Sunday, September 30, 2007

Half of the Baltic

I'm still so behind but finally I have been able to post my musings and photos from our Baltic cruise, well at least some of it. I’m still only half way through and have much more to write but I am determined to complete it and not just write “we have another nondescript soup followed by some meat with yet more carrots”. I do want to do everything justice.

So if you haven’t spotted them and caught up yet, click here for:

First night aboard,

A day cruising and informal dinner,

Wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen,

A night at the Tivoli,

Another day at sea,

Stockholm’s Ice Bar,

More of that dreaded aspic,

Tallinn and the singing revolution,

Eggs and St Petersburg and

Marvellous Moscow.

Phew… half way there!

And then I've got to catch up with everything else I've done since then, ah well, one day at a time.

More sausages?

I still have a couple of wonderfully porky sausages burning a hole in my fridge so no mash today but instead I have them nestling on a bed of shredded cabbage. I like to cook my cabbage in a large pan with a few tablespoons of water and then slick the cooked cabbage with a little knob of butter.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

An old favourite...

Despite what some may think, I don't indulge in a plate of sausages & mash daily, though regrettably I may add.

I generally veer between Waitrose’s wild boar and prune sausages or a plump Cumberland but today I opted for an intensely porky banger. And it's rather good. I guess if it’s not broken, I don’t need to fix it!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

How far would you travel to get to the Blueprint Café?

When T said he was coming to the UK from Australia for the first time for such a long time, M wanted to organise a meal somewhere fabulous to catch up on all those years. And of course Blueprint Café fits the bill perfectly. T can reacquaint himself with the London skyline as we dine though I think he’ll be surprised by the likes of the ‘erotic gherkin’!

Regrettably T has a very delicate stomach today and we had to ask Jeremy to produce the gentlest tummy-friendly simple food he could for him. M and I are under no such constrictions however so we were able to tackle Jeremy’s finest with gusto. I started with grilled mutton & pork livers, sage & bacon which although similar to the special I had on my last visit here with M, was way too good to pass and didn’t disappoint in their unctuous meatiness.

M had to prevaricate between crab soup and the ‘made famous on Great British Menu’ crab cakes, mayonnaise (I assure you this is my subtitle as Jeremy would never be so bold!) After some consideration the crab cakes were plumped for. I was hoping that she wouldn’t be able to polish off all three but she did, and she never does that so they must have been good!

For my main course I went for the baked blackface lamb, mustard & parsley crust. Unfortunately the only potatoes on the menu today were boiled and somehow I didn’t think they’d be sticky enough for such a dish – I would have chosen gratin Dauphinoise if I could but I was lucky anyway as Jeremy made me some of his lovely sauté potatoes instead (much better!) The lamb was so melting and with a truly punchy crust. I thought I would be saved an eye-watering experience by avoiding horseradish but that Dijon in the crust totally whacked me in the face. I’ve never experienced such violent Dijon; trust Jeremy to find such a feisty condiment.

M opts for the considerably more calming hake, peas & mussels which also seem to go down well. though I don't recall her eating all the vegetables! Though she always says she is saving herself for dessert.

So dessert it is then. I’ve ordered and enjoyed the St Emillion au chocolat on several occasions so I think it’s time for a change, today it’s the equally chocolaty chocolate brownie, fudge sauce & ice cream for both of us.

I thought that as today we’d being doing a little of “and on the left you can see…” for T’s benefit, I would recycle a photograph I took on a previous and unfortunately much later on the day visit.

No.1 is the vertically striped Tower 42, it used to be called the NatWest Tower when the National Westminster Bank resided there quite a few years ago now and ‘fact fans’, it is shaped like the interlocking chevrons of NatWest’s logo.

Now it is famous, at least in my eyes for being the home of always delicious Rhodes24, so named because it’s half way up on the 24th floor of this sky scraping building.

No. 2 is not very distinct but is, rather incongruously amongst all these modern buildings, the Tower of London, much visited by tourists from all over the world and home to the crown jewels, Beefeaters and ravens. There is a legend that if the ravens should ever leave the tower then the kingdom will fall so they don’t take any chance as the large black birds have their wings clipped. I also discovered that one of the 8 current ravens residing there at the moment is called Baldrick, I don’t know why that pleases me but it does.

I walk past this building nearly every day and am still always surprised that it’s just right there, so much history in the midst of all this city madness.

No. 3 is the Swiss Re building, though generally referred to as ‘the erotic gherkin’ and hugely controversial. Like marmite, you either love it or hate it. And just so you know, I love it and totally and utterly detest Marmite!

No.4 is just the last span of Tower Bridge, again a compulsory photo opportunity whenever visiting London for the first time. The Thames’ first bridge and was formerly lifted by steam but since the 70’s the hydraulics has been powered by oil and electrics. I have always been perplexed by its red, white and predominantly blue livery but have recently learnt that it was only painted in 1977 to celebrate the Queen’s silver jubilee but before that was chocolate brown. I have no recollection of seeing it chocolaty brown but maybe that’s why the blueness has always seemed strangely anomalous to me.

No. 5 is the hideous monstrosity that is formerly known as the Tower Thistle and is now the Guoman Thistle and still extremely ugly and looming menacingly next to much more interesting buildings. The lights in the foreground and coming on as I grab this photograph line the river for quite a way, well further than I’ve ever walked anyway and are often to be seen in the background of a London at night shot in a film, especially if they’re trying to be romantic. On one of my visits to Blueprint Café we witnessed Gwyneth Paltrow doing her ‘lights camera action’ bit in front of these very lights and I had to remove my high heeled shoes as I was making too much noise clip-clopping along the river path.

It was so lovely yet poignant and sometimes affecting to see T again as we had so many things both wonderful and definitely not so to catch up on; I only wish he could have indulged in Blueprint Café’s always perfect menu with us. He did select an excellent Australian red wine for us though, unfortunately not from his vineyard but rather wonderful all the same.

M had only come down on the train from Manchester for this meal and T had come all the way from Australia (though today only Brighton) so it shows you that some do indeed travel far and wide to dine at Blueprint Café. And frankly I'm not surprised!

I hope you enjoy the next leg of your world tour, T and I trust we won't leave it so long to meet up again.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Four and twenty blackbirds...

I’m not really sure how I ended up with a flock of blackbird pie funnels. I don’t exactly have four and twenty but I have ‘accidentally’ ended up with more than is really deemed necessary. The urge to procure my first pie funnel was when I watching Mark Hix making his magnificent Rabbit and Crayfish Stargazy pie on the Great British Menu and I pondered how I could have managed so long without one. Then a casual glance on eBay with D whilst she was looking for some Clarence Cliff pieces allowed my beady eye to spot a fine Clarence Cliff blackbird funnel, hmmm I really should bid for that little birdy. But when this one flew in, I really felt that it probably should be kept as a thing of beauty and not baked in anything. It is rather old after all and has been well looked after by one careful owner. So I went back to eBay for one with less esteemed provenance and somehow managed to bag a job lot of them. It was an accident I can assure you! But in the usual fashion of eBay browsing I also espied a Royal Worchester darling black bird pie funnel which was unusual as the elegant sculptural bird is inserted into the plain white ceramic funnel after baking. The advantage being that the gorgeous bird doesn’t suffer the ministrations of an unforgiving oven and it adds a certain stateliness to the pie proceedings you must admit.

I had threatened that my next pie would feature all my burgeoning collection of pie funnels randomly gulping for air above the pie crust but I resisted. This elegant bird is my favourite after all, it is rather a little black beauty!

Making a ‘proper’ pie, one with a funnel and all I am immediately transported back to the homely and grown-up kitchen of the fabulous R & G. After a hard day’s work it was so comforting to arrive there and exchange a large bunch of flowers for a fat wodge of the finest of steak and kidney pies. Sat around their antique table, we’d drink wine; listen to music and gossip about just about everything! Happy days!

But what about my pie? I don't have some steak and kidney begging to be given one of the worthiest of treatments so it was rather a let’s use up those bits lurking around the bottom of the fridge again. The filling was finely sliced sautéed leek rounds, chunks of the last of the unsmoked back bacon, sliced hard boiled eggs, one large field mushroom, some double cream and a little thyme, now more dry than fresh. The pie top was fashioned out of the rather stiff leftover puff pastry. It had gotten somewhat dry in the fridge and when I attempted to unfurl it the pastry snapped into four useless slivers. So I had to resort to re-rolling the puff pastry and hoping it would forgive me. I figured that it wouldn’t puff as much as it should but that’s fine, the P - I - E adornments wouldn’t balloon and swell out of all proportions as you’d expect with un-mucked about with puff pastry. I also dampened the pastry a little with a very squeezed out sheet of kitchen towel, I know, you bakers out there are now reading this with eye wide open in terror. I had initially pinched the edges of the pie together in the usual way but then I rather randomly forked around the pie dish also. Hence the extra rustic appearance of my egg and bacon pie. Ah well, I’ll never get a job at Bighams’, Pie Minister or Pukka and I'm sure R & G would be shocked but it was rather gorgeous, extremely delicious and my sweet little bird got to spread its wings for the first time.
Wasn't that a dainty dish to serve before J?

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Possibly the best egg sandwich in the world?

You know it's going to be a good weekend when you start with the perfect egg sandwich. Firstly you pop the part baked baguette in the oven so you have the freshest bread. You slaver it with butter and two squished soft hard boiled eggs (mollet if you will) and then eat - with plenty of napkins to mop up the eggy buttery juices.
Hmmm, mmmm!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

There's something inside...

Stephanie gave us a quirkier challenge for this month’s blog party – “It’s What’s Inside” and immediately I started to think of mini Beef Wellingtons.

This isn’t a big surprise as I am a huge fan of Beef Wellington and I have been pondering miniaturising this fabulous meaty treat for a while. I didn’t really follow a recipe, I had a plan which was vaguely like the details that follow and intended to make a few dozen of these little babies but then my fellow fans of Beef Wellington in any size turned up early. So then it just became critical to get as many as I could into the oven as quickly as possible and then photograph them swiftly before they were inhaled. So speedily I may add that I was unable to light them properly hence the 70's style cookbook food photography - and would the little darlings stay still on the plate whilst I photographed them? The answer is a resounding no! I am pretty sure that the speed that they vanished meant that they were popular; I will definitely be making these gorgeous little Wellingtons again.


Ready rolled puff pastry
Brussels pâté
Beef fillet cut roughly into 2cm cubes
1 lightly beaten egg

(Unfortunately I didn’t make a note of the quantities, I made about 24 but they mysteriously disappeared so I didn’t get to count them and I still had a lot of beef, pâté and pastry left so I could have made a few more plates worth but instead I moved swiftly onto the starters instead)

- Preheat the oven to 200°c.
- Roll out the puff pastry and cut into 4cm squares. My pastry was pre-rolled but I felt it needed to be a little thinner for these canapés.
- Smear the point of a spoon of pâté in the centre of each square and top with a seasoned beef cube. I had pondered making some mushroom duxelle but as one of my prospective diners lives a mushroom-free life I decided to leave it out.
- I tried to fold the pastry over the beef and neatly tuck in the corners like a larger Beef Wellington but on this scale this proved tricky. I preferred to roll each into a beefy ball and line up them all up on a baking sheet.
- Carefully brush each ball with the beaten egg and bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until pleasantly puffed and golden brown.
- Allow to cool slightly, (if permitted by your hungry guests) and then transfer to a platter to serve.

My next idea was inspired by a Anton Edelmann scrambled eggs wrapped in smoked salmon recipe I’d espied in a Freedom Food pamphlet that came with this month's Fresh. He lined a ramekin with thinly sliced smoked salmon and then filled it with scrambled egg. The overhanging salmon is tucked over the scrambled egg and turned upside-down to make a perfect parcel.

I lined little bun tins with almost transparent smoked salmon slices and then spooned some unctuous and creamy scrambled egg heavily studded with chives into the indentations. I inverted the resultant little salmony discs and placed on ceramic spoons. They were very good also, another winner!

For my final savoury bite I decided to get some good quality lean minced steak and make oozy cheesy meatballs. I tried to get some Tallegio but failed so cubes of Cheddar was enveloped in the mince mixed with black pepper and thyme. I pan fried these until deliciously seared all over and popped them on my lovely new little canapé spoons. These were very fine as well, I am now definitely a huge fan of one delicious ingredient hidden inside another. Fabulous!

The necessary drink proved the usual per monthly challenge, a thought of Coke Float wafted into my mind but I dismissed it and decided instead that my interpretation would mean plump fresh raspberries would be frozen in Evian (to ensure the resultant ice cubes stayed as clear as possible) and then the fruity cubes were plopped into a tall glass of 7up. As the cubes melted the bubbles got captured inside the raspberries and made a fizzy little dessert.

I look forward to seeing what hidden savouries Stephanie's other guests bring.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Week in, week out always Simon Hopkinson

There is something so intrinsically cosy about Simon Hopkinson, I always imagine him pottering around his rather gadget free kitchen probably in a nice comfy pair of cords calmly putting together a lunch for his friends occasionally slurping a glass of something wonderful and then unceremoniously emerging from the kitchen with a sublime dish served on a vaguely chintzy platter. I can’t see Simon rushing around getting flustered and shouting but instead insouciantly lifting the lid on some aromatic treat, dipping his spoon into the creamy/meaty/winy juices to confirm that perfection has been achieved and with a final sprinkle of just picked herbs from his garden and as he often says – served at once.

I can picture him ambling through the market in Uzès in Avignon in search of a few choice ingredients to whip up a tasty salad to eat later under the shade of an outstretched almond tree or having a sudden culinary epiphany whilst thoughtfully chewing a morsel of lamb that lacked “a little piquancy”. And it’s not surprising as his writing is astonishingly evocative, he weaves a tale around some gastronomic incident and then follows through with a handful of recipes that illustrate his point and totally leap off the page. It is no accident that Simon Hopkinson is an inspiration to so many of the chefs I admire and no surprise his ‘Roast Chicken and other Stories’ was voted as ‘the most useful cookbooks of all time’ by food writers, chefs and restaurateurs. We are so used to his eloquent prose but not being an avid reader of the Independent magazine between December 1994 and the spring of 2002, I haven’t often seen Simon’s recipes brought to life with some stunning photography. But that’s really the whole idea of Week in Week Out as the hugely talented photographer Jason Lowe had captured Simon’s work in his weekly columns and on reviewing this images many years later it became apparent that they wouldn’t look lost in today’s cookbook offerings. I have tried in my slightly obsessive way to identify the original photographs versus the ones that have inevitably supplemented it today but it’s tricky, there’s clearly a different styling to many of the photographs that grace the food magazines and book today but they have such a vibrant jewel-like quality and it can’t just be the super glossiness of the pages.

I am most grateful that the lovely C of Quadrille tipped me off that this brilliant book was coming to fruition way back in May, and I am delighted to see that Simon has credited her in Week in Week Outs acknowledgements, so we are both much obliged it seems!

The only downside perhaps of this magnificent book is that more commonly Simon Hopkinson’s tomes are slightly larger than a novel size, one that I can easily slip into my bag and savour on meandering journeys home but in the case of Week in Week Out I would have to resort to a rucksack to tote it around, and that is never ever going to happen! This is a fabulous book, I know this will be a firm favourite and could well be the next most useful cookbooks of all time but it is way more than just a collection of recipes it is an evocation of a better world, one where the eggs always have the “hue of Kia-Ora”, the Dijon mustard is always “freshly decanted from a Maille brass spigot” and that new potatoes are always the “tender and sweet Cornish nuggets” from Trevonne Farm near Padstow in Cornwall.

There are just too many astounding recipes in this book to single out but I will list a few as an aide-memoire of the ones I really must try first – Potato gnocchi with garlic and basic cream, Tiny new potatoes with caviar and chives, Lapin à la Dijonnaise, Roast duck with cider, cream and apples and the Cold ham soufflé.

Monday, September 17, 2007

I come bearing gifts

I had an early meeting with the delightful m and as we’d recently celebrated our respective birthdays it seemed only fitting that I should bring a little tasty belated treat to enliven our meeting. And my chosen extravagance today was a little box of the finest macaroons from Maison Blanc. One of us had drank rather a lot of cold drinks the previous day and was feeling a little delicate this morning. It seems that macaroons may have restorative properties though, as all seemed so much rosier after a pleasing little stack of these.
And you have to admit this is the prettiest medicine ever!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

A very good Oeuf!

I know, yet another one but Oeuf en cocottes just seem to be my favourite brunch snack at the moment. I like the fact that you can re-purpose various ends of things in the fridge as so far they seem to be the perfect vehicle for cooked, cold slices of new potatoes, crispy bacon, Parma ham, mushrooms, cheese or slithers of smoked salmon. And as you make them up individually you can customise them for your audience. I even persuaded the resolutely egg-dodging LLcT to try one (no mean feat), and ensured that E(D)’s was mushroom free and if I had added a little chopped up steak, it would have been very well done also! We all had bacon and cheese, double cream some had mushrooms and of course, eggs. And I generally like to finish them off with the finest dusting of fresh chives.
MC thought it might have been nice with some cherry tomatoes. Maybe it would have done but strangely enough I don’t seem to have any in my fridge – weird! But I am happy to get them to order in case you think I’m mean, I just need to be forewarned (and then I can clear a little exclusion zone in my fridge!)

I noticed that Nigella in her new book Nigella Express, clearly my current culinary bible, waxes lyrically about these little golden joys also. She suggests artichoke hearts chopped up in the base of the ramekin, truffle oil added to the cream and/or asparagus spears to dunk in the runny yolk.

But sorry Nigella, Simon Hopkinson does one better in his fabulous Week in Week Out he devotes several pages to oeufs en cocottes and firstly insists on forgoing the ramekin in favour of one of those shallow porcelain dishes with ears. He says he can view the egg better as it cooks to his idea of perfection. I wonder what he'd make of Joël Robuchon serving his in Martini glasses?

Simon bakes his with tarragon or spinach or even to a wonderful Elizabeth David recipe which uses fine herbs, a smidgeon of garlic, a smear of Dijon and finely grated Parmesan dusted on the top. But if that isn't already wonderful enough, he also suggests a very decadent version with not only the fresh eggs being snuggled up to a black truffle in a sealed container for a few days to perfume the egg, the egg shell being conveniently porous. He then slips a few slices of the said black truffle into the creamy mixture. Now that really is a good egg!

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Gaucho by day

I’d promised LLcT that when he next came to visit me I’d ensure he would be inaugurated into the joys of a Gaucho Grill. And after a mooch around the town we sallied forth to sit outside one of the latest exponents to the Gaucho stable, I remember this one as the Canyon and a fine place to have brunch but that’s okay, I’ll just have to find new place for an Eggs Benedict.
Normally I never bother with a starter at Gaucho’s as the cheesy mist comes down on entry into one of their cow bedecked hostelries and I can’t think beyond their cheese bread. But for a change we order the eye-wateringly expensive SEAFOOD PLATTER which was grilled lobster tail and gambas served with herb aioli and lemon. There wasn’t really that much to go round and only four prawns (and nearly everyone in the world likes prawns more than me) so I just had a little morsel of lobster tail and concentrate on the cheese bread a herby oil. Here’s a first for me, a Gaucho by day so I could actually photograph the food and in sunshine as well.
Don't the rolls look rather scrummy?

I promised that I’d split a GAUCHO SAMPLER with LLcT which was “a taste of all four cuts of prime Argentine beef” and to supplement this as he really is the most solid of little carnivores we also had a spiral cut and marinated chorizo (sirloin) steak, me with béarnaise and LLcT with the chipotle sauce (which was hot). We also had the fat chips, naturally, and some healthy spinach as well.

The meat was rare (apart from E(D)’s), succulent and delicious but eating outside a Gaucho had uncovered an unexpected problem. It may have been wonderful to see our food, I could take vibrant photographs for the first time ever in a Gaucho establishment but we were slightly in the shade and we were absolutely frozen. We did consider asking for some more napkins, many more napkins and draping them around ourselves in a vain attempt to retain some heat. E(D) is always a little chilly even sometimes in the midday sun in Spain so she at least was prepared and had some sort of extra layer but if wasn’t really sufficient. When we’d finished our fabulous meat we decided to hotfoot it sharpish and have desserts somewhere else, anywhere else that was warmer and we left. It was still meatilicious though, maybe next time I'll wear thermals!

The smallest birthday cake in the world

When I was on my way home on Monday I popped into Harvey Nichols to purchase the makings of a special birthday meal and in the fabulous Vth floor foodmarket I spotted these two new cakes.
The black and white cake is a small individual fruit cake intricately decorated with the finest black icing and seemed extremely fitting for me. There were also some rather large cakes fashioned to look like the foodmarket carrier bag. I thought a solo birthday cake would be rather nice and added one to my basket. As it turned out when I got home I wasn't really hungry so I thought I's save the food I'd purchased and the cake for another day.

And today I remembered my uneaten cake and dug out a rather overwhelming candle to impale my cake with and round off my birthday week celebrations. I then attempted to share it between the five of us, luckily it is marked coincidentally in five portions but they are mouse-like portions really. It was just a token gesture. Nice rich fruit cake though. A final happy birthday to me!

Friday, September 14, 2007

Speedy J

I’ve been planning a little feast for my impending guests this weekend but hadn’t really settled on a menu. MC had called me on Monday whilst I was perusing the shelves in Harvey Nichols with birthday salutations and the opportunity to beg me not to do one of my usual tricks and serve the meal so late that he falls asleep before the main course in on the table. Whoops that did happen last time! So when contemplating the recipes that I planned to conjure up I recalled one of the books that had turned up on Monday – Nigella Express. Surely that would inspire me to inject a little Speedy Gonzales into the event.

So feeling guilty after last time I was determined to be ultra prepared. I scanned Nigella Express, made some notes, made a list – checked it twice and placed an order with Ocado. I was trying to decide whether I should dig the leaf out for my round table and extend it into an ovoid but as much as I like egg-shapes, my Virgoean mind is slightly repulsed by the lack of symmetry this would entail. And anyone E(D) is so tiny I’m sure she wouldn’t take much extra room up around the table, so round it is.

I decide that I want everything to be white and crystal. That’s my crystal candelabra with white candles, crystal napkin rings - diamond ring style for the ‘ladies’ and plain for the ‘men’ and crystal wines and water glasses and crystal little menu holders. I picked up some more large glossy white placemats, I’d intended using my new white linen purchased in Copenhagen but someone has been known to dangerously slosh a little too much red wine around so wipe-clean placemats seemed a wiser choice. But for the linen napkins I had a special unveiling. The wonderful Marcia of Inside Story promised me that as a very special treat she’d embroider a ‘J’ on some destined for Concorde Irish linen napkins and deliver half a dozen in time for my party in September. And they turned up today so just in the nick of time! And they are rather beautiful, thank you Marcia.

The menu seemed simple enough, firstly they’d be canapés of Beef Wellingtons that I’d been meaning to make for ages and an intended canapé for Stephanie’s next blog party. For a starter I turned to page 153 of Nigella Express – Scallops and Chorizo. I knew this would appease the solid little carnivore who was coming and in a similar vein I next flicked to page 40 for the Steak Slice with Lemon and Thyme. For dessert I’d watched Nigella make her Instant Chocolate Mousse (on page 159) earlier this week and had popped to Peter Jones to secure some crystal dishes to serve this in. So a speedy menu is designed it just remains to see how swiftly I can whip it up.

The table is laid and looking sparkly and white. I am on schedule (for once) and start the Beef Wellingtons canapés but as I could have anticipated D, MC, LLcT and E(D) turn up a tad early and I haven’t made as many as I’d like. But what I do have get slammed into the oven and my thoughts turn to Scallops and Chorizo. Nigella declares this to be ready “quicker than the speed of light” and she’s right, it’s very soon I am delivering a platter of glistening chorizo coins, plump succulent scallops, showered with fresh parsley and oozing a fabulous orange paprika tinged oil.

Next I focus on the Steak Slice with Lemon and Thyme. Everyone likes their beef gently mooing apart for E(D) and I do remember to sauté hers twice or three times as long. It is another super quick dish but I think I should have got some thicker rump steak (unfortunately one can’t specify that when ordering from Ocado) so the rare pile wasn’t as rare as I’d liked. But served with some tender stem broccoli with Parmesan shavings it still went down very well. I would have like to heap the beefy bounty up in a platter with the stack of broccoli next to it but really with five people around the table and a plethora of crystal knick knacks, there is no room at the inn for anything else so I plate up everyones instead.
And for the finale I’ve just got to produce the Instant Chocolate Mousse and I’m home dry. Everyone sated, still a reasonable time to be eating and the kitchen just utterly wrecked. Well nothing new there then! It really does only take a few minutes to whip up this mousse so I’m feeling slightly smug and frankly marginally tipsy but there’s one final instruction I haven’t anticipated – the “chill until you want to eat”. I’ve only got a small fridge and it’s already pretty full of various delights for the weekend ahead and there is definitely not the merest room for five crystal dishes to reside. So I just have to hope that it will set of its own volition otherwise it is chocolate soup all round! When Nigella produced these on television the other day, she showered hers with white chocolate dandruff but I prefer raspberries so sink a few in each. They never resembled the chocolate Mr Whippy appearance of Nigella’s but we didn’t want to wait any longer, I feared I could already hear the gently snoring of MC so chocolate mousseline anyone? The dishes were scraped clean so I guess no-one really minded the less than perky appearance and I was almost forgiven.
I think my 'J goes rapido' attempt works, at least I did way better than last time! Just call me Speedy J!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Chocolate & Zucchini & Clotilde & me

I was utterly delighted when I heard that Clotilde Dusoulier was planning an evening at Book for Cooks in Notting Hill. We’d get to hear her talk and Chocolate & Zucchini, both her blog and the resultant book. And even better than that, Eric Treuille proprietor and chef would whip us for the chosen 12 a meal from the book itself. When I say chosen 12, I really mean the first 12 who booked a table at this hallowed event. I booked my seat the moment I first stumbled across a reference to Clotilde’s intended visit to London on her wonderful blog. And I have really been looking forward to this.

Eric first delivered us a plate of Mushroom and Cantal Cheese Tartine (p.46 in the British copy of Chocolate & Zucchini) as we heard about Clotilde’s early history discovering food in San Francisco when work took her there and the local food markets first really opened her taste buds.

After two years in California when Clotilde and Maxence returned to Paris, Clotilde found with her new found enthusiasm for all that was food she started cooking zealously cooking for family and friends initially recording everything in a notebook and then in 2003 after reading other food blogs started her own. As there were few food blogs not been written by food fanatics in the US, Clotilde’s received extra attention and her fame grew and justifiably so.

Eric then reinterpreted her Celeriac Remoulade with Trout Roe (p.119) by substituting the Trout Roe with Smoked Salmon. I can take or leave celeriac, and I am not a missive fan of yoghurt-y dressings so this wasn’t my favourite course but I have to admit that it was a clean zesty taste with the lemon and actually an unusual combination that I am glad I’ve tried.

Next we were able to ask our own burning questions and I have to admit I was intrigued to hear her answers regarding influences and her food heroes, her obviously being one of mine. She mentioned Trish Deseine and her latest book “Nobody Does it Better”, which is a big favourite of mine also. Intriguingly Trish is an Irish woman writing about cooking France.

She also explains the mechanics of recording the delights she serves up for her guests for her blog and her friends are used to waiting patiently for her to snap away before they can pick up a fork (I have to apologise, I am afraid I am very prone to that – "just one second, let me turn on more lights so I can record this before you commence your scoffing…") but Clotilde admits that she often remakes a dish the next day so she can photograph it beautifully for her blog. But then her photographs are rather stunning so I guessed they couldn’t have been all snatched speedily before a fork is plunged into the middle of it.

We next ate a scoop of delicious Tuna and Green Apple Mousse (p. 98) with some pitta bread.

Clotilde talks about her next book which will feature Parisian foodie hangouts. One of the guests is slightly louder and more aggressive (that’s me being polite!) than the rest and asks lots of questions about getting a book published especially the challenges performing this feat in several countries. Methinks she has ulterior motive, perhaps her own book up her sleeve perchance! Eric furnishes us with a plate of delicious Lamb and Prune Meatballs (p. 134) which are lapped up with gusto. This is such a civilised way to meet a cook/chef and enjoy their cookbook and food, very intimate and enjoyable.

We hear how to Clotilde retains her enviable svelte form (swimming if you’re interested) and how her philosophy of Chocolate & Zucchini started. She wanted to exemplify the two facets of her cooking personality, zucchini for her healthy, wholesome love of vegetables and chocolate for her sweet tooth and a penchant for glorious chocolaty loveliness. We accompanied this by a slice of the eponymous Chocolate & Zucchini Cake, it may sound strange but tastes moist and with a little something that you can’t quite identify but stops the chocolate being too rich. It was very good!

It was a fabulous evening, and it was worth the wait. Eric certainly asked us to leave fairly suddenly, Clotilde was actually in the middle of a sentence but maybe out enthusiasm had made the extended the event loner than usual. Clotilde has kindly offered to sign my copy of her book several times but I hadn’t bought my slightly dog-eared and much loved copy with me. In the end I thought I’d buy another copy and take her up on her proposal and donate my somewhat oeuf cocotte splattered version to D. And if you haven't discovered her blog yet, you really should.


When I booked a table at the Berkeley’s for their Prêt-à-portea to celebrate H’s birthday I do recall them asking if we were celebrating anything in particular and I must have said a ‘birthday or two’. As it turned out with our usual way when attempting to schedule anything together we had to move onto plan B or was it C? So actually the little get together of the girls to celebrate H’s birthday ended up being much closer to mine so we called it a joint celebration. That meant K bought us both fabulous presents, a chocolate recipe book for me – how did she possibly guess? And the eggs I’d brought from Russia for H and KK were exchanged for a stunning Lola Rose ring.

It was the first time ever that another J, K, H and I had been together. Clearly H has been rather busy the last year with KK so we had plenty to catch up on. And because of the excessive chit-chatting, some say gossiping, the fabulous canapés and sandwiches didn't get as much look in as last time. When we moved onto the little cakes our waitress presented the details of each one and the general consensus was that the red velvet hat was the most delectable and the winner. So when they surprised H and I with a decorated birthday plate they used another red velvet hat-shaped cake to hold our birthday candle. It was a lovely way to celebrate our collective birthdays and just so wonderful to finally get us all together. And K's Z rather enjoyed mushing the take-out cakes into his face later when we carried them home in the little pistachio coloured cardboard handbags.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Birthday cupcakes

Another J got these fabulous little cupcakes as a belated birthday cake thing. Aren't they just rather cute and so very me? The baby pink one with the black stiletto on it mysteriously seemed to have my name on it. And they were tasty too! And yes I did share them, honestly!


I haven’t been to the Yacht Club for such a long time. It’s pretty handy for work but they can be a little unwelcoming. I was grabbing a lunch with G who was over form the US and we headed for the Lightship (I’d checked that G didn’t have H’s belief that the Lightship moved too much and thus made her seasick) but it seems to be shut so over to the Yacht Club it is then. Let’s hope there’s no awkwardness about us getting in with us not being sailors or whatever the mysterious criteria is.

I’d always thought the Yacht Club was a civilised place for a cheeky glass of wine after work (assuming we'd managed to get in of course). The Syrrah would be served in a heavy lead crystal cut glass, which always improves the taste. There’s no banging loud music and it’s just a cosy place to sit and out the world to right. And there’s also the good food and the rather tasty Spanish J behind the bar!

It seems that all has changed, you don't have to be buzzed in with a secret password but can just stroll like other eateries. Unfortunately I am too early today for the lovely J so I’ll have to amuse myself with some yummy food instead. I go for two starters which are smoked salmon with brown bread and pâté and toast.
We get to sit outside in the September sunshine, I’m not sure if they still serve the wine in crystal glasses as we have to forgo the such a delight with an afternoon full of appointments. But we don’t abstain from the dessert and tuck into the rather rich and chocolaty hot chocolate fondant topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Not bad at all, a finest fork for the Yacht Club.

Monday, September 10, 2007

What would I ask for my birthday?

There are two fat parcels on my desk today. Yeah, aren’t birthdays great! Okay it transpires that I’ve ordered both of them myself months ago but it’s still nice to get any parcels on a birthday. They are the latest missives from Nigella Lawson and Jamie Oliver. They both coincide with their new television programs and both contain a plethora of exciting recipes. It has been interesting seeing their new shows. Jamie has been accused in the past of showcasing his aspirational life, family and friends amongst the tasty cooking bits. Much as I love to see food tasted, savoured and enjoyed on a cooking show (I always wondered if Delia ever tastes anything she cooks, I’ve never once see her stick a finger or even the merest point of a spoon in the treat she’s just dished up and I get so annoyed when she says ‘season to taste’, I wonder how she knows because we never see her taste it.) Okay, off my soapbox now but you know what I mean and then there’s Nigella - lots of close-ups of her licking her fingers, smacking her glistening lips and positively salivating over each creation. Clearly there’s a world of difference her. The jury’s still out on her new series, I love many of the recipes but not sure if we really need to see her, getting in and out of black cabs, tucking Bruno into bed I’m sure much earlier than he actually goes to bed or even standing at a bus stop slurping her just whipped up smoothie. And I’m not sure I believe she even gets on many buses. However, it’s supposed to be about the food and I guess that’s the issue you get distracted by their lifestyle and surrounding though admittedly I do enjoy the snoop at the kitchen, the various bits of scrummy kitchen paraphernalia and table bits and pieces but I’m not so interested in the family and friends.

Now Jamie’s show was all a bit like this in the past, jumping on and off his scooter, sliding down banisters, drumming with his band of playing table football with other friends. But his new show is all about his home grown vegetables, yummy things you can whip up with them when they’ve just been picked, dug up or plucked. And the only time we see anyone other than Jamie himself is when he chews the fat and the latest delicious treat with Ben the gardener. A quick flick through the pages and these leap out at me creamy asparagus soup with a poached egg on toast, crispy and delicious asparagus and potato tart, fresh tagliatelle with sprouting broccoli and oozy cheese sauce, incredible roasted shoulder of lamb with smashed veg and greens, really very delicious and simple lamb tartare, smoked barbecued shellfish, beautiful courgette carbonara, balsamic-baked onions and potatoes with roast pork, potato salad with smoked salmon and horseradish crème fraîche, grilled strawberries with PIMM’S and vanilla ice cream, roast of incredible game birds with proper polenta, game ragù with pappardelle, pan-roasted venison with creamy baked potato and celeriac, cheat’s pappardelle with slow-braised leeks and crispy porcini pangrattato, roasted white fish and leeks and finally Italian ham and spinach tart. Phew that’s not bad for starters!

And from the fastest Nigella ever - brandied-bacony chicken, potato and mushroom gratin, steak slice with lemon and thyme, flourless chocolate brownies, oeufs en cocotte, green eggs and ham, croque monsieur bake, maple chicken ‘n’ ribs, coq au Riesling, chicken schnitzel with bacon and white wine, scallops and chorizo, instant chocolate mousse, chicken, mushroom and bacon pie, Cheddar cheese risotto, macaroni cheese, totally chocolate chocolate chip cookies, potato cakes with smoked salmon, scallops-on-the-shell, duck breasts with pomegranate and mint, glitzy chocolate puddings, buttermilk roast chicken, pea and pesto soup and linguine with lemon, garlic and thyme mushrooms. So not too shabby either!

I think I’ve got a lot of quality time coming up in the kitchen soon. Aren’t birthdays grand?

Happy birthday to me!

... and also the fabulous KK, I wish you a very pink 1st birthday.

M sent me this fantastic birthday cake, it's not very edible unless you have a penchant for florist oasis but it smells lovely! Though I have to admit, I am having lustful thoughts about chocolate cake or perhaps a little Gü delight of some sort. I may just have to procure something intensely chocolaty before the day is out! Well, if you can't indulge in chocolate on your birthday, when can you?

Friday, September 07, 2007


I've started to make a few tiny inroads inroads in the vast pile of unposted forking and travelling posts. I guess it would be easier if I didn't write so much and also if I stopped eating entirely - then maybe I wouldn't have anything to talk about!

Firstly a place not to get plaice...

And then what happened when I finally encountered a bowl of probably the best mash potato in the world. Apologies for the epic proportions, I was somewhat swept away in my lyrical enthusiasm!