Friday, February 22, 2013

Too Critical?

Yesterday evening, Beloved, our daughter and I went out for a meal to (previously) my favourite 'eaterie':  The Hest Bank Hotel.  A bit of a disappointment.  Changes had been made, and in my opinion, not for the better.  The place had lost a lot of its character.  A conservatory had been taken down, the pictures on the wall had been changed (originally paintings of how the hotel used to be some centuries back, replaced by scenes of the Bay and surrounding districts).  Even the place mats (used to have pictures of them of how the hotel looked centuries ago) now had been changed to smaller look-alike-but-not-wooden ones, of a very 'modern' design.

The food was still very good, but not as good as it used to be, with more interest in the presentation of the food than its overall taste (but only my opinion).  I chose a tomato and basil soup as my first course.  Flavour OK, but it had huge basil leaves floating on top that had wilted and turned quite soggy by the time the soup was served, I had to push them to one side and try to eat my soup without them ending in the spoon.  All our cutlery was in a container on our table, the knife, fork and dessert spoon wrapped in a paper napkin, so had no soup spoon, and somehow, soup was not so easy to drink using a dessert spoon..  Also no butter knife for the warm (and nice) bread, had to use my 'mains' knife, which they didn't remove, but I didn't need one later anyway as it happened..  The butter was in wrapped pats, but thankfully soft (so often butter these days is served chilled and hardly 'spreadable').

Our daughter had a prawn cocktail, which - to me - didn't look attractive - as served pushed into the top of a tall long drinking glass.  B had some Nachos that were toasted with cheese, with tiny side bowls of guacamole, sour cream, and tomato salsa.  They both seemed to enjoy their starters.

For my main course I had a vegetarian chilli, and did not take too much interest in the other meals as I could only comment on mine.  The chilli wasn't bad other than it seemed to have a few tortilla chips that had been stuck into it and had gone soft.  But ss this was served in a small round shallow Balti type dish, with some spiced rice served in a similar-sized but square dish, a very small round bowl of guacamole, and another of sour cream, plus one rather thin and warm flour tortilla, on the verge of drying out, was not sure how to eat my meal.  I tried eating some chilli, then some rice, tried using bits of tortilla to take up some of the 'quac' (this didn't work as the tortillas were too soft and kept breaking up) so nothing seemed to come together.  In the end put some rice in with the chilli, and some chilli in with the rice, with the small bit of sour cream on top of one of them.  Gave up eating the tortilla, and left the guacamole as that tasted more like 'crushed' peas.   Am sure they had blended peas and avocados together. 
It's not like me to leave food on my plate,  but for once left part of my meal uneaten.  Sometimes it's not easy being 'a cook' because I find I'm becoming far too critical when 'eating out', and only hope others feel they too find there are things that don't come up to their approval.  Or is it just me being too 'picky'?

Almost certainly, due to having so many changes,  the above restaurant must be 'under new management', and sorry to say I probably won't choose to eat there again. At least this gives us a chance to try other 'eateries' that have been recommended.
Incidentally, we chose to have no dessert as we had one of D's cakes waiting for us at home.

A welcome to Bev (from Australia), and to reply to her query,  asked B this morning to look up in our newspaper the exchange rates between Oz and the UK and he said that our £1 = $1.40 (Australian dollars).  Almost half as much again 'down under'. Hope this makes it easy for you Bev to make an approx comparison to the UK prices as these are often quoted on this site.
However, it's not just the cost that needs to be compared, as there could be a difference in wages earned.  The higher the average wage, the more likely it is that food prices (or the price of anything) would also be higher, meaning whichever side of the globe we live, we end up with our costs being - relatively - almost the same.

Do agree with you Kathryn, a recipe for a 'basic' mix (that can then go on to make a lot of different things) can be a real godsend.  Have given several of these over the years, one of my favourites being 'magic mince' (beef), almost simple enough not to need a recipe.  Just make a batch of 'basic' (mince fried with finely diced - or grated -onions, carrots, celery....) and then freeze this to later turn into spag.bol., chilli con carne, and Cottage Pie (or as a filling for pasties).

Your mention of cucumbers going 'past their best' gillibob (when left lurking in a fridge), reminded me that I've seen several recipes where cucumbers are cooked, so will hunt these out and publish them a.s.a.p as myself could make good use of them (not yet having cooked a cucumber, but always have the 'ends' I've rushed to eat up,  not because I wanted to, but because I could not bear to throw it away).

It sounds as though Hoisin Sauce is similar to soy sauce Margie, as soy is often suggested by chefs to add to a meat stew/casserole as this  'beefs' up the flavour.  It is possible to buy hoisin sauce in small sachets to add to a stir-fry, but am sure this works out much more expensive than buying in in a bottle and using more sparingly.

You haven't said what size your pool' is Pam, but if not too big, you could try covering it with netting to prevent the ducks swimming on it, alternatively stick some canes all around the edges and criss-cross the water with string tied to the canes. 
In the old days, on arable land, birds were scared off by scarecrows.  In gardens today, we hang those shiny silver CD discs (usually given free with magazines etc), where they spin in the wind, flashing sunlight.
If the ducks are of the edible variety (and think most ducks are) then have you tried culling one  (or more) with a view to cooking/eating it/them?  Or build a 'duck house' for them to nest, and then you will be able to collect and eat duck eggs.

Re the query about moked salmon.  Yes, this can be used in cooked dishes as well as eaten cold (as we normally might), and am giving a few recipes to give a bit of inspiration.  These are mainly Italian-based, but this doesn't mean that smoked salmon couldn't be used in other dishes, and am sure there are many where smoked salmon could be used instead of 'ordinary' cooked salmon (such as 'coulibiac'), or include with other fish in (say) Fish Pie, or Fish Cakes.

Although we have now come to think of 'noodles' being those used when making Oriental dishes, the Italians also use noodles - these being like thin, flat ribbons, and called 'fettuccini' (so don't get the East mixed up with the West), and although this first recipe uses the pasta verstion, we can of course use another 'shape', mainly because as far as I'm concerned (with an eye firmly fixed on the finance - in other words use the cheapest/or what you've got), pasta is pasta is pasta.  Italians would not agree, and they would probably be right.
It could be that other countries believe that potatoes are potatoes are potatoes, but with the waxy spuds, and the floury ones, and umpteen varieties, we have almost as many different ways of cooking and serving potatoes as the Italians do their pasta.  Hope this proves a point.

Fettuccin al Salmone: serves 6 as first course
half pint (300ml) single cream
12 oz (350g) smoked salmon bits or ends, fresh or frozen
12 oz (350g) dried egg noodles (fettuccini)
ground black pepper
Cut the salmon (thawed if frozen) into small pieces and put into a bowl with the cream.  Cover and leave to stand for at least 2 hours (to allow the cream to absorb some of the smoky flavour).
Cook the pasta as per packet instructions, until 'al dente', then drain and put into a warmed serving bowl.  Towards the end of the cooking time, heat the cream and salmon in a heavy saucepan over a low heat (preferably using a diffuser to reduce the heat further as it must not be allowed to boil). When heated through, pour over the drained pasta and gently stir together.  Season with plenty of pepper, and serve immediately.

One of B's favourite supper dishes is Fish Risotto, and this I make using a mixture of smoked haddock, salmon, and white fish.  The fish in this version is just smoked salmon, but see no reason why some white fish, or small prawns, could not also be included.

Smoked Salmon and Lemon Risotto: serves 4
1 onion, finely chopped
2 tblsp olive oil
12 oz (350g) risotto (Arborio etc) rice
1 clove garlic, crushed (opt)
2.75 pints (1.5 ltrs) boiling vegetable stock
1 x 750g pack (6 oz) smoked salmon, chopped
3 oz (75g) mascarpone or a soft cream cheese
3 tblsp parsley (pref flat-leaf) chopped
zest and juice of 1 lemon
ground black pepper
Fry the onion with the oil, using a large frying pan, over medium heat, for 6 minute. Add the rice and garlic, and - stirring continuously - cook for a further 2 minutes.  Being pouring in the stock, a ladleful at a time, and keep stirring and adding stock as each ladleful has been absorbed.  By then the rice should be cooked and creamy.
Remove from heat and add the chopped smoked salmon, the mascarpone, parsley and lemon zest, with black pepper to taste.  Cover and leave to stand for 5 minutes to 'relax' and the soft cheese to melt to form a 'sauce', then stir in the lemon juice.  It shouldn't need reheating, but if you prefer it can be heated over a very low heat for a couple of minutes before serving.

This third recipe still uses smoked salmon but this time is meant to be served cold.  However, felt it was a bit more 'interesting' than some dips, and could also be made with canned (unsmoked) salmon.   Like all the above dishes, the cheapest (and best) way is to use the packs of smoked salmon 'offcuts' or 'scraps'.
When wishing to mix cream cheese with other ingredients (for sweet or savoury dishes) always use the cheese at room temperature as then it becomes softer. Sometimes, taken and used directly from the fridge, it just won't beat/blend in with (say) cream, always ending up with lumpy bits of cheese left in what should be a smooth textured 'whip'.  When planning to cook with cream cheese, I take the cheese from the fridge just before I go to bed, and by the next morning it has 'softened' enough to use.
Smoked Salmon Taramasalata: serves 4
4 oz (100g) smoked salmon
7 oz (200g) soft cream cheese (see above)
4 fl oz (100g) creme fraiche
juice of 1 lemon
cracked black pepper (or coarsely grated)
drizzle olive oil
kalamata olives and pitta bread (for serving)
Put the smoked salmon, cream cheese, creme fraiche, and lemon juice into a food processor, and blitz/pulse until smooth (or as smooth as you wish). Fold in the pepper to taste.
Spoon the mixture into a serving bowl, then cover with cling film and chill in the fridge - where it will keep for up to 3 days.
When ready to serve, drizzle over a little olive oil and serve with warm, griddled pitta bread and some kalamata olives.

Coleslaw was given a mention by Kathryn, and although the basic coleslaw is made from white cabbage, carrots, and onions, plus some mayo to bind, there are many other variations.
This next recipe is not a million miles away from the 'basic', but myself do enjoy the added flavour of the cheese, so if we have a bowl of the original already in the fridge, then all we have to do is add the 'extras'.  Otherwise make it from scratch, using the recipe below.  Goes without saying we could use almost any of our hard English cheeses, or a mixture.

Cheese 'n Chive Coleslaw: serves 4 - 6
approx 14 oz (400g) white cabbage, finely shredded
1 large carrots, coarsely grated
1 red (or white) onion, halved and thinly sliced
3 tblsp good quality mayonnaise
3 tblsp Greek yogurt
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 oz (or 20g pack) chives, finely chopped
salt and pepper.
4 oz (100g) mature Cheddar cheese, grated
Put the cabbage, carrot, onion, mayo, yogurt, and mustard into a bowl with most of the chives.  Mix well (preferably with hands - clean hands!!), making sure every bit of salad is coated with the dressing, then add seasoning to taste.  Cover and keep chilled for up to 3 days.  Serve, sprinkled with remaining chives and the cheese.

Hope I've managed to give useful replies/recipes to queries and comments sent in, and hoping that other readers may be able to offer more suggestions.  The more we share the more we are able to learn.
They do say the best way to learn is not by reading, but by watching, then have a go ourselves.  Difficult for me to do more than 'talk' about how to do this, that, or the other (as my days of demonstrating seem to be over), but hope that even 'chatting' is enough to inspire at least one or more readers to 'have a go'.  Let us hope so.

With visitors coming next week, have a bit of 'food planning' (not to mention tidying up) to do, so am signing off for today, and will be back again tomorrow, even if only for a short while.  Hope to see you then.