Roast chicken in wine


Chickens

Originally uploaded by Mr_Chips

I have adapted this recipe from a Telegraph article by Xanthe Clay. It’s a lovely way to roast a chicken as it keeps it moist and produces a lovely sauce.
Ingredients
1 free range chicken
1 oz butter
1 clove of garlic
1 lemon
1 onion
stick of celery
2 or three carrots
a few extra vegetables of your choice eg leeks.
a pinch of oregano and a slurp of concentrated stock.

Method
Place the chicken in a large roasting tray. Mix the butter in a pestle and mortar with the garlic and oregano with the lemon juice and zest. Push this mixture under the skin of the chicken and over the suface of the skin. Leave the rest of the lemon in the cavity.
Pour most of the bottle of wine into the roasting tray and add the onion, celery and the other vegetables all round the chicken and add the stock. Put some foil over the top and put into a hot oven at 200C. After 45 minutes reduce the heat to 150C and cook for another 45 minutes although you have to guage this according to the size of the bird. Take the foil off and brown the top. You may have to turn the heat up at the end.
Take the chicken out of the tray to rest. Spoon off any fat from the liquid.
Use a food liquidiser to liquidise the vegetable mix into a delicious thick sauce.
Serve with potatoes and cabbage or your own choice.

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Eight at the Thatch, Thame

We were taken to this new restaurant run by the winners of the BBC competition – “The Restaurant” judged by Raymond Blanc. I had high expectations of this place so I was hoping it was going to live up to my expectations.
It was raining outside and so it was with some relief that I ducked through the low beamed door into the hub-bub inside. We sat down with some drinks in the lounge which was a little too dark to read the menus, I wish I had bought my torch.
The menu was tricky, I couldn’t decide whether to have the roasted halibut with black eyed beans or the Confit duck leg with crushed new potatoes, black olive and orange zest jus. Well the duck won rather reluctantly and I thought I would have the chicken liver pate on toasted sourdough with apple and cider compote and onion marmalade.
Meanwhile we were shown to our table in the crowded restaurant and we were given some bread that looked as though it had been recyled. It was torn into strips and bits. The waiter kindly changed it for some fresh.
The pate was good and went especially well with the onion marmalade although less well with the apple and then I was looking forward to the main course.
Our hosts had steak which to his annoyance was served on a board with no plate. We ordered a side order of spinach although I was annoyed by this – why can’t the main course have vegetables served with it?
The duck was very good and the new potatoes were crushed – why? The spinach was over done and didn’t really do anything for the dish and I couldn’t taste the jus at all so it felt rather ordinary and unexciting.
We grilled the waitress for some gossip. Jane – was off work having a baby and Jeremy was with her so I think most of the influence in the kitchen is from Raymond Blanc although it didn’t really show except for the slick service.
For pudding I had rhubarb, apple and amaretto crumble. The amaretto came in a glass although I would have preferred some yoghurt. The crumble was too sweet, didn’t seem to have any rhubarb and was disappointing.
We had a really good evening though, the conversation flowed and it was a pleasant place to be. Just a shame the food didn’t live up to my expectations.

LATEST NEWS

I see the news is out that Jeremy and Jane have quit the restaurant and are heading back to Cornwall to set up their own restaurant. I wonder where it all went wrong. Could it be they didn’t like the pub / restaurant set up? Maybe they didn’t like being managed. Good luck for the Cornish adventure.

Zen and the art of tea drinking


Camping kettle
Originally uploaded by Mr_Chips

Tea is simple yet complex. On the one hand a cup of flavoured hot water and on the other hand something that caused wars and world trade. For me though it is a way of life. The start of every day has to begin with the mighty brew of life just isn’t worth living. I am writing this with a mug of the steaming variety at my elbow. Even when I travel I take an electric element and mug so that I can brew up in the hotel room or a gas burner when camping. I have a special insulated mug with a lid when I am travelling so I can sip along without it getting cold.
My life changed in Botswana when I discovered red bush tea and I am so happy that there are major imports now to the UK, largely the result of The No 1 Ladies Detective Agency. Ma Romotswa likes her red bush tea and it was this literary influence that causes the people of Britain to sit up and take notice. They put the lids on their Earl Grey and Yorkshire tea and started to try out the red bush variety. I like it black and the good thing when you camping is that you drink it cold. At home, I keep a pot going most of the day and just top it up with hot water. It’s good for you as there is no caffeine and its good for the mind because it helps you to think. My current favourite is Dragonfly tea and they do several varieties.
Sometimes, in the afternoon I like something a little stronger and my current favourite is Darjeeling. We also have some black china which is good in the morning – it really wakes me up .
My favourite tea shop for a posh tea is Fortnum & Mason although I also like the little cafe at the National Portrait Gallery in London. Not so much for their tea and cakes but for the sketching opportunities.
My favourite country to travel to for tea apart from Botswana, obviously, is Turkey where they dish out free tea in little glasses wherever you go. It is sweet but refreshing.

Missionary munchies in Swakopmund, Namibia


lighthouse

Originally uploaded by Mr_Chips

This old German colonial town in Namibia has one of the best cafes in Africa. I shall come to that cafe in a moment, but first I wanted to dwell on that beautiful mix of Europe and Africa. Here amidst the wildest most remote deserts in the world sits a slice of Saltzberg. Yes the Namib is wonderful and much as you might expect a desert to be – mostly sand and yet it has some of the most beautiful sand dunes. If you look closely though you will discover a whole range of flora and fauna that is unique to this fragile fragment of Africa. The lichens are engineered by nature to live in the desert gaining moisture from the morning fog that sweeps in from the Atlantic.
Up at the northern end of the namib where the yearly flow of the Kuiseb river stops the marching dunes in their tracks is a place called Homeb. It is possible to camp here (you need a permit). it is home to a people called the topenairs. They eke out a simple existence in this remote place and harvest the ground melons. They live in makeshift huts and look after the goats.
Then come into town and sit in a cafe surrounded by German speaking people eating coffee and apple strudel and you can see the extremes of cultures.
But enjoy it whilst you are here. Revel in the ornate architecture. a few years ago you could walk down Kaiser Wilmhelm strasse but now it is Nelson Mandela street or similar- which is the price of progress but I hate the passing of the old and quaint.
The first time I drove to Swakopmund from Botswana with Dave. He came out from England and in the three weeks that he was with me we drove to the eastern highlands of Zimbabwe and then to the west coast of Namibia. i wanted to show him everything in his time here . He must have been exhausted. Anyway, we drove across the Caprivi strip and then down across the namib. It was hot and dusty and we vowed to run straight into sea when we arrived. However, we hadn’t taken into account the Benguela current that runs up the west coast and makes the sea cold and causes a fog to rise which means that at that time of year Swakopmund was as cold as a wet weekend in Brighton and the sea had lost its charm. To make matters worse there was no room at the inn! Swakop was full. We had to set up camp at what was prosaically known as mile 14. A cold and windswept place only made bearable by a jolly nature warden with a pipe who gave an amusing talk about the natural history. We embarrassed ourselves by falling into a giggling fit on the rocky benches at the back.
So it was years later that I had time to explore the cafes properly.
Since then we have tried out all sorts of accommodation and eateries. Although staying at the Pension prinzessin-rupprecht-heim was very peaceful it doubles as an old peoples home so be prepared. Cafe Anton was very plush and their cafe is as glitzy as anything you would find in Vienna. No – my favourite is Pension Rapmund. Its simple but friendly. Lovely little courtyards with rooms adjacent. Breakfast is served in a pleasant room where everyone congregates in the morning. Be prepared for the German speaking. Although everyone speaks English as well I was greeting people with ‘Morgen’ and asking for an eye for my breakfast.
For coffee I like to go to Putensoen cafe treffpunkt on kaiser willhelm strasse. Its an old fashioned place and handy for the bookshop, opposite. The cakes are excellent.
For a more substantial meal try the Missionary Munchies at The African Cafe this is the best cafe. Sitting out on the pavement watching the world go by. Palm trees waft overhead and plenty of opportunity to sit and sketch all the cool guys in from the desert, sitting and relaxing like me. The coffee is served in large colourful cups that call out to be painted and the missionary munchies really fit a spot before hitting the road to drive back, sadly, to Windhoek.

Ramblers breakfast


Bananas

Originally uploaded by Mr_Chips

My favourite breakfast at home or camping is a healthy meusli mix which can be turned into porridge with ease if its cold.
Ingredients:
Bananas, apples or other fruit
Raisins, currants or other dried fruit
Oats
Dried milk (if camping) or real milk
Yoghurt (if possible)
Honey

Method
Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl. If camping then mix in the dried milk with the oats and pour on boiling water and stir. This turns into porridge without messy saucepans to clear up.
If at home, add yoghurt and milk. Add some honey (if camping -take small catering capsules of honey).

This is a great dish and full of infinite possibilities.

Head in the Clouds


Head in the Clouds

Originally uploaded by Mr_Chips

Suffolk walking
We stayed at a comfortable bed & breakfast near Snape and Aldeburgh. It is called Briar Cottage and has a great website.
http://www.briarcottage.co.uk/index.html
From here it was a short drive to Minsmere bird reserve which is fantastic. There are so many different habitats. Woodland, marsh, coast, lakes. We saw the rare bittern, marsh harriers, the avocet, many lapwings in the fields, bar tailed godwit, berwick swans and many more.
I liked the coast – the sea was like a mill pond. Dunwich heath is owned by the national trust and the coast guard station is now a NT restaurant perched on top of the cliffs. There are some old cottages that you can stay in and they look idylic.
Our dawn trip was to go down to Aldeburgh and catch the sun coming up over the sea and the marshes. In the evening we went to Southwold to take photos of the pier, lighthouse and colourful beach huts.
Suffolk is a forgotten corner of England. You don’t go there on the way to somewhere else – its the end of the road and its glorious.

I could spend days just walking around the Minsmere reserve footpaths keeping a lookout for birds and then pottering along the beach to Dunwich Heath. However, a good walk is just outside of Aldeburgh. Drive along the beach road to Thopeness and park at the beach car park. Cross over the road and find the entrance to the Bird reserve. Follow the path inland across some flooded fields full of geese, depending on the time of year. There were some Russian white fronted geese around but I didn’t spot them. After about a mile you hit an old railway line. Turn right and follow along inland parallel to the sea. Then turn right again through a golf course and past the strange red ‘House in the clouds’. This is an old water tower converted into a house and you will catch glimpes of it around the walk. There is a beautiful windmill here too. At Thorpeness, have a cup of tea and rest. Then follow the beach back to the car. It’s a simple rectangular walk of about 3/4 miles with plenty of interest and bird watching.

River Cafe


River Cafe
Originally uploaded by Mr_Chips

My only knowledge of the River cafe was that it was where Jamie Oliver served his apprenticeship so I was very excited to be taken there by Mrs Chips’ catering company. They are so nice they even laid on a car to take us all up to London and back.
It was a cold windy evening by the Thames so the buzzy atmosphere inside was most welcoming. We stood at the long mirrored bar having a drink whilst waiting for out table. I caught some glimpses up towards the seating area where there was a large projected clock and an open oven in the wall.
Over talks and drinks I surveyed the menu and decided to go for the Insalata dal Mercato di Milano which is a mixture of sweet and bitter winter leaves that they bring in every week from Milan market. I decided to follow that with turbot as I have taken a liking to fish recently and my mother said that turbot was her favourite.
We were taken to our table which had a good view into the kitchen although the chefs work behind a long serving bar so you can see what goes on as we dived into some tasty Italian bread with virgin olive oil.
My salad was delicious with its balsamic vinegar and selvapiana 2007 extra virgin olive oil dressing and left me looking forward to the main course. The others had split roasted Scottish langoustines stuffed with garlic and parsley and I tried some and they were fresh and succulent.
My turbot was wood roasted with lemon and marjoram with slow cooked fennel and Italian spinach and it was a great combination of tastes. The fennel goes so well with the turbot and the spinach is such a no nonsense accompaniment. There were no heavy creamy sauces that one gets so often in smart restaurants. It simply wasn’t needed. Although we did need some fruity yet light pinot noir red wine and lashings of tap water.
I had a cleansing lemon tart for pudding and the others had pannacotta with grappa and champagne rhubarb. That’s a type of rhubarb, by the way.
We had a tasty cheese board with some wonderful dolcelatte among other offerings. I looked around and realised that we were the last in the restaurant. I have to say that it was the best food and best ambiance I have ever enjoyed. All the waiters and waitresses were delightful and were happy to answer all our questions and seemed very satisfied with their jobs and this made for an excellent evenings entertainment so I can heartily recommend this cafe by the river. The prices are reasonable – £27 – £30 for a main course. A definite 5 star rating.