite happily take risks.

We recently gave a general recommendation for Indus to friends who live in the area that wanted to try them for takeaway.  We told them the food tasted wonderfully fresh and individually created but we found the dishes we had ordered to be a little bland, however it may have been just a bad menu choice.  They ordered food and reported back that they loved it which gave us the impetus to give them one more try.  And we were very glad we did.

So this is to report back from our 3rd and most successful visit to Indus Tandoori.  Again the service was very attentive but not intrusive so full marks there.  There was another larger party eating there that seemed to be enjoying the night immensely which added something more to the atmosphere that was lacking previously.

We ordered the usual poppadom each in order to try the chutney tray.  They impressively serve up 5 trays (which you do pay for): Onion Chutney, Mango Chutney, Mint Sauce, Tamarind Sauce and a Lime Pickle.  All were lovely and fresh.

Next we had some mixed starters that I sadly cannot remember specifically and the menu adds no further clue but they were similar to spring rolls! And a portion of onion bhaji.
After a lengthy discussion with the waiter it transpired that the onion bhaji was indeed made with gram flour (as we thought) and safe for Fran.  But sadly Fran could not enjoy the rest which I had chosen.

Fran thoroughly enjoyed the bhaji and wasn't the least bit jealous of my excessive starter.

For main course we went for 2 main dishes; Butter Chicken and Manchurian Lamb which was described as "diced chicken cooked in thick sauce, garnished with green chilli, spicy, sweet & hot dish with mango chutney & spring onion" (well we were after flavour!)

We also had a side of Spinach (Saag Bhaji) which we have done on each of the 3 occasions we have visited.  This dish is absolutely delicious.  Wonderfully fresh and packed with flavour it is the best spinach side we have tried and has been just as good each time.

So did we have desert too?  I'm afraid not.  We ordered far more than we usually do but were able to take a doggy bag home with us which made a fantastic lunch the next day.

Our opinion of Indus has improved greatly since we first visited.  Initially we thought the food was a little bland but our most recent visit has put that thought right out of our minds.  One thing that stands out for us and I have touched on it in the post is the freshness of the food.  Each dish tastes like it was made to order and no 2 dishes have ever tasted the same.  The Butter Chicken was a winner for me.  It was all about the butter yet somehow wasn't overpowering in its richness.  The Manchurian Lamb was spicy yet sweet and unlike anything I have really tried before and was packed full of flavour.

We have been encouraged by the increasing numbers of diners and hope that the restaurant continues to impress.  They have a tough challenge though being situated so close to Blue Crown Takeaway and Aashiana Restaurant both of which are award winners in Tameside.  Despite this we think it is definitely worth giving it a try.  There are some very interesting dishes on the menu that we hope to gradually work our way through.  I get the impression that they are not a bog standard curry house and maybe for the more discerning diner.  The menu features a variety of fish dishes and some more unusual dishes like Kidney Karahi and Chicken Flambe cooked in red wine.  Well worth a visit.