Monthly Archives: July 2012

what i’m listening to: July 2012

and as July rolls into August, here’s what I’ve been listening to in no particular order:

  1. Slash – Carolina – one of my favourites off the new album Apocalyptic Love with a variety of tones and it drives some of my runs too
  2. Hardcore Superstar – We Don’t Need A Cure – the latest release from Swedish hard rockers HCSS back in October 2011 but despite the frequent la-la-la-ing, it’s a great Summer anthem
  3. Foreigner – Cold As Ice – love how they pull off the thin texture and fantastic lyrics. Timeless track by a great band.
  4. Ghost – Here Comes The Sun – a Beatles cover and an interesting one too. Never been a fan of Ghost but heard this recently and loved it.
  5. Amy Winehouse – Some Unholy War – one of the lesser-known tracks from her Back to Black album. Just over a week today last year she died and I’m still a fan of her songwriting and vocal talent. A fighting song.

Album of the month – Hardline – Double Eclipse – a fast-paced album released in April 1992. Top tracks include Life’s A Bitch, Hot Cherie and Rhythm From A Red Car.  31-91 is also one of the only instrumentals I have ever been able to listen to on an album and think that it actually adds and compliments the overall work.

What I’m looking forward to:

  • Skogsrojet (10/11th August) – The Swedish festival has an amazing line-up this year including HCSS, Alice Cooper, Sister Sin, LA Guns, Reckless Love, Bonfire and Michael Monroe. Should be some great performances and interviews.
  • The Last Vegas – Bad Decisions – due for release on August 28th (North America), the single Evil Eyes was a sleazy, devilish track though ruined by the amateur video.
  • Harry Hess – Living in Yesterday – due out August 24th, Hess (Harem Scarem) has a great voice so even if you’re not a huge fan of melodic rock, you may well enjoy the quality of a well-produced album with guests such as Marcie Free (Unruly Child/King Kobra) and Magnus Karlsson (Primal Fear).
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a quickie for a picnic: apricot and ginger chutney

this fruity, sticky chutney makes roughly 310g and takes less than 30 minutes to make! Perfect for a picnic side or at home on your toast

Ingredients:

  • 1 tsp flora cuisine or oil
  • 1 onion
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 175g dried apricots
  • 50g sultanas
  • 1tsp grated fresh ginger
  • 150ml orange & lime juice – i used lime because I like how it gives the chutney a tang and stops it from becoming too sweet. Normal orange juice would work fine too though
  • 1 tbsp cider vinegar
  • 2 tbsp light brown sugar

Get Baking!:

  1. Heat the oil in a non-stick frying pan.
  2. Chop the onion – the finer you chop, the less chunky your chutney will be so chop to your tastes. Cook the onion and the garlic gently until soft – be careful not to have the pan too hot as the garlic will burn and give off a pungent smell.
  3. Chop the apricots (same applies as for the onion) and if the sultanas are big, halve or quarter those. Stir the apricots, sultanas, ginger, orange juice and vinegar into the pan.
  4. Bubble the contents gently until most of the liquid has been absorbed. If you let all the liquids disappear, your chutney may become too dry and thick. This should take approx 2-3 minutes.
  5. Stir in the sugar and cook for a couple more minutes until the chutney is sticky.
  6. Taste to season, adding a little more ginger or sugar if neccessary. Leave to cool.

The chutney should be stored in a jar or pot with a lid and, if keeping, keep in the fridge. Otherwise, spoon out, spread and enjoy!

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a bite into your bank: Paul’s Patisserie

Alighting the train at Marylebone Station, London, I felt an unmistakable familiar feeling welling in the pit of my seemingly bottomless stomach; it was feeding time.

The attempted French-brasserie style of polished red exterior and gold lettering led me to Paul’s. A cafe opened by the bakery, it serves a variety of freshly made sandwiches, baguettes, croques and hot dishes.

As late Saturday afternoon slipped into early evening, one of the servers, dressed in what seemed a little over-the-top crisp white chef’s attire, dragged themselves from their seat to help me.

I pointed to one of the baguettes near the back of the cabinet. “Chicken,” came the grunted reply. Well, I’d found my ideal choice in one, at least in the sandwich if not in the service.

I bit my lip as the paper packet was thrust at me with a gruff £4.75. Without the please and at that price, this guy was pushing his luck. But still, did I mention I was hungry?

The interior was nice enough, the owner having gone for chic and sleek with low lighting, smooth wooden tables and the typical displays of posters and art often found in French cafes. The fact that it was empty was a little off-putting but I wasn’t planning to sit-in anyway.

My receipt read pavot poulet.pavot means poppy and sure enough the white baguette was sprinkled with black poppy seeds and was characteristically chewy and tough. Perhaps a note from the server about this might have made a good impression. The tomato and lettuce were fresh; the lettuce crunchy and the tomatoes thinly sliced. Chicken breast, grilled to a golden-brown was succulent, though at £4.75 I felt I’d been cheated a little at the portion size. The baguette itself was a hearty size, just lacking in filling and in the main ingredient in general.

The quality was there but the value and service was not; not sure I’ll be back anytime soon.

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oodles of noodles at Wagamama’s

Wagamama’s, High Wycombe

Yes it’s a chain, and yes it calls it’s cuisine pan-Asian but who’s to say that means it’s no good?

I’ve loved Wagamama’s ever since I first set foot in the place and today was no different.

We fancied a quick lunch – no fuss, fairly cheap and filling – which is exactly what we got.

The service was incredibly friendly and efficient and the staff were able to offer opinions on the dishes and explain any concept of them to you, such as the different style of noodles. The atmosphere felt vibrant and relaxed and I love that you can see what is going on the kitchen. Ok, you can’t take it at face-value and I’m sure plenty of the ingredients are pre-prepared but that’s not to say that they are processed or not fresh. Sometimes the room can be too loud as the acoustics aren’t great, so possibly a restaurant made for the quieter periods.

I decided to pick a new dish from the menu: Yasai Pad-Thai while my partner opted for the Amai Udon. My pad-thai came with rice noodles (flat, white and wide for you noodle virgins) and was accompanied with hunks of fried tofu, leeks, beansprouts, chives and spring onions. It was flavoured with chillies, ginger, garlic, peanuts, coriander and a tamarind sauce. On the side was a fresh piece of lime for my own use. The portion was generous without over-doing it; the noodles were tender without losing their bite and the chillies and ginger delivered an excellent kick while the peanuts came through with an undercurrent of their own. I wasn’t so sure about the coriander, though it did work with the lime. Tofu seems to be of the marmite family, though this absorbed the spices wonderfully and had a thick, almost-meaty texture. I did feel the chunks were too big though.

The amai udon was served with the thick, white udon noodles with prawns and fried tofu again. Accompanying them was egg, red onions, leeks, beansprouts and peanuts, all wrapped up in a slightly sweeter tamarind sauce and a squeeze of lime. I was pleasantly surprised at how many prawns were in the dish – I often find restaurants charging more for the tasty fish yet giving you very few. Not here. Both dishes came at a reasonable £8.20. The tofu was just as tasty and the egg was a great addition without being too obvious. Another success.

Having been before, I am always impressed by the popular Yaki Soba, especially as a fan of the thin soba noodles. The flavours of this dish are wonderfully fresh and tantalising, pulling ginger and garlic together. For the rice lovers out there, I would recommend the teriyaki chicken donburyi which is served with kimchee (spicy vegetables with a variety of seasoning) which is a delicious side treat. I was less impressed by chicken tama rice where the white wine sauce drowned the rice and the chicken serving was poor. Side dishes are always popular though I find them incredibly expensive. Edamame with chilli and salt is both healthy and spicy; beef kushiyaki is fat chunks of juicy beef skewered and rubbed in soy sauce and lemongrass or the chilli squid encased in a delicate crispy batter and great when dipped into the chilli and coriander sauce. To finish, the frozen yogurt is my favourite – chocolate spiked with wasabi and chilli; chilled lemongrass or the succulent and fruity passionfruit.

But hey, don’t take my word for it. Get out there and try it!

Wagamama’s has their new Summer Menu out now. Quality may vary from restaurant to restaurant though I have always been impressed.

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The bitter melting pot: Place Called Rage: August 2012

Place Called Rage – Place Called Rage – August 2012

  • Al Pitrelli: Guitars (Alice Cooper, Megadeth, Trans Siberian Orchestra, Asia, Savatage).
  • Tommy Farese: Lead Vocals (Trans Siberian Orchestra, Rondinelli).
  • Danny Miranda: Bass (Blue Oyster Cult, Queen with Paul Rodgers).
  • Chuck Bonfonte: Drums (Saraya & Various Top NY bands).
  • With special guest on Keyboards:  Mark Mangold of (Touch / Drive She Said).

Track Listening:

  1.  KNOW WHERE YOU BEEN
  2. PLACE CALLED RAGE
  3. TRAPPED
  4. TAKE IT LYING DOWN
  5. SOMEDAY
  6. ONE CHILD
  7. WHAT THESE EYES HAVE SEEN
  8. CAN’T FIND MY WAY HOME
  9. JENNY DOESN’T LIVE HERE ANYMORE
  10. THUNDERBOX
  11. WE’RE NOT COMING HOME
  12. CHAINED TO MANIAC

This super-group was formed back in 1995. Now, I won’t hide my colours; I’m a sceptic when it comes to super-groups. If you’ve read my work, you’ll know I’m a sceptic about most things. Written and recorded in one week, this album wasn’t exactly convincing me straight out. The band broke up after the project, which aimed to capture the essence of the Long Island sound. According to the band, most of the tracks were done in one take, leading to a raw quality, something I constantly rave about. Apparently “winging it” is something these musicians do best.

I know Where You Been opens with an Alice Cooper vibe but takes off on its own path quickly. Farese’sare earthy and dirty, the riffs simple but Pitrellikeeps you on your toes with more interesting fills. The keyboards put the treble too high I think and the song fizzles out by the solo for me, but the quality of playing is there. Place Called Rage feels more restrained but bursts out in the pre-chorus though the bridge in the voice seems oddly out of place. The whole thing is a mix of classic rock with some folksy elements – with a bit of a heavier Blue Oyster Cult feel too. As the album rolls on – yes it feels like it’s rolling – you can tell the skill of the musicians from the way the layers of each song work together so effortlessly. But the songs are just a bit dull. It’s like a melting pot of chocolate that is simmering away, bubbling at the surface to be eaten but when you dip the strawberry and marshmallow skewer in, you find it’s marmite, not chocolate. You either love it, or hate it. Admittedly, I do love the raw quality they professed it to have, but my scepticism will remain, perhaps for the better.

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Gordon Ramsay @ Claridge’s: A price tag i’m willing to pay

Gordon Ramsay @ Claridges, Brook Street, London

Claridge’s and Gordon Ramsay; I’m not sure which has the greater reputation to uphold. Talking food, I’ll go with Ramsay, but concerning style, tradition and atmosphere I think Claridge’s has the most work to do. Fortunately, the Gordon Ramsay Restaurant at Claridge’s delivered on all fronts.

The 3-course set lunch menu is priced at £30 per person (you can add wine for £20) and there is a choice of 3 dishes for each course. It is a mix of classic and modern European. Being the cynic that I am, I doubted that the quality of food would be upheld at this kind of price, especially when lesser restaurants were demanding much higher prices for set lunches.

The interior is plush; low lighting casts soft shadows across pastel-pink walls and the oak armchairs are padded with matching pink cushions. Grand bouquets of flowers stand proudly about the edge of the room while each table is adorned with two roses in a silver jug. I found it all slightly oppressive, especially on a hot summer’s day, but you could not help but admire the splendour of it all.

The service was nothing but subtlety. You wouldn’t notice the other diners in the room unless you actively watched them; their food seemed to materialise in front of them, as did our own. Water glasses were refilled as soon as they began to empty and the waiting staff were friendly, attentive and made you feel like you were their only guest. At times, there were a few too many swanning about seemingly not doing much but the restaurant wasn’t busy and they could have been more obvious.

We were offered 3 varieties of bread – brown or white sourdough or a wholemeal roll, served alongside a delightful, though heavily salted, French butter. The bread was chewy, as sourdough should be, and, for the price we were paying, 2 rolls each seemed generous. A pre-starter also surprised us, coming in the form of a chilled garden pea and ham-hock soup with a dash of truffle oil. It was wonderfully refreshing and not too thin, with peas lurking in the bottom of the bowl.

To start, I ordered duck rilette with toasted bread and a watercress salad. Delicious. Rich and meaty, the rilette didn’t quite fall apart but was soft and well-formed. The watercress salad was a medley of onion and gherkins also, the whole dish full of flavour. The second starter was a haddock tart with fried egg. The pastry was light but crispy and the haddock sweetly tender. The fried egg was an interesting addition but completed the dish well.

Between courses we decided to try a glass of wine but the wine list appeared in the form of an ipad, displaying easy choices between glasses, bottles, red, white etc. A smart innovation but I couldn’t help but feel the technology was out of place. The waiter even told my partner, “now don’t be scared.”

Main courses followed quickly; pork loin with primavera vegetables and apple jus melted in your mouth while the peas, broad beans and courgettes still delivered a bite. The apple jus was disappointing flavour wise and I felt it only added moisture to an otherwise fantastic dish. The star was a 4-inch long piece of crunchy crackling. My partner’s main was Cumbrian lamb served with a tomato tarte tatin and Swiss chard. The lamb was pink and delicate; the tomato tatin really colourful and fresh.

By now, we were stuffed. Yet our mouths watered for dessert. A miniature slice of lemon tart was decorated with spots of chocolate sauce, a raspberry perched on top of the bright lemon icing. The pastry, again, was light, the base solidly cooked and with a great texture. Dark chocolate with a honeycomb sphere was served atop a bed of uncooked meringue foam – sweet like ice cream but light and frothy to eat. A waiter poured over the hot chocolate sauce so the dark chocolate ball melted effortlessly like burning paper, revealing the honeycomb centre, nestled between chocolate and vanilla ice cream. I didn’t like the way the sauce made everything melt into one chocolatey swirl; I’d have rather tasted the individual components as well as mixing them together, but I have to admit that the crunchiness of the honeycomb, the foam that dissolved on your tongue and the runny sauce worked wonders together.

As we had mentioned that it was my dining partner’s birthday it appeared that we were in for an extra treat. Happy Birthday was written across a plate in a bitter chocolate sauce, the dish itself spotted with miniature desserts: a coconut cupcake with cream cheese icing; a strip of surprisingly fruity strawberry jelly; two spots of meringue foam and a sticky vanilla macaroon. Delicious desserts and a winning personal touch. Also, free!

Finally, because we hadn’t eaten enough apparently, we were treated to homemade vanilla marshamallows and a chocolate truffle each. The marshamallows were dense and chewy, nothing like the sugary sweets from the supermarket. The chocolate truffles broke apart in your mouth, the generous liquer centres bursting from them. A wonderful finish.

I am not one for frequent fine dining. I often find it pretentious. I hate to be seen giving praise where people expect it to be given because of a name or reputation. But this, I am pleased, but also surprised, to say, was a beautiful example of cooking. The set lunch menu was terrific value – the A La Carte is priced at £70 for 3 courses – I’m not sure if I would pay that much, despite the tantalising dishes such as stuffed saddle of rabbit and ravioli of lobster, shellfish and salmon that weren’t available to us. There were minor issues but these were down to opinion and everyone has their quirks and preferences.

Value for money? Check. Great service? Check. Atmosphere? What an experience. Food? Go and try it. Now.

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this isn’t just chocolate…this is Aztec chocolate

You’ve just opened a packet of Galaxy chocolate. Or Lindt. Or Cadbury. You can choose which.

You snap off a square (or in my case 4), right on the “break here” line and prepare to chomp. As the chocolate melts in your mouth and the sweet taste cascades down your throat, you become aware of a claggy, sugary coating over your tongue that screams give me more. How many times have we obeyed that apparently not so obvious voice? Yes, it is the cry of fat.

Modica Chocolate, hailing from Modica, Sicily, is a chocolate made without cocoa butter or soy lecithin, ingredients that all the major chocolate brands have in common. Instead, it is made using the traditional Aztec recipe of cacao beans, sugar and flavourings such as vanilla, pepper or sea salt.

Modica is in the South of Sicily in the Val di Noto in the Ragusa area. The Aztec way of making chocolate dates back to the 16th century and was brought over during the Spanish rule of the island who originally found the cacoa beans in Mexico. The method involves cocoa beans being roasted on an instrument called a “metate” (a curved stone resting on two supports), which was then heated. The beans were ground with as stone rolling pin to produce a paste. The cocoa paste was then flavored with spices, vanilla being the most common but also with red pepper, cinnamon and many other spices and local herbs. After, the mixture was rubbed on the metate until it became hard. To avoid having to grind the beans each time, they prepared a paste of cocoa using a small amount of water and corn as a thickener. The production process is considered almost cold at roughly 30-40C  but allows the chocolate to retain its grainy texture, which the chocolate is famous for.

The resulting product is dark brown in colour with a coarse, grainy texture; delightful on your tongue. The taste is less sweet than typical chocolate and is more satisfying and enjoyable. For milk chocolate lovers, don’t fear! cocoa content varies but the taste is not as strong as 70% dark chocolate and lighter flavourings like vanilla are popular with the milk-chocolate fans. The earthy grains of sugar add to the unique texture and taste.  Traditional flavours are vanilla and hot chilli pepper but today one can also buy carrubba, salt, orange peel and nutmeg as well as many others. In past times people also melted the chocolate as a drink or dipped bread into it.

After trying this chocolate I can safely say that I will never enjoy supermarket-chocolate in quite the same way again. After staying in Sicily, I brought some Modica chocolate back with me; my favourites are the carrubba and sea salt – both have an additional crunch that complements the grainy texture so well. You don’t want to stuff your face with square after square because there is no added fat to manipulate your body. Instead you can nibble away at a fantasically rich and textured treat and yes, you will want more, but because it’s simply so damn good.

You can buy Modica Chocolate online, including taster bars, but why bother with a sample? This isn’t just chocolate; it’s not even M&S chocolate. This is real chocolate.

Links: http://modicachocolate.co.uk/products/ciokarrua/salt-chocolate/

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“it’s all about the sex”: well it’s not about the music

 

So here it is, Motley Crue’s latest single Sex.

I have to applaud whoever mixed and produced it because the work they have done on Vince Neil’s voice deserves a mention all of its own in the credits; he sounds just like he did on 1987 single Girls Girls Girls. Leaving Neil for a moment, the songwriting, previously done predominantly by bassist Nikki Sixx is typical of Crue’s style yet is unremarkable and predictable. It’s easy to get into and to sing-along to, a must for a single by any band, yet still I feel it doesn’t sparkle as as song.

I was more disappointed by the backseat position of guitarist Mick Mars, especially as the most talented member of the band and I feel neither the solos nor the riffs do him justics. Perhaps, like the others, he is simply just getting old. The chorus has a rather tinny sound, made worse by the nasal backing vocals and the song seems over barely before it’s started, a criticism of the lack of innovation throughout. I’ll be interested to see if there’s an album to accompany this out-of-the-blue offering.

Still, it’ll sell. Why? Because they’re still Motley fuckin’ Crue.

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Shell the Extras: Pepe’s, Letojanni, Sicily

The Godfather of Letojanni, that’s what my friend said Pepe was. The man in question owns a seafood restaurant perched on the coastal road in Letojanni, Sicily. You can see from the photo that the view, including Pepe’s yellow boat, is nothing but picturesque.

Under the white marquee where diners can sit to admire the view, the plastic tables and the blue, yellow and red colour scheme clash a little, bunches of flowers and potted plants adding a floral touch that keeps the atmosphere fresh and natural.

The staff were friendly, happily joining tables together to accommodate us. The menu is mostly seafood – a must have in the fishing haven of Sicily – but one can also have steak, a variety of pasta dishes and pizzas. Would it be an Italian if you couldn’t?

Plates piled high with prawns and calamari went down a treat, the fried breadcrumbs just golden and crunchy. The prawns, fully shelled, were generous and tender. Fat sardines were the star of their own dish, best accompanied with a portion of pommes frites, though these were disappointingly average chips one can get at a takeaway. The seafood salad would be my recommendation: tiny shrimps hidden in between rings of slightly rubbery squid while a heap of mussels perched precariously on the edge, most of which were fresh and fine. The steak was decidedly not so good, though if one prefers meat or vegetables there are plenty of beach-side restaurants dotted within 2 minutes walk. The major disappointment was the swordfish and aubergine pasta, or spaghetti pucinella. The spaghetti portion was well worth the €13 though the meagre cubes of swordfish were sparse. The fish itself, a Sicilian speciality, was cooked perfectly but the tomato and oregano sauce overpowered it and was far too watery to take to the pasta anyway. The aubergine added a touch of colour though was slightly mushy.

Vanilla gelato arrived promptly, the flecks of vanilla spotting the perfect spheres of ice cream. Rich, creamy and not too sweet, it was a welcome dessert. The staff provided clean plates throughout the meal for those with fishy fingers and the traditional basket of bread was also present.

It’s a choosy restaurant. For the fresh fish, I’d probably go. The prices vary from €13 to €30 so you get what you pay for. For pasta, meat and pizza I think I’d go elsewhere, despite the fish it can be served with; they’re extras for the non-seafood people and can be served better. Is Pepe the godfather of Letojanni? For fish lovers, I suppose so, but don’t be afraid to check out the competition nearby.

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Ciao Ciao: but with food this good, it wont be for long!

Dining at Ciao Ciao is the perfect way to relax in the cool evening sunshine of Letojanni, Sicily. The kitchen is set in a typical pastel-coloured building nestled between hotels and restaurants on the seafront but diners can cross the road to sit under a marquee on decking above the beach, looking out across the sea. Sounds idyllic, doesn’t it?

And what’s better is, it doesn’t go wrong. Friendly staff, who speak a good level of basic English, are delighted to help and accommodate you. Drinks were followed by a plate of antipasto; a crust of bruschetta for each guest topped with fresh diced tomatoes, herbs and a dash of olive oil. It was crunchy and refreshing at the same time, and at no charge either.

Mains were a mix of portion sizes and prices. A €6.50 calzone was like a whopping pasty, bursting with strong mozzarella cheese that oozed out of a slightly blackened but soft dough, amidst chunks of tomato and ham. Hugely filling, we couldn’t finish it between 3 of us, but worth every penny.

Spaghetti Arrabbiata, listed as a typical Sicilian dish, was sprinkled with parsley, the hot peppers and onions adding a spicy kick in the back of your throat, living up to the dish’s name. Typical of Sicily too, the portion was adequate without overdoing it.

The seafood pasta was a king prawn, still shelled, and a generous portion of mussels. For an island whose fresh fish is renowned, the mussels weren’t fantastic, though the prawn was fat and tender; good for a non-seafood-specialist restaurant. Again, extremely filling, but spotted with hunks of tomatoes and onion to add flavour.

Finally, a steak was cooked beautifully and served atop a bed of slightly wilted looking greens. The dish was sparse but went down well, though perhaps a little expensive.

No service charge was added though we felt the prompt attention deserved it and we enjoyed a thoroughly relaxed and traditional evening. Great value so if you’re out there be sure to swing by.

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