Herb Garden

Herbs Grown Outside from Small Plants

Herbs are fundamental to cooking great tasting food and what better than cooking with herbs you have grown yourself. You know they have been raised by your own fair hands and they are far less expensive than shop bought herbs. Whether growing from seed or small plants, they are easy and rewarding to look after.

Start with the basics; grow basil and coriander, maybe some dill, inside in direct sunlight and water often. Plant thyme, rosemary and sage outside either on the windowsill or in planters (make sure to keep your sage under control or it will soon run amock!) Ensure you use your herbs, cutting regularly once up to full size to ensure they continue to flourish.

Once you have the hang of it try planting some different varieties. Borage grows very well in the summer and is great used in cocktails, as do curry plants.

If you have the time and space, many more obscure varieties are available from seed. Don’t be daunted, buy an inexpensive window propagator and your seeds will germinate in no time and with little effort. Watercress grows very well in the summer when sown directly outside into window planters, if sown now you will have a crop ready in a few weeks.

Watercress from Seed Outside

Purple and Thai Basil from Seed

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Review: Restaurant Steirereck, Vienna

 

 

 

 

Vienna hosts some truly spectacular restaurants and we were spoilt for choice on our recent holiday. However, there was one place we just had to try – Steirereck. Widely applauded as being one of the finest restaurants in Central Europe, Steirereck holds two Michelin stars and was hailed as the 11th best restaurant in the world 2012 by Restaurant Magazine.

Trying to secure a booking at such short notice I did not hold much hope. Sure enough there were no dinner spaces available for the entire week at any time. However, we secured a table for midday on Wednesday. The restaurant is located in the beautiful Stadtpark, only a 15 minute walk from St Stephens Cathedral. The restaurant is surrounded by a tabled terrace, which unfortunately was not in use on the day we dined – it would have been nice to have sat outside on such a glorious day.

The dining room is subtly opulent. The ceiling is covered with plaster moulded foliage, giving the impression of an enchanted forest and the tables are very generously spaced. There is a big emphasis on provenance and quality of ingredients at Steirereck. Many of the vegetables and herbs used in the restaurants dishes are grown in their own gardens – they were recently awarded the Slow Food UK Award.

We were shown to our table and were presented with the first of a series of canapés – an assortment of small variations of beetroot (one with confit duck leg) and other preparations of garden vegetables. The next canapé could have perhaps been the simplest but one of the most delicious dishes I ate during my time in Vienna. The dish was entitled ‘clothesline’ and consisted of a strip of air-dried ham topped with dehydrated watermelon, strung up on a mini clothesline. Truly delicious, simple and refreshing.

The food at Steirereck is intriguing. Underused and different ingredients are well employed and are prominent in all the dishes we were served. There was barely a course arrived which did not contain something I had not previously tried. Some dishes are not wholly what you would expect; the wild lettuce for instance tasting headily floral and pleasingly bitter. There is clearly much time and effort spent on adopting new cooking techniques. But these techniques are cleverly employed and appear only to be used if they will give real benefit to the finished dish.

Every course was enjoyable, some standing out more than others. The Iced Pericon with Bee Balm was unlike anything I have tasted, the texture of the ‘ice’/meringue was phenomenal. The use of bitter/sweet apricot and sweetcorn with the Venison was inspired and well-balanced. The cherries were paired with hay polenta – it would be worth returning to taste that dish alone. There really was little to fault. The quality of food was matched by the service which was unobtrusive and friendly.

The differentiating factor of all the dishes we tasted were the use of herbs grown in the restaurant’s garden. Many of them are obscure varieties which are tediously difficult to grow in the Austrian climate. But all without exception elevated the food to an entirely different level. Fundamental to every dish, their unique flavour was prominent and memorable. Please be sure to try the tea trolley – where a blend will be made to your taste with a selection of herbs from the garden (pineapple sage was amazing).

It was refreshing to be served dishes which excited and intrigued in wonderful surroundings and I urge you to try and visit.

Wild Lettuce

Venison

Iced Pericon

Cherries

Herbal Tea

Restaurant Steirereck, Stadtpark, Vienna

http://www.steirereck.at

Food (For Two): €138

Dress Code: Smart

Reservations: Required

Recommend: Yes

Tea

 

 

 

 

Tea used to be tea – if I was made a cup of Twinings I felt like royalty. Then I went to the Fat Duck. Would sir like to look at the tea menu? A whole menu…dedicated to tea?

My mind was blown. Tea was no longer confined to a cup English breakfast or Earl Grey (when trying to impress). There was a whole new world out there; the world of fine tea. I treated myself to a cup of 1970’s Aged Puerh. I say cup, but I was really treated to a mini-ceremony – the tea was poured and poured until I could drink no more. It was a glorious, almost musky, but musky in the best way.

The restaurant informed me that this marvelous collection of teas came from one supplier who also sold to the public, better still, they were based in London. My luck was in. That supplier is Jing Tea. My order went in the following day and I have never looked back.

The teas sold by Jing may seem expensive at first glance, but just wait until you taste, I promise you will be instantly converted. They also sell most of their popular teas in 10g sample packs – a convenient and more affordable way to try a variety of teas until you decide on one that’s for you. If I were starting again I would purchase a sample pack of 1 variety of each of; Green, Oolong, Puerh and Herbal.

A favorite with nearly everyone who has tried it is Blackcurrant & Hibiscus. A powerful herbal tea so fruity it could be mistaken for juice, beautifully floral and sweet with very little bitterness. Just be careful not to over-brew as it can quickly become bitter. They also now conveniently sell this blend in teabags.

Of course there will always be moments when all I want is a big, strong mug of ‘builders’ tea and for that I never look past Scottish Blend. Made by Unilever, I haven’t found any other ordinary tea which compares to Scottish Blend’s full-bodied flavour.

For the rest of the time, nothing can beat the ceremony of brewing a cup of aged Puerh – best drunk in the garden, slowly!

http://www.jingtea.com

Review: Do&Co Restaurant Vienna

My girlfriend Jane and I spent our summer break in Vienna last week. Normally before any break I will make enough restaurant reservations to sink a ship, leaving little time for anything else. This time I was under strict orders, instead having to rely on my own intuition when we arrived – never a good idea (I am the worlds most indecisive person). After a quick trawl through tripadvisor on Sunday afternoon I came up with Do&Co, making a reservation for the following evening. Although no menu was viewable online, the restaurant was close to the hotel and a light lunch at the restaurant’s street cafe the previous day was delicious and affordable (the chicken caesar sandwich is a winner).

Situated at the top of design hotel Do&Co in the Haas Haus building opposite the majestic Stephansdom cathedral – restaurant Do&Co arguably has the best views of Vienna.

First things first – make a reservation. According to several blogs the restaurant operates a ‘no reservation, no table’ policy, no matter how busy they are. I’m not sure if this is strictly true, but a group of guys who attempted to have a drink in the restaurant’s bar, situated below the restaurant, were unable to secure a table or a drink. We dined on a Monday night and there was barely a table to spare.

The restaurant is widely regarded as one of Vienna’s most fashionable. Unfortunately this meant a dining room full of loud, brash young locals. The dining room is spacious (maybe 60/70 covers) and backs on to an open plan kitchen and wok station. Weather permitting, ask to be seated outside on the terrace which offers panoramic views over Vienna.

The service was efficient, not overly friendly but prompt and quiet. I appreciate it must be difficult serving customers who do not speak your native language, so don’t expect a great deal of chit-chat.

Now to the food. It really was an eclectic mix. The menu read like a map of the world – from traditional Viennese, to Malaysian, to modern French. No doubt there to please the hotel’s international guests, the menu had little identity. My heart dropped when I saw the words Donner kebab – a step too far? After ordering I was left questioning the quality of food which may leave a kitchen offering such diverse foods.

I shouldn’t have questioned. Goose Foie Gras and Mango came two ways: pan fried and terrine. Although the reduction accompanying the pan fried liver was slightly over reduced, the square of micro-thin mango jelly cloaking the terrine was deliciously tart, offsetting the sweetness of the reduction well. This dish would have been just as satisfying without the pan fried liver.

Crispy Prawns with truffle and salad were equally as well executed. A mammoth bowl of prawns were covered in deliciously chewy batter and the salad was hiding under a pile of shaved truffle. The only issue was the salad dressing, which was a touch too acidic and drowned out the fragrance of the truffle.

Jane’s lobster with cauliflower puree and curry oil was pleasant on first taste, but soon got tiring. The lobster was overcooked and cold and the overall texture of the dish was too soft. The puree was well made, as was the curry oil, but both were a little uninspiring when coupled with beautifully sweet lobster.

My saddle of Veal with béarnaise sauce, green beans and fries; however, was fantastic. By far the most tender veal fillet I have ever tasted – it must have seen the water bath before hitting my plate. The sauce was deliciously tangy and the green beans were elevated to new heights by sweet shallots and crisp sweet pancetta (american style I believe).

I used to love chocolate fondant, but I have lost faith recently after nasty experiences of overcooked, over-sweet cake. After a bottle of Pouilly Fumé I took the plunge. Perfection, an oozing core of bitter chocolate. Faith restored.

The kitchen can clearly cook to a very high standard, which leaves me wondering why they choose such a diverse menu. I am all for choice, but when you see a Donner kebab next to Goose Foie Gras and Fillet of Veal you have to question. A little more clarity and direction would give the restaurant a greatly needed identity. Although a little pretentious, the decor, prompt service and quality of food makes the Do&Co dining room a pleasant place to be and I shall definitely be returning.

Restaurant Do&Co, Stephansdom, Vienna

http://www.doco.com

Food (For Two): €114.80

Dress Code: Smart Casual (Jackets for Gentlemen)

Reservations: Required

Recommend: Yes

STILTON GALETTE

 

 

 

 

My mother presented this dish to me tonight and I couldn’t get enough! So much so I thought I would share it with you. It is surprisingly light and as stilton and pear is a classic combination this will surely be a winner with any guests. I was served the galette as a starter; however, it would make a great side dish or main meal for two. I think I will try making a bigger one and serve it in the middle of the table for all to tuck in!

This recipe would work equally well with any type of medium/strong cheese or whatever you have in the fridge. Strong mature cheddar and some caramalised white onions would be delicious. You can make the galette a day ahead and keep it covered in the fridge – great for a dinner party.

(Please ignore the ‘caramalised’ edges – I trimmed them off!)

Stilton Galette

(Serves 4 as a starter)

Ingredients:

5 Medium Waxy Potatoes (peeled and soaked in water to remove starch)

1 1/2 Firm Pears (peeled and cubed small)

150g Blue Stilton (or other strong cheese)

Cracked Black Pepper

Olive Oil

Step 1: Pre-heat the oven to 180C. Thinly slice the peeled potatoes (much easier if you use a mandolin or the slicer attachment on your food processor).

Step 2: Line a baking tray with silicon paper or use silicon baking mats. Overlap the sliced potato to create 4 rectangles. Sprinkle the cubed pear on to the potatoes. Crumble the stilton over the potatoes ensuring you keep it to the centre to stop it from ‘spilling’ out.

Step 3: Brush the edges of the potatoes with a little olive oil to help them crisp. Season the galettes with cracked black pepper.

Step 4: Place the galettes in the pre-heated oven for approximately 25 minutes, or until they are golden brown and the potatoes are cooked.

Great served with a small salad dressed with olive oil and lemon and some sliced pear.

Enjoy!

Summer Steak Salad

With the first glimpse of sunshine poking its head through the clouds a summer salad was on the cards. Although usually mocking all salad eaters and pushing the green stuff to the side of my plate, a post holiday bloat (more on that later) calls for something lighter.

Tomatoes are bang in season at the moment and are great friends with steak. A tomato salad would be predictable, instead they form the base of the salad dressing. The addition of two different onion preparations give depth and work fantastically well with the steak and charred romaine.

Any left-over red onions and steak make a great open sandwich.

Summer Steak Salad

(Serves 4)

Ingredients:

For the Steak Marinade: 3 or 4 Sirloin or Rump Steaks, 1/4 Cup Olive Oil, Salt, 2 Garlic Cloves Sliced, 1/2 Lemon, Bunch Fresh Oregano or Parsley

For the Dressing: 1 Beef Tomato, Splash Sherry or Red Wine Vinegar, Salt, Pepper, Good Glug Olive Oil

For the Onions: 3 Red Onions Sliced, 2 Tbsp Balsamic Vinegar, 8/10 Spring Onions

For the Salad: 2 Romaine Lettuce Halved, Large Bunch Fresh Salad Leaves, Small Bunch Basil (Torn), 1 Fresh Green Chili Sliced, Black Pepper

Step 1: Trim steaks of all fat, marinade in all marinade ingredients overnight, covered in the fridge. Remove from the fridge 1 hour before cooking.

Step 2: Make the dressing by slicing the tomatoes in half then grating the flesh side, discarding the skin. Mix the grated tomato with with vinegar and olive oil and season to taste.

Step 3: Cook the sliced red onions in a heavy bottomed pan with a splash of olive oil on a medium heat for around 30 mins until soft and sweet. Stir in the balsamic vinegar and cook for a few minutes to remove some of the acidity. Place the onions to one side.

Step 4: Take the spring onions and discard the green top, chargrill the onions in a griddle pan over a high heat for 2 mins each side. Chop the cooked spring onions into quarters.

Step 5: Next cook the steak, discarding the garlic from the marinade, on a griddle pan over a high heat until cooked to your liking. Once the steak is cooked allow to rest for 10 minutes.

Step 6: Whilst the steak is resting, char the romaine lettuce halves on one side in the griddle pan until slightly caramalised. Mix the salad leaves with 3/4 of the dressing and place on a large plate with the charred romaine, torn basil, cooked spring onions and a few twists of black pepper.

Step 7: Slice the cooked and rested steaks into manageable slices and serve on top of the balsamic cooked red onions. Top with the sliced chili and the remaining tomato dressing.

(This salad is great with some slices of freshly grilled ciabatta rubbed with garlic).

Enjoy!