Friday, 12 September 2014

Mini Bramley Apple "Pies"

My parents are all about Organic fruit and veg, for me it's just a label. They say Organic, but how do we know it's actually organic?
Yes, I am being cynical, only because we have spent many years consuming vegetables that have not been given that label and then all of a sudden they label the ones with less (not completely free of) pesticides as "organic" and charge a lot more for them.

Anyway, the parents decided to pay their good friend a visit at their stately home that has beautiful gardens and home grown produce. The two little monsters went with them too and it was great seeing them experience picking their own fruit and veg - by the looks of it, they had a ball!

They had picked many things like: blackberries, marrows, plums, broad beans and bramley apples.

Bramley apples are very popular for using in pies, tarts, making apple sauce etc. Just not eaten though - they are pretty sour!

I'm going to be honest here - I don't like apple pie. In fact, I don't like much (if any) cooked fruit so deciding on how to use over a kilo of these apples was a challenge and a half. I have been trawling the trusty internet for ideas and I finally decided I would try making different things with it. First up: mini apple "pies".
Most apple pie recipes don't cook the apples first but me being me, I feared the apples wouldn't cook enough so looked for a recipe that required the fruit to be cooked prior to baking.

I also have a confession. I used shop bought pastry.
Yes yes yes, totally sinful but guess what, I don't have the luxury of time to make pastry from scratch. I would if I had more time - which will happen soon, so there may be a post on pastry testing!

After making these mini apple "pies" there were obvious tweaks that I will probably do next time but they weren't too bad for a first attempt.
There will be apple sauce left over, so use them for more apple pies or even try making an apple danish or something.
Notes for next batch:

  1. Chop the apples in to smaller pieces and maybe use brown sugar rather than caster sugar.
  2. Add a little lemon juice to the apples.
  3. Sprinkle a little sugar on the pies before baking, or dust with icing sugar after baking.
  4. Chill pastry for longer - I was very tight on time so rushed it slightly.
  5. Make sure the cutter I use for the top half of the pies is one size bigger than the base of the pies, to allow more filling to fit in.
  6. Add a knob of butter to the apples after cooking to mellow out the acidity.
So this was what I did:-
Mini Apple Pies

About 1KG of Bramley apples, peeled, cored and chopped into small pieces.
80g golden caster sugar
1tsp of ground cinnamon
A pack of shortcrust pastry
Egg, for glazing.

  • Put the Apples, caster sugar and cinnamon in to a large pot. Add a couple of tablespoons for water.

  • Cover and cook on a low heat for 10 mins.
  • Stir and replace the lid to cook for a further 8 minutes on the low heat.
  • It will be ready when all the apples are very soft but careful not to make a pulp.
  • Once it has cooked, take it off the heat and cool completely.
  • Roll out the pastry.
  • Using a large cookie cutter cut discs out of the pastry.
  • Using a small decorative cutter, stamp out the centre of half the discs.
  • Spoon teaspoonfuls of the apple sauce in the centre of the base discs.
  • Brush a little water on rim of the underside of the pie tops, place on top of the apple filled base.
  • Press gently to seal and use a fork to further press it in place.

  • Put the pies in the fridge for at least 30 mins.
  • Preheat the oven to 180ºC
  • Brush the pies tops with egg and bake for about 25 mins.

What was missing was some good creamy custard! Yum.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Opus One (Radisson Blu Edwardian, Manchester) - a little bit of luxury!

After my very average meal at Mr. Lau's the previous evening, I was very much looking forward to Afternoon Tea at Opus One in Manchester.
My friends, Wing and Sybil, had booked this place because we all love a good afternoon tea. When they told me it would be posh, I immediately went online to check it out in order to prepare for what I would be expecting. Posh looking indeed!

Date of visit: 01/09/2014

I had been standing outside of the grand looking Opus One for about 15-20mins (I don't feel comfortable entering posh places on my own) when I received a message from Sybil to turn around - turns out she was already inside and spent a good 5-10mins trying to knock on the window behind me to get my attention! If Opus One had not intended for their glass to be sound proof, well they're in luck. Even when inside, I couldn't hear any of the external traffic noise.

When we originally entered Opus One, what blew me away was the beautiful decor - clean smooth lines, dark glossy furniture with a hint of red coming from the chandeliers and walls, and large chess pieces dotted about. All this along with the high ceilings certainly made me feel like I was in some grand theatre. We walked through the luxurious restaurant and in to the side room that has full length windows looking out on to Peter Street. We sat on the beautiful boutique sofas that were extremely comfy! Already a great start.

I'm not sure about you but Afternoon Teas can get a little too sweet for me and I end up not finishing all the cakes in one sitting. This is where Opus One stood out from the other Afternoon Teas I have had. They give you the option of: Traditional Afternoon tea, Celebration Afternoon Tea and Gentlemen's Afternoon Tea.
We went for 2 Gentlemen's and 1 traditional as all 3 of us enjoy just that little bit more savoury than sweet.
The Gentlemen's Afternoon Tea consisted of:
Mini hot yorkshire pudding with beef and gravy in the middle.
Warm pork pie
Mini Fish and Chips
Rustic Sandwiches
Scones with clotted cream and jam

They also have a lovely selection of teas to go with your afternoon tea - we opted for Assam, Ceylon and English Breakfast.

The tea arrived first and in all honesty, I was slightly underwhelmed by the teapots they were served in; very average metal teapots I would expect during breakfast in an average hotel. I know I know, but crockery style does play a part in what should be a luxury treat. It's like buying a car that has beautiful trims, leather seats, leather steering wheel, built in sat nav, cruise control, the whole shebang; only to see that there are no alloy wheels. Just hubcaps.

The waitress then comes in with the goods and at that moment, the average teapots were forgotten about. Everything looked so pretty and most importantly, scrumptious!

The rustic sandwiches had two layers to them which just added to what was already a pretty damn good sandwich.

Mini Pork Pies - Now I'm not normally a fan of pork pies, mainly because the ones I have had in the past were just cold, fatty, over salty meat surrounded by tasteless pastry (the thought of it makes me want to hurl) but this one was pretty damn tasty. The pie was warm and the pastry crumbled when you take the initial bite, then it melts in the mouth so beautifully. It is most likely not any healthier than your average pork pie (in fact, I'm pretty sure the pastry was made using lard) but damn, it was good!
Yorkshire Pudding - I wish I had eaten this first because by the time I got to the yorkshire, it had become cold. Even when it was cold the flavours were really good so imagine it being nice and hot - that silky rich gravy with the slither of roast beef, in a nice crispy yorkshire pudding...drooling yet?
Fish and Chips - slightly underwhelming with the fish and chips looking a little overdone, and the mushy peas made the fish batter slight soggy after a while, so tip: eat it after the yorkshire pudding.

After the lovely savoury options, I turned my attention to the sweet tower.

From what I could see, there was fruit tart, chocolate fudge cake, bake well traybake and a prosecco jelly.

I only managed to try the fruit tart and jelly from the sweet tower, then a scone. I wish I could have tried the rest but I was just so full from all the food - it doesn't look much but it's certainly filling, maybe it was the pork pie.

The fruit tart seemed like it had been left out a little too long as the pastry was slightly soggy, but the creme pat was smooth and creamy.
I wasn't sure what the jelly was at first but I knew I wanted to try it - the prosecco jelly was quite refreshing and wasn't too sweet so it went down very easily.
The scones were beautifully light which surprised me as most scones i have had with afternoon teas have been quite dense. Topped with a dollop of clotted cream and jam (the best way to eat scones, in my opinion) makes this one of the best scones I have had this year.

Now that I have returned to Scotland, I am currently seeking out a place that does savoury afternoon teas like Opus One does.
The whole experience felt quite luxurious and if I lived in Manchester, Opus One would no doubt be the place I would go to for a bit of Afternoon Tea with friends. The choice of sweet or savoury will please different palates for sure.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Mr. Lau's - Dim Sum Bar

I have visited friends that live in Manchester a couple of times now but this was a little different.
My good friends Wing, Sybil and their baby son, Isaac are going to be leaving at the end of September. They will be moving to Singapore permanently.
I have been very busy with work and due to that, I was only able to take 2 days off so I did a 24hour thing in Manchester just to catch them for a couple of hours to say goodbye.
Another good friend of mine, Bryan lives near Manchester so it only made sense to meet him and Dan while I was in the area. They were very kind to offer me a place to stay for the night too.

I arrived on the Sunday afternoon at Manchester where I was met by Bryan and Dan. We decided to go to Mr. Lau's, in Warrington, for dinner as Dan had been there before and said it was quite nommy (yes, this is a word...ahem).
They claim to be a premier dim sum bar so naturally I was excited to going here and hopefully taste some pretty darn good dim sum, maybe with a modern twist.

Date of Visit: 31/08/14

As we arrived pretty early, the place was not really that busy but I did notice that they had one large party already in and were expecting another large party too. A waiter/barman greeted us and took us to the table closest to the open kitchen. 

The open kitchen. This is how dark our table was. Please excuse person in the corner there!

He came back later to take our drink orders and we didn't see him for a while after that. We never got handed any a la carte menus so we automatically assumed it was just the dim sum menu, which was already on our tables, that we had to order from. We waited for a good while after ticking the boxes and it seemed like we had been forgotten about until the bar man finally came with our drinks. It looked like he was by himself at the bar so I could understand why our drinks took time but the other waiters in our area didn't even look at our table until we asked the bar man if there was a way to order food. Even he seemed surprised that we had not had our orders taken yet. 
We were given a little bucket of prawn crackers to nibble on as we waited some more.
Once the order was put through there was still a bit of a wait for the food - hardly surprising as the kitchen was starting to get very busy as the restaurant was filling up.

Our order was:
Salt and pepper cashew nuts
Vietnamese prawn crackers
Salt and pepper chicken wings
Salt and pepper tofu
Ap gau (Duck Dumplings)
Wor tip (pan fried meat dumplings)
Ap goon (Duck spring rolls)
Char Sui buns (chinese roast pork buns)
Custard buns
Char Sui Cheung fun
Har gau (Prawn Dumplings)
Prawn toast

In my experience with dim sum, it has always been a pretty quick affair - yum cha (directly translated as "drink tea" because people would usually have several dim sum dishes to accompany their tea) is such a popular thing during peak times that the food usually comes out pretty fast due to the copious amount of preparation the chef(s) will have done. 
I spoke to the owner of a chinese restaurant not that long ago and he has one dim sum chef, hired from Hong Kong specifically to do the dim sum in his restaurant. The chef starts at 6am every morning to start on his mise en place, ready for doors opening at 12pm. Dim sum sessions finish at around 4pm but the dim sum chef doesn't go home until 6-7pm. 

As soon as we gave the order to the waitress, she came to tell us the Vietnamese crackers were complimentary and that we were already given them so we should order something else. The crackers in front of us were NOT Vietnamese crackers, I know because I use Vietnamese crackers in my own restaurant. Bryan said nothing and just ordered something else and when we looked over to see a different kind of prawn crackers being dished out, we knew that those were the Vietnamese crackers. The waitress must have got them mixed up but at this point we just wanted ur food so badly that there was no point in getting angry at some prawn crackers. Although the question I had was: If the Vietnamese crackers were already complimentary then why have them on the dim sum order then?

We got most of our dim sum after a little wait and was then told that there were no custard buns left! Yes, I was really gutted because if I'm honest, their dim sum menu was pretty limited - considering that they claim to be a dim sum bar. I'm guessing the limited menu saves confusing people who have never had dim sum before but the whole point of having dim sum when I was in HK was because there was so much choice that there would bound to be something for everyone.

Had to put on the flash and edit this photo, it was after I had seen this that I realised what the food actually looked like.

I settled for the beef balls and reminded the waiter that there was still the ap gau to still come.
We ate as we waited on the other dishes and I must admit, I was not that impressed. I am not expecting dim sum to be exactly like the ones in HK but I expect them to be somewhat similar or have their own twist on it.

What it actually looked like in front of us.

Cheung Fun is normally one of my favourites but the actual Cheung fun itself at Mr. Lau's had a very soft texture, whereas the ones I'm used to, have more of a little bounce. The char sui in my Cheung fun was very fatty, not sure if it was meant to be like that. 

Cheung Fun

Har gow had a bit of a tough pastry (it most likely came out of the steamer first while it waited on the other dishes and had hardened a little when it came in contact with the air) and there wasn't the nice little parcel shapes that I am used to having, however the taste was pretty spot on.
All the salt and pepper dishes were well seasoned, especially the cashews. I could see myself eating a whole bowl of that in front of a telly!

Beef balls came, still no ap gau. I did notice that the friendly waiter had asked the kitchen several times about the ap gau so it wasn't like they weren't trying.
Bryan tried the beef balls first and said to me it tasted of nothing, which I thought, "no way".
But he was right. It tasted of nothing. I couldn't even taste the beef! There were 4 in that steamer and after me and Bryan had one each, we left the rest.

The ap goon was okay but I was struggling to find any ap in that goon.

Wor tip had good flavours but I couldn't help but think they had over fried the dumplings as they were crispy all the way around but I will credit them for not making the pastry chewy as that is what tends to happen to wor tip when they are over fried.

I was slightly worried that we had ordered too much food (those of you who go to yum cha, don't tell me you haven't over ordered before) but some of their portions were not very big so it was actually enough for us. 

By the time we finished our dishes, the ap gau was still no where to be seen. We asked the waitress to cancel that dish as we had waited too long and were no longer wanting it. The manager informed us that it was ready so we had it packed for us to take away. 
We had the feeling that we were constantly being neglected compared to other tables. We noticed during our meal that as soon as the table next to us were sat down, they were handed proper menus as well as the dim sum menu. Why didn't we get a la carte menus? It probably wasn't intentional but it doesn't make them look good when they give all - but one table - menus!

The manager did do something as a goodwill gesture because she knew we weren't impressed, which was very kind of her because we hadn't even put in a complaint. 
When we did get served, the waiters were all polite and friendly.

They have a very extensive cocktail menu - this baffled me as to why more effort seemed to have gone in to the cocktail menu than the Dim Sum menu. 
I ordered a virgin cocktail - Mango Twist - which was beautifully done so I could imagine this place being good for nights out.

Mango Twist

Overall, it isn't a bad place but it was an unfortunate visit for myself and friends. The lighting is very dim where we sat (as the photos will show) so it was difficult to see much of the food that was put in front of us. 
Nice decor, LOVE the large lampshades. The lighting in there would make it a great cocktail bar venue.

I would probably want to venture in to China Town in Manchester the next time I am there - just so I could compare. My advice for those who want to pay Mr. Lau a visit: If you are not handed a main menu, ask for one! I checked out some of their photos and menu on their website afterwards and it would have been nice to have the option of ordering something from the main menu as some of it sounded/looked pretty good.