Monthly Archives: February 2013

it’s game on in Europe’s seas

Yes! We’ve done it! Bans on fish discards are to be phased in from January 2014 (stork; herring) and 2016 (white breeds of fish)

Despite protests from Mediterranean countries as well as France, the EU has voted that a ban on discarding “extra” fish will be phased in. MEPs also overwhelmingly backed calls for sweeping reform on the Common Fisheries Policy. While the UK is disappointed the ban is not absolute, it is certainly a step in the right direction.

Spain, France and Portugal have succeeded in clinging on to some restricted exemptions, particularly surrounding crews operating far from land in mixed fisheries where the cost of landing unwanted fish is deemed to be prohibitive. The crews involved will be allowed to discard 9%, shrinking to 7%. However, critics from the northern nations and European Commission say this figure is too high on the advice of public expects who say that in a hungry world no fish should be thrown away.

This start down the road to success illustrates how influential mass public pressure can be. Support has come from the Online campaign Avaaz (1 million signed up) as well as celebrity-chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and pressure group Fish2Fork. The UK Fisheries Minister, Richard Benyon, said the decision was “historic.”

However, it is also telling that the EU took so long to react to public calls. The details have not yet been thrashed out (no pun intended) and it is this detail that will really show us how far the EU are willing to go to clamp down on irresponsible fishing and protect fish for the future. The ban that has been voted for is weaker and harder-to-enforce than the proposals supported by MEPs in Parliament three weeks ago but a milestone has been reached.

As a lover of fish and chips, well, you’ll know my thoughts.

What Can You Do?

  • sign up to one of the many online campaigns or join a pressure group. Sign petitions to get them noticed and join in activist work to further this cause
  • eat sustainable fish – swap cod for pollock or coley and try Scottish langoustines instead of prawns. It’s a tasty local alternative!
  • check your chippy! – fish2fork has a fantastic list of restaurants and ratings of chip shops and fish restaurants all across the country. Maybe ask your local to stock some rarer breeds or to buy MSC Certified haddock where over-fishing is carefully monitored.

long live the fish!

 

 

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the queen of cakes – your new birthday recipe

Parsnip and Maple Pecan-Studded Cake

A deliciously moist and sweet cake, this cake I call the Queen is elegant and grown-up with its parsnip flavour and maple cream but fun for children to make and they’ll love the sweetness of the filling and the texture too. It’s got great depth and keeps for several days too. Un-iced sponges can be frozen. Who knew fruit and vegetables could make such good cakes eh?

You will need:

  • 250g demerara sugar
  • 175g butter
  • 100ml maple syrup (feel free to substitute about 25ml for treacle/honey for a slightly alternative flavour)
  • 3 large eggs
  • 250g self-raising flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp mixed spice
  • 250g parsnips
  • 1 medium apple (something like a braeburn works well)
  • 50g pecans
  • 250g marscapone
  • 4 tbsp maple syrup (60ml)

Get baking!:

  1. Heat oven to 180 degrees or 160 degrees (fan).
  2. Melt the sugar, butter and 100ml maple syrup over a very low heat until smooth
  3. While the mixture is melting, tail and peel the parsnips and grate them. Core and peel the apple and grate it too.
  4. Mix together the self-raising flour, baking powder and mixed spice.
  5. Roughly chop the pecans
  6. Once the sugar, butter and syrup is melted let it cool a little. Then, add the eggs and whisk until combined.
  7. Mix the flour, baking powder and mixed spice into the liquid ingredients. Then add the grated parsnips and apple and the pecans. Stir until wholly combined.
  8. Divide the mixture between two 20x20cm tins and cook for approximately 20-25 minutes. Be careful when checking on your cakes – slamming the oven door may cause them to shake and lose their shape which can cause sinking later on.

For the filling:

  1. Mix together the marscapone and 4 tbsp maple syrup until smooth and pale in colour.
  2. When the two cakes are cooked, let them cool before turning out
  3. When cool completely spread the marscapone filling onto one of the cakes before placing the other on top, like a sandwich. Sprinkle with icing sugar and slice!

Looking for something even more majestic? Great! When you turn the cakes out, carefully slice each in half so you have four sections. Spread the marscapone filling between each one and sandwich together. It’s harder to do, but can keep the cake more moist and looks great too!

Enjoy!

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love American fast-food? say hello to France…

Buffalo Grill: 693 chemin de la Cassine, 73200 Albertville, France

It’s big, it’s loud and it’s calling to YOU, weary traveller of the snowy roads of wintry France. Albertville is a small town set just below the popular ski resorts of Val Thorens, Meribel and Courchevel in the Trois Vallees ski area. Buffalo Grill is a large establishment on the edge of town serving all things American in the typical curt French style. But boy, have they done a good job in authenticity.

The decor is brash and claustrophobic almost, booth-like tables lit by low-hanging shaded lamps with flat screen televisions blaring the latest winter sport competition results on every wall it seems. On a Friday night the place was packed but, fortunately (at the time) we were shown to our own noisy table and settled down with menus.

It took an age for anyone to ask if we’d like a drink (the screaming brats at the next table may have had something to do with occupying the waitresses’ time) but it gave us time to pour over the menu. As the name suggests, the restaurant specialises in two things – grill meat and buffalo. Steaks were plentiful, along with burgers, ribs, some hefty salads and other staples such as chicken . The starters however, were few and unoriginal.

For each person, a bowl of beans and salad arrived with a basket of bread to share – the French way of doing things but a nice touch. Shame all of that ran out before we’d even had our order taken. We opted to start with beef carpaccio – a bit slimy and a huge portion for a starter and BBQ wings, which were crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside. The BBQ sauce was tangy and a good consistency. So far, not too bad.

The mains were really where it started to feel less grill and more fast-food outlet. Steak Hache (minced beef burger) was topped with a fried egg. The meat was a little dry, the egg was fine and the chips were those strange creations that come between skinny fries and chunky chips. They were cooked OK but pre-prepared, oily and bland. After all, how hard is it to turn an oven to the right temperature? The buffalo burger came served with a round fried potato (like a hash brown) clad either side of the buffalo patty rather than bread. The potato was greasy but the meat itself was fine and well-cooked. The chips, or whatever they were, well we’ve been there. Finally, was the cheeseburger, a monstrous bun with an average sized slab of beef inside (though much smaller than the bun I might add) topped with square slices of rather orange cheese that hadn’t quite gotten around to melting. Rubbery and with a manufactured taste, the cheese did nothing to improve this dish. The patty was OK but the bun was a little soggy and the salad inside drenched in a sort of mayonnaise. Altogether, an passable meal if rather disappointing, though we hadn’t yet reached the bill of course.

To delay the pain we stopped out for dessert. Leslie’s Brownie was a square of dry brownie drowned in creme anglaise and a hot chocolate sauce. Cold creme anglaise and hot chocolate sauce do not go together and neither does my brownie need to be swimming in either. The brownie was dry, the sauce too sweet though the creme anglaise was better in texture and taste, if not what you’d typically expect. Honeycomb ice-cream was tasty, studded with crunchy pieces, though I think perhaps the addition with the other sauces overdid it a little. Mini creme brulee was average, nothing to blow you away but enjoyable enough.

The bill was roughly £80, including half a litre of wine, which would have been fine had the food tasted better. Equally, the food would have been fine if the bill was lower! A stop for the burger and meat lovers of you (but not chip lovers) and one for families too.It sticks true to it’s American inspirations, though often replicating the rather more greasy qualities but if you can’t afford flights to America, maybe just try the overnight Eurostar to Albertville instead…

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a foodie house that feels like home

Spaghetti House: 5 Argyll Street, London, W1F 7TD

Despite being a  chain, Spaghetti House feels like a family-run restaurant. The interior is plush with rich-patterns and simple but eye-catching photographs, while the staff are friendly, warm and knowledgeable.

We were seated straight away in the already fairly busy restaurant for 5.15pm and menus soon followed. The two courses for £9.95 is exceptional value and we quickly opted for starters and mains from the 4 on offer in each section. The name may give you a clue as to this brand’s speciality, but there are also many other types of pasta, salads, pizza and fish and meat dishes.

We were pressed for garlic bread or olives while we waited for our starter and gosh am I happy that we said yes to the garlic bread! Served in a rustic bucket, the four slices of gently toasted ciabatta were soft with a slight crunch, oozing with a melted concoction of butter and strong garlic. A must for garlic, butter and bread-lovers! Everyone then!

The staff flow on their smiles and charm, always keen to ask if you’re enjoying your meal and ready to rectify any sort of problem or request, no matter how small. The starters, despite us being told they may take a while, came relatively quickly. Alette di Pollo were two hunks of chicken wings, smothered in a rich and spicy tomato sauce, infused with oregano and studded with flavours of honey and chilli. The earthenware-style pots for the food added to the whole experience and made the small (but adequate) portions look much bigger. A side dish of lemon water allowed us to dive right in with our hands – thoughtful, we decided. Arancini, or rice balls, were stuffed with mushrooms and gorgonzola cheese, encircled by an arrabiata sauce. Again, nothing overly spicy that ruined the flavour, but managed to deliver a hot kick the roof of your mouth without burning anything.

The main dish was Orecchiette ai Broccoli. Orecchiette is known also as pasta shells and these were cooked perfectly al dente, with that slight bite before giving way to silky smooth starch. I like the description of the dishes on the menu because they are in no way misleading: every flavour can be tasted in the dish. Golden sultanas were fat and juicily sweet, matched by the crunchiness of tenderstem broccoli and the earthiness of pine nuts. Flakes of chilli scattered the bowl with toasted breadcrumbs and a dash of virgin olive oil was enough to lick your lips without needing to down your drink. Again, the portion size was perfect and nothing to resemble the often cauldron-like portions of many Italian restaurants.

Dessert, we were assured, would be the ultimate ending to an already fantastic meal. For only £3.00 more you can add tiramisu, apple strudel, profiteroles and many others. Strudel Di Mele sounded too good to leave without trying it. Served in a neat, generous slice, the layers of pastry, apple and raisins clearly rolled together and fresh, steaming even! The plate focused on presentation: drizzled with dark caramel sauce and finished off with a scoop of toffee ice cream. No, it wasn’t brown. It was pale cream, studded with cubes of crunchy toffee – wonderful. The strudel itself was cooked well and brought back all the warming flavours, including cinnamon. The pastry was delicate and flaky but held the filling together easily.

An all-round success and we’ll definitely be back! With 11 other locations to London to choose from, we’re spoilt for choice! A Spaghetti House that knows what it can do, and truly owns it’s spot on the dining scene.

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Brownies for Blondes!

brownies: boxed, iced and ready to go!

brownies: boxed, iced and ready to go!

no, no, I have nothing against blondes and I don’t buy into that whole stupid thing. This is simply a recipe for Blondie Caramel and Banana Brownies.

They’ve a crunchy topping with a sweet, molten inside which is placated by the softness and slight tartness of the bananas. For sweet-tooths and fruit-lovers alike! Hey, they even contain one of your five a day. This recipe makes 8 large brownies.

You will need:

  • 250g light brown soft sugar
  • 100g butter
  • 100g caramel (in a tin – something like Nestle Carnation Caramel) plus extra
  • 100g white chocolate – Tesco Finest white chocolate is a treat!
  • 2 eggs
  • 200g self-raising flour
  • 2 bananas (not overly ripe but not green)

Get baking!:

  1. Heat oven to 180 degrees/ 170 fan or Gas 4
  2. Over a low heat, melt the sugar, butter, caramel and white chocolate together. Wait until smooth.
  3. Cool the liquid for a little while you slice the bananas, crack the eggs and measure the flour.
  4. Once the mixture is cooled a little, add in the eggs and stir.
  5. Stir in the bananas and fold in the flour in about 3 lots. Make sure all the flour is mixed in.
  6. Line a 20x20cm tin (approx) with baking parchment. You can use another tin, it’s just that the thickness or width of the brownies will vary.
  7. Pour in the mixture and drizzle some extra caramel on top.
  8. Place in the oven for 30-40 minutes or until risen and set. Check frequently to avoid over-cooking.

Enjoy!

These brownies are perfect for birthdays or gifts. Once completed, dust with icing sugar for that extra treat and good looks!

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i’ve never loved Chipotle and Wahaca so much

Bandidos: 31-33 Kingsbury, Aylesbury, Bucks, HP20 2JA

Bandidos is an independent Mexican restaurant in the heart of Aylesbury. Stairs lead straight down from the cheap, unattractive outside front to a leafy and warm interior. So far, so good.

The menu compromises a mix of Mexican and American-Mexican dishes from chicken wings to enchiladas, lamb shank to nachos and everything in between. It took an extraordinarily long time to order our drinks, so long in fact that we were ready to order our food as well. The waitress confessed she didn’t know most of the wines and, when she did bring the house wine (a Sauvignon Blanc apparently) she told us it wasn’t that but she didn’t know what it was. We didn’t like it. Exploring the wine list, the waitress mentioned we could have something not on the menu. As we cracked the joke of running to the nearest off-license she nodded, seriously.

The starters arrived fairly soon. Bandidos Nachos appeared in a small bowl, more akin to cat sick than layer after layer of Montery jack cheese and jalapenos. The accompanying sour cream, guacamole and salsa never materialised. It didn’t taste great either. Grilled tiger prawns on a bed of roast red peppers actually compromised 4 prawns on a bed of lettuce with a scattering of shrivelled red peppers. The chicken wings were small, though tasty, but the chilli mayo dip was far too hot, even for spice-fantics. By now we were feeling rather misled by the appetising menu.

But it was too late to back out now. The mains were on their way. While waiting, we ordered more drinks and I’ve never been served by someone so apathetic about their work. I asked for a second lime and soda, a pint this time. A half accordingly arrived and the waitress asked “did you ask me for something else there?” It was becoming painful.

My two dining partners chose the Mexican Grill: what looked on the menu like a meaty feast of lamb, chicken, steak, sausage along with rice, chips and salad. The chicken was suitably spicy and juicy; the minced lamb kebab was unappetising and equally disappointing. The beef tasted like it was out of a packet: dry, luke-warm and chewy. The rice was scattered with cubes of onion and pepper though lacked seasoning, while the chips, well, let’s just say the Aunt Bessie had done a good job! Chicken tacos were served with three rectangular baskets, about the length of your wrist to halfway up your forefinger. They were dry, greasy and tasted stale. The chicken was served in a bowl with heaps of bland fried onions and peppers, the rice similarly bland and lacking in any kind of texture. Again, it came without the promised salsa, guacamole, sour cream and cheese. The second waitress was more attentive and apologetic, rushing to get the condiments. Unfortunately, the sour cream was thick, like a sticky meringue, the guacamole rather more successful though not fresh and the grated cheese was rather useless to melt over the now cold food.

Side orders of garlic mushrooms and coleslaw were average. The mushrooms, coated in overcooked breadcrumbs were greasy and oily but had a wonderful garlic flavour. The coleslaw was, well go down to Sainsbury’s or Tesco and try it yourself.

The service was abysmal throughout, and not to just to our table. The couple next to us complained at how long their drinks were taking, the staff seemed more interested in lolling behind the bar and we saw one waitress discuss a problem with a customer as she lounged over the back of a nearby chair. Yes it’s a casual, fun and friendly restaurant but there should be a difference between who’s relaxing and who’s working. The bill came to £67 for three, including one bottle of wine. We weren’t satisfied, didn’t enjoy the food and weren’t placated by the service. If, as the waitress told us, they do plan to open a second restaurant in wealthy Chiltern town of Beaconsfield, they’re going to need to do better than this.

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