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My thoughts on Cameron’s Kitchen

It’s tough to find ‘fine dining’ in Milton Keynes.  We’re tripping over chain restaurants (and badly-maintained paving – but that rant’s a whole ‘nother post) and we’ve got a champion troop of decent curry houses, but even credible gastro pubs are few and far between.

I get why.  Me and my girls trip down to London once a quarter for lunch.  It’s worth the effort.  And with the Big Smoke less than an hour away on the train, why would you choose to come to MK for special eats instead?  Especially when we’re a community of seemingly such poor taste.  I mean, FIVE Nandos?  What is the matter with my fellows Keynesians?

Anyway, before I climb so far on my soap box  that I can’t get down, let’s get back to the matter in hand. My dinner at Cameron’s Kitchen.

Set back just off of the Stony Stratford High Street, down a lovely alleyway called O’Dells Yard, Cameron’s Kitchen promises much.  And if you’re not used to the quality and amazing value that we find on a regular basis in London, I am sure it would deliver on that promise every time.  It talks a good talk.  But does it walk the walk?  Yes and no.

On arrival, the decor is modern, contemporary and inviting.  But not quite thought through.  Our table for four was so long, and the back of our bench seating so high, that our waiter forever struggled to place my food down in front of me without leaning right across one of my fellow diners.  And there is only one toilet.  For everyone.  That’s approximately 30 diners on a busy night.  But these are only minor points… Let’s get to the food.

We selected the five course tasting menu, which looked to be an absolute bargain at five courses for £45.  It started with an amuse bouche of a dainty scone, topped with whipped blue cheese and a slow roasted tomato.  My mouth didn’t find it very amusing though because, although the light cheese and the tomato were delicious, the scone was over-worked and utterly devoid of seasoning.   Not an amazing start.

Cameron's Menu

Next, no bread.  Doh!  But let’s move on.

Next came the seafood risotto, with a pan-fried scallop.  Despite a slightly claggy texture for the risotto, this dish was packing a lot of flavour and left me wanting more.  Which was good, because there were still four courses to follow.

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Clams and pork belly were up next.  Out of the five clam shells in my bowl, only one actually had a clam in it, the rest were empty – although I did find the missing occupants in the bottom of the bowl.  I think a little more care plating could have prevented my disappointment.  However, the pork belly was sublime and the broth sensational.  Only problem was, we were only equipped with a knife and fork to eat it with.  We improvised with ‘clam-shell spoons’ (as modelled by Alison below), when we got to the broth.  Seemed a shame to waste it.

Following on was confit chicken oysters – or chef’s perks, as they are often known.  They came with a lovely iron-hit of chard, a soused carrot and another foam, which was really pleasant.  Unfortunately, I think the carrots had been drowned in the vinegar, rather than lightly marinaded.  They were quite eye-watering and detracted from the rest of the treats on the plate.

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Fourth on the menu was practically perfection.  A flavourful, tender and medium-rare piece of beef fillet, topped with an ox cheek ragu.  A little pile of Dauphinoise potatoes, some spinach, and yet another foam, all harmonised together beautiful.  The one anomaly was half a roasted tomato, but I didn’t even mind that.  Finally, I’d found the dish that got me excited.

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Last, but not least, was a share-between-two tasting plate of desserts.  From left to right we had a chocolate fondant (perfect – oozing chocolate galore!), accompanied by the best salted caramel ice cream I’ve ever had the pleasure to eat.  In the middle was a panna cotta which we all wished had stayed in the kitchen, and we probably could have bounced back in there if we’d have tried… way too much gelatine.  Gina said the rhubarb at the bottom was nice, but I was put off from trying it.  Back into dessert heaven, we had a rhubarb sorbet and a chocolate sorbet.  Nestled in between them was some roasted pineapple, which was non-offence, but also a bit of a non-event.

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Along side all of this,  we quaffed a bottle of Prosecco-like substance (they’d run out of our favourite fizz at lunchtime) and three excellently-priced bottle of Albarino (my new favourite white – £28 a bottle).  The bill came to £82 a head.  Oh, and that also included a gin and Fever-Tree tonic for me, that I supped whilst waiting for my fellow dinners to join me.

I’m conscious that I’ve picked a lot of faults in this write up, so you probably don’t think I enjoyed myself.  On the contrary, it was a lovely evening, made even better by the great company.  It’s just that this tasting menu didn’t compare well to some of the set menus/lunches I’ve had elsewhere.  And the service was lacking some finesse.  The attention to detail and finishing touches aren’t quite there…

That said, I will definitely be going back to Cameron’s.  I’ll stick to the a la carte menu and steer clear of any soused carrots.  And I’ll be ordering any dessert that comes with salted caramel ice cream.

Has anyone else eaten here?  What was your experience like?

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What I ate today

I do not have enough fingers and toes fifty times over to count the number of times someone, particularly at work, has said “Your food always looks amazing.  It makes me so hungry”, due to the posts I put up via Instagram and Facebook.

It’s lovely.  Gives me a real buzz.  And makes me feel less guilty about food-spamming all my friends’ Facebook feeds… Ah, they can just hide my posts or un-friend me if it gets too much… I really wouldn’t mind.

The thing is, I only post the good-looking stuff.  I didn’t put up a picture of my failed pesto, and I certainly didn’t share the disastrous dosa episode that followed closely behind it.  Why would I?   One of the things I particularly like about food is its ability to entice you just from a picture – no smell or tastes necessary to get the tastebuds in a frenzy.  It’s true, we do ‘eat with our eyes’.

But I thought it might put minds at rest to know that my husband and I don’t eat like kings and queens every day.  In fact, most of our meals are distinctly…well, ugly!  Check it out for yourself – here’s what I’ve eaten for breakfast, lunch and dinner over the past week.  Oh, except for the meals that I forgot to take pictures of.  It’s so hard to remember to do that when there’s something unappetitising staring back at you…  And yes. We do eat a lot of sausages!

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Dinner parties – the low-carb way

One thing I do really love is to throw a dinner party.  I’ve been doing it quite successfully (if I do say so myself) for the past fifteen years.  It’s the time to dust off the indulgent recipes and take my time to give my friends and family a proper culinary treat.

So when Hubs and I started off down road to low-carb land, I was at a bit of a confused crossroads.  Did I do my normal full fanfare and then be disappointed at myself for the next week for blowing all the progress I’d made?  It feels so wrong to drop something you’ve declared as a new ‘way of life’ every time friends come over for dinner.  Or even worse, did I potentially disappoint my guests by not meeting their normal expectations?

Fortunately, it didn’t take me too long to realise I could have the best of both ways with just a little carby compromise.  For those of you that appreciate a bit of fine food fare, you’ll know that actually, bread baskets and desserts aside, the majority of the food will be high in protein and fat.  So it’s not too challenging to put together a luxurious low-carb dinner party menu where everyone’s a winner.  And to help anyone who’s not sure where to start or short of ideas, here’s some examples that I’ve put together by plucking recipes I’ve already posted on this blog.  The key is to focus on the savouries.  If you do really want to do a dessert (and a cheese course doesn’t appeal), focus on something small and simple, with not too much sugar, like a dark chocolate mousse.

Vegetarian Scotch Eggs, served with spiced lentils

Vegetarian Scotch Eggs

Amuse Bouche: Curried Courgette Soup
Starter: Vegetarian Scotch Eggs with Curry Sauce
Main: Lamb and Egg Curry

Dawn's Balls

‘Dawn’s Balls’ with Sriracha Mayonnaise

Canapes: Dawn’s Balls with Sriracha Mayonnaise (just one or three, they’re not really low carb)
Fish Course: Smoked Haddock and Cauliflower ‘Rice’ Kedgeree
Main Course: Pesto and Mozzarella Chicken with a green salad

Butter Chicken and Cauliflower Rice

Quick Butter Chicken with Cauliflower Rice

Amuse Bouche: Curried Courgette Soup
Starter: Lamb Patties with Indian Slaw
Main: Quick Butter Chicken with Cauliflower Rice

Caramelised onion puree

Fillet Steak with Caramelised Onion Puree 

 

Starter: Tomato, Mozzarella and Pesto Salad
Main: Fillet Steak, served with Caramelised Onion Purée and Buttered Swiss Chard

I hope it gives someone somewhere some inspiration, or at least, a bloody good dinner!

It’s okay to mess up…

Today I completely messed up the pesto meant for our mozzarella and beefsteak tomato lunch.  Quite stupid of me really – I chucked loads of the woody basil stalks, along with the leaves and stems, into the blender with the pine nuts and garlic cloves.  Not sure why; I’ve made pesto hundreds of times and never done that before.  Anyway, the result was inedible – every bite was filled with chewy sinewy stalks.  Yuk.

A few months ago, I probably would have given myself a really hard time about that.  In fact, maybe even a few weeks ago.  Today, I just shrugged it off, made a conscious mental note not to repeat that mistake and ‘painted’ the tomatoes with some of the pesto oil, rescuing the intended dish as best as I could.

So what’s changed?  Well, it’s actually stemmed from my day job, where there’s a reinvigorated emphasis on our personal development in the workplace.  Thanks to a talk from an awesome colleague, Linney,  I’ve recently been inspired to create something of a funky personal development plan (PDP) (which I’m very pleased with and so have shared a picture of it below) and the thinking behind this has leaked (in a good way) into my home life.  I already have a personal five year plan, which helps me to focus on the things I want to spend my spare time doing and the things I want to learn, but it doesn’t guide me with the ‘how’ I learn.

PDP

What creating my PDP at work has done is to spark the realisation that every opportunity we have to learn is a valuable one and, instead of spending time berating and criticising myself, I should be figuring out what that opportunity has taught me. Maybe it’ll be about what I need to do to get it right next time.  This continual cycle of improvement is vastly rewarding in cooking – after all, who wouldn’t want their food to taste better and better every time they eat it?!

Today I learnt that thick basil stalks have no place in a pesto – and that I really am quite good at improvising.  What is it that my husband always says? Oh  yeah: ‘Every day’s a school day’!

So, it’s okay to mess up.  Just make sure you learn something from it.

Have you had any recent cooking disasters?

Learning

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There’s just no substitute for chips

Those of you that have been reading my blog for a while will know that I’ve been attempting a low-carb lifestyle for a few years now.  At the start of each year, we begin really strong – about 80% low carb (which is a healthy balance – you can’t completely avoid them, as most vegetables contain them…).  Each year, we’ve lasted for longer and longer and it’s become easier and more habitual.  This year, I think we’ve finally nailed it – it’s March already (where did January and February trot off to?!) and we’re still in a great routine – most weekday meals are low carb, with the odd bit of wine and bread snuck in here and there.  Monday night’s dinner of Keema Pav (pictured below) is an example of the ‘sneaking’ bread…

Keema Pav

Keema Pav, an Indian-style street food dish

If we’ve got a busy weekend, or are at friends’ houses, we relax a little more and go with the flow.  That brings me on to a couple of weeks ago, when we made a return trip to the beautiful city of Bruges (you can read all about my first trip and my recommendations on this previous post).

As Bruges is the home of beer, chips (or frites) and chocolate, it would have been a waste not to have indulged a little.  And you know what they say…everything in moderation.  Ok, so maybe Hubs didn’t get that memo as he tried to eat his bodyweight in frites; but he had been amazing up until this time.  A few years ago, he wouldn’t have considered it a ‘dinner’ unless it was piled high with carbs.  Now he only raises an eyebrow when there’s not enough meat across the week’s menu.

The point I’m doing a terrible job of coming to is this… When in Bruges, a friend asked us to give him some tips on low-carb eating – “what do you substitute for the chips?”, he enquired.  And it’s a question we get asked a lot.  And I’ve tried celeriac chips and vegetable crisps.  But the truth is, if chips, or bread, or rice, or beer, or cider, or any other high-carb food/drink-stuff is your thing, there really is no low-carb substitute that will give you the same satisfaction.  So you’re better off adjusting without it the majority of the time and really enjoying it when you do get the chance.   That’s how I tackle my love of pizza and ice cream – I indulge probably about once every two months and thoroughly enjoy the experience.  No guilt and no need to feel like I’ve taken any steps away from a healthier lifestyle.  And it’s amazing how heightened the pleasure is when it becomes a rare treat.  Don’t try banning it from your diet forever, because you’ll then spend your time fixating on it all the time.  Just recognise it as a treasured treat…

What’s your food obsession that you just couldn’t live without?

 

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Recipe: Caramelised Onion Purée

Caramelised onion puree

Although Valentine’s day seems like an age away, it’s to then that I’m casting back my blogging memory and bringing you one of the most delicious things I’ve cooked in a long time.  Well, I’m not literally bringing it, of course – I’m not about to rock up at your door, desk, or beside you on the train with a warm dish of deliciousness – but I will share the recipe with you and hope that my enthusiasm is enough to convince you to make it yourself.  It’s worth it.  It’s soooooooo worth it.  And it’s ridiculously simple.  It will take you a little bit of time, but it’s carefree enough that you can sneak off and watch an episode of Masterchef USA whilst it’s cooking, returning during the advert breaks for a quick stir and inspect.  Or maybe that’s just me?

With just three ingredients and some seasoning, it’s hard to believe something can taste so good.

50g Goose Fat
6oog Onions, sliced.  Time to have a good old cry!
30g Butter, unsalted

  1. Warm the goose fat until it’s liquid in a saucepan (which has a lid) large enough to hold all of the chopped onions.  Add the onions and stir well.  Pop the lid on and cook for five minutes, stirring every minute, until the onions have gone all soft and translucent.
  2. Remove the lid and then cook until the onions are vastly reduced in quantity and a warm golden brown colour, stirring occasionally to stop the onions from sticking to the pan and burning.  It’ll take about 40 minutes to an hour for them to be ready.  That’s when you can pass the time doing other things.
  3. When the onions are ready, remove them from the heat and transfer them to a blender and blend until smooth. Add the butter to the onions and blend again. Season and either keep warm until you’re ready to serve or warm through again later.

It’s that delicious that you’ll be stealing spoonfuls of it whilst preparing whatever else you’re making to go with it.  All in the name of ‘tasting’, that’s my excuse.

I served it, pictured in this post, with pan-fried fillet steak and a ragout of broad beans and peas.  And I had leftovers the next day with breaded chicken.  I think you could serve it with most meats and types of fish – anything that can stand up to sweet onions, really.  I’m also thinking it would be amazing spread on some farmhouse loaf and loaded with slices of juicy roast beef, but that wouldn’t suit my low-carb diet.  Maybe one for a special occasion!

I’d love to hear from anyone that tries to see if you enjoyed it as much as me…!

 

 

 

Do you know what’s in your freezer?

We’ve been overdoing it a bit on the takeaways recently.  Multitude of excuses apply… working long hours; not taking or having the time to plan in advance; too cold/dark/wet to bother going out to the shops; they taste nice; can’t be arsed to cook – any one or combination of these are relevant.

And on occasion, to assuage my own guilt, I’ve transferred the blame on to my husband, snapping at him with ill-thought out comments like: ‘Well you could always cook something – there are plenty of things in the freezer, after all’.

But are there?  Are there really?  What is actually lurking in my freezer?  I found that not being able to answer that question with any degree of certainty has irritated me immensely because, as a keen cook and someone that doesn’t like to waste money or food, I thought I truly appreciated the value of my freezer.  And the more I’ve considered the situation, the more I realised that I’m not using it at all to my advantage and the more determined I am to put things right.  Not least because we are hoping to move house soon and I’ve just discovered I need £8,500 for Stamp Duty and that’s not bloody well going to pay for itself now, is it?! Fingers crossed there are some frozen £20s hiding behind the frozen peas!

Contents of Freezer

Anyway, I’ve now taken some positive action.  Yesterday, I went through the freezer and listed out everything that was lurking in its icy depths – pictured above.  Alas, it seems I’ve not frozen my assets in a forgotten moment…  It also seems that I don’t know how to spell Mediterranean (had to look it up just now – no effort spared for the readers of my blog!).

The good news is that it’s a great place to start when I’m planning the dinners for the week, or when I’m looking to take some lunch to work to save emptying my purse.  Not sure what I’m going to do with some of these ingredients (filo pastry dipped in egg yolk, anyone?) but at least I know what’s there now and I can make a concerted effort not to waste it. I’ve already used two of the things that I’d forgotten I had.  Maybe I should do this for my dry store cupboard too…

I’m feeling excited about this.  Feel’s like a mini-Dawn project in the making…

This begs the question, do you know what’s in your freezer?

 

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