Thursday, November 30, 2006

A perfect night!

What would be my recipe for a perfect evening?

Well first of all there would be great company, hopefully there would be Patrick Dempsey wearing that special smile of his (and little else preferably!) if he were available. Though unfortunately he never seems to be. Of course there would be some magnificent food and some equally delicious wine to wash it all down with. And maybe just maybe if that weren’t enough indulgence they'd be an opportunity for a little retail therapy, possibly of something fabulous and shiny! Mmmm, heaven!

And that was pretty much my perfect night tonight. Okay Patrick was busy... again but maybe next time!

Tonight was my second Divertimenti extravaganza and the theme was Festive flavours of Perigord with a special dinner prepared by Flavia Rowse - so completely up my boulevard! Last time we had a demonstration and we passed bowls around to taste things and had a couple of small plates but this time there’s only twelve of us and we sit on barstools around their ‘La Cornue’ range and demonstration island and the lovely Mary serves us each fabulous plate with a flourish as Flavia creates it. When I think of Perigord, I think of truffles, foie gras, and possible mushrooms and that's exactly what delights were on offer. We were positively awash with foie gras treats and I for one wasn't complaining.

Firstly, Flavia whipped up a little taster of a heavenly tiny baked potato topped with shavings of foie gras and black truffle with a glass of Sauternes! Just gorgeous!

Next we have the ultimate starter. An amazing indulgent plate of foie gras filled pasta with a truffle and mascarpone sauce, with which we drink some Champagne. I think I have died and gone to heaven, that sauce is just stunning. I could have had it by itself as an amazingly decedent fondue. Flavia certainly knows her foie gras, she tells us the history of the Egyptians worshipping the goose headed god which first established foie gras as the ultimate high days and holidays foodstuff. Romans improved on the original Egyptian method and developed a system of force-feeding the geese figs instead of grain. With the fall of the Roman Empire, such luxury foods were forgotten for the next millennium. She postulates that it was the Jews settled in Italy that spread the word and reinstated foie gras and maybe not the Gascon peasants as otherwise believed. Though with Flavia’s mother being French she wouldn’t normally admit to that!

Next we have a foie gras hiatus and Flavia makes us a lovely little warm salad of Chanterelles with some country bread. Then it’s back on the foie gras for a new take on burgers. We have the most delicious ‘burger’ made from brioche, flash fried foie gras, ruby chard and duck crackling. There was also a tomato jam made with Balsamic, ginger, coriander seeds and of course… tomatoes! I had mine on the side in case it spoilt the taste of the amazing ‘burger’ and yes, I did try it and declared it ‘not too bad!’. I’m glad I didn’t have it all over the brioche though!

Finally we have figs in puff pastry with mulled wine and cranberry coulis and a little more Sauternes. The meal wouldn’t generally be a normal complete dinner party menu it was meant to really showcase the fruits of Perigord, well actually foie gras and it was truly stunning. Flavia gets three well-deserved three forks for her efforts.

And if the evening wasn’t wonderful enough, there was time for a spot of shopping after our magnificent meal which is always extra fun after a few glasses of Sauternes etcetera! And somehow I ended up with a new pan and a cookbook. But I guess I better explain those ‘accidents’ in another post. And that doesn’t include the cookbook that Flavia is writing with her mother, which I intend to add to the burgeoning shelves when it is completed

And then when I returned home from the ideal evening what did I have waiting for me? Yes, you've guessed it Patrick Dempsey. Well at least on my Sky+ anyway!

So it really was the most perfect evening after all.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

One shell of a soup

I had a very fine soup from Waitrose today that I hadn't tried before - Cream of scallop. It comes with a little bag of Parmesan Bruschetta to garnish the hot soup with and give it a nice extra flavour. Unfortunately I burnt my mouth somewhat eating it, though I can't blame the soup as that was just my eagerness to consume it - clearly a self-inflicted injury!

I think I love scallops too much 'au natural' or with bits of snipped up smoky bacon and/or maybe a little black pudding or with the little 'Clangers' of mash potatoes a la Gary Rhodes (mmmm!) to ever make a soup out of them myself but I have to admit it was extremely tasty. Well done Waitrose!

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Man with a van

I always love it when I've had visit from the Ocado man, and (today) his red cabbage little van. It's not that I've got a thing about green uniforms it's just suddenly when I open the fridge there are so many options and I am spoilt for choice. Ooh will it be one of those beef and green peppercorn pies? Or I could use that smoked salmon, cream and chives to whip up some creamy scrambled egg. On one shelf there's a nice bit of fillet steak, some chicken breasts, field mushrooms, Savoy cabbage, Brussel sprouts, cauliflower, Brie, Cheddar and also some little pots of the scrummy Gu. On the next shelf there's even more goodies to consider.
And very importantly the Evian mountain has been restored.
Mother Hubbard doesn't live here anymore!

Monday, November 27, 2006

Risotto - take two

I've never been really successful with previous attempts at revitalising leftover risotto before, but I was determined to give it another go. The most common recipe for using up yesterday's risotto is to make arancini - deep dried balls of risotto, sometimes containing some meat ragù or a cube of cheese. But I have a deep-seated deep-frying anxiety! And before you think that this is on health grounds and that this j has been swapped with an alternate j from a parallel blog who worries about such issues, I’ll explain. For me, it's more about the practicalities of all that hot, hot oil. I could never consider deep-frying anything in my tiny, windowless (but well-loved!) kitchen - everything is just a bit too flammable! I think I saw the public information film about the danger of chip pans too many times and I am also slightly related to a fireman to risk all that hot fat. In addition, I've always worried about what you do with the oil once you've finished all that deep-frying. I guess if you know someone who could recycle it into bio fuel and drive his or her car with it, that would be rather a green solution! Or I seem to recall that you can make some tasty treat for the bird table with fat, a coconut shell and some nuts. But I don't have a bird table or for that matter - a coconut shell. So I need to find some alternate ways of cooking the remaining risotto and turn it into something fabulous.

Giorgio Locatelli suggests baking the remaining risotto in a torta (cake or pie) in the oven until brown on top. Alternatively, he suggests frying the risotto in a little olive oil, patting it down into a round cake shape. This is cooked for 4-5 minutes until golden brown and then is turned over and sautéed until golden brown on the other side.

The lovely Italian Cenzina who is hosting the risotto themed 'hey, hey it's Donna Hay day' on her gorgeous site il cavoletto di Bruxelles (if only I could read Italian!) suggests a very similar treatment...

- Risotto is at it’s best al momento, if you have leftovers, try this Italian style recycling: instead of microwaving, just put your risotto in a non stick pan with a spoon of melted butter, spreading it to make a 1cm thick fritter, let cook until golden on both sides, and you’ll have riso al salto. Great with a green salad on the side.

I decided to go with Cenzina’s version and in honour of her website (which I think translates as 'Brussels sprout', I accompanied my risotto cake with some of the aforementioned baby cabbage. It worked okay but it’s very difficult to keep the cake in a cake shape and not just end up with a messy heap of risotto grains. I think next time I would mix the cooked risotto with an egg, not only would this keep the mixture together better but taste good also!

It was very tasty - not at good at risotto the first time round but a close second! If I have an excess of risotto next time, I would try this again or maybe I’d have a go at Giorgio’s grandmother’s method in the oven. I also found some suggestions for stuffing birds or vegetables with leftover risotto and even a suggestion to use it to thicken a soup. Hmmm, it’s almost worth making extra on purpose every time.
I have no fear of leftover risotto now - I embrace it!

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Where in the world...?

To celebrate the 2500th visitor on my blog, I have added a world map to the bottom of the right hand column. This map is updated daily and will add red blobs according to the location of my readers. I don't know why I like knowing where people are whilst perusing my musings, but I enjoy the world-wide webness of it all so this will indulge me further.
Hopefully, I will eventually manage to paint the world red!
Happy perusing!

Oh risotto!

Today I have mostly thinking about risotto. Well, actually this whole past week has been pretty flavoured with risotto. When choosing a place to dine with T, I thought of the new risotto restaurant Ooze. But after reading Jay Rayner's rather damning review in the Observer last week, I wasn't sure I wanted to risk it. T has been a huge fan of risottos as long as I can remember and really introduced me to my love of them many years ago. The first time I cooked the fabulous Anna Del Conte's lemon risotto (though I actually made Nigella's rather generous version) was for T in her new kitchen. And true to form she had a risotto when we dined at Bank on Thursday, though she swore it was the first one she'd eaten for ages.

Then I read over at the il cavoletto di Bruxelles blog that risotto was the featured dish in the latest 'Hey, hey it's Donna Hay day!' and thought it might be fun to add one of my favourite recipes into the mix.

And finally, I found some time to read the wonderful risotto chapter in Giorgio Locatelli's fantastic book 'Made in Italy'. Giorgio's writing is inspirational but ironically the recipe I've decided to do is 'risotto ai cavolfiore' – the cauliflower risotto from Jamie Oliver's 'Jamie's Italy' as I have a spare cauliflower on hand. But I'm going with the maestro Giorgio Locatelli's five point risotto method as it all sounds so much more lyrical in Italian.

Firstly it's the soffritto - the very finely chopped onion is sautéed in butter. Though today I'm using a little leek mixed in with the onions as I have an abundance. And as this is a cauliflower risotto, the finely chopped cauliflower stalk is also added the lovely translucent mixture. Meanwhile the cauliflower florets are added to the pan of hot stock to cook.

Secondly you have the tostatura, the 'toasting' of the rice in this mixture so every grain is coated and warmed up and will cook uniformly. The glass of wine is added at this stage.

Thirdly the stock is added a ladleful at a time. When the rice is half cooked the now soft cauliflower is combined to the rice mixture and each floret is gently squashed into the rice as it's added.

The penultimate and important stage is to take the risotto off the heat for a minute, without any stirring to allow the mixture to cool slightly before the last flourish.

The final stage is the mantecatura, the beating in of the butter and cheese to finish off the risotto. You can really see the risotto come alive as you beat in the butter, the glossiness is very alluring.

The risotto should have a gorgeous mixture of creaminess and bite and if you tilt the plate, the risotto ripples in waves which is called "all'onda".

Before serving, the cauliflower risotto is topped by crunchy toasted pangrattato (some stale bread turned into breadcrumbs and fried in a little pan).

This risotto and the fabulous Anna Del Conte's lemon risotto are probably two of my favourites to cook I find them infinitely soothing to create and stir and extremely comforting to eat. Sometimes only a risotto will do!

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Banking on Bank

The first thing you notice as you enter Bank restaurant is an enormous very unusual chandelier that covers much of the ceiling. It is unusual because it consists of individually numbered glass pieces that are suspended by one end and the effect of all these edges of glass lined up is that of a huge green glass wave. The pieces are numbered because they are all slightly different shapes and when they are brought down for occasional cleaning they can all get put back in the correct formation. Not a cleaning job I'd fancy!

The best thing about Bank is the menu, or maybe the best thing is the food. I like the menu because it’s so varied that you can’t hesitate to find something you really fancy and if you’re entertaining – you know your guests aren’t going to be disappointed. Though saying that, the menu is large and there’s much pondering to be done. The last time I was at Bank, the menu was even bigger; it was so huge that the beginning of each meal was spent in quiet contemplation of your evening’s options for quite a long time. And then when the waiter took your order, many of the menu items had variations and you’d be quizzed on your exact combinations for even longer. Tonight was not just all about menu choices and eating, there was some serious catching up to do also. I hadn’t seen T for ages and ages, not since 15th September 2004 to be exact. Reminiscing recently about a certain pie in my handbag incident prompted an urgent call for a catch-up, how could we have let so much time pass? So for once when faced with a Bank menu, I eschewed the careful weighing up of tonight’s delights in favour of a perfunctory glance and down to the serious business of some heavy girl-talk. And considering this, I picked exceedingly well. I started with an old Bank favourite – foie gras and chicken liver parfait, apple and pear chutney, brioche. Which was as good as I remembered. This was followed by seared scallops, leeks, Jerusalem artichoke, chanterelles, Champagne velouté and for purely scientific reasons a side order of mash. And this was really, really good. The scallops were just perfect and vegetables were really flavoursome. And the mash was wonderful also. So maybe it’s not the extensive menu, it’s the food that makes Bank so good. I can also vouch for the consistency; Bank is probably the restaurant in London that I’ve visited the most. When I first started to work in the city, this become a bit of a regular haunt. And it was always Laurent Perrier Rosé all round! Well, of course! We always grabbed the latest Bank postcards, they always did clever things incorporating BANK into some black and white images. They became rather iconic. Whilst entertaining some clients at the end of 2002, I heard that Bank were starting a regular cooking class/ foodie event in the new year and immediately signed up. Christian Delteil ran these fabulous seasonal events throughout the year. We would turn up, sometimes dressed in chef’s whites though invariably not. We would watch Christian produce various dishes with some ultra fresh ingredients. After a few hours of this, he’d cooked us a fabulous meal and we’d sit in the private dining room and eat and drink and just have such a good time. A few of us started getting together outside of these events and trying out a few restaurants on our hit list, Hush, chef’s table at Gordon Ramsay at Claridge’s and Providores. One of our group even had Peter Gordon cook a dinner party for them at home - very flash!

Christian Deltei was so entertaining at these events; he was very French, slightly random and just a little eccentric. We always ate incredibly well and had a great time. I am not sure if they are still running these events, I did the full year and would recommend them.

It was really nice to be back in Bank and even better to catch up with T. We finished off by sharing a few secrets and a molten chocolate pudding with ice cream. It wasn’t Laurent Perrier Rosé this time, it was Kir Royales until I realised they had Chambord and it was Kir Imperials instead.

You can definitely bank on Bank, the best thing about them is not the chandelier or the menu but the food and for that they get two forks. And one of them will be the giant one on this postcard, of course I had to pick this one up!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

A better foodie by far

I'd been meaning to try out one of the very popular Divertimenti cooking courses for ages but whenever I remember to check the schedule, the sessions I'm most interested in have been snapped up and I kick myself for not acting sooner. But this time I was quicker off the mark and managed to secure two rather interesting foodie experiences, the first was tonight entitled 'The serious foodie's store cupboard' hosted by Marcia Barrington doing the cooking and Sudi Piggott author of the fabulous little chocolate and raspberry coloured book 'how to be a better foodie - a bulging little book for the truly epicurious' that I've raved about here before. I do consider myself a foodie though I'm certainly not in Sudi's league! Though I have had my foodie credentials called into question recently because of my extensive 'food black list' and of course especially my singular effort to eradicate the world of tomatoes. Okay maybe that's harsh, I just want a permanent tomato exclusion ring of steel around me. Other non-believers can indulge in their wicked tomato pleasures but leave me out of it. And for those of you who always say 'go on try it, it doesn't really taste of tomatoes' I have two answers: a) I can detect the merest whiff of the evil red stuff and b) if you can't apparently taste it, what's the point of including it at all? Anyway aside from the food dislikes foibles, I am strictly lower division in the serious foodie stakes. Sudi even says that you should choose where you live based on the proximity of quality foodie haunts. I do get her point but I'd be loathed to move because of a fantastic organic ruddy-cheeked butcher on your doorstep to find that they've decided to retire after 40 years of butchery the moment you sign on the dotted line. An old girlfriend of mine ummed and aahed over buying a flat in a fairly dubious area of London, I won't say where. But the deciding factor was that there was a Marks & Spencer on the high street and there was a whiff of 'up and coming' about the place. However, almost the moment they started to unpack their worldly goods, M&S closed down and the place started to decline. Very unfortunate!

I'm am pleased to say however that Sudi singled out a chocolate shop where I live, so a few foodie points there then. Part of the whole idea seems to be to never miss a foodie opportunity to snaffle up some exotic ingredient be it home or abroad, make time to slip out to that fabulous cheese shop, hidden gem deli or farmer's market. And if all else fails, there's always the Internet.

Tonight's event was all about "Prada for your larder", ensuring that a few choice ingredients are always squirreled away in your store cupboard and fridge so that exotic titbits can be conjured up at a moment notice. Sudi gave us oodles of insightful snippets whilst Marcia rustled up firstly Muhamara - a dip made from pimientos del piquillo finely chopped, pomegranate molasses (a particular obsession of both Sudi and Marcia), roasted garlic cloves and walnuts. Whenever I attend these foodie events, I always endeavour to try everything, even if I'm fairly sure I'm not going to like it, and yes that unfortunately occasionally includes the dreaded tomato! I've never been partial to a pepper, I find the skins rather impenetrable and they can add a strange sweetness to a dish. No, not a fan! So when proffered the red pepper dip I only scooped up a little corner onto my pita bread crisp and was pleasantly surprised to see what a transformation a whizz in a food processor with walnuts and the ubiquitous pomegranate molasses could bring about. I definitely think that would be one to add to the repertoire. I have since checked out pimientos del piquillo on the www, and found the following interesting piece “I'd never recommend a canned product over a fresh one, but in this instance I will. This has to do with both the fact that the pimientos del piquillo are quite different in flavour and texture from regular bell peppers, and also the fact that preserving can create something new, and not just poorly imitate the "real thing". In the case of piquillos, the essential flavour may actually be enhanced by the preservation, and the texture is definitely improved. So maybe I still don’t like peppers, but I’m willing to give pimientos del piquillo another go.

Next it was the turn of another food I'm not crazy about - noodles! These were oriental herb chilli soba noodles and were served with seared scallops with ginger, lemongrass and yuzu lime. Noodles are normally slippery and smell oddly of a sickly sweet soy sauce, or are those just the ones flamed-haired H eats next to me at work! The soba noodles are made of buckwheat and could be substituted with linguini. I enjoyed the scallops, the Yuzu was a very interesting flavour and the soba noodles were okay. I guess my choice would be to match the scallops with linguini; I still haven’t really managed to develop an Asian palate yet.

Next Marcia served up pan-fried duck breast with garbanzos, saffron and pomegranate. The duck breasts were painted with a rose petal jam, which was really nice. The garbanzos was a mixture of warmed chickpeas, saffron infusion and pomegranate molasses. Hmm, you’ve guessed it – I am not a fan of chickpeas either. I ate them but I think they were the most unsuccessful part of the meal; I just don’t get them at all. Never mind, the duck was fabulous!

Next it was a very refreshing Medjool date and orange remojón with rosewater and fresh mint. A remojón is a Andalucían orange based salad. This can be served as we had it as a plate cleanser but also dusted with a little icing sugar would make a fine dessert.

The final dessert was a very succulent Oven roasted plums with verjus, which was served on a slice of chocolate panettone.

I really enjoyed the evening, Sudi Pigott is very entertaining, knowledgable and a serious foodie of the highest order; I am not worthy! I must have another look at her book, and if you haven't checked it out yet, I urge you to. Really the only foodie to be is a better foodie!

I also took enormous pleasure being at the Divertimenti lock-in. You get the opportunity to do a little discounted shopping after the event and I wondered around in an indulgent haze. There’s so little I haven’t got already but I did manage to get the rather wonderful yellow lemon squeezer than I’d just seen Marcia use to very good effect. It is rather an elegant beast isn't it?

I have another event planned for next week, I am so glad I finally managed to finally get to these Divertimenti foodie evenings it was worth the wait. Now, where's that schedule for next year?

And the DMBLGIT final draws nigh...

The final entries for the October edition of 'Does my blog look good in this?' have been posted here, here and here. The winners will be announced shortly - fingers crossed...!
I am going to have to start thinking of November's entry now!

Lunch zipped up again

My second attempt with my new Zip ‘n Steam bags was even better than the first. I don’t know whether it was the addition of some sliced brown mushrooms that released juices to mingle with the cream cheese to make a tastier sauce or whether carrying the chopped up ingredients around in the Zip ‘n Steam bag in a chiller bag whilst I was running around the city helped the flavours to merge. Whatever it was, it was not bad at all. I had a momentary pang when L was waxing lyrical about the Waitrose Cauliflower Cheese she’d just tucked into but I just guess I’ll have to see if I can do a cheesy cauliflower thing in one of my bags. It felt good doing some proper cooking in the office, I even brought in one of my old Global knives to keep in my drawer to help with future prep. It can join the lemon zester, cheese grater, mini whisk, cheese slicer, assorted cutlery and a veritable larder of condiments.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Lunch zipped up

I mentioned previously that I’d been keen to think of some way to eschew ready meals at lunch in the office when I haven’t made some soup or have brought in some leftovers that I could enliven.

With limited time and resources it really needed some creative use of the microwave – not my favourite method of cooking. But I happened to stumble across Alan Coxon doing an infomercial about Zip' n Steam bags. These are bags that steam and pressure-cook your food but in the microwave. I’ve never indulged in a buy from television experience so I googled the bags and found their website and had a box of bags delivered to the office. Also I found that Lakeland sell the bags, which give me a bit of confidence regards to their effectiveness.

So here is my first attempt. I’ve chopped up an organic leek, a fat happy chicken breast and added some half fat cream cheese with garlic and chives. The bags do come with recipes, and the consignment of bags also came with a recipe book. There are definitely some interesting ideas, you can ‘bake’ a potato in 6 minutes and you can also steam a whole corn on the cob, which I have been meaning to try for ages.

You place your choosen ingredients in the pouch and seal it. There is a valve on one side of the bag which turns it into a steamer. The bag puffs up and cooks the food keeping all the juices in.

And 3 ½ minutes later I had a rather nice fresh, home cooked plate of food. The cream cheese makes a sort of sauce and I intend to experiment with various vegetable and meat combinations. If I have the fresh ingredients I can prepare the bag at home and then take it in a chiller bag or I can grab a few bits whilst running around the city. I am hoping that Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall would approve at my attempts to ensure a tasty freshly cooked lunch.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

A tidal wave of fruits de mer

I’m sure you know the old (and rather groan worthy) joke about being on a “see food diet”, you see food and you eat it. Well D and I seem to have reinterpreted that as see seafood and eat it. It all started with wanting to try the M&S crab gratins that M had been rather impressed by and we thought they would make a fine starter before – whatever we decided to whip up for Sunday lunch. We secured the last 4 gratins, though only just as another customer had her eye on them but thankfully just wasn’t quick enough. She lingered behind us for a while on the off chance we changed our mind – but we didn’t. Then we spotted some mini coquilles St. Jacques which is another particular favourite from pervious gatherings. The coquilles were next to the mini smoked salmon bagels and it would be rude to leave those behind. As we were on a roll M&S have a fine platter containing: king prawns, smoked mackerel, spicy prawns, really tasty crab pâté and plain old peeled prawns. And because they were there we snapped up the salmon mousse crescents also. So this fine selection was finished off with a couple of salads, cucumber salad, sour dough French bread and granary bread. And lo and behold we had a veritable seafood feast laid out before us decorated by my rather beautiful black fairy lights (I know it shouldn’t work, but it does!). This was all washed down with some delicious bubbly, not your conventional Sunday lunch but extremely wonderful all the same. And the crab gratins were indeed fabulous, good spot M!

Saturday, November 18, 2006

The truth about truc vert

We had left booking the restaurant for tonight rather late and had failed to secure a small corner of Restaurant 22; The Bridge (sister restaurant to the Three Horseshoes) was full as well so we went for truc vert just outside Cambridge They have a small but perfectly formed menu and we all found some tasty things to try. LLcT went for the Charcuterie selection from the side orders as he craved meat (for a change!) and chased that with the Roast Kangaroo Loin fillet, sweet corn pancakes, spiced broccoli and redcurrant jus. D opted for the Crab cakes with pickled cucumber, mixed leaves and coconut and herbs mayonnaise followed by the Roast Whole Sea Bass with wilted spinach, crispy Parma ham and lemon butter sauce, MC chose Pan fried Scallops, julienne of vegetables and mango sweet chilli dressing and then Grilled Rib eye with stilton and chive mash potatoes and red wine jus. I selected an old favourite - Warm smoked Haddock, artichokes, asparagus, watercress and hollandaise sauce with Roast Rack of Lamb with (more) artichokes and brie risotto and rosemary jus for my main and a side of the Mash potatoes with parmesan to share (a little!) Everything we had tasted very pleasant though obviously after my fabulous Tom Aikens experience, it paled somewhat in comparison. The most marked difference was not the food but the very odd service and presentation. We were delivered the water, but no glasses. None of the plates were warm so the food went cold too quickly (and the restaurant itself is a little nippy). The strangest thing was the deep and wide bowl my lamb was served in. I myself favour the large serving platter for a bit of drama but whereas a salad or a pasta (as long as everything is chopped into bite sized pieces) works well in a bowl any dish that requires deftly removing tasty morsels of meat from a bone, you need a flat surface to cut on. I was quite surprised that by the end of my main course I felt strangely uncomfortable from trying to cut food in such an unnatural posture, I’m sure Mr. Aiken would never make such a schoolboy error!
D and I shared a very fine Warm Dark Chocolate Cake with vanilla ice cream, caramel sauce and flaked almonds.

There was another (completely irrational) thing that annoyed me! The menu had been written with the use of random capitalization, which I have transcribed accurately for your delectation. Perhaps it’s a style quirk or could it possibly be just in error. Some of my favourites are crème Fraîche, Grilled Rib eye and Parmesan (with the incredible disappearing P’s). Picky I know!

I think the food at truc vert was well cooked and very tasty and probably worthy of two forks but (ignoring the menu style) the slightly odd service and bizarre plating removed one of their forks – harsh but fair! I would be very happy to go again and see if they can sort out their crockery.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Diamond destined for a diva!

I couldn’t find a food related link to this entry but I stumbled across an article about Christie’s selling the largest ever flawless heart shaped white diamond but it’s so beautiful I couldn't fail to mention it. I had heard it was due to go on sale in Switzerland a couple of days ago but I didn’t have a spare $3.25 million for all its 37.1 carats worth of gorgeousness. Both the buyer and the seller have remained anonymous. Sparkly enough even for the greatest diva! What a fabulous Christmas present, thank you to whoever you are!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Magnificent Tom-foolery

Well I finally got to eat at the hallowed Tom Aikens and what an amazing feast it was. I remember reading Giles Coren's hilarious review of La Noisette a few months ago where he ate so much that he couldn't bear to recall all the individual components and I thought how curious, surely as a professional reviewer that would never happen. But as an amateur reviewer I can vouch that this can indeed and it was all Tom's fault! Or maybe it was mine; maybe I shouldn't have eaten that light lunch. Maybe I shouldn't have eaten yesterday. Or last week even!

We chose the Classic tasting menu, and opted for the wine matching also. Well you've got to really! We could have selected the other tasting menu or a la Carte, but the 'classic' looked the best. I had the coffee and hazelnut substituted for the prune dessert from the other tasting menu but I didn’t mention the tomato aversion, there didn’t seem a need.


Roasted scallops with poached grapes and pernod, grape juice and acidulated fennel


Poached and seared foie gras with jabugo ham, haricot beans and sauternes sauce


Roasted john dory fillet with celeriac and horseradish, foie gras boudin


Blanquette of veal with roast veal sweetbread, pommes purée and braised onion


Braised pigs head with stuffed trotter and turnip confit


Coffee and hazelnut cake with coffee mousse and coffee parfait


Poached prunes with vanilla tapioca, prune and armagnac ice-cream


Ravioli of mango with mango rice, mango delice and lime syrup


Selection of tea, coffee and tisanes.

And then we started eating... and eating and then we ate a little more.

Firstly we had canapés, which was what they referred to the sculptural tray of little spoons, Petri dishes, forks and what suspiciously looked like a pencil. The waiter in a slightly impenetrable French accent introduces this cornucopia of delights but there are so many that you quickly lose your way and forget what's on offer so you just close your eyes and enjoy the sensations. In no particular order I do recall a fabulous little foie gras bite with a miniature gingerbread, a salt cod beignet wrapped in Bayonne ham on a fork stood upright with aid of tiny black beans in a glass and a tiny mound of fishy mousse with a single caviar egg perched on top (E felt it was reminiscent of a teeny little breast - though I'm paraphrasing here!) But there were many, many more, I recall each little bite being a masterpiece; a taste explosion and a delight but I can't remember each bit and this mortifies me. Next was a small cylindrical onion and bacon loaf with an amuse gueule of cauliflower foam and lentil soup with other fabulous bits. And then the actual tasting dishes started turning up. Firstly we had perfect Scallops with grapes and a Pernod and grape juice sauce (complete with silver sauce spoon). Actually the entire meal was a showcase of magnificent silverware especially spoons. There were long, elegant handled ones, tiny coffee spoons and of course sauce spoons. There was a story that Tom Aiken in the belief that a female diner had slipped one of the silver spoons in to her handbag, confronted her in the restaurant and demanded the spoon or recompense. I'm not sure of the validity of this but decided to keep my handbag well away from the table in case of an unfortunate spoon mishap. The salmon coloured maitre d' was walking around looking slightly flustered the whole time, perhaps it is his job to count all the spoons out of and back in to the kitchen. He did spectacularly demonstrate a particular maxim that a ginger haired person should probably not wear a pink shirt with a bright pink tie, the total effect was somewhat boiled lobster.
The scallops were followed by succulent
Foie gras with jabugo ham, haricot beans and sauternes sauce a really tasty Roasted John Dory fillet with celeriac and horseradish, foie gras boudin really stunning! Next it was the turn of the delicious Blanquette of veal with roast veal sweetbread, pommes purée and braised onion. The veal was accompanied by a little bowl of mash with a biscuity thing on top and some sort of exotic sauce come gravy, possible the braised onion, it starts to get a little hazy here! However, the pork plate was when we started to become totally undone, it was not a huge portion it was a perfectly proportioned porcine tasting plate of Braised pig's head, trotter and a long, thin pig's ear in breadcrumbs or two and a turnip confit. E suspected that the breaded pig's ear were actually the deeply detested by Jamie 'turkey twizzlers', but they tasted better than that! By now the waiter's verbose explanations had morphed into French sweet nothings and I couldn't actually discern more than the odd word - pig's ear... confit... turnip.
We wisely decided against the cheese course, there were two desserts on their way and it was touch and go whether we would make it. Though this was a first for me. The substituted
Poached prunes with vanilla tapioca, prune and armagnac ice-cream were delectable and we could see the end in sight. The final course was a really refreshing Ravioli of mango with mango rice, mango delice and lime syrup.
Though the meal wasn’t entirely over, with a flourish the petit fours arrived. When you see ‘petit’ on a menu, you think ‘oh that will be small’, and the ‘fours’ well, that that actually means 'oven' not that there will be four – but four seems a good number after this meal. Actually I would have struggled with one, but I can admire the other three from a distance. But what we actually got was a carpet of little sweet delights, mousses, chocolates, sorbets, candies fruity things, toffee bits and lollipops. I am so hoping that this display is to celebrate the marvellous skill of the pastry chef, as I certainly couldn’t do it justice; the merest spoon tip of a lovely crème brulee and a small square of chocolate loveliness was all I could attempt. It looked amazing but was rather wasted on us. Of course, I will never eat again after this meal!
Regrettably after stunning sensation after sensation a sensory overload alarm went off in my brain and the part that had been squirreling away the memory of each component of each course was flooded with cool rushing water which swept away all the details. Fortunately after some sleep and a promise to myself that I'd never eat again (swiftly broken by a proffered sausage sandwich the next day) little highlights of the meal have returned. Luckily I have a copy of the tasting menu which helped fill in some of the gaps as this review would be been even more incoherent. This was a truly fabulous meal, with wonderful company who (almost) appreciates food as much as me and was thankfully also over faced by the abundance (I’m not just being a lightweight then!). There was nothing I could fault about the service or the food, each little morsel was sensational with no jarring combinations and ne'er a tomato in sight (it can be done!) but I just wish that it all had been slightly simpler and that my palate hadn't overheated due to over exertion. Tom Aiken thoroughly deserves three silver forks - and of course, spoons! And if you think I've been harsh it's only because I wish I could have eaten everything and I could describe every dish in detail. Tom is on the highest podium when lined up with other recent three fork experiences. Bernardin was fabulous but there were a lot of sauces and I started to crave something beyond fish, I needed meat; Juniper possibly went a little off piste with incongruous flavour combinations, Tom's were excessive but sublimely coherent and Smith's of Smithfield served the most perfect meat but can't compete with Tom's artistry and flavour combinations. Tom you are top of the leader board and in your honour I will add a new category - diamond encrusted fork - which is awarded to the restaurant that served me my most magnificent meal of the moment. Thank you, it was worth waiting for and my taste buds salute you!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Does my blog look fabulous...?

There have been further updates (here and here) to the entries to October's 'Does my blog look good in this?'. DMBLGIT is the food bloggers monthly chance to showcase their favourite photograph on their blog to be judged and (hopefully) awarded some accolade by this month's appointed judges. Oooh, the competition is hotting up!

Monday, November 13, 2006

La vie de Chambord

Thinking ahead to the ‘f’ session (that's for you D!) has got me pondering and planning menus, nibbles and party drinks in abundance. And party drinks for me means Chambord (and a dash of warm Winter PIMM’S I think this year). Chambord is such a deliciously decadent liqueur in a pleasing orb shaped bottle – and definitely increases the possibility of merriment on all occasions! Fortunately each bottle of Chambord comes with a booklet of recipes for cocktails and dishes using the ruby elixir and these are some of my favourites.

6 raspberries
25ml Chambord
50 ml vodka
ice cubes

- Muddle the raspberries with the Chambord
- Add vodka and ice into shaker
- Strain into martini glass and garnish with berries

25ml vodka (Stolichnaya Razberi for perference)
25ml Chambord
1/2 can Red Bull (I'd recommend sugar free unless you want to be scraped off the ceiling)

- Pour vodka and Chambord into a tall ice filled glass
- Top up with 1/2 can of Red Bull
- Stir

15ml raspberry purée
5ml Chambord
2 dashes of orange bitters
Champagne to top up

- Add purée, Chambord and bitters to a flute
- Top gently with Champagne
- Stir gently and serve

50 ml vodka
15ml Chambord
75ml fresh pineapple juice

- Add all ingredients to a shaker filled with ice
- Shake sharply and strain into a frosted martini glass - it should be frothy!

And of course I am never averse to swapping the Crème de Cassis in a Kir Royale for Chambord to conjure up a decadent Kir Imperial

In case I forget the quantities I have these attached to my notice board in my kitchen – very close to the fabulous crystal martini glasses – well what diva wouldn’t?


Sunday, November 12, 2006

What I would have eaten...

I had intended visiting the Good Food Show at Olympia today but with suffering with the beginning of a niggling cold and a sure knowledge of how heaving it would be if I dragged my weary bones over to Olympia (always an annoying trek – personally I prefer the shows at Earl’s Court, because of the better transport options), I decided against it this year. And I feel almost guilty for missing my first year, to assuage myself slightly I purchase a new gadget on the web which I hope will solve some of the 'how to cook a healthy, home-made meal with the limited resources at the office' problem. I won’t elaborate yet, I’ll wait until it arrives and then I can test it and report my findings.

If I’d gone to the show I would have definitely found some mad gadget (or two) to purchase and no doubt some fabulous little nibbles to bring home. I hadn’t stocked up on a fine Sunday lunch as I intended some festive show foraging and I didn’t realise how desperate the store cupboard situation was until after the Sunday early closing kicked in. Mother Hubbard would be shocked, so instead I thought I'd relive a recent feast I whipped up shortly after the last visit from the Ocado man.

A nice bit of rare beef fillet, topped with a little remaining pâté, served with a medley of sautéed field mushrooms, creamy leeks and mâche with balsamic. Extremely fine if I say so myself!

Tonight’s feast was not exactly so good or tasty, so definitely no photographs! Now when does Waitrose open?

Saturday, November 11, 2006

A meme, some say random musings

I saw this meme on Rooknits and everyone seems to have them on their blogs at the moment but it did seem odd to answer a series of questions none of which I could answer 'mash potato'!
A meme is defined “a unit of cultural information transferable from one mind to another”, I’m not sure if this is remotely cultural but here goes…

1. Flip to page 18, paragraph 4 in the book closest to you right now, what does it say?
Well I was somewhat stumped by the first book I picked as it was In Search of Perfection - Heston Blumenthal and page 18 has nothing on it but a picture of a chicken. The second and third fared better...

"Arrive at farmers' markets, ready armed with your own supply of plastic spoons to facilitate sampling and avoid the worse of the unseemly scrum. When you find a particulary choice recherché ingredient, engage the producer in informed, animated, ego-massaging chat whilst you politely and repeatedly investigate the wagyu beef carpaccio."
Sudi Pigott - How to be a Better Foodie

"Roll out the puff pastry so it is big enough to the pie dish. Place the rolled pastry over the top of the dish, trimming the edges to fit. Press the edges down with your thumb and decorate the pie with shapes cut from the excess pastry. Cut a small hole in the top to let the steam escape and brush the pastry all over with the beaten egg. Place in the oven and bake for 20 minutes "
Sophie Conran's Pies

2. If you stretch out your left arm - as far as possible, what are you touching?
The coffee table – but there’s no coffee anywhere near it
3. What’s the last program you watched on tv?
Grey’s Anatomy last night – mmmm Patrick Dempsey - don’t get me started.
4. Without looking, guess what time it is.
Midnightish - okay wrong by 10 minutes
5. Except the computer, what can you hear right now?
I have a recorded Food Uncut playing on the TV behind me, but I am listening not watching (see answer to question 3) and I can hear a black cab making its way up the street.
6. When was the last time you were outside and what did you do?
I left my office, boarded a tube and bus and came home about half an hour ago in the pouring rain
7. What are you wearing?
Black with lots of pearls!
8. Did you dream last night? If you did, what about?
Well, if I did I can’t remember what about.
9. When was the last time you laughed?
Reading a piece that Giles Coren wrote about being a grumpy old man on my BlackBerry on the tube home tonight. Giles is a genius!
10. What’s on the walls, in the room you’re in right now?
Some pictures, a 'string' of black and white postcards, a black ceramic bird and a set of 'chasing' fairy lights coiled in an abstract snaking design.
11. Have you seen anything strange lately?
I live in London, everyday I see something curious! There was a particulary possibly drunk but definitely entertaining man on the tube home tonight. He kept a rather surreal, loud running commentary about how it's all be so different if it were the Paris Metro and it was the 1940s. He kept saying "I've been here 31 years", but it wasn't clear if he meant on this planet, in London or on that particular tube. Any could be applicable.
12. What do you think about this meme?
Well, it’s my first meme but as Roo pointed out – it doesn’t involve photos so it's easy to do.
13. What’s the last film you saw?
Hmmm, I’m struggling to remember. I think the most recent is the some of Dirty Dancing that I caught whilst flicking through the TV channels a few weeks ago. Well, no-one puts baby in the corner... Sadly I have been neglecting the cinematic part of my life.
14. If you became a multimillionaire, what would you do with the money?
I would visit all those restaurants all around the world I’ve been dreaming about (see list on right) and I would have a long holiday on a barge travelling around France (à la French Odyssey) with D and MC (because we’ve already promised this ourselves, should we come into money)
15. Tell us something about yourself that most people don’t know.
I always wanted to be a twin and felt very cheated that I wasn’t.
16. If you could change ONE THING in this world, without regarding politics or bad guilt - what would it be?
Wow, that’s the big one. With my love of food, I would want everyone to be able to enjoy food as much as me – plenty of it and fantastic quality. Or is that a ‘bit politics’?
17. Do you like dancing?
Yes I guess so, not really with particular talent though.
18. George Bush?
quack, quack, quack!
19. What do you want your children’s names to be, girl/boy?
Wouldn’t that really be a joint decision? And doesn’t so much depend on the surname? However, I’ve always liked Lily or Coco and Charlie or Sam.
20. Would you ever consider living abroad?
I’ve thought about France, but I’m not sure if France is ready for me! But maybe one day.
21. What do you want God to tell you, when you come to heaven?
Not sure about the God and heaven thing.
22. Who should do this meme?
Anyone who fancies it!

Did that feel like a cultural exchange or just random musings?

Friday, November 10, 2006

Eat well - well if I must!

‘Plan a’ was to consume the last bowl of soup from my cauliflower ministrations the other day but as you know ‘plan a’ doesn't happen very often so ‘plan b’ was to grab something quickly from M&S as I ran past. And so I ended up with their ‘Eat Well’ - Ham hock and mash meal for one. It comes in a handy cardboard tray which is quite useful for carrying the steaming cooked meal from the microwave to a convenient flat place to consume. It was actually rather tasty with its crunchy carrots and beans and of course some flavoursome shredded ham and creamy mash. Personally I have no problems with eating this well any day.

Though I have to admit, after watching this week’s Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall River Cottage Project where he took a group of food zombies who were addicted to ready meals and got them to abandon the dark side forever in favour of fresh, organic and home cooked food it does feel slightly weird tucking into the much despised ready meal. My only justification is that it’s a good one, with real food in it and not a homogenised lump of brown mush and no nasty artificial colours, flavourings or beetles. And also, it’s pretty hard to whip up fresh, organic and home cooked food in with extremely limited time and facilities constraints. However, I will try and get better with bringing my home cooked and naturally organic meals in, I promise. It was a little easier throwing together a fresh salad in the warmer months but Hugh has shamed me. Though if I have to resort to ‘plan b’ – the M&S Eat Well range is well, pretty good!

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Smashing Orangey Bit!

There was I eating a Jaffa Cake when I realised that I had an audience. Apparently I eat Jaffa Cakes in 'an unusual way'. Okay I concede that I eat them in my way, which may seem odd at first glance but naturally makes perfect sense to me.

If you're not aware of the fascinating concept that is a Jaffa Cake, I'll explain. First of all Jaffa Cakes are cakes not biscuits and this is important as chocolate biscuits are liable for VAT as they are considered to be luxury items. Cakes and non-chocolate covered biscuits are not considered luxury and therefore not vatable. In 1991 the Inland Revenue felt they were being deprived of a lucrative ‘smashing orangey’ tax and demanded that Jaffa Cakes be reclassified as biscuits and that a luxury tax be applied immediately. But some clever 'save Jaffa cakes from tax exile' freedom fighter at McVities came up with the great cake/biscuit classifier - when a biscuit goes stale it goes soggy and when a cake goes stale it goes hard. And a Jaffa Cake? When it goes stale (how could that ever be allowed to happen?) it goes hard! – QED, undeniable proof that a Jaffa Cake is indeed a cake and deserves to be tax-free. Now I've just got to get myself classified as a cake!

The Jaffa Cake comes in three parts namely a pale light sponge base and the smashing orangey jelly bit that it smaller than the sponge and sits on top. And then the sponge and jelly disc are enrobed in a dark chocolate coating but only on one side. The (some say odd, some say curious) way that I eat my Jaffa Cake is to deconstruct it back into its component parts. First I nibble all the sponge from around and below the orange jelly part. Then I eat the remaining chocolate from on top of the jelly disc and then I am left with a very pleasing smooth and wobbly smashing orangey bit which I savour and leave to melt on my tongue until nothing remains but the aroma of orange and a smile. Seems quite normal to me! Others seem to prefer munching through the entire Jaffa Cake swiftly and enjoying the sponge, chocolate and orange jelly in the same bite. How weird!

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Thinking of Tom...

Doesn’t this ‘Classic’ menu at Tom Aikens’ look fabulous? Apart from the 'Coffee and hazelnut cake with coffee mousse and coffee parfait' of course, but then I always seem to make at least one substitution! I might have to book a table soon…


Roasted scallops with poached grapes and pernod, grape juice and acidulated fennel

Foie Gras

Poached and seared foie gras with jabugo ham, haricot beans and sauternes sauce

John Dory

Roasted john dory fillet with celeriac and horseradish, foie gras boudin


Blanquette of veal with roast veal sweetbread, pommes purée and braised onion

Pig's Head

Braised pigs head with stuffed trotter and turnip confit

Coffee and Hazelnut

Coffee and hazelnut cake with coffee mousse and coffee parfait


Ravioli of mango with mango rice, mango delice and lime syrup

Coffee and Petits Fours

Selection of tea, coffee and tisanes.

Watch this space…

Last supper and testament

I've been flicking through Heston Blumenthal's long awaited book (well by me, anyway) that arrived in the post today from It is certainly a fascinating book but wouldn't necessarily make me cry "bring your sharpest Global knife and a chopping board; I'm must cook this now!" It's not really that sort of book, it is more for considered study and absorbing and I'm sure they'll be plenty to learn from the maddest of mad professors. However I can't really see myself in the kitchen wearing goggles or decked out like I should really be inserting some nuclear fuel rods into a lead lined canister, maybe that's just a tad too macho for me!

Heston does pose an interesting question in his forward. He validated the use of 'perfection' in his book title and explained that he's not claiming his food is perfect because he's got three Michelin stars and won Restaurant magazine's 'best restaurant in the world' but that his quest for the perfect exponent of whatever dish he's dissecting compels him to further investigation no matter how fine the cuisine. He says that when asked to compose a last supper menu generally people don't opt for Alain Ducasse's tasting menu but simply roast chicken or a burger. He does qualify this with a reference to an entry in Scott’s “Food and Drink” listing the death row meals of previous inhabitants but acknowledges that the demographics of that group may influence the choices and also quotes Anthony Bourdain as saying he likes to play the game of pondering ultimate last supper dishes with his fellow chefs. And this all got me thinking, what would I select for my last supper?

Well firstly as it's the last supper, I guess you can be as indulgent as you want, there's no holding back!

Hmmm, okay I'd start with a little amuse gueule of the most perfect chicken liver parfait and bread. For my fish course would be a piece of smoked haddock on top of a creamy risotto topped by a poached egg. I might even have the poached egg inside a fresh ravioli after my recent successful quest to track down and recreate that recipe. I'm not sure it will work - the pasta and the risotto but I'd like to have them both anyway, if it's my last meal I won't have to have it again if it doesn't work! For my main course it would have to be a juicy rare steak, I've been toying with Tournedos Rossini but that may be overkill but I may swing towards Beef Wellington. I'd have both mash and gratin dauphinoise as I'd never be able to choose between them and also purple sprouting broccoli, leeks and cauliflower cheese. I'd probably be full to bursting by now but it is my last ever meal so I'd battle on to the cheese. They'd be the most perfect Brie and Flower Marie and some more bread. Finally there'd be a melting middle chocolate pudding and some raspberries. And of course I would finish with a wafer thin mint or two!

The problem with trying to choose your favourite meal is like Rob’s quandary of trying to select his top ten records of all time in “High Fidelity”. You know that tomorrow you'll have a new favourite and will want to rewrite the entire list again. So I guess it’s like a last will and testament; it needs occasional revisiting and updating. Obviously I hope that I won’t ever need to choose a final meal and if I was ever given a limited time to live I would hope I was able to embark on a Bacchanalian orgy of consumption. Or I could just eat fabulous meals every day – hmmm, if only!

I can’t have a photograph of my perfect last supper as I haven’t had it yet but I thought I’d put in a photo of ‘a’ perfect last supper from the estimable OFM (Observer Food Monthly) from way back in November 2003 taken by John Reardon. Can you imagine having a last supper with this lot, it would be totally amazing!

And I love the way that a ripe Brie was casually flung across the table at the moment the camera went ‘click’ giving Gordon Ramsay the immaculate cheesy halo! Just perfect!