Sunday, 27 February 2011

Lunch at The Bull

I have blogged before about this dining pub in Dorset, a real gem, hidden away in the countryside. A return visit confirmed what I felt about the place before: that it is an excellent pub with food....

The day did not begin well: intent on an early morning walk on the beach to work up an appetite for lunch, I left the house and went to the car, only to be confronted by a huge, freshly-laid dog turd. Making a mental note to instruct father-in-law to clear it up ASAP, I got in the car, turned the key  - and nothing. Nada. Niente. The alarm chirrupped, the lights came on and off, but the engine: dead. This is the peril of having a very sophisticated all-singing all-dancing car with a multitude of electronic gizmos and gadgets. It has happened to me once before, and not that long ago, at the Eurotunnel terminal in Calais on my way back from France at Christmas. It was embarrassing to be stranded, not least because I was queueing in the priority boarding lane. A Basil Fawlty-ish scenario ensued, before a French AA man appeared and sorted it all out. Once again, the AA had to be summoned, and it turned out to be a flat battery, caused by one of the interior lights being left on. Simples!

The beach walk was abandoned, owing to lack of time, so I spent the morning reading the paper, something I rarely do. Then, at 12.30, we went off to the pub. Wimborne St Giles is a tiny village in the depths of Dorset countryside. There are fords to be forded the twisting muddy lanes were awash with Rangerovers and hunt followers. The pub was not busy, a few families out for Saturday lunch. We were welcomed by two smiling girls at the bar who were quick to fulfill our drinks order and see us to our table by the window with freshly-printed menus.

For a starter, I selected the Lymington crab which came with a piquant fresh chilli dressing and some pleasantly bitter salad leaves, offset by sweet-sharp pieces of pink grapefruit. The crab was delicious, redolent of the sea from which it had so recently emerged. Other starters were pearl barley, cabbage and ricotta soup (a little too healthy for my liking!) and San Danielle ham with rocket, romesco sauce and a soft-boiled egg. All the food was pronounced "delicious".

Lymington crab
My main course was Hanger steak (presumably from a local farm). I am as fussy about steak as I am about Beethoven's Opus 110 Piano Sonata: it has to be right. I rarely select steak off a menu at home, though I am happy to have it in France because the French know how to cook it (i.e. wave it at a flame) The Hanger steak was served medium rare, with a handful of peppery rocket and a generous serving of upmarket chips, topped off with a fried egg, whose bright yellow yolk was just cooked. The creamed horseradish was the perfect accompaniment, and the whole ensemble was very tasty. Nothing fancy, just good honest food.

Hanger steak & chips
I should pause here to discuss portion size: too often when one eats at a gastro or dining pub, the main course (usually something like saddle of lamb or pork belly with crispy crackling) is so huge that one does not have enough room for a pudding, but one still valiantly forces down the chocolate fondant or sticky toffee pudding, only to emerge from the establishment reeling with over-indulgence. At The Bull, the portions are just right: thus, when offered the pudding menu, we were more than happy to add another course. Two of the party had the moist chocolate brownie with chocolate ice-cream and a brandy snap (which included an explanation to my son that, sadly for him, it did not contain any brandy!). Another had the light and spongey Greek yoghurt cake, and I had the meringues with coffee mascarpone cream and chocolate sauce, a really delicious combination of crunchy meringues and a smooth, creamy filling.

Meringues with coffee mascarpone cream and chocolate sauce
Afterwards, we wended our way back along the muddy lanes, pulling over intermittently to give way to sweaty horses returning from a morning's hunting, and road-hogging Rangerovers full of smug-looking people in "country-wear".

The Bull is definitely worth a visit if you are in that neck of the woods. It has rooms too, so you can stay the night and enjoy more than one delicious, beautifully presented meal! The atmosphere in the pub is improved by the pleasant Farrow & Ball/India Jane decor, and the welcome lack of background music. The sister pub, The Anchor at Shapwick (near to Kingston Lacey House) is also worth a visit: the fish and chips were particularly memorable.

The Bull Inn

Friday, 11 February 2011


Lamb with rice-shaped pasta

This simple, tasty and comforting slow-cooked lamb dish comes from Tessa Kiros's charming book 'Falling Cloudberries'. The title is enough to encourage you to open the book, while the subtitle - "a world of family recipes" - gives a clue to its contents. Inside is a collection of recipes from Tessa's family, the places where they lived and their travels - in Greece, Cyprus, South Africa, Italy, and Finland. Beautifully illustrated and containing delightful family anecdotes, this is a lovely collection of homely recipes.

I bought the book because a friend cooked Cypriot Baked Lamb with Cumin and Oregano, and it was so delicious, I figured the rest of the book must be worth having. Admittedly, I do not use it that often, but, like any cookbook which has become like a good friend to me, I do enjoy browsing its pages, and there are a couple of recipes which have become favourites which I cook regularly.

Youvetsi is a popular Greek lamb dish made with a small, rice-shaped pasta called orzo. You can buy it in Middle Eastern shops, or just use Italian soup pasta, or break up a handful of spaghetti. I use a soup pasta called strellette ("tiny stars" - very pretty when cooked). I once cooked this dish in Turkey, when I was on holiday there a couple of summers ago with a friend who owns a property there. I had to mime the joint I wanted in the butcher, but pointing to my shoulder blade did the trick. The pasta was found in the local corner shop, and I sneaked an extra bag of it into my luggage to bring home with me, together with a kilo of small, pale green sweet peppers which are delicious roasted or fried whole....

You can use a whole joint of meat instead of cubes if you prefer, but it does need to be cooked for a long time to ensure the meat is soft and succulent and falls easily from the bone. You can serve this dish with cubes of feta or haloumi cheese stirred in at the end so that they melt a little. This dish is a real one-pot meal, though I like to serve it with a peppery green salad and lots of fresh coriander.

Serves 4-6

3 tbsp olive oil
800g lamb meat (from shoulder or leg), cubed, or a half-shoulder joint, bone in, of equivalent weight.
2 red onions, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
600g tinned tomatoes, with juice, chopped
1 piece of Cassia bark or cinnamon stick
30g butter
400g orzo or similar small pasta
Salt & pepper to taste
Grated Parmesan, Pecorino, or Kefalotiri cheese to serve

Oven 180C.

If using cubed lamb, heat the oil in a heavy-based saucepan or Le Creuset-type casserole, and brown the meat in batches. If using a whole joint, put everything except the pasta in the casserole, and place in the preheated oven for 30 mins to brown off the top of the meat. Reduce the oven to around 150C, cover the casserole and cook for about 2 hours or until the meat falls easily from the bone. Check that the sauce does not dry out - you need some liquid to cook the pasta. About 15 mins before you want to serve the dish, add the pasta, cover the casserole again and cook until the pasta is done. Stir in the feta or haloumi, if using, at this point.

To serve, sprinkle with grated cheese, and fresh coriander (optional).


I don't often make homemade jams and preserves, partly because I rarely eat bread or toast, but now and then it is nice to make something to offer as a gift. And very occasionally, I do crave a slick of shiny, sharply-flavoured homemade marmalade on a slice of sourdough toast.

If you're quick, you can still catch the Seville oranges which are available at the moment. When I was a child, the arrival of the Sevilles from Spain was an event awaited with much anticipation by my father, who was (and still is) the family jam and marmalade maker, a habit he inherited from his own father. My paternal grandfather made all kinds of jams, preserves and pickles, probably a hangover from wartime, when, thanks to his economy, his garden and allotment, and his hens and rabbits, the entire family were well-provided for during rationing. I remember the shelves of his larder stacked with all kinds of interesting, wine-coloured preserves, or his infamous mustard-yellow Piccalilli. Grandad's Piccalilli was to be avoided, if at all possible. Like his horseradish sauce, it was eye-wateringly strong. I warned my husband-to-be, on going to high tea with my grandparents, not to eat the Piccalilli, but he ignored my advice and positively relished the relish, so to speak. So much so that Grandad sent him off with several jars of his famous pickle!

When my father made marmalade, it was always a very long and drawn out affair, involving a jam saucepan (a bronze cauldron) and muslin. I prefer the quick method, advocated by Nigella in her book How to Be A Domestic Goddess. You would never guess that the marmalade was made with a "cheat's method": it's far easier and is a process which can be applied to other citrus fruits, such as lemons and limes, and pink grapefruit (which makes a really beautiful preserve).

Seville orange marmalade

800g Seville oranges
1.4 kg preserving sugar
juice of 2 lemons

Put the oranges in a large saucepan and fill with enough water so that they float freely. Bring up to the boil and the simmer for about 2 hours, or until the fruit are very soft. Add more hot water from the kettle if the water is boiling away.

When cooked, remove the fruit from the pan (retaining the cooking water), cut them in half, scoop out the pips and put the flesh in a small saucepan with some of the orange cooking water. Bring to the boil and let the mixture boil for about 5 mins. Meanwhile, put the orange skins in a food-processor and pulse until you have small pieces, or chop by hand. Put the peel in a large pan.

Strain the pulp and water mixture over the chopped oranges and add the lemon juice (this adds the necessary pectin to the mixture to help it set). Stir in the sugar and bring to the boil gently, ensuring the mixture does not catch on the bottom of the pan (I use my biggest Le Creuset for this job), and making sure the sugar dissolves before the mixture actually starts boiling. Boil until setting point is reached (use a jam thermometer if you have one, otherwise use the plate method: put a plate in the freezer and test the mixture by spooning a small amount onto the cold plate. If the mixture wrinkle slightly when you draw a spoon or finger across it, it has reached setting point). Pour the marmalade into prepared jars and close the lids.

Makes just over 1 litre.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011


No. 6 Mae Ploy Red Thai Curry Paste

I make Indian curries fairly frequently and I would never ever dream of using a bought sauce. Contrary to popular belief, a marinade or sauce for a curry is very easy to make, even if it involves a little advance planning.

However, Asian and far Eastern food has always rather eluded me, mainly, I think, because the authentic ingredients are harder to come by (you can buy a basic "Thai Curry Kit" in Tesco: a red chilli, a couple of Kaffir lime leaves, a stick of lemon grass, a lime and a knob of ginger), though it is getting easier to find the right things. I'm less keen on Thai food, though I did eat a very memorable Thai meal in Frankfurt in 1994 on our last night at the Frankfurt Bookfair, in the days when I worked for a publishing house. As anyone in the book trade knows, Frankfurt is the bookfair of the year, and when one is not working, schmoozing clients and trying to secure foreign co-editions, socialising is the thing. Every night there is a party somewhere: I remember gate-crashing the Taschen party at the FrankfurterHof Hotel, which was very grand indeed. By the end of a gruelling week, working 14 hours a day on the firm's exhibition stand in a vast hall like an aircraft hangar with no windows, and evenings spent gatecrashing parties, a more restrained night out at a Thai restaurant seemed a welcome break.

At the restaurant, I sat next to the very naughty Alan the Carpet Man, who chained-smoked and flirted outrageously, and who told me to order nothing: he would order for me. Thus, I tried Tom Yum hot and sour soup, Pad Thai noodles, green Thai curry and various other delicious dishes and fragrant dishes.

Mae Ploy Red Thai curry paste is a useful store-cupboard standby. It keeps for ages in the fridge, and spares you the trouble of making your own Red Thai paste. All you need is a tin of coconut milk, or the Maggi coconut milk powder (see separate post), and maybe a few vegetables to throw in towards the end. Follow the directions on the pot to make a delicious and authentic-tasting red Thai sauce. But beware! It can be very fiery, so go easy on the paste, adding more to taste. It is also quite salty, so there is no need to add more salt. There is also a green Thai version, and you can find both in the special ingredients section of the supermarket.

I often use this sauce base to make Nigella's pumpkin and seafood curry. Or a basic red prawn or chicken curry. Tonight, I'm using strips of lean beef, only because I happened to have it in the fridge and it needs to be used up.

Sunday, 6 February 2011


I learnt to make pastry in cookery class at school, in the days when cookery was called Domestic Science, though the only vaguely scientific thing we did in class was make a roux sauce (I still use this method). My cookery teacher was a lady called Miss Loveday, who had a big round face like a Dutch cheese and who was love with the shy art teacher, Mr Skinner. I never really enjoyed cookery classes at school: I found the recipes mostly dull or "wrong" (i.e. you do NOT make trifle with Angel Delight!), probably because I was helping my mum cook far more interesting things at home. If my mother did not approve of a recipe (see aforementioned school trifle) she would write a note to the teacher, pointing out the correct version, something I found cringe-makingly embarrassing.

However, there are a couple of methods I did learn in cookery class which have stayed with me and which I still use today. We did all kinds of pastry - basic shortcrust, puff/flaky, hot-water crust (for making pork pies etc) and choux (for eclairs and profiteroles).

Some years ago, I acquired a cookbook by Tamasin Day-Lewis (sister of brooding actor Daniel) called The Art of the Tart (a truly irresistible title!), which, as the name suggests, is all about tarts, savoury and sweet. And for a few weeks, I made all manner of tarts and perfected my pastry-making skills. Then, I lost interest and went back to making Tarte Tatin only.

Last week, I planned to make Chocolate Tart for pudding for supper on Friday. Usually, I use Jus-Roll Sweet Shortcrust pastry but my local Tesco did not have it and I reckoned it would be quicker to make my own pastry than schlepp into Kingston to buy the pastry at Waitrose. Using a recipe for a sweet butter pastry from the Moro cookbook, it was all done in 5 mins in the food-processor, and, happily wrapped in clingfilm, was resting in the fridge. The end result was delicious: it was delightfully crisp and deliciously buttery, and was the perfect foil for the rich chocolate filling. And the best part? The tart came out of the tin without a hitch, with a perfect crust.

This is the recipe I used. I have adapted the method slightly, as I like Jamie Oliver's suggestion that you put the prepared tin in the freezer for half an hour before you cook it. This avoids the necessity to "bake blind".

Sweet Pastry

Makes approx 250g (sufficient for a 23-24cm tart tin)

140g plain flour
30g icing sugar
75g chilled butter, cut into small pieces
1 egg yolk

Sift the flour and icing sugar together. In a food-processor, or by hand, blend the butter with the flour-sugar mixture until you have a texture similar to breadcrumbs. Add the egg yolk and the mixture should gradually come together into a ball. If the pastry looks too dry, add a splash of milk or water. Shape into a ball, wrap with cling film and leave to rest in the fridge for a minimum of an hour.

When you are ready to make the tart case, remove pastry from fridge and grate it coarsely into the prepared tin. Push the pastry into the tin and around the edges. Prick the bottom and then place in the freezer for 30 mins.

Preheat oven to 220C. Put the pastry case into the oven straight from the freezer (no need to bake blind). Cook until golden and crisp. Chill before using.


I am reblogging this recipe as several people have asked for it, and I thought it would be easier to give it a separate entry, rather than have to trawl through the longer post on New Year's Eve Supper.

I am wary of claims like The Best, Greatest or Finest, but, like Nigella's Chocolate Ice Cream, this really is the best homemade chocolate tart I have ever tasted or made. I ate it at Chalet JoJo at Christmas: my host, Jo, is a fine cook and has a particular affinity for cakes and puddings (unlike me - I have a few favourites which I wheel out: lemon polenta cake, chocolate brownies, and now the chocolate tart). What is so wonderful about this tart is that it tastes - and looks - exactly like a proper French patisserie tarte au chocolat, yet it is dead easy to make. You don't even have to make your own pastry if you don't want to, though I did go the whole hog for a supper party last Friday and made proper sweet pastry (made with egg yolks and butter). I have to say the homemade pastry did make a difference, but a supermarket sweet short crust works pretty well too. If you're feeling really lazy or pushed for time, buy a ready made tart case from M&S or Waitrose. And M&S also do small tart cases, if you wanted to make individual tarts.

The quantities given will make a good-sized tart: it fed 6 generously on Friday night, with enough left over for seconds. I find it is best made the day before as this allows the chocolate filling to set properly. Serve it with cream, creme fraiche, or, if feeling really naughty, clotted cream. And maybe some fresh raspberries, in season, on the side....

Dark Chocolate Tart
Serves 6-8

You can either make individual tartlettes or a large tart (24 cm tart tin)

250g sweet pastry (a roll if cheating)
200g dark chocolate (I like Waitrose Belgian chocolate; Green & Black's dark is also excellent for this recipe)
250ml single cream
40g unsalted butter
150g raspberry or apricot jam (I used Waitrose seedless raspberry jam)
Icing sugar & cocoa powder for dusting
Oven 180C.  
Put the pastry into the tart case/s and prick with fork. Bake blind for 15 mins, then take paper off and put back into the oven for 5 mins. Remove from oven and allow to cool.

Put the jam into a saucepan, heat up until liquid, and then spread over the pastry. Leave to cool

Put half of the cream into a saucepan and once near boiling add the chocolate. Take off the heat and add the remaining cream and the butter. If it starts to look granular, beat with a whisk to achieve smooth consistency. Pour over jammed pastry and when cool, put into the fridge to chill and set.
Just before serving, sprinkle over cocoa powder and icing sugar in a design you like.

A brief trawl through the Ottolenghi Cookbook revealed a delicious-looking white chocolate and raspberry version:

40g raspberries (fresh or frozen)
180g good-quality white chocolate, chopped into very small pieces
20g unsalted butter, cut into small dice
90ml single cream
6 tsp raspberry jam, heated until runny

Make pastry case as above. Spread the jam over the base. Leave to cool

Crush the raspberries with a fork and then pass through a fine sieve to create a coulis. Set aside.

Heat the cream and bring to the boil, watching it constantly. As soon as it comes to the boil, add the white chocolate and butter and stir gently with a rubber spatula to achieve a smooth consistency. Pour into the prepared tart case. Spoon the coulis into the white chocolate mixture and swirl around with the top of a knife or skewer. Allow to cool, then place in the fridge to set fully. This would be very nice served with more raspberries and a dollop of creme fraiche.