Friday, 13 January 2017

Sal's Kitchen: Favourite Recipes of 2016

You may not know this, dear reader, but I’m not a professional food blogger in the usual sense, because I’m not working on making money out of this blog. I love writing it, but making it into a dazzling success is not my main goal, because what I do for my day job is try and turn other people’s blogs into dazzling successes. This is what Sal’s Kitchen does, as a blogging consultancy – I write blogs for independent companies, to help them promote what they do, and I specialise in working with foodie companies and developing recipes to show off their produce.

This year, that’s meant that I’ve been creating less recipes for this blog, as things got really busy with my blogging consultancy – so what I thought I’d do is round up my favourite recipes I’ve developed for clients (in no particular order), so you can still get your Sal’s Kitchen recipe fix. All the companies mentioned  below are independent and create or sell fabulously delicious things – I don’t work with anyone whose products I don’t like – so please do check them out. And if you’re looking for recipes or foodie content for your own website, use the contact form on the left to say hello!

This is truly one of my absolute favourites. I never publish a recipe that I’m not completely happy with, but only some of them go on to crop up again and again on our dinner table. I’ve made this fabulously rich, slow-cooked lamb ragu many times since and it’s become a bit of a go-to for dinner parties, as it’s so easy to prepare in advance. Novel Wines, a local company that imports interesting wines from all over the world, commissioned me to create a series of recipes to complement different wines, and this is one I came up with for them – see below for another.

Sugar & Crumbs produces icing sugar in a huge range of exciting flavours, and I’ve loved working with them because it’s pushed me to become a much better baker. One afternoon, while I was decorating butterfly buns with my nephew, it occurred to me that you only ever really get them at kids’ parties – so I decided to make some butterfly buns for grown-ups, and I was delighted with how pretty they looked. I used Sugar & Crumbs’ range of beautiful flower-shaped icing nozzles, which I’d also really recommend, to create the roses.

How could I do a round-up of 2016 recipes and not include avo toast? This recipe was everywhere this year, so here’s my take on it – another firm favourite of mine that I now often have for breakfast. I wasn’t sure whether the combination of egg and avocado would work but it does – both have a richness and a creaminess that feels really indulgent, even though it’s actually pretty healthy. Fresh coriander and a dollop of In A Pickle’s fabulous Sweet Chilli Jam complete the whole thing.

I had to include this cake, because I took it to dinner at a friend’s house and the reaction was huge. Using courgette in the sponge makes it beautifully moist and light, while the combination of rich, dark chocolate ganache, lime zest and fresh pistachios is a match made in heaven. If you’ve never made a cake with vegetables before, then you might be put off, but honestly, you’ve got to give this one a go.

La Saucy Salsa: Paella

Like the lamb ragu above, this is another client recipe that’s become a regular favourite in our household. Rosie at La Saucy Salsa often asks for vegetarian and vegan recipes, which is a really fun challenge for me – and her salsas, inspired by the cuisine of Andalucia, are so full of flavour that it’s easy to make something tasty. This twist on the classic paella is full of delicious sweet peppers, fresh parsley and lemon, and is completely vegan, but you can top it with crispy slices of halloumi if you’re catering for vegetarians. Rosie commissions recipes from me for Facebook, so this one might be a bit harder to track down, but you can find her Facebook page here.

I did manage to get round to a couple of recipes for my own blog last year, and this is my favourite, made all the way back in February. With Valentine’s Day approaching once more, I thought it was time to dust it off again! The rose petal syrup is really easy to make and fabulous for all sorts of cocktails – or just stir it through chilled champagne. It looks so gorgeous you’re bound to make an impression.

There are very few foods I don’t like these days, but Christmas cake is one of them – so this was my alternative Christmas cake suggestion, created once again for Sugar & Crumbs. The black treacle cake is very dark and slightly bitter, so it’s the perfect foil for sweet buttercream icing, made with Sugar & Crumbs Crème Brulee Icing Sugar. For the finishing touch, I used sugar glass shards to create the crown on top. This photo got a great reaction on my Instagram profile (which you can check out here) and I was really proud of the whole recipe.

I love a bit of comfort food, and while sometimes that means packing in as much beige and as many calories as possible (no judgement here), it can also be comforting to tuck into something delicious that you know is pretty good for you too. For me, that's where a really good noodle bowl comes in. I created this recipe for Novel Wines and it's become one of my favourite quick lunches.

Great Little Baking Company: Iced Tea Mojito

Another really fun challenge – the Great Little Baking Company asked for a series of recipes for their blog, but as the site is a marketplace for brilliant commission bakers, I didn’t want to be encouraging readers to make their own cakes instead! So I came up with the idea of party-friendly recipes to accompany the cakes – from outlandish milkshakes to creative cocktails. This is my favourite, an incredibly refreshing combination of iced tea and mojito. I'll be honest with you, for some reason it's not currently available online, but I'm hoping to be able to add a link to it soon!

And finally – a post I’m really proud of for different reasons. The past two years, my husband and I have taken part in the Live BelowThe Line challenge, where you spend five days living on just £1 a day each for all your food and drink. It’s no understatement to say that the first time we did this, it blew my mind. It’s made me far more aware of and grateful for what I have, and determined to do more to help those going hungry – who are often a lot closer to home than we might imagine. This is one of the recipes I came up with for the 2016 challenge, and you can find other recipes, plus my daily diaries, here. We’ll be living below the line again this year and if you can, I’d really encourage you to try this life-changing experience – keep an eye out for more on this topic from me, including shopping lists and recipes, if you’d like to try it with us.

Phew, that was a long post! If you’re still with me at this stage, I’d like to say a huge thank you to all my lovely supportive readers, and to all my clients for their support and inspiration. This year I’m determined to create more recipes for Sal’s Kitchen, but I’ll also be developing loads of recipes for other sites, so keep an eye out for both! Have you tried any of my recipes? Have you got a favourite? I’d love to hear about it – leave me a comment below.

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Restaurant Review: The Handmade Burger Company

Just look at that melted cheese...

Bath is a bit light on burger restaurants – I absolutely love Schwarz Bros but it is a takeaway (albeit a damn fine one), and Gourmet Burger Kitchen is usually a bit disappointing, to be quite honest. So I was excited to see that the Handmade Burger Company was opening on Upper Borough Walls, with an express mission to serve Bath food that’s ‘fresh, natural, made here.’  In the ten years since it launched, the Handmade Burger Company has grown into quite a big chain, but they still take pride in good fresh ingredients and make everything onsite, so that’s a good start as far as I’m concerned. 

When it comes to the menu, there’s absolutely loads of choice – over 40 options, according to our waiter – and lots of nice touches, including smaller burgers for the less ravenous and a completely separate gluten free menu. The only drawback is that it’s almost impossible to choose! There’s not really a starter/main divide on the menu, but to begin we picked some BBQ chicken wings to share, which were gloriously sticky and messy to eat (exactly as they should be).

Fabulously messy

For the main event, I toyed briefly with the idea of the Peanut Butter & Bacon Burger (I think that could only go two ways – it would either be unbelievably incredible, or unbelievably wrong), but eventually chose Jimmy’s Beef, Brie & Bacon – as well as a massive range of their own Aberdeenshire beef burgers, the Handmade Burger Co also offers a selection of burgers from Jimmy’s Farm. The burger itself was fabulously juicy with loads of oozing melted brie on top – yum. My dining companion picked from the vegetarian menu (which is unusually generous, always nice to see plenty of meat-free options), going for a Veg-Mex burger with a veggie patty, avocado and jalapeños which she polished off too quickly for me to take a bite – so I’m going to take that as a glowing review. 

The burgers don’t come with any sides, which I have to admit I thought was a little stingy, considering most of them are between £8 and £10, but the sides on offer are fantastic so perhaps they’re worth paying extra for. I’d especially recommend the Denver fries – a bowl of thick cut chips piled high with luscious pulled pork, melted cheese and BBQ sauce. Absolutely not to be missed. 

Once you’ve tucked into all of that, I think chances are pretty good you won’t have any room for dessert, which may be why the dessert menu here is quite short, but if you do need something sweet, you can order a sundae or a milkshake. I’d recommend the milkshakes, which are great, while the sundaes are pretty standard. To be honest though, this place is not about dessert, so I’m happy to forgive that – focus on your main course and you won’t be disappointed. 

As well as great burgers, the chaps at HBC can also promise great service – our waiter had plenty of recommendations and stood up to our questioning about ingredients – and I’ve also been impressed to see that they’re making an effort to get involved with the local community. The initial soft launch for the Handmade Burger Company raised money for local charity the Forever Friends Appeal, at Bath’s Royal United Hospital, and I was delighted to spot local brewery Electric Bear popping up on the drinks menu. Keep up the good work chaps. 


Friday, 9 December 2016

Review: The Bath Cook Book

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it, but I love Bath. I didn’t grow up here, which I think is why I never take it for granted and never stop appreciating how awesome it is. One of my favourite things about the place (and there are a huge number) is that it’s absolutely packed with fabulous foodie culture. Not only are there loads of brilliant restaurants and shops, but Bath and the surrounding area are also full of clever creative people making all sorts of delicious produce. It means the city is always buzzing with something new and exciting, and there’s a huge appreciation here for food and for independent business.

The Bath Cook Book is a glorious celebration of all of the above. Produced by Meze Publishing, who have created books for several other cities (and picked up Best Newcomer at the Independent Publishing Awards in 2016, no less), it’s a sort of foodie bible for the area, featuring restaurants, cafes, shops and producers, as well as recipes from each of them. Full disclosure, each business has paid to be included, and I was worried before I read it that this would make the book feel like a big advertorial – but to be completely honest, I think it really works.

Each featured foodie has their own two or four page spread, to talk about their backstory, their inspiration or whatever else they fancy, and they’re an interesting bunch. Beth, aka the Free Range Chef, talks about how saying yes to any cheffing engagement that comes her way has taught her to embrace adventure and opportunity, while the family behind New MacDonalds Farm describe their mission to educate their customers about animal welfare and how it makes for better food. Kettlesmith Brewing Company are all about getting foodies to take beer as seriously as wine, while my old chum Helen at Taste of Bath is passionate about rounding up Bath’s best produce all in one place, to fill her fabulous hampers – in fact, several of her carefully chosen producers pop up in the Bath Cook Book, including Honey & Daughter, a great Somerset cider company who also make my favourite thirst quencher, a traditional mix of cider and ginger beer called Stoney Bonk, the Bath Gin Company and In A Pickle (the clue to both of those is in the name).

As well as the origin stories behind Bath’s culinary superheroes, the book is also full of titbits of local history and foodie folklore, making it a brilliant coffee table tome for dipping in and out of. And you don’t get short-changed on the recipes either. I’ve already bookmarked several that I fancy having a go at – including The Beaufort’s gorgeously colourful monkfish and octopus curry (above), and The Bath Cake Company’s maple and pecan chocolate cake (below) - although I’ve also picked out several new restaurants to try when I don’t feel like cooking…

The quality of the book is lovely too, with a beautiful design and lots of gorgeous photos that show off not just the food but Bath itself. And there are some really thoughtful additions – I particularly like the section at the back by local company Novel Wines, suggesting a wine to accompany each different recipe. All in all, this is a lovely little package that I’m happy to recommend – you can get it directly from Meze Publishing, or you can buy it from the featured producers themselves, which is a great touch.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Restaurant Review: The Garrick's Head

Tis the season to eat heartily – cosy winter food is everywhere and I love it. And when you’re looking for a great meal on a frosty evening, it’s hard to beat a really good pub like The Garrick’s Head. You can choose between the bar, which has a lovely buzzing atmosphere and a menu of great classics (the fish & chips in particular are a bit legendary at the Garrick) and the restaurant, which is a little more intimate and romantic, with soft candlelight and a fabulous set menu, which offers 3 courses for just £20.95.

Roasted bone marrow with black garlic puree
On the evening we visited, the weather was horrendous, so we were more than ready for a bit of cheering up. We started with large glasses of red wine – the wine list here is great – I chose a lovely warming, spicy Malbec while my dining companion went for a mellow Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. To start, I ordered roasted bone marrow with black garlic puree and Bertinet rye dough (above) – classic winter food to keep you going through hell or high water. The flavours were wonderful, especially the black garlic, but I have to say I think my dining companion made the best choice here – the leek and artichoke tart was gorgeously rich with plenty of cheese (even if he would only let me have one bite).

The Garrick is happy for you to mix and match the set menu and bar menu in the restaurant, so for our main course, my companion went for the classic burger with cheese and homemade slaw. He’s a bit of a burger aficionado and happily pronounced this one of the best burgers in Bath – no mean feat. Meanwhile, I stuck with the set menu and ordered ham hock with champ (that’s mashed potato with spring onions, by the way), parsley sauce and a crispy hen’s egg. It was exactly what I wanted on such a cold and miserable evening – rich, filling, and full of great flavour, like ham, egg & chips dressed up to the nines.

Banana sticky toffee pudding
We were both too full to eat a whole dessert, but couldn’t resist trying the pudding menu, so we shared a banana sticky toffee pudding with lemon meringue ice cream, which was wonderful – a fabulous twist on a classic.

Overall, I loved the set menu and would definitely recommend it, but I also can’t wait to go back and try more of the bar menu – everything looked so good it was nigh on impossible to choose. On top of that, the atmosphere was wonderful and the service was particularly excellent – the Garrick is definitely going to become one of our regular favourites. 

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Chez Dominique

Chez Dominique has only been open a short while, and although I’d already ogled their menu on Twitter I hadn’t gotten around to checking it out in person – so when my good chum Helen (check out her deeply fabulous foodie hampers on the Taste of Bath website) told me we simply had to go there for lunch, I didn’t need much persuading. Chez Dominique is a lovely little French restaurant at the quiet end of Argyle St, across Pulteney Bridge. The décor is simple and elegant, with clean colours and lots of light, and the menu is short and sweet. It reminded me exactly of all my favourite lunch spots when I lived in Paris – family-run, a chef confident enough in his choices not to need a huge menu across which to hedge his bets, prix fixe at a seriously reasonable price, good service and great wine.

To start, I went for Cornish mussels, with cider and Ventreche bacon. I’m not always a huge fan of mussels, but I knew these would be fabulous and they were. The smoky richness of the bacon was the perfect addition, whilst I gladly soaked up the broth with fresh bread and demi-sel butter (oh, how I miss demi-sel butter). My dining companion, meanwhile, chose devilled lambs’ kidneys on toast, which she pronounced very good indeed. To wash it all down, we asked the waiter for his own wine recommendation, and he brought us chilled glasses of Viognier Cuvée du Brieu 2015, which made me think of apples and vanilla – lovely.

For our main, we both chose an onglet steak marinated with rosemary and thyme, served with a dressed salad, frites and Roquefort butter. Few things make me as happy as a really good steak frites – it’s comfort food with a bit of class – and this was really good. Served blue to make the most of this wonderfully tender cut, it was melt in the mouth and fabulous with the Roquefort butter. The chips were also fantastic – you might be tempted to think chips are easy, but it’s amazing how often they’re really quite bad.

I was feeling a little too full for dessert but couldn’t resist a spoonful of Helen’s (she said I could, honest) – a beautiful chocolate hazelnut mousse that was dark and rich instead of sweet, and served with a lovely flourish.

The prix fixe menu at Chez Dominique changes regularly, so you might not come across these exact dishes, but it always looks extremely tempting to me. As you would find in France, it’s extremely reasonable - two courses will cost you £13, while three courses is just £16, which is an amazing deal, particularly when you consider that you can also get it for an early dinner in the evening between 5.30 and 6.30pm. You can also check out the regular a la carte menu on the Chez Dominique website here. I have absolutely no hesitation saying I’ll be going back – everything was perfect, a proper little piece of Paris in the middle of Bath.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Restaurant Review: Thaikun

If you’ve strolled through Southgate recently, you’ll have noticed that exciting things are afoot - where there used to be a rather gloomy corridor, the space has now been transformed into two large units for new restaurants. One of these is Thaikun, unsurprisingly a Thai restaurant, which particularly celebrates the legendary street food of Bangkok.

I’ll freely admit I am a complete novice when it comes to the finer details of Thai cuisine, but what I’ve tried so far I love, and I always get excited about trying new places – so when the invite came through to Thaikun’s soft launch, I was happy to say yes. On first entrance, I have to say the effect is fantastic – a huge amount of effort has been put into giving this space serious atmosphere. As you enter, you’re greeted by a shrine with a golden statue of Buddha, decorated with fresh flowers and hung with bells. Throughout, the restaurant is packed with interesting artefacts of all kinds, in a rainbow of colours: painted paper parasols, old tin street signs, bright loops of neon, bicycle wheels, mismatched lampshades, enamelled pots, cans with indecipherable labels – all crammed into haphazard shelves or dangling from the ceiling amongst the exposed ducts and pipes. It’s like a fabulous junk shop, the sort of place in a story where our heroes would unearth a magical trinket, but find its immense powers a double-edged sword.

Eschewing grand adventures for the time being, we opted to settle at our table and peruse the cocktail menu instead. I ordered a coconut mojito, which is not something I’ve come across before – I was worried it might be too sweet but it was fabulous. To start, unable to narrow it down to just one dish, we ordered a Bangkok street platter (left), which was piled high with chicken satay, prawn toast, pork & prawn dumplings and red-curried corn cakes. I have to say that I enjoyed absolutely everything and would definitely order this again – it’s hard to pick a favourite but I think the pork & prawn dumplings might just have edged it.

For the main course, I chose barbecue pork belly, served with rice and soy sauce, while my dining companion went for sea bass baked in a banana leaf. My dish was tasty but not especially exciting in terms of flavour, so I think my companion made the better choice – the fish was beautifully tender and juicy, and really flavoursome. For dessert, I picked a sticky date pudding with sake ice cream (the pudding was yummy but the sake ice cream stole the show for me – highly recommended) and my companion went for a lovely chocolate & almond tart (below  one of several gluten-free dessert options).

All in all, I think the starter was probably the stand out dish for me – the platter was fantastic, full of flavour and really good value for two people – while the other dishes weren’t quite as exciting. However, it was really hard to choose from the menu so I shall definitely be going again to try a few other dishes that caught my eye. Thaikun also gives you the option of trying several different dishes in a traditional pinto, a set of stacking boxes a bit like a Japanese bento or Indian tiffin used by workers for their lunch, which I think is a really nice idea if you’re not sure what to choose or haven’t tried Thai before. The staff were friendly and very efficient, the atmosphere was buzzing and the prices were very reasonable, so I think this will make a great addition to Southgate’s restaurant scene. 

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Restaurant Review: Combe Grove

One of Combe Grove's private dining rooms
Regular readers will know that I never turn down an invitation from Bath’s independent restaurant gurus, The Pig Guide – so when I received an email a few weeks ago inviting me to try the autumn tasting menu at Combe Grove Hotel, I said yes even though I knew nothing about it. It turns out that this hotel, although once a rather smart & fashionable place, has spent recent years being passed around various unimaginative hotel chains, which accounts for why I’d never heard much about it. Recently though, it was rescued by some new, independent owners – and they’ve got serious plans for restoring its former glory.

Combe Grove is perched on top of Bath’s Brassknocker Hill, with 70 acres of gardens and woodland spread about it. The views are quite literally breath-taking - strolling through reception, we were all irresistibly drawn to a wide doorway, flung open to let in the night air, beyond which the gardens tumbled vertiginously into the glorious Limpley Stoke valley. The new owners of Combe Grove pride themselves on an exceptional collection of artworks, which are displayed throughout the hotel, but I must confess that I completely lost my heart to this view, like a living, breathing landscape hung on the wall.

With such a setting, the interior of the hotel has a lot to live up to, but Managing Director Rebecca Whittington is throwing herself into the task with all sorts of beautiful touches, from hand-painted ceilings to antique fittings and fixtures. We were shown into a gorgeous private dining room set for fourteen, softly lit by the most stunning lamps which Rebecca told us formerly graced the iconic Liverpool Central Library, built in 1860 and now Grade II listed. The décor was rich, gloomy and deeply stylish, from the beautiful gold and turquoise wallpaper on one wall, to the table set with painted candlesticks and ochre glassware. Full of anticipation, we sat down for a six course menu from award-winning chef Leigh Evans, paired with cocktails from expert bartender Shane.

We started with a cured tuna tartar, served with watermelon, cucumber, radish and wasabi, and washed down with a frozen shot of Jinzu, a spectacular new gin created in Bristol. The flavours were fantastically fresh and zingy, perfect to wake up the tastebuds, and although I wouldn’t normally drink gin neat (honest) it worked perfectly with this dish. Our second course was wood pigeon (left), with black pudding, granola and orange – I must confess I wasn’t so sure about this one, maybe because of the granola, although I did enjoy the accompanying Black Manhattan, made with bourbon and orange to really bring out the orange in the dish.

The third course, though, was probably my favourite one of all – stone bass, served with a BBQ chicken leg, sweetcorn, polenta and leeks (right). To be completely honest, it’s probably not something I would have ordered, but I loved it – the combination of the firm, juicy bass with the chicken was fabulous. I even loved the sweetcorn, which is not my favourite thing at all – I do love it when a chef makes me enjoy something I thought I didn’t like! To pair with this one, we had possibly the most unusual cocktail of the evening – the pepino fumar, or smoking cucumber, made with tequila, smoked ancho chilli liqueur and cucumber. It had a hell of a kick but it really worked with the dish.

Our fourth course was a lovely wintry recipe - venison haunch, with red cabbage and an incredible smoked garlic dauphinoise which frankly, I could have eaten a whole plate of. To wash it down, we had another really unusual cocktail made with beetroot, which was really delicious – I’d definitely order it at the bar – but in my opinion a little too sweet for the meal.

Doesn't this look like a
fabulous piece of modern art?
For our first of two dessert courses, we were served a gloriously tart and tangy passion fruit brulée with mango salsa (left), and my favourite cocktail of the evening, a basil daiquiri. My normal policy for a cocktail flight like this is to only drink half of each (and if you’ve ever tried to live tweet a meal after six different cocktails, you’ll know why) but I couldn’t resist polishing this one off.  Our final course was an iced parfait, with a blackberry & liquorice beignet and a tonka bean panna cotta, accompanied by cardamom lemonade. This was another really unusual idea that worked surprisingly well – I especially loved the beignet, and the parfait was gorgeously creamy.

Throughout the meal, I was so impressed by the creativity and originality displayed by both Leigh and Shane. There were some incredible flavour pairings and the presentation of all the dishes was stunning. I was also blown away by the setting, and chatting to Rebecca during the meal I was so excited by her plans for the future of the hotel. This is definitely one to watch.

To find out more about dining and staying at Combe Grove, visit their website here.