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Peppermint Patty Oreos

Oreos are the quintessiential American biscuit (or cookie), but since we Brits are fairly new to their ways and loyal to our impressive range of biscuits, we don’t usually get to experience the whole family of Oreo styles here such as Double Stuf or fudge covered without a plane ticket or friends coming over here. So imagine my glee when I discovered a recipe for homeamde Oreos and realised I could fulfil my yen for peppermint Oreos without increasing my carbon footprint or having go through airport security…
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The Three Fishes, Mitton

Last week was Mister North’s birthday and an excellent excuse for both of us to eat and drink in style all weekend. After an excellent, but late Saturday night out enjoying Korean food at Baekdu and sampling just a few of the excellent beers on offer at Port Street Beer House in Manchester, we were just ready for a good pub lunch preferably in a location gorgeous enough to do this fabulous weather justice. We didn’t take long to decide on The Three Fishes.

Tucked away in Mitton the Ribble Valley not far from Clitheroe and Whalley, this pub prides itself on serving good Lancashire food and drink in a beautiful location and sounded just right for an afternoon out. We decided to err on the side of caution and book a table even though it was a Monday lunchtime and were glad we had when we got stuck behind every driver in the valley out going at 30 miles a hour to drink in the sunny scenery. It also made for the most genuine welcome when we arrived at the pub 10 minutes than planned. Our waitress greeted us like service had been waiting for us and showed us to our table with enthusiasm. Combined with the pint of local Thwaites Wainwright we chose, it was a good start.

The menu is extensive and tempting and we both struggled to narrow our choices down, staring at other tables to see what they were ordering. The platters looked sensational and Mister North was very tempted by the seafood platter until we discovered they were out of the oh-so alluring sounding treacle cured salmon. This almost pleased me as it removed my dilemma and allowed me to go for the Morecambe Bay shrimp as a starter without too much dithering. The fact Mister North chose my other temptation with the baked whitebait, smoked pig’s jowl and a soft hen’s egg was fortituous too.

We didn’t have to wait long before our cheery waitress arrived with the starters, but they were good enough that I’d have waited a while for them. I was served what felt like a pint of shrimp, all glossy and glorious after being kissed by a wave of mace scented butter in their dish. I loved that the waitress brought me a spoon so even after devouring the English muffin, I wouldn’t miss a drop of that beautiful shrimpy butter. I barely noticed Mister North’s reactions as I supped my shrimp, but the morsel I sampled made me briefly envious. Soft sparkling fresh whitebait, unencumbered by batter, married beautifully with the smoky salty chewy pig’s jowl and reminded me again that pork and seafood together can barely be bettered and this was a particularly good example of it.

Excited for the mains after the great starters, I was glad there was a little bit of a pause while I recovered from my buttering up, but I was still thrilled to see my Pie Top with caramelised onions, braised ox cheek and kidneys arrive, especially when I realised it was accompanied by the same dripping cooked chips that made Mister North’s fancy scampi and squid in a basket sound so alluring, preventing us from reverting to childhood squabbling in public…

In fact there was silence at the table as we got stuck in. My ox cheek was properly unctuous, melting in the mouth after the merest prod of the fork. The disc of gleaming puff pastry soaked up some serious good gravy and the onions really added a sweet base note that made the dish. The kidneys though, weren’t as good as the ones I cooked recently, and were a tad powdery for my still offal sensitive tendencies. I’m not sure if it was the texture of the kidneys lingering, but I also found the chips a little bit claggy as if the dripping hadn’t quite been hot enough, but considering how light and lovely the batter on Mister North’s squid and scampi was, I think the issue might have been with me.

He dispatched his fritto misto and chips in record time, commenting several times on how fresh the seafood was and how light it seemed considering that it was all deep fried. I found my dish much heavier and struggled to finish the chips, but refused to waste even a drop of that gravy! We both wanted to sample the famed length of Lancashire Cheese, but were simply too full to even remotely do it justice. I’d have been tempted to go for a long walk so I could come back for it afterwards, but instead we decided to finish up rather than linger and be tempted to drink more at lunchtime. If we’d had more time, I’d have enjoyed sampling the rather good gin list, including the Chase Gin I’m keen to try, especially since it was sunny enough to sit out with a G&T.

We settled the bill and despite the fact Mister North was paying for his own birthday treat, he seemed to find it reasonable at under £50 for the two of us with a drink. Service was genuinely friendly and very easy. We neither felt rushed for coming almost as lunch ended or forced to sit on waiting around for things because they were clearing up. The whole dining room was pleasantly busy with a few other birthday lunches, kids and people enjoying themselves over a drink and I liked the atmosphere immensely. In a valley crammed with pubs and places to eat, there’s a reason that the Three Fishes is so popular. They’ve cracked gastropub food while keeping the pub vibe and welcoming everyone. It’s a local gem. I only wish it were more local to me…

Salt n’ sweet ice cream

Despite the legendary pronouncement as a child in a huff that I don’t like Italian gelato, I do like a decent ice cream once in a while and since Marine Ices is a right trek from my house and i haven’t made it to Gelupo yet, I have always fancied the notion of having an ice cream maker.

So when I discovered that John Lewis have a new model out for a mere £35 that comes well recommended by Which? I couldn’t resist. While waiting for it to arrive, I browsed several recipes for ice cream and compiled a list of ones to try. I also put out a batcall for other people’s favourites on Twitter and the hands down mentioned-a-million-times winner was this David Lebovitz recipe for salted caramel butter ice cream. Luckily my machine turned up sooner than expected and I had time to freeze the bowl for 24 hours prior to a friend coming for dinner during the week.

On the day, I rather tredipidiously making the recipe. Lizzie over at Hollow Legs found it tricky and since I’d spent the weekend burning sugar like it’s a superpower, I felt this might go off piste if I wasn’t careful. I decided to concentrate on the cooking carefully, so I don’t have any photos of the various stages, just the end product. The original recipe page has some though if you find that helpful.

I started off making the caramel brittle that would be used to add bite and intensity to the ice cream. This is basically sugar melted til golden brown and bubbling, infused with some Maldon sea salt and then spread out on a baking tray as thin as possible til hardened. It was surprisingly quick and easy, although since the sugar is hotter than the sun, you do need to pay attention while doing it.

Feeling positive that the first step had gone well, I started making the actual custard. More caramel was created in the same way as the brittle, but once bubbling, it come off the heat and has butter mixed in and then cream to make a gorgeous creamy toffee sauce. It was all going well, and I hoped that adding the egg yolks wouldn’t cause a problem. By following the advice to add some warm sauce to the yolks to heat them gently and then add that to the main body of the caramel sauce, preventing any tricky splitting or curdling. It then thickened very slightly and in no time I had the whole custard cooling in the fridge for three or so hours. Even if the ice cream was a disaster from here on in, I was pleased with my custard making powers!

Later on, once the custard was cooled and everything else for dinner was complete, I got the machine out and ready to go. It’s super simple to assemble and a few moments later, it was churning away with no real effort and only a low rumble of noise. I might not want to be in the same room as it while it does its thing, but if you had to you could without yelling or losing your mind. I gave it exactly 30 minutes to churn, adding the now shattered caramel brittle in five minutes before the end. Rich and icy, it looked gorgeous and would have have been lovely as it was with a sort of soft scoop finish. But as I wasn’t ready for it, I popped it in a covered bowl in the freezer for another two or so hours.

After all my nerves about the caramel, the custard and the machine, I was overjoyed to see that it had set beautifully. Just like real ice cream in fact! I left it to sit in the fridge for about five minutes to make it easier to scoop and reminded myself I must get a proper gadget for serving in the future. Because if all the ice cream I make is going to be as good as this, I’m going to be using the scoop a lot…

This was just heavenly. Very very creamy, decadently rich and utterly heavenly. The slight tang of salt stopped it being too sweet and the little nuggets of crunchy caramel both challenge and delight the tastebuds as you go. It went down well with my dinner guest and we both emptied our bowl quite quickly. It’s so rich though that much as we would have liked, we just couldn’t have managed another portion. It will keep well in the freezer and make a delightful treat after any meal (or before a meal or as evidenced at lunchtime today, instead of a meal.)

Don’t hesitate to try this very grown up ice cream, even if it means having to splash out on the ice cream maker first. You won’t regret it!

Yellowman meets yellow butter…

Having invited some friends to Sunday brunch, I wasn’t quite sure what to make. Combining two meals into one raises the stakes somewhat and a rubbery fried egg and some cold toast wouldn’t cut it. So I googled brunch ideas and the clear winner was this Bill Granger recipe for ricotta pancakes with honeycomb butter. Soft fluffy pancakes with sweet crunchy butter sounded just the ticket and offered the perfect opportunity to educate my English and American guests about proper yellowman instead of this honeycomb malarkey…

Yellowman is the Irish name for this aerated sugar creation you probably know as the middle of a Crunchie bar or possibly as cinder toffee. It is famed throughout Ireland and particularly associated in the North with the famous Auld Lammas Fair in Ballycastle around the end of August. Paper cones or pokes of yellowman were served at the fair, traditionally accompanied with the famous dulse or dried seaweed. Perhaps an Irish precursor of the salted caramel trend we all know and love now, I found this combo utterly revolting as a child. Dulse had the texture of shoe leather dipped in salt and I could never understand why people brought it back from Ballycastle for us. I already hadn’t been on holiday, why punish me further? I might feel differently these days though.

I loved yellow man though with its sticky rough crunchy feel and glorious sunny colour reminiscent of late summer sunshine and long weekends before school started again. Skipping the side dish of dulse and adding it into butter sounded like improving on something already pretty perfect. Filled with the warm glow of childhood memory and refined sugar, I decided I would live dangerously and make my own yellowman for this recipe as I remember people making it when I was a child and saying how easy it was.

Seeking Irish expertise, (and soundtracking the event with the tones of Jamaica’s finest and appropriately named reggae artist Yellowman) I decided to follow Niamh’s recipe at Eat Like a Girl especially as she omits the butter some recipes use. I’m nervous enough round molten sugar without potentially burning butter to boot. Warned to use a deep pan, I got the Le Cresuet out and started melting. Unfortunately because I am incapable of reading recipes correctly at the moment, I used 200 ml of golden syrup instead of 200g so may have had too much in the mixture, which is why when my trusty thermometer said the mixture had reached the magic 150°C or hard crack stage, the whole thing had gone from an alluring golden amber to burnt umber. I bunged the bicarb in anyway and was unprepared for how much it foamed up. Unsure whether I was meant to stir (ie: put my hand near boiling sugar that is exploding) my hesitation meant there was yellowman mix all over the cooker and even belated stirring didn’t help that much. I poured the remaining mix into a lined tray and set about scraping the sugar off the cooker. I certainly know why the Scots call it puff candy

Sampling a bit left on the pan, I established that the sugar had gone from sickly sweet to acidic and overcooked. I decided to start again, using the correct amount of golden syrup this time. Thinking this is where I’d gone wrong, I followed the recipe exactly otherwise, again going for the hard crack stage and ending up again with darker looking sugar than I’d have liked. I added the bicarb, stirring like a dervish and although it puffed up like a more alluring indoor firework, the yellowman still didn’t look sunshine yellow. In fact eagle eyed readers will have noted that it is in fact that the kind of burnished hue usually only seen on a contestant on Snog Marry Avoid. It also had the same acrid tang of burned sugar as the previous batch.

Having run out of refined sugar products to ruin and acutely aware I was spending my Saturday night in a fog of sticky smelling smoke, I gave up at this point and turned my attention to washing up both sugar caked pots I’d used, realising I should have taken the mix of the heat before it got to the hard crack stage and see if that helped. I also discovered when ruining another recipe later in the week, that I am reading the thermometer wrong! So please don’t be scared to try this recipe unless like me you paid no attention in science class and can’t read a thermometer.*

I then went out the next morning and bought a four pack of Crunchies, denuding them of chocolate with a sharp knife and then mashing them into some softened (and thinking back to the dulse, salted) butter before shaping into a roll and chilling for a couple of hours in the fridge.

Once the guests arrived, I turned my attention to the pancakes. Despite the seemingly complicated two step batter, these are incredibly easy to make and quicker than a regular batter as they don’t need to sit. Spoonfuls of the thick yet light batter went into a hot pan and puffed up beautifully as they turned golden brown. Served up alongside some crisp streaky bacon, these little pancakes were pretty perfect as they were. But adding in the butter took them to a whole new level.

Flecked with shimmering jewels of honeycomb, the butter added a soft yet crunchy, sweet yet not sickly layer of deliciousness to the pancakes. Combining the best of the world of the whipped style butter and syrup the Americans serve with pancakes, you no longer have to choose between the two toppings, but enhance them by creating the best butter in the world. The crunch worked perfectly with the soft pancakes and the sweetness took the bacon up a notch too. There were no pancakes left and only a scraping of the butter once we’d all finished, even though we also had light crumbly corn muffins and a slightly spiced berry compote on our plates too.

Once my guests had left, I finished off the butter on the leftover muffins and reminded myself that it was so good, it had been worth all the fluffy faffing with sugar and syrup the night before. I will be trying making yellowman again instead of trimming a million Crunchie bars, so that I can make an entire block of the butter and then eat it with a spoon. Or make the best toast in the world. Don’t make the pancakes without it. It’s so worth the extra effort!

*I’d also like to thank Niamh who took time out to see if she could help me sort my problem with the yellowman despite me slightly slandering her poor recipe’s good name. I feel very reassured now.

Venison, bullets and spears

As it was Valentine’s Day (or more precisely the evening before, and I didn’t yet know what delights would present themselves at Guestrant) I fancied doing something a little more glamorous for a dinner for two, and wanted to explore a couple of whimsical thoughts. Luck and judgement conspired to help create something a wee bit different and classier than my normal fare… in this case venison steak, butternut squash bullets, spinach and potato gratin, and steamed asparagus tips.

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