Hi-Life Gourmet Dinner

Oxtail and cod? Not often seen together but are they good plate mates? This main course (pictured) cod.jpg
of seared organic cod with oxtail ravioli and celery proved to be a real talking point at last night’s gourmet dinner in the city’s swish Harvey Nichols.
Was it a combination created in some far off cuisine?
Was it a re-invention of “surf and turf”? Talking afterwards to Alison Seagrave, the Heywood-born chef who presented this brave concoction to the Hi Life Diners Club members, she explained that the menu had developed from one which initially featured turbot.
Her desire to include the excellent organic cod she’d sourced from the Shetlands with something essentially regional in the oxtail led to the dish presented.
So did it work? Well the sweet and deep tones of the oxtail were overpowering but the fleshy texture of the fish did add something to the overall experience. Garnering opinions around the gathering, it did seem that the jury was still out. It was certainly memorable but the true star of the evening was the smoked Lancashire double baked soufflé (pictured). souffle.jpg
The smell of it alone had the entire restaurant swooning and the soft, oozing interior was ample reward. The accompanying 2004 Domaine Nigri wine surprisingly hit the perfect note by completely matching up to the Branston pickle sauce.
If the meal had been a performance it would certainly have received calls for an encore.And if the soufflé was the star, then this interpretation of that old standard the Manchester Tart (pictured) was the endearing child carrying the bouquet of flowers.mantart.jpg
Looking like a mini Angel of the North in the company of a Fraggle, it was guaranteed to raise a smile. Every element of the childhood favourite was there – the sponge in the tower, the jammy sauce, the coconut in the icre-cream and banana – it was up to the diner to gather it all together. Inspired indeed and all the better for its perfect partner of a red dessert wine Lusteau from the Jerez region of Spain.
This locally inspired theme continued into the petit fours (pictured) with the tiniest, melt-in-your-mouth Eccles cakes and Bakewell tarts rounding off the evening.petit.jpg
Hi Life Diners Club holds gourmet evenings for members throughout the year.

Harvey Nichols 2nd Floor Restaurant is at Exchange Square. Manchester. Tel: 0161 828 8898.

A salty help for hummous

It’s been a long journey but I think I’ve finally made it – perfect hummous.
How the ubiquitous Mediterranean paste could be difficult to make is a mystery in itself – after all it’s only mushed up chickpeas with seasoning really.
People the world over seem to manage to conjour it up but the perfect hummous had alluded me for years.
Early errors included cooking the chick peas without soaking them. The resulting bullets were impossible to mash by hand (I didn’t possess a processor at this time) so poisioning was narrowly avoided.
The purchase of a food processor led to some more failed attempts involving tinned chick peas. The tinned versions seem have a slightly different taste presumably because of the additon of salt and sugar in the canning process.
Last week some patience with soaking led to pretty good hummous. (I’m also convinced that letting the chick peas cool in the cooking water also helps in some way but can’t provide any logic for that one.)
This week a chance remark from a veggie connoisseur of the staple led to a perfected version – salt. And quite a lot of it.
Being someone who rarely uses salt this didn’t come naturally but I can confirm that a good helping of salt and pepper together with addition of the cooking water to the mix does produce the real thing.
Here’s the full recipe.

My foolproof hummous

Yes it is essentially mushed up chick peas but as anyone who has tried to produce it will know, hummous can be hard to perfect. This recipe is foolproof – I developed it myself!
What you need
50g dried chick peas.
Juice of one lemon.
Two tbls tahini paste.
Four tbls olive oil.
Two cloves of garlic.
Salt and pepper.

What you do

Soak the chick peas overnight then boil them for two hours until soft. Let them cool in the cooking water. Drain and retain cooking water.
Combine all the other ingredients in a food processor, adding cooking water as required to create the right consistency.
Season with salt and pepper.

Life on planet Angel Delight

Aaahh Angel Delight. Remember that? Well apparently the whipped dessert from a packet is making a comeback. It was a regular feature in my childhood meals – and always that butterscotch flavour for some reason.
A pudding of sweet and beige proportions! It really was the 70s in bowl form.
I’m guessing that unique artifical flavour was generated with handfuls of e numbers – not that we cared about things like that back then. It’s certainly a taste I haven’t experienced since but one so powerful that I can bring it immediately to mind.
So while I crack open the Mateus, Himself splashes on the Brut and we settle down to the must-see conclusion of Life on Mars, I think whisking up the Angel Delight might be just a step too far.
But then again……
If you want to find out more read a review of Angel Delight here.
Don’t forget to join my colleague Ian Wylie after Life on Mars tonight – he’ll be online blogging just as soon as we all know the truth about Sam, Gene and Hyde. What will we do without them all? It’s enough to drive you to Cinzano.

Forget those Bank Holiday working blues

For anyone else who’s working this Easter Monday, how about cheering up your day by having a picnic?
OK you have to prepare it before going into work but there is something satisfying about opening up the packages even if the contents aren’t a complete surprise.
If that’s not doing it for you then, here in Manchester at least, get the pleasure of looking out of the office window at the dreary, grey and drizzly day.
At least us holiday shift workers are indoors on double pay or the promise of time off.

Dinner will be served in Yorkshire time

Time waits for no man, so they say, and it should be the motto on any coat of arms designed for the Yorkshire Bridge Inn.
Basking in the glorious Bank Holiday weather we called into this attractive looking establishment. Set high on the edge of the Ladybower Reservoir with seating outside, we finally flopped after some strenuous cycling and their interesting bar menu caught our eye.
Specials including crab salad and chicken supreme looked tempting but then we saw it listed – Barnsley chops. The fresh air hunger had given me my first pangs for lamb since the ill-advised Damascene special sheep experience and fond memories of the perfectly cooked Barnsley chops served up at our favourite Yorkshire café tempted us to order an early dinner and a spot of reminiscence about all things Yorkshire – even though this pub is actually in Derbyshire.
But notices all around informed us food didn’t start until 6pm so we settled down for an hour or so’s wait with some liquid refreshments accompanied by the constant refusals of food orders eminating from behind the bar.
All around tables of hungry walkers, thirsty cyclists and sunned-out drivers sat anxiously with their menus waiting, consulting watches, looking hopelessly towards the stern-faced bar man.
At 6.50pm, a brave family took the menu to the bar, returning to the table shortly afterwards looking pleased. Following their lead I waded through the crowds to place my much-anticipated order. “I’m sorry, we don’t start food until 6pm”. The official clock above the bar was showing four minutes to go.
“Would it be possible to place the order now and then you have it ready for when you start at 6pm?” I inquired, fainting with hunger and gripping the nearest walking stick for reassurance.
Back to the table, I was instructed.
Three more minutes passed and then the inevitable – every table in the place formed a scrum to place their orders just as the clock turned 6 – presumably leaving the kitchen staff flooded with requests which would just as surely be followed by a long lull until every table in the place had been vacated.

I thought bars and restaurants had stopped telling their customers when they could eat years ago – after all whatever happened to the customer always being right? If you want a sandwich for breakfast or your tea at lunch-time why shouldn’t you be able to?

Oh and the chops weren’t up to much no either. Fatty and overcooked to the point of incineration and served with soggy veg and uninspiring onion gravy.
Had we not built up our hunger for quite such a long time, the meal could well have been sent back.
Ah, see there is a method in this clock-watching madness – gratitude to see food, any food.

@ Peels Arms, Hadfield

A country pub in the Peak District this time – well it is nearly summer!
Batter: Really, really crispy crunchy. Made a satisfying cracking noise when cut into and not even the liberal splashing of vinegar made it soggy. I was a little suspicious at first that it might have been oven-baked because this fish jacket was so brittle.
Fish: Splendidly white, flaky haddock. Piping hot and not overcooked leaving me less sure about the oven-baked theory.
Chips: Of the flat and chunky variety. Well cooked and again crispy enough to survive a strenuous vinegar shower.
Peas: Good texture – could still make out the individual peas – and retaining a good green taste.
Salad: Yes salad! Why I do not know. This fish ‘n’chips came with either veg or salad which seemed totally unnecessary. The salad was fresh and crisp (if undressed) and also came with a helping of home-made coleslaw with a red onion base. This addition could be seen as a bonus or an unnecessary flourish depending on your view point. Having some lettuce and tomato is hardly going to make this into the healthy option.
Verdict: A good effort of the classic take-away in a pub setting. Thanfully no breadcrumbs or frozen petit pois! It was fresh, hot, tasty and plentiful – what more do you want for your fish and chips? The convivial surroundings and reasonable price of £7.95 marks it out for a return visit.
Have you tried this pub? What did you think? Submit your comments below.
The Peels Arms is at 6-12 Temple Street, Padfield, Glossop, Derbyshire, SK13 1EX. 01457-852719.

about Hipping Hall

IT seems hard to find a bad word about the country house restaurant with rooms, Hipping Hall. Here’s what the critics have said but are they right? If you’ve ever eaten there, you can write your own review of the place via the link at the bottom of this blog post.

“An unexpected problem here: our room is a delight, dinner is delicious, service exemplary. We rack our brains, but can find nothing to fault.” Stephen McClarence, The Times.
“If you’ve an occasion to celebrate or just fancy treating yourself to incredible food, exceptional service and the chance to wander around three acres of landscaped grounds, or even stay over in this “restaurant with rooms”, then from this reviewer at least Hipping Hall comes highly recommended.” Eilis Bottomley, Craven Herald and Pioneer.
“As my appetite splutters and momentarily dies altogether I feel a bit like a solo pilot whose engine has just cut out in the mid-Atlantic. This kind of thing is not supposed to happen to a restaurant critic – and certainly not when the cooking is this good.” Thomas Sutcliffe, The Independent.
“The dish showed up the limitations of this type of cooking – by building up multiple layers of subtle, polite flavours it can turn eating into an intellectual rather than sensual exercise, more akin to completing a crossword.” Kevin Gopal, North West Enquirer.
“Incredibly good prices for the level of service and food you are guaranteed to receive. Definitely worth a try.” Sue Riley, Lancaster Guardian
“It’s just the kind of spot that attracts a new kind of young weekender, where posh grub is an essential part of the package. Inclusion in the Mr and Mrs Smith guides establishes its remote-for-romance credentials, Lancashire Life naming hotel of the year 2006 its solider virtues.” Neil Sowerby, M.E.N.
“The ambience aided by the log fire and exposed beams. Well spaced tables with very comfortable chairs, dressed with quality cutlery, crockery and glassware.” MJL, Sugarvine.
Hipping Hall is at Cowan Bridge, Cowan Bridge, Kirkby Lonsdale, LA6 2JJ. Tel: 015242 71 187.
What do you think? Submit your own review below.

Ugli by name, wimpy by nature

It’s been lurking in the fruit bowl for a few days now. With its patchy, mottled skin and unsymetrical shape it sure is ugly! Wanting to give it a chance to live up to its marketing slogan

“The Affliction is only Skin Deep so the Beauty is in the Eating “

I purchased my first ugli fruit at my local grocers and today finally plucked up courage to eat it.
Hailing all the way from Jamaica it’s a cross between a tangerine and a grapefruit – a tengelo. Apparently it’s not pronouced as ugly there.
The fruit even has it’s own website. My verdict: it’s a lot sweeter than grapefruit and doesn’t have the depth of flavour of either of its parents. Almost a little watery. Certainly not offensive but just not very forceful.
Was I just unlucky with this one specimen or is that what they’re always like? I’d be interested to hear from any ugli connousieurs out there.