Monthly Archives: May 2009
This past week we’ve been having a bit of a ‘home holiday’ – both off work, but no plans to go abroad. I’ve been collecting leaflets for galleries and walks and researching for the best cycle routes and river swimming spots in preparation. We had a fantastic start to our week with beautiful weather and we embarked up and down the canals on our bikes with picnics and had a lot of gratis fun. As the week progressed and the weather got worse we spent more time and money indoors (cinema, spa etc) but because we chose not to go away we were able to place no restrictions on ourselves – if we wanted to get some cheese from the ridiculously expensive shop we absolutely could! So one day last week we went into Jamie’s Italian on a whim as, for once, there appeared to be no queue outside.
We were greeted by a rather scatty but charming hostess who told us we could be seated in about 15 minutes, showed us to the bar and gave us a pager that would bleep and flash red when our table was ready. We availed ourselves of some drinks and as we waited a member of staff walked around offering samples of bread and cheeses, and a member of kitchen team stood at a pasta machine machine small nests of tagliatelle. Although it was about 2pm the restaurant was still busy (a good thing in my books) and had a lovely informal atmosphere. Just as we were settling down our pager started flashing at us with fury and we were whisked upstairs to our table.
You’ll notice the coats on the backs of chairs and absence of tablecloths in the picture below, and it did feel a bit like a plush canteen, but I liked it: it had clearly been very well put together. We were given plenty of time to scope out the menu and we decided to go for a combination of starters to try as many different things as possible.
The higher board (balanced on tomato tins, which I personally felt was a bit contrived)
Is the meat antipasti plank selection. It had buffalo mozzarella, Italian coleslaw (squash, beetroot, celeriac and carrot with a lemon, mint and olive oil dressing), pecorino cheese with chilli jam, San Daniele proscuttio, mortadella with pistachio nuts, a special piquant Tuscan salami.
The lower board
Is the bruschetta which came as a bit of a DIY affair with chargrilled sourdough bread, a clove of garlic to rub the bread with and a selection of: ricotta, mixed tomato salsa, rocket and Parmesan pesto and something that resembles artichoke houmous (this differed from what was on the menu so I’m not entirely sure what it was, but it was delicious)
We also went for the bread selection, which came with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. The bread selection included grissini sticks, foccacia, sourdough country bread, and ‘music bread’ with a rosemary gremolata (it’s the stuff that looks a bit like a poppadom).
Our starter selection also came with pickles, olives and caper berries – but I’m not sure which dish they were technically supposed to go with.
OK, so where to begin?! I really enjoy starters in a restaurant – it’s like a savoury pick’n'mix and, as someone who would chose crisps over chocolate, this is my idea of heaven. When all this loveliness arrived, my eyes just lit up. It took us such a long time to work through the starters and I spent so long nibbling, enthusing and enjoying everything. TLM particularly enjoyed the breads and the Italian coleslaw. I really enjoyed the somewhat unexpected artichoke concoction and tasting the pecorino, as I’d not had it before. The foccacia was amazing – definitely on my to make list next! The only thing I didn’t really like was the mortadella, but that stems from deep-rooted associations with pink luncheon meat. I wasn’t sure about the bruschetta being disassembled, but it worked for our purposes as I could eat the bit I chose, and he likewise. I didn’t like the way they did the balsamic and olive oil as the balsamic sat completely unreachable under the vat of oil and I didn’t want to sop the lovely bread in tons of olive oil to get the merest smidge of vinegar. It was tantalising (and I mean that with the original negative connotations). What shone through was the quality of the food and how wonderfully flavourful it was. I was very happy, and bordering on full, after the starters.
I ordered the crabmeat spaghettini (pictured at the top of this post) which also contained fennel, capers and anchovies and came in a spicy chilli sauce. The chilli tickled my lips before giving way to the saltiness of the anchovies. The crabmeat was divine, and there was plenty of it, and the fennel added a delicious fragrance. There was only one caper in my entire bursting bowl, but that didn’t bother me so much as I don’t really like capers. If I did I might have been a bit miffed. The fresh pasta was very good, and extremely filling. Next time I go, I’ll definitely go for a smaller-sized portion if I have so much to start with as I had to leave half! I did find a few lemon pips in my dish (well, I found them in my mouth and had to spit them out) but have excused this as enthusiasm on the part of the juicer. The crab shell was a bit less excusable.
TLM had the traditional spaghetti bolognese, and allowed me to take a snapshot (all the while menacing me with his fork).
When the waitress asked us if everything was OK with our food, I did ask what the difference between spaghetti and spaghettini was and she said that spaghettini was thinner. I just looked at the plates again. Hmmmm – they were clearly the same thing on our plates. We carried on with the same level of enjoyment though, it was more an academic point on my part.
When we finished, the waitress came to offer us the sweets menu and very diplomatically told us that she’d asked the chef as she was curious too and that, indeed, they’d run out of spaghetti and were using spaghettini. It was really good of her to find out without being asked and it was all goodhearted and I was so pleased I wasn’t mad!
I finished off with a delicious teapigs peppermint tea (my favourite) but we decided against pudding as I was just too stuffed and TLM wasn’t sold on the gelato. We saw the size of the gelato scoops coming from the kitchen and, knowing the Italian-family-owned icecream shop with scores of flavours was just around the corner, TLM decided we should stop there on the way home.
So all in all we had a lovely meal. The staff were really great and made a big difference to our experience. The food was delicious, though there was too much fancy pants faffing in places (the tinned tomatoes, the discombobulated bruschetta) and not quite enough attention to detail in others (the lemon pips and crab shell in my pasta, subbing one pasta for another without notice). I would, however, not hesitate to recommend Jamie’s Italian and will certainly enjoy going again for a late and leisurely lunch. The food was good value for such quality (we paid £45 in total for our meals and an alcoholic drink each – though we did buy a round separately at the bar before the meal) and it’s clear why there is nearly always a queue of 40+ people waiting to wait for a table!
p.s. We spent a good 2 hours there, sipping and scoffing with our courses and drinks coming at a nice slow pace. I do wonder if they whole experience would have been different if there was the strain of the hordes outside and inevitable pressure to move along?
This year we’re going to friends’ for dinner and to watch the show, hopefully in better humour. I will be taking a Malta-eser cake (geddit, geddit?) in honour of the country that always gives us some points. [[it's the Chocolate Malteser Cake from Nigella Lawson's Feast book]]. I’ve been wanting to make it for some time and had a practise during the week and it was so good – I’ll definitely be making it again! I promise to make it for my dad who is such a fan of Maltesers (Whoppers, apparently in the US) and will find this not at all too chocolatey!
Unfortunately I work in town, near some very lovely cafes, delis and shops. Previously it was the pastries that called to me at lunch time, but since my health kick I’ve shut their siren calls out. So…
Well I did need a carving board (I was fed up with meaty juices trickling slyly onto the floor and subsequently being slipped on). There was 30% off and it was actually a lot more reasonably priced and more robust than others I have seen. Moreover, the apron-clad people in the shop looked at me as though I lived in a barn-conversion with a stable door and a small lamb to incubate the the warming oven…
Have I done a very bad thing?
Today I discovered a truly delightful side-effect of my blogging. After a long day at work, followed by a hard slog in the gym I came home to TLM who presented me with the cake pictured above. What has this got to do with blogging? Well, he has just come off nights (so has a short reprise before getting back on the wards) and, unable to sleep, pootled on my food blog. Spotting these, he decided to go to town making a full-sized and thoroughly him version…
To paraphrase the method he described:
He started by doubling the chocolate sponge recipe which produced six (muffin-sized!) fairy cakes. An unsuccessful foray to the local supermarket meant he decided to make his own cherry jam (wow!) to, and I quote, “smear inside the hole”. He then divided some cream, leaving some plain and combining the other half with “mashed-up” cherries. The pink cream went into the hole, followed by some more cherry jam, topped off by the excised sponge lid. A dollop of cream, a cherry and a sprinkling of chocolate – et voilà!
I am so ridiculously impressed! They were delicious and, knowing he might get a spot on my blog ;), beautifully presented. What a winner!
Had a productive bank holiday – got a lovely tray and new bike at a car boot sale. The weather left a little to be desired, leaving some dull light for photos, so we had another DIY spree (spice rack was the last one…) and made a lightbox. See results above – I’m so pleased!
Until six months ago I’d never cooked a pizza from scratch, but since I first tried to make my own I haven’t looked back. This recipe makes enough for 6 individual-sized pizzas (I cut the dough into threes and freeze two batches) or 4 big sharers. These pizzas are great for a dinner with friends if the dough and toppings are ready to be assembled as each person likes.
It’s really straight forward to make this dough, which is happy to be frozen after the first rising stage, and the pizza itself doesn’t take much more time than throwing a frozen pizza into the oven. Honest. I sometimes make this dough before work and leave it rise in the cool, slowly. Today I whacked it together and hot-housed it in the oven by turning the oven on to its hottest setting, turning it off right away and then leaving it to rise in the residual heat.
For a white dough pizza (wholemeal coming up in another post) I like it thin and crisp.
Makes 4-6 pizza bases
- 500 g strong white flour
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 1/2 tsps sugar
- 1 sachet (7g) yeast
- 2 tbspn oil (I try and use oil reserved from sun-dried tomatoes or similar)
- 300 ml lukewarm water (not too hot or the yeast will not perform – trust me here!)
Mix the sugar, yeast, oil and water together in a jug and leave for 5 minutes to bubble up. Weigh out the salt and flour. If using a mixer (I know I am so very lucky to have one!) then you bung it all in together at once and leave it to do its thing for about 8 minutes. If going by hand (and I have done this as well) you plonk the flour and salt onto the surface, make a well and then add the watery mixture. Incorporate by bringing the flour into the well of water, gradually. In theory this sounds easy. In reality, it starts OK and then gets ahead of itself and there is generally a rabid scramble to stop yeast and sugary water running down the surfaces and onto your feet. Just go fast and think about the mess later. After this it’s just a case of really pounding, kneading and showing the dough who’s boss. After ten minutes and much huffing and puffing you begin to get there. Feeling it change under your hands is really quite special.
Whether you mix by hand or by machine it goes through three stages:
- The shaggy, messy stage where you think it will never become dough.
- The pastry-ish stage where you think it might be ready already…
- The glossy, smooth, springy stage where the dough comes to life – you have reached your destination.
After this stage, slosh a bit of oil in with the dough and turn it around to get it nicely covered. Cover with a damp cloth and leave until it has doubled in size. Either in the cold (a long time), a warm room (an hour or two), or hot-housed in the oven (half an hour).
Once doubled, cut the dough into whatever size you want. I usually go for something the size of a satsuma. I copiously cover a counter in semolina (which gives the bobbly texture you can see in the photo) and roll out to about half a cm thick. Cover with a plastic bag for about quarter of an hour to ‘prove’. This term, I believe, comes from ‘proving’ the yeast is still working as it puffs up the last time before baking.
Slather on your tomato sauce (I just cook down a can of tomatoes with loads of herbs and garlic and freeze some extra to go along with the frozen pizza dough), then place your toppings. Try not to go wild with them as the more you put on the soggier the base will get. Cook on the hottest heat you can muster. The above was about 20 minutes which is just before it starts to burn!
In future, for a healthier pizza, I might omit the mozarella (shock horror!) in place of a bigger pile of rocket.
p.s. I have been listening to ‘Rocket Man’ as I’ve been writing this post – have only just realised the unconscious connection!
I do love a good car boot sale and now that the weather is better they are out in force. We are lucky to live near a very big, very good one and so trotted along this morning. I love keeping an eye out for interesting kitchen things and today I spotted the pink tray (above) which I bought for 50p to sit my little tea set on (which my dad found for me in a charity shop). I think it’ll look splendid with some shortbread too.
As I was trying out my other car boot bargain (Raleigh, 18 gears) I heard something scrabbling around in the tree. You might recognise it from last week. Oh dear.