Not enough time

One of the nice things about Aldi is also one of the annoying things about Aldi.

Each week they have new stuff, alas they only get limited stock in for that week and once it is sold they don’t get any more stock in.

This means that you can find something you really like, but you generally won’t be able to buy it again.

I recently managed to make some tasty raspberry and white chocolate cookies using a pack of raspberry and white chocolate from Aldi. This was one of their one week stock, as a result I am not able to replace the pack I finished.

A couple of weeks ago they had venison steaks for sale, I bought a pack and cooked them for dinner and they were some of the best venison steaks I have ever had. I cooked them in a frying pan in butter with garlic and herbs.

venison steak

The end result was tasty, delicious and really tender meat.  To go with it I made a sauce with pancetta, mushrooms and port. I really enjoyed and cooking the venison steaks.

However I wasn’t surprised when I went back to Aldi they no longer had any and weren’t selling it any more.

This week though they were selling venison fillet. I bought a pack and cooked it in a similar way. It was very nice, but was not as good as the steaks.

Next week, well there could be anything there…

Pie and Mash

Pie and mash

In all this cold weather there is something very comforting about pie and mash. Very much a comfort food, it’s not something I actually eat very often.

A chance discovery in the Oxford Covered Market introduced me to the delights of the Pie Minister. I am sure that it is supposed to be pronounced MIN-IS-TER, for some reason I have in my head it should be pronounced MINS-TER as in York Minster. I just think Pie Minster sounds much better than Pie Minister. It’s a lovely little place in the market and despite the fact it is called a market, this is not a stall, it’s a small restaurant (well probably more like a cafe) in the heart of the market. The Oxford Covered Market is a lovely quirky place in the heart of Oxford with lots of lovely stalls, shops and places to eat. If you ever visit Oxford then do visit the market.

Pie Minster on first appearances, feels more like a wartime soup kitchen, than a restaurant, there is a counter where you place your order. You can take away or eat in. If you want to, you can buy the pies to take away. Within Pie Minister there are communal benches with tables, that have a variety of sauces on them, as well as bottles of tap water and glasses. There are also bar stools by the window with space to eat.

Pie Minister offers a range of pies with a wide variety of fillings. From the traditional steak and kidney or as they call it Kate and Sidney, through to vegetarian pies such the Wild Shroom, with wild mushrooms, asparagus, white wine & cream.

On my first visit I went with the Deerstalker Pie, with British venison and outdoor reared dry cured bacon with red wine and puy lentils. This I had served on a bed of mash with gravy. You can add more trimmings, but I decided to stick with just pie, mash and gravy. It was quite reasonable at £6.00.

This was served on a tin plate, which added to that atmosphere of a wartime soup kitchen. The pie was really really good. Often when you have pie, it is either a small stew with a puff pastry lid (that is often cooked separately), or it’s a huge pie which you cut into find it’s full of space and there is a small amount of filling at the bottom. No the pie at Pie Minister was full of delicious filling full of flavour, the pastry had a good crunch. The mash was smooth and well seasoned and the gravy was not too thick and not too thin. It added to the dish and did not overpower it, it tasted as gravy should and didn’t appear to be made from a gravy packet.

I really did enjoy the pie and would certainly recommend Pie Minister. There are a fair few branches across the south and they also have a market stall that visits those farmers’ markets that are now a regular feature of most high streets.

French Style

Last year when visiting Nottingham for an event, myself and David Sugden, had a meal at French Living, as you might expect a French themed restaurant.

Not knowing a city means that you are either dependent on recommendations from friends there, going to a chain (with the usual potential of disappointment) or taking a chance (with an equal chance of disappointment).

Usually what I would do in these situations is roam the streets for a while looking at various places and seeing what was available. Sometimes this is successful, and sometimes it is downright a nightmare. I did this once in Preston and had a really nice meal, did it in London and had an Italian nightmare of a meal!

So I did something that I hadn’t done before (which surprised even me) and searched the internet for restaurants. I have used the internet to find restaurants (that I know of, or people recommended) but this was the first time I searched for suitable restaurants. I arrived at a selection, and I read and checked the reviews to see what other people thought.

I am slightly wary of reviews (and to be honest personal recommendations) as people’s perceptions of what makes a good restaurant vary so much. Some people will recommend (or not) a place on the quality of the food, others on the quantity of food, some on the ambiance, some even on the availability of car parking or a child’s play area! I remember someone recommending a place, purely on the basis that they gave you so much food you couldn’t eat it all, fair enough if you’re very hungry and don’t worry that much about what you eat I guess. A lot depends I guess on why you go out to eat. The context is also quite important, a quiet dinner for two is one thing, a group of you eating ramen and noodles at Wagamamas is something else. So as you might expect I was slightly sceptical of anything I read.

Having read a fair few reviews, I compiled a list on which French Living was one of a few choices. Why did we end up in French Living, well the main reason was that it was the first place on my list we found…

I think I have a good sense of direction and spatial awareness, so know where I am and where to find places. The reality is in fact very different, and if I choose not to accept that, then that is not just a problem for me, but also for people who believe me when I say that I do know where I am and where I am going. Arriving in Nottingham City Centre, I thought I knew where to go and park, it’s not as though I hadn’t been before, but in the end had no idea really where the centre was, where best to park and what was it with all those buses and taxis? In the end I did end up in a car park, no idea where it was and if I would be able to get back in again to collect my car.

So of we walked to find a place to eat, and as it happens the first place we found on my list was French Living. For future reference it’s at 27 King St, Nottingham, NG1 2AY. It certainly looked the part and reminded me of many of the (real) French places I had eaten at when I was younger.

Looking over the menu, there was quite a wide choice, though for me there were some good choices on the fixed price Menu Gastronomique so I went with that. With four choices per course, you might have thought it was limited, well even on the main menu there were only ten choices of main courses in all.

For my starter I chose Moules au Vin Blanc.

Moules au Vin Blanc

This was a bowl of whole fresh mussels steamed in shallot, garlic, parsley and cream broth. I do like moule, but rarely have them when I go out to eat as more often than not, they are pre-cooked and then reheated in the microwave, you know the kind that are easily purchased in the supermarket. It’s not as I don’t like that, to be honest I do have them now and again from the supermarket, it’s much more if I am going out to eat then I want freshly cooked food, not reheated food. Too often I find these days many places are just reheating food from a central supplier, rather than cooking it fresh themselves. These did taste as though they were freshly cooked, and from the look of the shells, they looked like it too. The broth was nice and I did enjoy dunking the bread in. As with any seafood broth it was quite salty, but not excessively so.

For my main course I had considered the Cassoulet de Castelnaudary, but wasn’t sure, so in the end I went with Chevreuil aux Myrtilles, medallions of wild Scottish venison cooked rare with red wine and blueberry sauce – gratin dauphinois and vegetable garnish.

Chevreuil aux Myrtilles

Well this was a wonderful dish, full of different flavours, the sauce contrasting well with the full flavour of the venison. I was pleased with the venison which, though having lots of flavour, wasn’t overstrong or overpowering. It was very tender and there was a good sized portion too. I did enjoy the gratin dauphinois which makes a nice difference to chips or pomme frites. Overall a really nice dish.

If you know me, or have read the blog, you will realise, given the choice instead of choosing a sweet desert I much prefer cheese. So it was no surprise for my “desert” I went with Assiette de Fromages, a selection of three unpasteurised French cheeses served with bread and mixed salad leaves.

Assiette de Fromages

I was less impressed with this course, I felt a little short changed on the cheese and would have liked to have a little more. Having said that it was very nice cheese.

Overall it was a really good meal, and the reviews I had read online were reasonably accurate and authentic. If I ever found myself in Nottingham again and I could find it, I would certainly go again.

Christmas Dinner

Well we had a really nice Christmas Dinner. We had roast chicken, roast saddle of venison and a boned and stuffed roast duck.

The chicken was a free range corn fed bird which I stuffed with a homemade herb and sausage meat stuffing.  I also added butter under the skin to keep the breast meat moist. The venison I wrapped in pancetta and simply roasted on a bed of chopped veg. The duck was purchased from Sainsburys and was boned and stuffed with an apricot stuffing.

All were delicious.

I served the meats with roast potatoes, roast parsnips (which were coated in an olive oil and honey), steamed vegetables, a variety of additional stuffings, chipolatas and yorkshire puddings.

No Christmas Four Bird Roast

Well my plan for a Christmas Four Bird Roast was scuppered this year. I had intended to order one from Marks and Spencers which consisted of Turkey, Goose, Duck, Chicken.

Marks and Spencers Four Bird Roast

However when I went to order it was apparent that many others had had the same idea and it had sold out! I am guessing that a) a lot of people were like me and liked the concept b) the Marks and Spencers version was good value for money at £100. There was no way you could even do it yourself for £100. Waitrose’s version was £120 and only consisted of a three bird roast.

So instead…

We’re going to have (separately) chicken, duck and venison.

Christmas Dinner

The dinner I cooked this Christmas was very nice and went down well.

We had stuffed haunch of venison which was lovely and tender and full of flavour.

Served with potatoes roasted in goose fat, roasted parsnips and sweet potatoes. Along with stuffings, carrots, beans, and other trimmings.