Monday, 21 September 2015

When the chef came to dinner: The Plough at Eastbury

There's a pub near Newbury that is my partner and I's go-to place for treating ourselves gastronomically. One evening, he surprised me again and off we went through some Berkshire villages to our favourite spot. I had scallop, lobster, and crab Thermidor which was a dream. I may have licked the plate but don't judge me - you would too. It was so good that I couldn't manage all of my surf and turf of Rib-eye steak and giant prawns. I rolled home, happy as pie. This pub is called The Plough at Eastbury and we love it. Graham and Louise do a great job and it's a pleasure to spread the word about it.

The most important thing we saw that evening was the board in the bar about a gourmet quiz night. It was happening in a few weeks time so I messaged round the foodie crew and the 5 of us went along on a warm Tuesday evening to see what it was like. It was a very reasonably priced 5 course tasting menu with matching wine. As each course and wine would come round, we'd have a question and answer sheet about how it was cooked, what ingredients were used, what year and what grape the wine was etc. At first, it was going well, we guessed that the amuse bouche was a green veloute but guessed that it was broad bean and not asparagus. Fatal error. Most of the answers we got wrong were discussed amongst us but we all somehow convinced each other of another answer. We regained points on the cold-smoked trout (chef was impressed that we were the only ones to get the technique of the trout down - go Budgie!).

Fish course was fried monkfish but we guessed crayfish, but we regained points again with the finer details with the ingredients in the sauce. Meat course was pulled pork and goat with a crunchy salad and sweet potato mash. We did ok here. Don't think anyone guessed the goat. The cheese course is where it all went wrong. We hadn't even heard of the cheese, Chaource, but trust us to be in competition with a french cheese specialist. Shame they knew nothing apart from cheese though (haha). We gained almost no points for that course, but then the desert came. There were small black seeds in a mouse like fool and I said there is only one fruit with seeds like this and that's a dragon fruit. We put it down in vague hopefulness and chef nearly ate his hat. He thought that that was a definite that no-one would know but then how did he know that one of the quizzers had it every morning in a smoothie from a stall in Thailand?! Our knowledge on the finer detailed ingredients put us ahead of the pack and we won by a strong margin. Beginners luck was no way a part of it, we just love our food.

With regards to the wine, I don't actually remember much about it and I didn't really know any of them - that was Katie's department. We did well and got a sauvignon blanc spot on. That reminds me, I do want to do some sort of wine tasting course so I can taste and judge wine with more of an expert nose and palate. Perhaps a vineyard visit when we go to Spain next week.
At the end - chef Graham announced that the winners (yes, us!) would receive a meal cooked by him at our home...our mouthed dropped open (and Katie screamed). We thought we'd get a bottle of wine. So, after a mission to get everyone's calendars together, we picked a Monday evening when his kitchen at the pub was quiet, and he came to cook two beautiful courses for us lucky people. We'd get one of our favourite chefs cook us dinner? At home? What a night.

That Monday night arrived and we were treated to scallops, hogs pudding, pork belly, blackberry, cold smoked venison and trout for starter followed by venison, pigeon, and crab in a Vietnamese nasi goreng style sauce. The roasted radishes were a delight. Until that night, I've only ever sliced a raw radish in a salad. We absolutely loved it. All of us who ate at the meal work hard every week night to put yummy dishes on our own tables but for this special evening, we were the ones who got cooked for and we dined like kings and queens.

Here's to more foodie memories and the reigning gourmet quiz champions maintaining their new title! Thanks Graham.

ZP x

P.s. Please note that the The Plough didn't ask me to write this - we genuinely just love the place.

It's all about a balanced life: tarts and sport

I've had the most relaxing weekend in a long time and it's been time to reflect, see friends and family, but also to get things done. Dot the i's and cross the t's as my Nanny used to say.

We attended the Newbury Show, had some tapas to celebrate friends leaving to Spain, washed the cars, filled in legal house forms and relaxed. You always need weekends away from the hustle and bustle, and I can safely say that I didn't think of work once! Recharging of batteries complete.

Lacrosse training began last week. I didn't realise how much I missed it. A new lacrosse season begins but I shall only be training (and not match playing) due to the house needing more of my attention once we move in. My pink stick that I got for my birthday was brilliant - not much wearing in required. Hopefully next season I can pick up the stick for matches.

My yoga teacher is back after a few weeks off and teaching class again, thank goodness. I've been practicing with her now for about 10 months and she's the one. It's taken a long time to find the right yoga teacher. It's my favourite way to restore, energise, and strengthen. It's almost magical. It has this peaceful-japenese-zen-garden quality that you can't get anywhere else.

Nutritionally speaking, I'm known for a few cakes and chocolate based treats but it all has to be balanced. You mentally feel better after eating well, not just physically. The biggest treat this week was a shortcrust pastry plum and frangipani tart I made. It was amazing. Fresh buttery pastry and an almond centre with sharp plums cutting through. To be honest, I watched 10 minutes of Bake Off and had to get up and make pastry. There a few people I know who get an urge to make pastry but when it happens, it happens fast. That pastry has got to be made and it's got be made now. A butter and eggs shopping trip followed immediately.

Apart from the odd pastry craving, we eat really healthily. A lot of fresh fish and steamed veg. We're both very keen cooks and love to keep it interesting. On Friday, I made a cute little two course dinner: prawns and salmon with charred lettuce and a fresh tomato dressing, followed by pork medallions and camembert mash served with a risky peach and rosemary sauce. Who knew pork, peaches and rosemary would go so well? I thought of the pork/sweet apple combo and as we had peaches left to use, I simmered them with some white wine and finished with a little cream. Got to love a new sauce discovery.

It's important to get that nourishment when we're both training. The kitchen in the new house will be a challenge...with an extension and a whole new kitchen being required so that will be interesting. Baked beans out of the tin anyone?!

ZP x

Monday, 14 September 2015

Autumn is here

The 13.5 tog duvet went on the other evening. Then it was swapped straight back to the summer one. My winter boots even had their first outing and now they're back in the cupboard. The weather can't seem to decide whether it's warm or cold. We're coming into autumn and you can tell by the smell in the air. I even got excited about Christmas presents this morning (sad, I know). I definitely haven't made a list on my phone about what presents to buy whom...

Anyway, enough of the seasonal talk and onto more pressing news. The dream man and I have bought a house. Not renting, not living at the 'rents - we're buying a house. I'm finally back where I belong, in my hometown, and back with my nearest and dearest people who I love the most. Nothing has ever felt so right. We've bought the house down the road from where we both went to school and down from the village we grew up in as children. A proper home. And it's all ours. To live in and that.

So following on from my skin-pinching moment, I've been thinking of ways to record our restoration/extension developments. Instagram? Pinterest? Blogging? I just couldn't decide. The house is Edwardian and the old lady who lived there before has done no interior work since the 60's. We have 'some' work to do. Let's just say that the bathroom suite is black with pink tiles and pink carpet...

We will be discovering and restoring the original features such as the doors, stripping back the flooring to it's wooden boards, and knocking through the covered up fireplaces. It's an absolute dream to think we can make it our own and create a family home.

Seeing the amount of work we need to do, and how much I like to document things, I thought of this little place I call my blog. It's been underused this year, with me not really knowing what to do with it. I now have a project and something to record. This shall be my house diary. All the ups and downs of a house renovation project will be recorded. I could even print it all at the end and make it into a little book to keep as a momento when the house is complete.

That reminds me, I have some other minor news...I have a new job! I'll be making books for a living. Couldn't get much better than that for a little English grad. One step closer to my dream magazine publishing job.

Anyway, must dash; I have colours to match, sofas to browse, and reclamation yards to explore!

Enjoy the changing seasons and don't forget to savour that wet rain smell.

ZP x