Sunday, 30 January 2011

Lancashire Cheese Cake & Salmon Bento Love + WIN a Forman & Field Hamper [COMPETITION CLOSED]


You are the bitter, I am the sweet

You are the griddle, I am the meat

You are the trick, I am the treat

You are the circus, I am the freak
It's Christmas time, and I while away many a lunch hour in Leadenhall Market, admiring the turkeys on display at the Butchers and staring wistfully at the treats on the Comptoir Gourmand stall, when I notice the ultimate in glossy food p0rn appear in a number of establishments - namely the Forman & Field mail order catalogue.

I pop one into my bag and then spend the evening circling all the things I want to get, before realising I can't really see any of it any more because of all the marker pen.


Anyway, Forman & Field puts an end to my choice paralysis by asking if I'd like to take part in a challenge called the
Forman's Love Cook-Off.

The aim is to see
which of a number of blog types can come up with the "best" Valentine's Day menu using a mystery box of Forman & Field goodies.

Of course I say yes, so a few days later,
said mystery box arrives. I rip it open to find a rather motley crew - it contained:
  • H. Forman & Son Royal Fillet of Smoked Scottish Salmon
  • Formans Marinated Anchovies with Garlic
  • Mrs Kirkham's Lancashire Cheese
  • Moniack Castle Horseradish Sauce
  • Plantation Cottage Tarragon Jelly
  • Formans Brandied Cherries
  • Regent’s Park London Honey
At first I'm flummoxed, but then having seen the beautiful coral of the lightly cured salmon, I'm determined to dish up at least some of it straight.


Moreover, this challenge is about Valentine's, and I can't think of anything more romantic (at least food-wise) than making a packed lunch for your loved one to take to work, open up and be reminded of you.

Yes kids, I'm talking bento. Specifically My First Bento.

These may all be traditional British products, but they don't have to be used in traditional British ways.

So the salmon is sliced into sashimi stars, but is also turned into korokke - the Japanese version of croquette and a typical bento item. I add the anchovies for some sharpness and zing, and the horseradish sauce for a little heat. It works brilliantly - crisp morsels of umami goodness.


Licking your greasy spoon
Jukebox playing my tune

Making out in your room

Blowing up your balloon

Salmon, Anchovy and Horseradish Korokke
  • 100g lightly-smoked salmon
  • 4 garlic marinated anchovies
  • 1 egg
  • 200g panko breadcrumbs
  • 1 tsp horseradish sauce
  • 1 tsp furikake seasoning
  • Enough oil for deep-frying

Mince the salmon and the anchovies and then mix thoroughly with half the panko and all of the rest of the ingredients.

Form into 2 inch long croquette shapes and roll each croquette in the remaining panko.

Deep-fry no more than four croquettes at a time for a couple of minutes and then drain on kitchen paper.


My finished bento for my husband - smoked salmon stars, sugar snap peas, heart shaped onigiri, salmon korokke, heart shaped egg, cherry tomatoes, all on a bed of sushi rice sprinkled with black sesame seeds.

Happiness is hard to come by
But I've had my fair share
The satin sheets, the lemon peels

The minor keys, the major pills


I'm not really one for desserts, but my husband has a sweet tooth and the way to a man's heart is well known, so I'm determined to come up with something special as a Valentine's bonus.

I figure the Lancashire cheese is surprisingly delicate, so as soon as I finish popping the brandied cherries in my mouth, I decide to make my beloved a spin on a traditional cheesecake.

The tarragon jelly is sweet with a hint of aniseed so I work this into the biscuit base. The herbiness complements the lime zest in the cheesecake topping.

Kirkham's Lancashire Cheesecake and Honey Sundaes

For the base

  • 8 digestive biscuits
  • 1 tbsp melted butter
  • 1 tbsp Regent's Park honey
  • 1 tbsp tarragon jelly
For the topping
  • 25 brandied cherries
  • 2 tbsp lovage cordial (optional)
  • 150 ml double cream
  • 25g Kirham's Lancashire Cheese, finely grated
  • 1 tbsp agar flakes or 1 gelatin sheet
  • 3 tbsp Regent's Park honey
  • 1 tbsp caster sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • Zest of 1 lime
Crush the biscuits, add all the other base ingredients and mix thoroughly. Press into the base of two large wine glasses and chill.

Reserving two of the cherries, stone and destalk the rest and blend these with 2 tbsp honey, the lovage cordial if using, and a little of the cherry brandy until it turns into a sort of compote.

Dissolve the gelatine/agar in a little hot water. Whip the cream till stiff, then beat in the grated cheese, gelatine, sugar, lime zest and vanilla extract.


Layer half the cream mixture into the glasses. Then split the cherry compote between them.

Finish with the rest of the "cream cheese" and top with the reserved cherries.

Finally, warm the last tablespoon of honey and drizzle all over the cheesecake sundaes.


So that's what I did using all the ingredients in my mystery box from Forman & Field for the Forman's Love Cook Off.

Meemalee's Valentine's Day Menu

First course (for work)

a Bento of Salmon Sashimi Stars, and Salmon, Anchovy and Horseradish croquettes so the seduction starts while we're apart (heh) ... actually I've had all the bento paraphernalia for a while but not got round to using it, so this was well overdue ...

Second course (for play)

... and he comes home to a light but luscious Lancashire Cheesecake and Honey Sundae with cherry compote on a tarragon biscuit base.


Pardon me sir
Is this seat taken

I overheard you say
Not stirred but shaken
And I could really throw one back

Such a thirst doesn't always permit

Forward tact
So, if you would sir

Pardon me

A stiff one is my specialty



What would you have done if you'd taken part in the Forman's Love Cook Off?

Leave a comment telling me what your favourite romantic recipe or Valentine's menu would be (and your email address or Twitter name) by midday on Wednesday 9th February.

One of you will win a £60 hamper stuffed full of Forman & Field goodies delivered in time for the day of lurrve itself (UK only).

My favourite answer will win a small mystery prize from my vast and unwieldy bento accessory collection (Worldwide).

All lyrics (in italics) taken from the wonderful album Music to Make Love to Your Old Lady By (by Lovage)

Monday, 24 January 2011

Foraging Day at The Wild Garlic, Dorset


It's the morning after the night before and my husband, his brother, his brother's girlfriend and I ooze slowly down from the comfort of the lovely apartment and crumple into a little heap at the bottom of the stairs.

"Morning," chirps a jaunty-hatted Mat Follas, in a pinchably cheerful manner, "Don't tell me you've just got up?".


"Grhmmmhrth", I say as we sit down at the long wooden table for some reviving coffee and cake. It's not that early to be fair - 9.30am.

The restaurant is full of other sprightly looking people - we've all gathered for a foraging course at the Wild Garlic led by expert Theo Langton and Mat himself.

"You're wearing city shoes" says Mat about my tough, plain black Clark's boots, "You're going to get mucky".


I make another noise of disdain and nurse my cup of coffee.

The brother-in-law and girlfriend are a good bit younger than the husband and me and, thoroughly perked up, they excitedly flick through their mini Food for Free foraging handbook they've brought along.


Theo gives us a short talk about what to expect and some house rules ("No eating anything unless we say it's okay") and then we're off.


Our first stop is rather unexpectedly a little lane just off the Square where the Wild Garlic is located.

Plants which look like weeds to me and which I see so often I don't "see" them any more turn out to be ground elder, jack-by-the-hedge and hogweed.


Down another lane we go, and there's walnuts and blackberries, cobnuts and nettles.

Every discovery comes with a story from Theo and some culinary tips from Mat, and we make notes and take pictures and begin to think "Ray Mears has nothing on me".


Now it's time to go further afield and we hop into a minibus driven by Mat himself and end up in a sun-dappled copse, where we traipse about merrily spotting different types of mushrooms.

Picking them the proper way (slice and not uproot so as not to kill), we offer them up to Theo for identification in hushed tones as if bearing tributes to a mighty potentate.


We punch the air when we come up with an edible one and sigh when we come across a dud.

We find russolas and chanterelles and ceps and amethyst deceivers, different shapes, different colours, every one fascinating.


It's all fantastic fun and we're genuinely sorry when we're told it's time for a mid-morning break and driven back to the Wild Garlic.

The sorrow doesn't last though as, back at the ranch, there are glorious brownies, fresh strawberries and more tea and coffee on offer.


Refreshed, it's back in the bus for a journey to another beautiful part of the countryside - rolling hills, sheep and a fort on Eggardon Hill.

Hardy country is indeed stunning; I later find out that much of Hardy-inspired Tamara Drewe was filmed in the area.


Here we come across wild apples and peppermint, sloes and damsons, sorrel and yarrow.

The fresh air and the feverish joy of finding nature's bounty is one of the best feelings I've had in a while.


We sit for a while and we contemplate the beauty before us (well, Mat checks his iPhone and the rest of us contemplate).

Finally it's time to return to the fold where a delectable spread awaits the foragers and Mat and Theo who stay with us to chat and to answer more of our excitable questions.


The foraging theme is continued through to the food - the soup is nettle; the ice cream is sharp sorrel; the jelly is made from damsons; there's sloe sauce with the confit duck.

And to add to our giddy joy, at the end of the meal Mat comes out with gift bags for us all containing a Wild Garlic mug and a small packet of ramson seeds ie wild garlic ...


Fabulous day, fabulous course and yes, you do get muddy, but it's all very gentle. Best of all is the nifty little price - £95 all in.

The wonderful thing is that it's obviously seasonal - I cannot wait to go back to Dorset in the Spring and in the Summer to be shown what else Nature has in store for us.


The Wild Garlic
4 The Square
Dorset DT8 3AS
01308 861 446
Details of foraging courses can be found

This post is dedicated to Tash Samways, who was one of the reasons I loved The Wild Garlic.

Friday, 21 January 2011

Tefal ActiFry Review - 2nd Time Lucky

Tefal Actifry 16

Growing up, the weekend for me meant the Sunday Times. I hung on every word of Craig Brown's Table Talk, I longed to be Emma Forrest with my own column at the age of 14 (I long to be her less these days).

But my pride and joy was the Innovations Catalogue.

Although not an official Sunday Times supplement, a fresh copy seemed to drop out of the pages every week, and made me laugh more than the Funday Times (also RIP), and fascinated me more than the Culture supplement. I wanted to own every single item on offer - from plasma globe to remote control can opener.

Sadly the Innovations catalogue is now defunct, but Lakeland keeps me ticking over (I desperately want a Remoska and I kinda want a Toast 'N' Egg).

Anyway, my endless lust for gadgets meant that a few years ago I asked my in-laws to get us the Tefal ActiFry for Christmas.

Tefal Actifry 01

Basically a big culinary hairdryer, the ActiFry promises to fry enough chips for a family of four with just a small scoopful of oil (and 3% fat) by blasting them with heat and turning them at the same time.

Healthy chips! Perfect for the post-Christmas detox.

I used this sucker about once a week for a year or two, experimenting with different recipes at first and then realising that all I really wanted was chips or roasties (and it made both perfectly).

Then one day, I switched it on and it spewed out a big puff of black smoke. And then flames began to flare out of the machine. Actual mother-flipping flames.

My ActiFry was on fire.

Thankfully the conflagration died out almost instantly, so by the time my husband bounded into the kitchen to ask why I was squealing, no evidence remained, though the machine was however completely kaput.

Eventually I convinced him that I hadn't been hallucinating and having switched and unplugged the device, we retired it that day (though part of me refused to chuck it just in case it sprang back to life).

Tefal Actifry 02
Mark I and Mark II side by side - note ventilation on the new one

I've since found out that I was far from alone - the BBC's Watchdog investigated and there was even a helpline for the many consumers left with useless machines - though, as mine was just past its warranty, I didn't even think to ring up Tefal.

Anyway, you might have noticed there are two of these machines in the photos. That's because the other day, out of the blue, Tefal asked me if I'd like to try their new improved ActiFry.

Errr, yes.

So what's new with the Actifry Mark II?

The big difference in design is that the back of the new ActiFry now has what looks like a ventilation grille.

This is presumably to prevent overheating and therefore to stop those pesky fires from happening again.

This is a GOOD THING.

Tefal Actifry 05Tefal Actifry 06
Mark I sans release collar, Mark II with

Another new feature is a kind of grey release collar on the paddle of the unit which means that when it's in action, everything fits together more securely.

But by far my favourite change to the whole design (apart from the one that stops it spontaneously combusting for no reason whatsoever) are the slogans which decorate the front of the machine.

Someone in the Tefal office clearly realised that the old slogans were all ridiculous - on the previous model, they were "dietetic" (say what now?), "pleasure" (snigger), and "vitality" (chips, they make you strong).

These have been changed to the much less overblown and slightly more justifiable "healthy", "tasty" and "versatility".

The images are almost the same, mind. I bet Tefal are sh!t at Pictionary.

Tefal Actifry 04Tefal Actifry 03
Before and After

The ActiFry comes with a handy little spiral-bound book of recipes, so I thought I'd try out a couple of the most tempting.

I say tempting, but their food stylist really ought to find another career, as never have I seen such an unalluring set of pictures.

Tefal Actifry 09

The first one I picked was their "Sausage and Bean Cassoulet".

All the recipes are very clear and very simple - with this one you add some sausages, set the timer, blast for a bit, add onions, set the timer, blast for a bit longer, then add beans, canned tomatoes, sugar, wine and seasoning, set the timer and blast one last time.

Tefal Actifry 11

I'd say it was idiot-proof and we were pretty pleased with the results - although more like very posh baked beans and sausages than cassoulet, it was delicious and we didn't even feel the need for some bread to mop it up.

So first recipe a success.

Tefal Actifry 12

Unsurprisingly, the ActiFry pan was left with a bit of a crusty mess, but its non-stick coating meant it all came off fairly easily in the sink.

It does say it's dishwasher proof, but I wouldn't risk it myself, as it's an expensive thing to break/scratch ...

Tefal Actifry 17

So the next recipe I tried was for Paprika Chips - an old favourite of mine with my original ActiFry (RIP).

See what I mean about the photos in their recipe book by the way?

Raw chips and parsley, mmmmmmm.

Tefal Actifry 13

I even made you a little video to demonstrate exactly what the ActiFry looks and sounds like in action (don't say I never give you anything).

Like I said, big culinary hairdryer - though it's quieter than the old model.

Another big plus is the lack of frying smell - as it's all sealed in, it's more or less odour-free.

This is what it's all about - one little green scoop of oil to fry a whole basket of chips.

As suggested, I mixed a little paprika and salt into a scoopful of rapeseed oil and then drizzled this all over the raw potato.

Tefal Actifry 14

The results? Well, apart from looking nothing like the picture in the book (again, this is a GOOD thing), another success I'd say.

Crisp, spicy exterior, fluffy insides - a beautiful chip with far fewer calories than normal.

You do have to blast them for longer than the recommended time - I'd say ours were frying for 45 minutes rather than 30 minutes.

Tefal Actifry 21

I'm not going to lie to you, the Tefal ActiFry is big and expensive (RRP £199 although Amazon has them for £106.99 at the moment).

But it is versatile (there are some good suggestions in the recipe book which can be adapted very easily), it's odour-less, and it means you can "deep fry" food with virtually no oil.

As gadgets go, I rather love it. But then I did the first time, until it went up in smoke.

I received my new (or a grumpy part of me says "replacement") ActiFry free from Tefal/Slice PR.