Monthly Archives: September 2011

The Wolvercote tastebud

The Trout, located in Wolvercote Oxfordshire.  The pub looks out on to the river Thames, with the cascading weir creating a lively scene, which can be seen from the whole of
the terrace. The interior is cosy yet cool: it’s a huge pub with original features still intact and on show. There are 3 core eating areas inside, which lends’ itself well to cater for large group bookings, as well as looking after the couples that are out for a romantic meal.

I think the best way to get to the Trout is by bike along the river, away from the cars, and alongside some cows!  From East Oxford to the Trout it is about a 7 mile cycle ride, or 14 miles round trip, but with a good lunch in store when you arrive, I think it’s a great way to spend a Saturday or Sunday. If you’re based in the city centre, join the river at the bottom of Abingdon road, at Folly Bridge. If cycling isn’t your thing, then the Trout has a huge car park, which is free, (oh such a rare thing!) so it makes for a great place to gather friends
and family from across the county or country for lunch or dinner!

The other half and I took to our bikes and arranged to meet a friend, who was driving over from outside the city. We parked up and headed in, we had taken a risk and not booked, (it’s recommended to book), most certainly for a Sunday lunch. As we weren’t too late, we managed to get a seat out on the terrace, which was spot on for the weather. The Trout splits its terrace into two, one half for diners and the other half for those of you that just fancy a drink outside.

On arrival our friend had got his drink from the bar, (something I’d recommend for next time). As we’d managed to get a table we ordered our drinks from the waiters/waitresses. This wasn’t the speediest of processes as we had to ask twice for our drinks order to be taken, and as it was only a glass of wine and Becks the 15 min wait did seem longer than expected. On the upside we were catching up with a friend, so there was plenty to talk about to pass the time.

The menu can be found on the website http://www.thetroutoxford.co.uk/  there is a good mixture of dishes: Sharers, Salads, Starters, Pastas, Pizzas and stove/grill/rotisserie
plus a list of specials that included a variety of meats, fish options and vegetarian choices for both starters and main courses. The prices are fair and you don’t have to break the bank to enjoy your lunch, there is a good wine selection which you will be able to see on approach to the main bar.

When our food order was taken we made our choices, a tricky one when there is such a selection but not a bad thing! The food wait took about 40mins but with good weather, another drink and good conversation it wasn’t too much of an issue. I did hear a few apologies go out to some customers, who had clearly waited for longer than they expected, but despite the hiccups the staff stayed pleasant and calm through-out the service. We took some pictures just after we’d started, proof of a good lunch:

Pan fried Cod on a bed of rotini pasta with a pesto and tomato sauce (about
£16) – This was delicious, the skin on the cod was nice and crispy and the fish was thick and well-cooked and seasoned. The pasta was light and not sloppy, it went very well with the fish, the garlic through the sauce wasn’t too strong but it was flavoursome, which I enjoyed.
6oz Sirloin steak with gambas and chips

(about £14) – The steak was cooked medium rare as requested, it was served with a bowl of chips and two gambas (which looked amazing), they had been chargrilled and ‘perfectly seasoned’, I unfortunately didn’t get a sample of the gambas, so
they were clearly not for sharing. As a comparison to the other weeks’ Steak and Chips at the Magdalen Arms, The Trout’s dish was a fraction of the price, and significantly better quality.

Calzone – Cacciatore Pork, Tomato Frito, Garlic, Cremé Fraiche (about £11)

The calzone did not skimp on its meat content, our friend seemed pleased with his choice especially at less than £11.
 

 

Our plates were polished clean as a result of 3 very different and very good dishes.  We paid our bill and made our separate ways home after a thoroughly enjoyable Saturday lunch!

 

Cakes and courses

What seems like many years ago I went along to the Orchards School of Cookery to do the residential Designer Dinners for Beginners course. It was a fantastic week and I would (and have!) recommend it to anyone that has spoken to me about any cookery courses. This one is located in Evesham, Worcestershire, less than 2hrs from the city centre of Oxford and in a lovely setting, on their farm.

The courses they run are on their website: http://www.orchardscookery.co.uk
Chalet Cooks

Designer Dinners for Beginners
Off to University
Corporate Days
One and Two Day Courses

Cakes are something that I had never really got into making for friends or work colleagues. It wasn’t that I couldn’t, but I just always thought ‘what a faff!’ until I came away from the Orchards Cookery course. I wouldn’t say that I make loads of cakes now, (not great for the waistline!) but I’m happy to volunteer my cake making skills to the office and birthdays, more than I would have done in the past!
Here is a sneak peak of the life of making a simple tasty cake.
First start with the standard recipe then add in most of the ‘changes’ to stage 2,  you really need the book that you can get when you go to the course, to get the full break down, but I will share the one that I took into work this week with you.

This is the recipe that I follow for all my cakes:

Standard Cake
This is the standard cake recipe. Additional ingredients can be used to make a variety of different cakes

Ingredients:

170g soft marg
170g caster sugar
170g self raising flour
3 eggs
1tsp baking powder
1tbsp hot water

Recipe
Preheat the oven 180C,350F
1 Line the base of two 18-20cm cake tins using greaseproof paper cut to size. Grease the sides with Butter.

2 Beat all the ingredients in a large bowl (or food processor) add a little hot water if the mix is too thick

3 Divide the mixture between the cake tins and spread evenly

4 Bake in the oven for 25-35 mins until golden (don’t open the oven during the first 20 mins, as it affects the rising of the cake) To see if the cake is cooked stick a skewer in the middle and make sure there is no mixture on the skewer.

5 When the cake has cooled slightly, slide a spatula around the cake to loosen it from the tin and turn out on a cooling rack.

6 Peel off the paper from the base of the cake and allow to cool before icing. Butter icing filling goes in between the two cakes, for most of the cake ‘styles’ in the book.

The other day I made Raspberry Jam and chocolate cake for the office, following the standard recipe mentioned above plus the following key ingredients below:
(I admit that it should have been black cherry jam, but the local garage only had raspberry!)

Raspberry and  Chocolate Cake
Ingredients
225g Jam
100g plain chocolate and a little extra to decorate
milk

Recipe
1 Melt the chocolate with a few drops of milk and allow to cool slightly

2 Make the standard cake, adding the chocolate and jam to the mixture at stage 2.

Scatter grated chocolate of the warm cake, or dust with icing sugar and chocolate shavings.

The book contains everything that you learn on the course plus more!
Isabel and her family make you feel very welcome and run a well oiled ship, for more information on the courses, visit the website: www.orchardscookery.co.uk

Magdalen Arms – Iffley Road Review

Magdalen Arms – 243 Iffley Road

I booked this due to my other half choosing somewhere he wanted to go to on his birthday. It’s a venue I would consider to be good for the meat eaters, but not so much choice for the vegetarian and pescetarians.  From past experience there was always a
choice, if not a wide one, you would at least find something veggie or fishy
for your evening.

We arrived for our booking time of 8pm it was busy as expected, so we were glad that we booked. For the first time we sat through in the restaurant, I was pleased as we’d gone for an occasion, and thought that this could be different from before. (Previously we’d sat in the bar area which had always been a nice relaxed experience). We were taken to our table, next to the ‘viewing area’ of the kitchen; I like restaurants that are prepared to let  their diners view the kitchen, I think it shows that they are willing to display what really goes on behind the scenes, so I was pleased with our spot, for now.

The Magdalen Arms decor is predominantly dark wood, the bar has a big impact as you walk in. The tables are fairly rustic with similar styled seats and flooring. There were single stemmed candles at every table and the lights have a half-light tint to them. (Imagine your own home, where you dimmed the lights to make it a romantic setting). Unfortunately the table we had was just that bit too dark, as the dim lighting wasn’t positioned that close to our table, and we weren’t nearby the window for any natural light, so the candle was our best light source for the evening.

I looked at the menu we had been given, dated Thursday 15th September 2011. The main courses were as expected, mainly meat options, the 1 fish option was: Roast hake, chips and tartare sauce (unfortunately I had breaded fish and chips at home the night before) and the vegetarian option was: swiss chard and ricotta rotolo, sage butter and parmesan.  I wasn’t that inspired by these options (though I can’t fault the fish and chips option, as that was just sods law). I turned in hope to the specials board, to see that it had 3 options: Linguini with Chilli and King Prawns; Turbot and squiggly writing (which I can’t  remember what it said, but it sounded good!), and Shepherds Pie. I was pleased/relieved,
as I now had other options, away from the main menu, which was something I had  assumed would happen that evening.

The wine available could be ordered by the glass, a carafe or by the bottle, the prices were varied, the average bottle hitting the £35 mark, which was higher than I expected for the area and the evening. In the end we opted for a bottle of white around £25, a dry sauvignon. When our white wine arrived there was no wine cooler that came with this, which I consider unusual for a bottle of white for a restaurant meal. Our bread and butter was served in a silver lattice bowl, but there were no side plates or butter knife, (my other  half wasn’t that impressed at this), I put it down to its rustic theme, but over the evening I wasn’t entirely convinced what their theme was.

As our wine arrived another waitress marched up to the specials board at 20.10 and drew a line through the Linguini and the Turbot. I was mortified, I was back to the pasta option or fish and chips round two. How can a restaurant that runs a service from 6pm-10pm run out of two of their specials by 8pm? Surely they had known how busy a Thursday night would be?

I opted for a starter as  well, so as to vary my evenings’ food. The starters were great for vegetarians and pescetarians, the only meaty item in the starters was the house terrine, what a contrast!! I went for the beetroot shallot and caper salad, it was a hard choice as there was plenty that looked great, including Sardines and Mussels Mariniere!

Between our table and the kitchen viewing area was a table, which looked like it was supposed to have been in the kitchen, my point was proved too quickly. It was piled with many Colmans mustard tins, grey cutlery trays and napkins. While waiting for my starter we had to endure cutlery drying in the loudest fashion possible, the clattering of the items being slammed into the grey trays, cut through our conversation and made our ears ring, not the most relaxing environment to eat and talk in. Clearly the lady who’d been tasked to dry the cutlery from the kitchen, was not in a good mood, and thought that we should all know about it in one way or another. Thankfully her mood didn’t continue for our entire evening but it was enough to irritate both of us before  receiving our dinner.

My salad starter was good; there was a lot of beetroot, as well as a good dose of horseradish in among the salad leaves, as you can imagine this gave a nice kick to the dish. The plate could have been a smidge bigger as the beetroot chunks were huge, but I was pleased that the evening was picking up. The plate was cleared with my cutlery, which was replaced with a new set, starter cutlery was not available.

Our mains arrived not too long after our starter. My pasta dish was in a nice round pasta dish, very Jamie Oliver style, so good marks for presentation, even if I wasn’t that excited by my choice of meal. The pasta was well cooked and you could taste the sage in the butter, but apart from that it was fairly bland, in my opinion it was alright for a pasta dish for a hungry girl, but I tend to enjoy strong flavours and spices so it wasn’t up there for me.

My other half had ordered the Hereford sirloin steak, chips and béarnaise sauce at £22 he was certainly looking forward to it. The chips and steak arrived on a small oval plate, nothing like my Jamie Oliver style plate. I didn’t expect the crockery to be mismatched, again maybe this was character? but either way it didn’t look quite right for steak and chips. I think image counts for a lot with food and this wasn’t a great image. The steak was an average size and the chips were plentiful, usually you expect the steak to take over the plate, with a small amount of chips, don’t you? The sauce was this dishes biggest downside, it was all over the steak and it didn’t taste right. There was a coconut flavour to it, which although may not have been coconut, we couldn’t think what else it was. Once scraped off from the steak, my other half described it as ‘alright’, a shame for a birthday meal I thought.

All in all it wasn’t the best night I’ve had in Oxford for eating out. From a vegetarian/pescetarian view point I had learnt from previous visits that choice might be thin on the ground. The starters had a good selection that evening for me and it would be good if they could have offered some of the starters as mains, with a higher price tag than the starters.

From a meat eating view point it had been hoped and expected, from previous visits and comments, to be a good night with good food, but on that Thursday it just didn’t happen.  Maybe we just picked a ‘bad night’ and it was due to a staff shortage somewhere along the line, or another reason.

For now it’s left a bad taste.  I’ll look to go again when I hear some more positive comments from others in the future. I’m sure that it’s not all bad, after all I have been before. But if a few key changes were made, then the evening could have been very different.

Salmon en croute – new year to picnic

Salmon en croute with currants and ginger – Rick Stein

I made this last New Year which was great hot or cold and a great alternative after too much turkey or nut roast.

This time though I made this great dish for a family and friends’ picnic on the last bank holiday Monday. The group included 3 children and 16 Adults of all ages and taste preferences. I was unsure whether or not to risk the recipe as the flavours might not have been to everyone’s liking, but I decided to go for it. And I’m pleased to say it worked. So much so that there was none to take home for the following days lunch!

On Sunday morning I prepared the dish, so it was ready to lift the next day.

I bought my fish from Oxford’s Covered Market Haymans Fisheries, they had a whole fillet of salmon which weighed the
total amount needed.

As I was in a hurry on the Saturday of purchase I forgot to ask them to skin it, something they would have happily done! It was now left for my masterful other half to do this job, a task that was not easy, bearing in mind the weight that we were dealing with. It was done
with success, thankfully!

I halved the salmon and followed the recipe as written below. All the ingredients were easy to source you simply need a good fishmonger and a
supermarket!

The Recipe:

2 x 550g skinned salmon filet, taken from behind the gut cavity of a 3-4 kg fish
100g unsalted softened butter
4 pieces of stem ginger in syrup – well drained and finely diced
25g currants
1/2 tsp ground mace
750g chilled puff pastry
1 egg, beaten, to glaze
Salt and ground pepper
-Season the salmon fillet well with salt. Mix the softened butter with the stem ginger, currants, mace, ½ tsp of salt and black pepper. Spread the inner face of one salmon fillet evenly with the butter mixture and then lay the second fillet on top.

-Cut the pastry in half and roll one piece on a lightly floured surface into a rectangle about 4cm/1½in bigger than the salmon all the way around – approximately 18 x 33cm/7 x 13in. Roll the second piece out into a rectangle 5cm/2in larger than the first one all the way round.

– Lay the smaller rectangle of pastry on a well-floured baking sheet and place the salmon in the centre. Brush a wide band of beaten egg around the salmon and lay the second piece of pastry on top, taking care not to stretch it. Press the pastry tightly around the outside of the salmon, trying to ensure that you have not trapped in too much air, and then press the edges together well. Trim the edges of the pastry neatly to leave a 2.5cm/1 in band all the way around. Brush this once more with egg. Mark the edge with a fork and decorate the top with a fish scale effect by pressing an upturned teaspoon gently into the pastry, working in rows down the length of the parcel.

-Chill for at least an hour.

Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas6 and put a large baking sheet in it to heat up.

Remove the salmon en croute from the fridge and brush it all over with beaten egg. Take the hot baking sheet out of the oven and carefully slide the salmon parcel onto it. Return it to the oven and bake for 35-40 minutes. Leave it to rest for 5 minutes.

Transfer the salmon to a warmed serving plate and take it to the table whole. Cut it across into slices to serve.

Book – Rick Stein’s Seafood, published 2001, page 140, Salmon en croute with currants and ginger

(Designed with a spoon!)

My thoughts:

Cons
I would suggest not using all of the pastry, simply put don’t go all the way around. Just use enough pastry to go on top of the fish (as a lid!).  I found at New Year this was good as a decorative feature and less filling. Removing the lid allows the pastry to be an option for your guests/party, to eat as much or as little as they wish.

Pros
It can be had hot or cold, and for the masses! I pre-made this for the bank holiday and then couriered it to its final destination with no hassle. I just needed a large enough container, being a roasting tray in my case!