A foodie family's diary of travel, food, and photos

Strawberry Spritzer versus Wine

November 11th, 2012 | Posted by Ruby in Drinks - (Comments Off on Strawberry Spritzer versus Wine)

A little while ago I decided to take a break from drinking alcohol for health reasons.  This is not really as bad as it sounds – I usually have a glass or 2 of wine with dinner that’s all – nothing wildly excessive.  Well maybe a bit more at the occasional party – but that’s normal isn’t it?

Anyway in the absence of wine with my evening meal I needed to find an alternative and since I don’t drink sodas and citrus juices are for breakfast it had to be something else.

As I had a punnet of strawberries in the fridge at the time I decided to try making some sort of spritzer.  After a number of attempts I am now posting my standard recipe.

I might add that I have also tried this recipe using a number of other fruits with mixed results.  Peaches and nectarines work well.  Blueberries, blackberries and raspberries don’t work well, and I think the plums were a little late in the season and therefore they weren’t as flavoursome as I would have liked.  I’ll try them again next summer and let you know.

The resulting drink is refreshingly light with a good fruity aroma and a hint of sparkle and as long as you’re not expecting it to stand up to a glass of good Burgundy you may be well satisfied.


What you need:

1/2 cup castor sugar

1/2 cup water

1 punnet strawberries

500 ml sparkling water

How to prepare:

1.  Place the sugar and water in a saucepan and heat gently stirring till the sugar is dissolved. Bring to the boil and boil briskly for a few minutes to reach a thin syrup consistency.

2.  Clean and hull the strawberries (remove the green stems and leaves), slice the large ones in half then add to the hot syrup and cook for a further 2 minutes.

3.  When the strawberry syrup has cooled (add some ice cubes to speed up the process if you like), transfer to a suitable jug and blitz the mixture to a smooth-ish liquid

4.  Place in the fridge until ready to use.

To serve: fill half a wine or cocktail glass with the strawberry syrup, add a few ice cubes and top up with ice cold sparkling water. Enjoy.


April Bloomfield at St John’s

November 5th, 2012 | Posted by Ruby in Favourite Places - (Comments Off on April Bloomfield at St John’s)

A few months ago Faith and I went to St John’s Restaurant in the West End for dinner.  It had been on my ‘must do’ eating out list for a long time, mostly because it serves some of my favourite kinds of offal dishes.

Needless to say the meal was everything I expected it would be and some.  Like a long remembered childhood pleasure re-experienced, St John’s offered reminders of the foods I so enjoy yet so seldom see on a menu.  Most people I know don’t eat offal, but having grown up with a step-father who served all variety of offal I not only learnt to eat it I thoroughly enjoyed it.  I went on to prepare these dishes for my daughters who both love offal.  I’m not just talking about the usual liver, kidneys and blood sausage, I’m also talking about tripe, tongue, trotters and the like.

Back to St John’s, while googling the restaurant I discovered that April Bloomfield, of Spotted Pig fame, would be making a guest cooking appearance at the end of October.  I duly booked and waited impatiently.

The 31st finally arrived – below a copy of the menu.

I would have loved to try the pig trotters but as there were only 2 of us this wasn’t an option.

But we thoroughly enjoyed the Devilled Eggs, Chicken Livers, Pigs ear salad, burgers – medium rare just the way I like them and then banoffee pie.  You may be wondering where the picture of the pig’s ear is  – well I’m afraid I got so excited I forgot to take a picture until after the empty plate was removed : (

All in all a memorable dinner and a signed book.  More later on these recipes.


Salt Beef Croquettes

October 28th, 2012 | Posted by Ruby in Starters - (Comments Off on Salt Beef Croquettes)

It started with a Salt Beef croquette – simple enough I thought.  Of course I didn’t want ready cooked beef – I wanted to cook my own salt beef, also my thinking was that if I buy enough salt beef I can use the remainder for a couple of other dishes.  I visited the local butchers and supermarket meat sections – nothing.  Not to be deterred I then travelled a bit further, still no salt beef.  Then even further – still no luck.  At which point I began researching recipes to make my own salt beef from scratch – well at least from a piece of raw brisket.

The key to salt beef is saltpetre (potassium nitrate) this gives the beef that pink colour even when well cooked.  Saltpetre has been used as a preservative and additive since the middle ages, as well as for medicinal purposes, although I was a little alarmed to discover it is also used as a rocket propellant, and is an ingredient in gunpowder.  As I was determined to make the real thing this ….didn’t put me off – I went shopping for saltpetre.

I tried the most obvious places first – the local pharmacies and kitchen stores – then a few more places – specialty spice shops, again nothing.  Then onto Amazon – where I found it and immediately placed my order.  In due course the saltpetre arrived and I could now progress to making salt beef.  Back to the recipe – ah, I need pickling spice so off to the butcher for a good piece of brisket and then to the supermarket for pickling spice.  Success at the butcher but total failure at the supermarket.

Then onto the pickling spice hunt that lasted for 12 assorted supermarkets, stores and stalls.  All the more frustrating knowing that I have a packet in the kitchen in Paris.  Oh well, finally discussing my problem with Cheri she asked why I didn’t just make my own pickling spice.  So back to google and start researching the ingredients for pickling spice.  A lengthy list later and 4 different stores and I had the necessary ingredients.  Not just for a large jar of pickling spice (probably enough to keep me in pickles for the remainder of this decade, but also enough of the individual ingredients to spice an Arabian nights wedding for 300 …..

Whoopee!  I was finally ready to start actually preparing something in the kitchen.

First the pickling spice….

Then the brine and meat altogether in a ziploc bag and into the bottom of the fridge for 2 weeks.

Now the cooked and shredded beef….

And once done I could start preparing my croquettes…


and finally….

The result

And so the verdict…

Were they great, were they fantastic, were they worth all the effort and long wait?

Well they were good, maybe even better than good, but definitely not worth all the effort.  Maybe next time round they will stand up to well to the expended effort.

All in all a good learning experience and I will definitely use the excess ingredients for other recipes.

See previous blog for the recipe for Pickling Spice

Then the brine – here’s what you need:

2 litres water

½ cup salt

½ cup brown sugar

1 Tablespoon pickling spice

1 kg brisket

Put the water, salt, sugar and spice into a large saucepan and bring to the boil.  Allow the liquid to cool and then put the brisket into a Ziploc bag along with the cooled liquid.  And then place it in the bottom of the fridge for 2 weeks.

After 2 weeks drain the liquid off the brisket, put the meat into a large bowl covered with cold water and leave for 24 hours, changing the water every 3-4 times.

Then drain the liquid off the meat.  Place in a large pot covered with cold water, a carrot, stick of celery, onion halved and some black peppercorns.  Bring to the boil and simmer gently for 4-5 hours. Once the meat is very tender, drain the liquid and allow to cool.


and the Recipe for Croquettes

Shred the meat or blitz in the food processor until you have about 4 cups of finely shredded meat. Prepare a batch of thick white sauce (about 1 cup) and mix the shredded meat into it.  Leave in the fridge until set fairly firmly.

Prepare 3 shallow bowls in a row, 1 with plain flour,  1 with a beaten egg and 1 with bread crumbs.  Then shape the mix into croquette shapes to a size that suits you, dipping each firstly into the flour, then the egg, then the crumbs.  Lining up your ready to cook croquettes on a plate until you have finished the mixture.

Now either shallow or deep fry in corn or groundnut oil till golden.

Serve with a rocket, sorrel or dandelion salad and some homemade mayonnaise, with a touch of horseradish added if you like.