Saturday, March 31, 2007

An utterly British bangers & mash

Clearly being inspired by whole Britishness thing when I visited M&S Simply Food at Waterloo on the way home the other night I was drawn to their sausage selection and espied some outdoor bred pork sausages which looked particularly tasty. And thinking that I probably shouldn’t be mashing my own potatoes at the moment I also grabbed some of their organic mash also.
And it was a excellent choice! The sausages were delicious, wonderfully dense and perfectly porky; they were cooked in the specified 19 minutes. M&S are always very specific about such things!
The mash tasted very much like the mashed up inside of a baked jacket potato which was a lovely surprise. I thought it needed extra butter and good stir but was a good substitute for making my own.
And there really isn’t anything so British as bangers & mash, mmmm, mmmm.
I think I'm going to enjoy 'flying the flag'!

A very British Olive

When the latest edition of Olive magazine plopped onto my doormat I was delighted to see that it was a celebration of all things British. It’s not the first time they’ve done this, in fact according to my own blog I can see that last May's Olive was in a similar vein. But I don’t mind at all, it's a good thing. It’s odd but when I am asked to state my favourite nationality of food, I invariably say French, but I am also very passionate about British food. But for some reason, even though there are some great advocates of British food we still get tarred with the over-boiled cabbage, stodgy puddings and dodgy awful canned vegetables and also we have this inbuilt fear of appearing patriotic, somehow it’s un-British! And no I cannot explain that!.

There are so many crimes that have been committed in the name of British food but we do some things so very, very well. What about an elegant crust-less cucumber sandwiches afternoon tea or seaside fish and chips or even better Cromer crab on brown bread sandwiches or of course one of my favourites pie and mash? We make fabulous award winning cheese; have hedgerows full of elderflower and wild garlic, grow the world’s best asparagus and the sweetest strawberries, rear magnificent tasting beef, lamb and rare breed pork.

The month of May’s Olive contains too numerous examples to mention glorifying our nation’s fabulous food. But a few excepts that deserve a special attention, firstly 30 UK foodie must dos which perhaps not so coincidentally I didn’t read before writing the above and pretty much everything I’ve mentioned above is in their list also – great minds really do think alike!

A few recipes that get me reaching for my chopping board this month are: pea, radish and rare beef salad, artichoke and bacon tart, linguini with fresh rocket pesto,and asparagus and mozzarella and prosciutto parcels. The new series of Great British Menu starts on Monday so I was delighted to see some of the entrants being photographed by Lord Snowdon and some of their great recipes. They are look pretty good but my favourites are Marcus Wareing’s Lancashire hotpot and the fabulous Jeremy Lee’s Arbroath smokie and leek broth. There another seared beef salad, this time with watercress and Gordon Ramsay’s salmon creviche. On the next page there’s a stunning looking hot smoked salmon salad and of course plenty of asparagus recipes. John Torode whips up a fine looking fish pie which is compulsory for a celebration of British food. There's a taste test of the perfect pie and the winner of the steak and ale is the pure pie, not one I've tried - yet!

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Update: actually on further examination of their fabulously names "we are pie" site, I realise I have tried a pure pie as one of my favourite delis, Source, stocks them. So now I know where they get there ever so interesting pies from. Last time I had one though, I didn't enjoy it in the best of circumstances!

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If there's not enough titbits in the magazine there's also a little booklet showing 20 UK foodie weekends with some great destinations to give a try. I will definitely be taking it with me next I'm in in Manchester. And it was a good job that I didn't have it with my in York as I may have been inclined to stock up on "wantable French crockery, glassware and enamelware" in The French House. Phew, that was lucky!

Over the last year there has been to some great cookbook resources for British food lovers and food shoppers, Mark Hix British Regional Food, Peter Prescott and Terence Conran's Eat London, Great British Menu Cookbook and Rose Prince's The Savvy Shopper. We have no excuse for not supporting our local and regional food.

And with so many great foods to be proud of, this is a fantastic opportunity to fly the flag and I intend to do so. Now where do I start?

Going to work on an egg

A soft boiled egg and soldiers is such an evocative comfort food dish for me and like many foods of this ilk I have to have it ‘my way’ or not at all. This soft boiled egg is one of my earliest memories of having to select a favourite food. At my very first school we had a project of cataloguing all the pupil’s most exquisite foodstuff. Everyone would name their food and we would find various packets and/or pictures to illustrate our preferred choice. If my memory serves me well many of my schoolmates selected food from packets and we made a collage of all these various packets but I was insistent that only a soft boiled egg would do and we scoured old copies of Family Circle until we fell upon an advert probably for Lion eggs or something and had a perfect egg in a blue and white striped egg cup. My egg picture had the pride of place in the middle of the collage and I was extremely pleased with my selection. And it’s such a perfect meal, still years later it cannot really be beaten but as I said I can’t have any arriviste combinations it HAS to be two soft boiled runny yolked eggs with white bread cut into soldiers and another slice still uncut to turn into an egg sandwich with all the remaining egg. The yolk has to be golden and now I am evangelical about the provenance of my happy eggs, that shouldn’t be a problem and the bread has to be white and never ever toasted. The toast crumbs in the egg yolk would seriously distress me. And brown bread would just be very, very wrong! The soldiers have to cut from the full length of the bread slice even though they can break, I don’t like them when they’ve been cut in half.

I have various egg cups that I’ve acquired over the years but this rather splendid black and white set bought for me last year by M seemed the perfect choice for today. And of course finished off with a white ceramic egg spoon as sometimes a metal spoon taints the taste.

A soft boiled egg is what I crave when I’m feeling a little under the weather or when I am feeling on top of the world and I have some fresh eggs and white bread to hand. Occasionally I would serve soft boiled eggs with asparagus spears as a decadent starter, and as I can almost smell the first asparagus of the season this could well be eaten very soon.

Fabulously happy eggs are nearly always sat in my china egg box in my kitchen, I don’t believe in keeping eggs in the fridge and I go through them very quickly so I needn’t worry about them. But bread I don’t keep in as much as I used to so spotting a small white sliced loaf when grabbing a few late night necessities at open until midnight M&S Simply Food was a special treat. I regularly have creamy scrambled eggs and barely hard boiled eggs but just occasionally, like today, only a soft boiled egg and soldiers will do.

I don't know if my soft boiled egg preferences will provoke as many responses as my perfect egg and bacon buttie but I suspect it may. But I will not be swayed, this is the only way to enjoy a soft boiled egg and soldiers - don't let others convince you otherwise!

Friday, March 30, 2007

A bit of a tart!

For tonight's delectation I thought I’d try a Waitrose light puff pastry Somerset Brie and bacon slice – well personally I’d call it a 'tart' but 'slice' if you must. I did add my own little touches though, I topped the tart with even more Brie as I had a little Brie de Meaux left over from my visit to Harvey Nichols the other night. And also from that Spring fête at Harvey Nix, I had some wild garlic kindly given to me by the lovely lady showing off all the delights that is Secrett’s Farm so I sautéed some finely sliced wild garlic to finish off the topping. And this slice or tart with the extra embellishments served alongside some mâche salad was a very fine bite to end a week of struggling with only one functioning elbow. The bacon had a lot of Brie (and wild garlic) to contend with but it managed to weave its smoky magic over the rest of the ingredients, so well done the beechwood smoked bacon.

After a heartfelt conversation in the pub last night about the sanctity of a round white plate, I thought I better select such a round white plate (not pink and certainly not black square) on which to serve my slice come tart. The multi-brothered J was quite adamant that plates had to be round and wouldn’t countenance the thought of a square plate in any circumstance. We discussed the phrase "square meal" but this made him more determined. The debate was provoked by my reply to Roo’s question regarding the availability of square plates, apparently the considered opinion is that I know a little too much about plates of any shape. Okay fair point! Can you imagine a Mastermind with a contestant claiming the specialist subject of Crockery? It would seem rather odd! I could like stranger things though, ummm I could be obsessed with discovering the perfect mashed potato or attempting to coordinate my sling with my shoes (a long story, I guess you had to be there!) – oh I am! Well you know what I mean, hopefully! And I'm standing by my opinion that plates are very important! Though I may add 'important' in the context of showcasing and glorifying food not in a world peace sort of way.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Another day, another Gaucho

I am continuing to achieve my aim to visit all the Gaucho Grills and got to visit my second one today, the Broadgate Circle one. It was particularly handy for the client I was lunching with and in fact I pass it each time I visit them and have been intrigued by its iceberg type appearance. The 'tip' being a glass box containing a large square cow but all the action takes place below ground accessed by a fabulous glass lift which seems very Thunderbirds or maybe even Barbarella. There are stairs, but they’re no fun at all!

The inner sanctum is extravagantly decked out with deep red purple walls, a myriad of crystal chandeliers and the ubiquitous cow hide swivel chairs in which you can spin around and examine Gaucho's in all its meat lover’s glory. I had the momentary panic that yet again I'd dragged strictly vegetarian clients to such a meat fest, but everyone eschewed starters in favour of steak so I needn’t have worried.

Our waitress bought us out a large platter of the available cuts of steak which is possibly why all possible thoughts of starter flew out of the window. We had to choose from:

BIFE DE CUADRIL Rump – a uniquely lean and flavourful cut

BIFE DE CHORIZO Sirloin – with a belt of tasty crackling

BIFE DE LOMO Fillet – the tenderest cut of all

BIFE ANCHO Rib eye – a marbled sirloin with a tender skirt

And a new one to me the CHURRASCO ’CUTS’ - choice of cuts, spiral cut and marinated CHORIZO, LOMO and CUADRIL which is marinated with parsley and garlic.

My first thought was if LLcoolT were here and been presented with the platter he would have asked for the whole lot, but of course there's always the Gaucho sampler then you get to try all four.

I decided that I’d try one of the spiral cuts steaks as I was fascinated by the cut and what it would do to the flavour. After the tip from T our my last trip, I was very keen to get my hands on straight from the oven cheese bread and our waitress promised to deliver some from the next batch. I know that the fat chips are excellent so I decided to tempt fate and try the potato purée alongside the grilled mushrooms and grilled asparagus with alioli.

The spiral cut steak was a revelation, it was so tender, so juicy and an excellent flavour. It went excellently with the béarnaise sauce and the mushrooms and asparagus. The potato purée was okay, better when missed with the béarnaise sauce but I so should have stuck to the exemplary fat chips. When will I learn, if it isn’t broke why fix it? The asparagus was delicious but a little sparse for the three of us, four spears amongst three, interesting portion control! The waitress did eventually get us some just baked cheese bread rolls but not until we were mopping up the last of the béarnaise with the last mouthfuls of steak so we decided to save a space for some dessert instead.

We had held ourselves back for a little spot of dessert to round the meal off perfectly but our waitress after the late arrival of the cheese bread has unfortunately utterly disappeared and whenever she is glimpsed she can’t be compelled to come in our direction. When she turns up with a big smile and the menus to take our dessert orders we unfortunately have to admit that we’ve now run out of time. A and W have some tea and coffee and our waitress kindly takes this off our bill but personally I would have preferred a little mouthful of something sweet maybe chocolaty or lemony.

I have mixed feelings about this Gaucho Grill, the steak is obviously prefect, the mash – well I will know better for next time, the décor was fabulous – who would have thought the chandeliers and cowhide combo but today the service was not too hot.
Last time I ate in a Gaucho I awarded it the high accolade of three forks, this time I think it would be only in between one and two, which is such a shame. I think we were a little unlucky on this visit, but service is very important especially when entertaining clients and even though I cannot criticise the steak, other things could be improved.
There are eight Gaucho’s in London and one in Manchester so two down seven to go.
It will be most interesting to see what happens on my next meaty visit, watch this space.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Elbow room

Just in case you were wondering, the difference between a golfer's elbow and tennis elbow is your mobility. With tennis elbow you can't bend your arm comfortably which makes many everyday tasks nigh on impossible. But fortunately golfer's elbow means that the difficult operation is straightening the arm for which I am grateful as I can still work, stab at the keyboard (that's how I normally type), gently cook and even more importantly cut my own food up. And I get to take all manner of drugs!
But I'm not up to whipping up some eggs to make a soufflé at this present time so it was fortunate I had a Seafood Lover's salmon soufflé in my freezer for some such emergencies. But I had to make a small adjustment, I just couldn’t bring myself to eat it out of the rather unfetching gold foil container so I peeled it off and popped the frozen soufflé into a more attractive china ramekin. And yes, you are supposed to cook them from frozen. I accompanied my soufflé with the remaining yellow flowering broccoli and a sautéed potato flower. I had one solitary new potato remaining so this seemed to be a way to eke it out, though I guess calling it a side dish would be a little grandiose, perhaps garnish would be more appropriate.
I forgot to dry the slices though and if I'd prepped them like the potato scales the other day and chilled them after anointing with butter they'd have been firmer and easier to sauté. No matter, they added a little crisp touch to the soufflé. The soufflé itself was pretty tasty, it had pleasing chunks of salmon but the texture could have been a little fluffier, more souffléd if you will, but perhaps the timing was a bit out as I insisted on the ramekin instead of the foil. And as is always the way with a soufflé it looks much puffier and more attractive when I took it out of the oven and than dashed to pop it on plate and takes its picture. Unfortunately it very quickly started to sink so I thought a second deployment of the Gordon plate might add a little gravitas but at least this time I stayed far away from dribbles of balsamic or in fact dribbles of anything.
The Seafood Lover’s salmon soufflé is certainly not a bad freezer standby.
Maybe next time I'll leave it in the foil and see the difference, if any, it makes to the texture.
Or even better, next time I'll have two fully functioning elbows and I'll make my own extremely souffléd soufflé!

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Harvey's Spring Fete

My blogging has been somewhat curtailed recently due to a rather bizarre golf cum chain sawing injury. Apparently I have a case of golfer's elbow which is the scourge of the weekend gardener or ad hoc or infrequent chainsaw users. Hmmm, needless to say I've never swung a golf club in my life, have no garden not even sadly a window box at the moment and as much as I really relish the thought of welding a chainsaw occasionally, that pleasure has yet to be experienced! So how could I have acquired such an odd injury? The jury's out at the moment but if I had been excessively lifting Wol pans or vigorously mashing potatoes that would possibly explain it but I can really think of little that would exacerbate such a condition. Well no matter what, I have been forced to rest my right arm and hoist it in a rather fetching sling and now with my first faltering BlackBerrying with my left hand I can finally catch up on some foodie exploits.
Tonight was Harvey Nichols' spring
fête and I figured that this could still be enjoyed with only one functioning arm. The idea was that various purveyors of spring related goodies were set up around the fifth floor food hall so you could visit, taste, ask lots of questions and generally discover a lot more about their wares. I started with the lovely people at Teapigs who showed me their little tea temples and discussed the benefits of blue tea - clearly green tea is very last year! There were some scrummy (just divine for a diva!) pink champagne truffles, curiously feisty sausage and mustard flavour Tyrell's crisps and dried mangoes and pineapples from Southern Alps. A wonderful woman at Secrett's Farm introduced me to wild leek (even more of a kick than wild garlic, which she also had some fine specimens of) and red sorrel and many other bits of intriguing greenery. I'll have to see if if I can get my local deli to stock them as I know they have some of the Secrett's range.

There was also a raffle which I was lucky enough to win not one but two prizes: a signed copy of Silvena Rowe’s Feasts – Food for sharing from Central and Eastern Europe which unbelievably I didn’t already have. Well I don’t own every single cookbook in the world – just quite a few! And if that wasn’t enough, a beautiful bouquet of Jane Packer colourful flowers and trust me they’re a challenge to get home in one piece with only one working arm!

We also received rather packed goodie bags, handy black canvas shopping bags, well who even consider a plastic bag nowadays?, filled with Brewhaha tea, Miller’s gin, V Water Shield – the one with “the Shaolin warrior inside the bottle ready to defend your body temple”, Pipers Biggleswade sweet chilli crisps, Southern Alps trail mix, various chocolates including a chocolate espresso (ug, coffee!) bar and some Harvey Nichols blackcurrant jam. Didn't we do well?

There’s further events planned like Chocolate on 4th April and Celebration of Summer on 16th May, another one for my diary I think!

Monday, March 26, 2007

What would Gordon do?

I'm not quite sure why I find crockery so alluring; I'd been able to look at Gordon Ramsay's collection for Royal Doulton dispassionately until I ate course after delicious course off it and then I was hypnotised by those ever decreasing circles. I wanted my own for those Michelin starred moments. I thought it would finesse my presentation skills and probably encourage me to get a bit poncy!

I did exercise some restraint though. I settled on one large ‘presentation’ plate, a smaller one and an espresso cup – again. Yes another one, great for someone who refuses to drink coffee. Obviously my burgeoning coffee cup collection have so far remained entirely unadulterated by coffee but have proved most useful for amongst other things lemon posset, chocolate mousse, scallop soup and scrambled egg. But never coffee!

And of course now I have ‘the plate’ I have to consider what would grace it first. I had perfect fillet of lightly smoked salmon, such a lovely flavour and thought I’d try and create some potato scales. This was inspired by a Gordon Ramsay recipe in Passion for Seafood for brill wrapped in strips of potato but as I only had tiny new potatoes, I would have to adapt. I found a scalier recipe in Paul and Jeanne Rankin’s New Irish Cookery so thought I would be slightly closer to the mark. The trick seems to be with both the recipes that whatever the size of the potato strip or disc to dry the potato before applying liberally with melted butter and then popping in the fridge to set the potato jacket. You then carefully pan fry the potato topping (last time I tried this technique I did Gordon’s version using the long potato strips and they were less fiddly especially in the pan). I then placed the fillet in the oven to finish cooking; I was worried about the salmon going beyond the ‘cuisson’ so probably whipped it out a little early for the potato topping to brown sufficiently so I popped it under the grill just to finish off. I sat the salmon fillet astride some yellow flowering broccoli. The plan was to decorate the plate with a few perfect beads of balsamic vinegar which is not a normal flourish for me but somehow the plate just makes you want to do something like that. The concentric circles on the fine porcelain plate really frames the dish so you feel inclined to just add that little “je ne sais quoi”. But in hindsight, the little flourishes should have attempted before plating up as there's no time for those little embellishments when the dish is 'on the pass' and ready to go. Gordon would have been very displeased. So the delicate little circles of balsamic became more creative splodges that clearly would have distressed any possible Michelin star spotter.

Next time, I'll do better! Though it was extremely tasty and the potato scales were a great crispy addition so what's a little balsamic dribble amongst friends?

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Ultimate egg & bacon buttie


The ultimate egg and bacon buttie (or sandwich if you prefer) is quite simple really. You just need a soft (and it really must be soft, crusty will just not do) white roll lavishly buttered, not too crispy smoked back dry cure bacon, an extremely golden yolked lightly fried (no crispy edges for me) egg and just the merest smattering of HP brown sauce (always next to the bacon!)

And with any luck you'll end up with the perfect lazing around on a Sunday with the papers sort of brunch food but watch out for that gorgeous dripping egg yolk, a real mouthful!

Mmmm, mmmm.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Eating London

The latest cookbook has flopped on to my desk and it is the well researched tome by Terence Conran and Peter Prescott – Eat London. It is a soft cover book with a fabulous slip cover made of a folded map of London showing the location of the featured London eateries. The book contains a fine collection of food markets, delicatessens, gourmet emporiums, gastro pubs and restaurants. Obviously it’s not like a standard guide as it is much more based on the particular opinions of the writers and previously having had a conversation to that effect with Sir Terence I know we don’t always agree on what makes a fine restaurant. I brought up the fact that I was pleased with Marcus Wareing achieving what I considered to be a worthy second Michelin star, I learnt quickly that he is a not a fan of Gordon Ramsay and his various enterprises and particularly bemoans the loss of the traditional hotel restaurants of yore. He believes they’ve been Ramsayfied; and are no doubt more profitable and busier but in his mind all the poorer for the transformation.

Amongst the eighteen chapters each featuring a different part of the capital, some of my favourite do have a fine billing though. For example, the Blueprint Café and the “imaginative cooking” of the “charismatic Jeremy Lee” of which I am an enormous fan is considerably and rightly praised. Two other city places I have enjoyed are 1 Lombard Street next to Bank and The Bleeding Heart close to the sparkling diamonds of Hatton Garden. I know H had a bad experience of service at her last visit to 1 Lombard Street but my only visit was thoroughly enjoyable and the exceptional French cheese board and suckling pig served ‘four ways’ of the fantastic deep red hued Bleeding Heart are both fond memories. Richard Corrigan of Lindsay House gets much deserved accolades for his "earthy and robust food in a very sophisticated style with a large dose of Irish flare" and John Torode of Smith's of Smithfield has his recipes for Steak Béarnaise and Slow Roast Belly Pork with Salsa Verde featured.

Some of the entries feature recipes but I was amused to see that Lidgate Butchers (undoubtedly a fine butcher) is given full page, a picture and a larger entry than the two short paragraphs the enviably three starred Restaurant Gordon Ramsay warrants. In fact part of 'the review' is dedicated to mentioning the Chelsea Physic garden which is adjacent to Gordon's exemplary establishment.

I think I may detect a little understandable favouritism to the canon of former Conran restaurants that now are owned by the D&D group. I guess this is understandable as Peter Prescott worked with with Terence on building up this estimable empire so clearly would have a deep affection for each of their former charges. I'm not entirely sure what Gordon Ramsay and all his acolytes have done to them but they seem to want to commit to the merest and at best faintly dismissive entries like the "if you want to eat carpaccio of gherkin, (Petrus) is the place to do so" or "Gordon Ramsay has made (Claridge's) a place for footballers and their wives of girl/boyfriends. Over decorated food, too complex ann service rather too unctuous of everything in a place where elegant simplicity once ruled". Miaow, I'd love to know what Gordon did to upset Sir Terrence? Angela Hartnett and the Connaught doesn't even get an entry though there is a slightly derogatory mention in the foreward. Poor Angela, too harsh I think! Boxwood Café and Maze get no mention at all either.

I am looking forward to exploring more of London eateries with the aid of this book,okay they are subjective some say biased but there's still some fantastic little gems in here and it's much livelier than Harden's or Square Meal or guides like that. Sir Terrence does know a thing or two about successful restaurants after all.

Eat London, okay I don't mind if I do.

Saturday Kitchen delights

I thought there was a couple of attention-grabbing recipes on Saturday Kitchen this morning. Daniel Galmiche's Beef, asparagus and mangetout stir fry sounded interesting though a little Asian in style for me and even though he said this was the first English asparagus I am really surprised and would love to know where you can get English asparagus in March? I think my rare beef salad looked even tastier, I think I prefer the taste when you cook the fillet steak whole and then slice it as it is juicier and can be rarer. I guess those who like their beef well done (M perhaps?) would prefer the stir fried version which I can often find a little dry.

Nick Nairn’s recipe for Chocolate orange cups sounds another great little chocolate treat to have on file. I was trying to decide why I object to the layer of double cream on top so much when I have no objection to the cream inside the dessert itself. And I can only think of some school milk related trauma which now means I can never drink just milk or cream without thinking of trying desperately to ingest the school milk that had been forced upon me that was always too warm and hence in my mind too creamy. I really hated it and just the smell always made me feel nauseous. Unfortunately this has stayed with me and when I get the double cream out of the fridge and sniff it to see if it’s still okay to use I always think it smells off even when it’s completely fresh. And my stomach turns and I’m right back in a plasticene smelling classroom wondering how to avoid the little bottle of milk that has been sitting in its crate for hours surrounded by sweaty schoolchildren. Yuck!

When I had milk at home the top of the milk was always quickly grabbed by someone who liked it way better than me and actually considered it a treat. But at other houses I’d watch someone shake the milk bottle up to mix the milk with the gold top and feel very queasy.

There used to be an advert to encourage milk drinking way before the milk moustaches became popular, I think it was for Unigate and the strapline was “watch out, watch out there’s a Humphrey about!”.

Humphrey was a red and white striped straw that would drink your milk if you weren’t quick enough and you could get various Humphrey merchandise including these stickers shown above. But that was back when I could drink milk, though only fridge cold and of course with the creamy gold top vanished before it got to me.

So here is Nick’s recipe, I guess all you cream lovers out there will enjoy the Drambruie cream topping, I’ll have to think of an alternative or have mine au natural.

Chocolate orange cups with Drambuie cream
by Nick Nairn from Saturday Kitchen
Serves 4-6
Preparation time less than 30 mins - Cooking time 10 to 30 mins

For the chocolate cups
125ml/4½fl oz whole milk
125ml/4½fl oz double cream
175g/6oz orange-flavoured dark chocolate, finely chopped
1 free-range egg

For the cream
125ml/4½fl oz double cream
3 tbsp Drambuie (or liqueur of your choice)
50g/2oz chocolate, sliced into shards

1. For the chocolate cups, place the milk and cream into a large pan over a medium heat and very slowly bring it to the boil.

2. Place the chocolate into a liquidiser. Once the milk and cream has just come to the boil, add it to the chocolate and leave to stand and cool slightly for a minute.

3. Place the lid onto the blender, remove the centre plug on the lid and cover the hole with a clean tea towel. (This will stop the steam forcing the lid off.)

4. Blend the chocolate and the hot milk and cream together (the heat of the milk mixture should melt the chocolate in about 30 seconds).

5. Crack the egg into the blender and blend again for 45 seconds.

6. Divide the chocolate mixture between 4-6 espresso cups or small glass ramekins. Transfer to a tray and place in the fridge for 2-3 hours to set.

7. For the cream, place the cream and whisky liqueur into a bowl and gently whisk until very soft peaks form when the whisk is removed.

8. To serve, spoon the cream over the top of each chocolate cup and top with a few shards of chocolate.

At the end of this week's show James made the following very tasty looking dish for his guest’s “heaven” recipe and I thought yes, I should make that sometime and at exactly the same moment M had the thought that I could whip this up on my next visit. I thoroughly agree, this looks like another classic risotto recipe despite Nick Nairn and Daniel Galmiche thinking that James was cheating by adding the mascarpone. They said that if you stir your risotto for long enough you don't need it but it all looked good to me.

Smoked haddock and leek risotto with roasted smoked haddock and parsley oil
by James Martin from Saturday Kitchen
Serves 4
Preparation time less than 30 mins Cooking time 30
mins to 1 hour

For the risotto
1 litre/1¾ pints fish stock
25g/1oz butter
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
2 leeks, thickly sliced
250g/9oz Arborio rice
50ml/2fl oz dry white wine
225g/8oz undyed smoked haddock, cooked, skin removed, flaked
75g/3oz mascarpone
110g/4oz parmesan, grated
4 tbsp roughly chopped fresh flatleaf parsley
salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the roasted haddock
50g/2oz butter
4 x 110g/4oz undyed smoked haddock f
illets, skin removed

For the parsley oil
1 small bunch flatleaf parsley, roughly chopped
110ml/4fl oz extra virgin olive oil

1. Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6.

2. For the risotto, place the fish stock into a pan and bring to a gentle simmer.

3. Meanwhile, melt half of the butter in a heavy-bottomed pan over a medium heat, then add the shallot, garlic and leek and cook for a few minutes until softened but not coloured.

4. Add the rice and cook for a minute, stirring well to coat the rice in the butter.

5. Add the wine, bring to the boil and cook until the liquid is reduced by half.

6. Gradually add the warm fish stock, one ladleful at a time, stirring until the liquid is completely absorbed by the rice, before adding the next ladleful. Repeat this process until nearly all of the stock is absorbed and the rice is cooked but still al dente.

7. Add the flaked cooked haddock and stir to combine.

8. Add the remaining butter, the mascarpone, parmesan and parsley and season well with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

9. For the roasted haddock, melt the butter in a large ovenproof frying pan over a medium heat. Add the haddock fillets and fry for one minute on each side, then transfer to the oven to roast for 6-8 minutes, or until completely cooked through.

10. For the parsley oil, place the parsley and olive oil into a food processor and blend until smooth. Place a sieve over a bowl and pour the parsley oil into the sieve. Press through the sieve to collect the bright green parsley oil.

11. To serve, place a spoonful of risotto into the centre of each plate and top with a piece of the roasted haddock. Spoon the parsley oil around the plate and serve.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

A pink salad

Well now I have pink plates it seems somewhat rude not to use them and I harked back to a conversation with D as to what would look best on the aforementioned pink plates. I remember we considered salmon, rosy pink Parma ham or red mullet contrasted with some verdant green of cucumber or mâche (lamb's lettuce) and I'm fairly sure we started dreaming up all sort of pink desserts. The thought of an unctuous slice of ever so dark chocolate tart with a little raspberry couli and a few fresh raspberries was mooted also. Though saying that, I think D is worried that if I claim that she was partook in these conversations people may doubt her sanity so to protect the innocent she was only privvy to my rose-tinted random meanderings, I am sure she wouldn't indulge in such bizarre ponderings of her own volition, she's just way too sensible for that!
I can't remember if we (sorry I mean I) considered rare steak but when I thought I'd eke out a little steak fillet by making a very rare beef and mâche salad garnished with some of the finest pesto and shavings of Parmesan and drizzled with the increasingly unfashionable Balsamic vinegar, I thought it might be finished off nicely by serving it on a pink plate.

And I'm not sure whether it improved the flavour but this was a very tasty and effortless salad and gave me a rosy glow so I think, power to the pink!

Update:
M wants it to be known that she feels only desserts could possibly work on a pink plate, and everything else is just wrong! I just think she's jealous of my pink plates and I bet next time she hanging around the crockery department in M&S (well, we like to keep the fetish in the family!) she will be checking them out!

Monday, March 19, 2007

I've caught up with myself...

I promised that when I'd caught up with the missing posts from my latest epicurean escapades I would add an update because I get into awful trouble for posting backwards in my blog. My Virgoean nature dictates that I post each entry on the correct day it refers to, so in case you've missed it...

- The fabulous wild evening of Mark Hix cooking at Divertimenti

- The utterly stupendous gastro porn I am not worthy evening at Gordon Ramsay at the London in New York

- The not so good warped fusion offerings in Florida.

- and the final lurid food fling in the US

Happy reading, eating or in the case of the liquorice anglais - avoiding...!

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Foodie events update...

Ooh I'm such a little blog eventer!
Tami from running with tweezers has added the rounded for the Weekend Cookbook challenge - salads, see all the various interpretations of salads here...
Stephanie has posted the lastest Blog Party with the baby or bridal shower theme here... check out all that pastel!
And after much umming and ahhing about what photograph to submit for February's "Does my Blog Look Good in this" competition on Chronicles in Culinary Curiousity. I pondered the egg box, the heart-shaped pie, the ever so yummy sausage and mash canapés but eventually plumped for the new black chopping board resplendent with chopped leeks. Check all the other entrants here...
What image would you vote for?

Thursday, March 15, 2007

The blog must go on...

So what do you do when you return from the airport somewhat travel careworn and jet-lagged? Do you unpack and start the washing machine? Do you catch up on all your emails and then catch up on sleep? Or do you realise that the latest blog party hosted by Stephanie at Dispensing Happiness actually ends today so if you want to take part you better shimmy and whip up some shower-inspired canapés? Stephanie had pre-warned the last month’s attendees that the latest theme was either a baby or bridal shower but hadn’t said when the party was being held. And unfortunately for me she announced it whilst I was away from access to the internet and it snuck up on me. As I would never want to deny Stephanie a chance to check out further additions to my burgeoning crockery collection I thought I better get my act together. For a very unusual departure from my strictly monochromatic teetering piles of crockery/tableware I decided that a little pink would bring some colour into my life. And just so suitable for a shower!

Thinking about the concept of a bridal or baby shower I was thinking that this would be a girlie event and hence I could think pink! I think I’d probably want to cook for a bridal shower as a baby shower definitely requires bump friendly food and in my virtual bridal shower party, all the girls happily consume seafood and rare meat – luckily!

As I only had a short time to prepare and had to use what fortunately came in the Ocado delivery today or what paltry remains I had in the fridge, I had to be creative. So hence here are my hastily created rose tinted nibbles to soothe a jetlagged soul.

Firstly, in pink eggcups bought for the occasion, I thought a very creamy gloriously golden (courtesy of those busy little Old Cotswold Legbar chickens) scrambled egg would be a tasty little appetiser. Then a selection of further warm canapés, fluffy little new potatoes topped with slices of very rare beef fillet, vibrant pesto and Parmesan and then traditional blinis but topped with a pesto cream and thick cut tsar salmon fillet.
For a finale I didn’t have time to make my own chocolate extravaganza but I thought a cheeky little Gü pot au chocolate decanted into a little pink espresso cup topped with some raspberries would go down extremely well. For drinks for all the bump-free girls I would serve a Kir Imperial, my ever so favourite Champagne and Chambord cocktail but lacking Champagne I opted for a more bump–friendly elderflower cordial with a plump raspberry and just to continue the self imposed pink theme – served it in a pink glass. Cheers everyone! Hopefully some suitably blush-coloured titbits to toast the blushing bride to be! And now, maybe that sleep!

I will be blogging some of that stupendous food I've enjoyed recently both here and there but... sleep first!

And the winner is...

Look away now if you don't want to know won Masterchef goes Large 2007.
It seemed quite a close thing and as I skimmed through the episodes I missed on my Sky+ I saw some great challenges. I was trying to work out whether it was the amateur contestants or John Torode who was the most nervous when they kept Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern waiting for their meal. And I did like to see the illustrious table positively groaning with Michelin starred chefs saying great things about the contestants.
Last Friday I did receive the vital text sent by my purple-shoed glamorous assistant whilst in New York and I was extremely pleased to read that Geordie Dave had left the building. I think that Hannah is a very talented cook but I can't really see her in a professional kitchen, though she does has particular talent in patisserie. Ben, well I thought he was okay with his elaborate looking food but he is rather smug and he seems sometimes to have some sort of malfunctioning tastebuds so that can't be right. He makes very pretty dishes but if there's no taste it's just style over content again.
So I was keeping my fingers crossed for Steven. He certainly has timing issues but you could say that about me also so I can totally sympathise. And after a winter salad of poached quail eggs, bacon and dandelion leaves followed by ducked breast, smoked potatoes, baby turnips and leek crisps and a gorgeous looking Valrhona chocolate sauce accompanying vanilla ice cream and vanilla poached pears.
A deserved winner in Steven Wallis read what his first thoughts were when he realised that all his hard work had come good and he'd won - and Steven, I really hope it does indeed change your life and I look forward to seeing what you do next. Hopefully I'll see you at Taste of London in June and then I can congratulate you myself.

Update: D pointed out an interesting reaction from the other finalists - (previously smug) Ben was absolutely devastated and upset for himself and Hannah was awfully proud and pleased for Steven. Very telling!
And Gregg talked about the final on
Something for the Weekend this morning and said how much discussion they'd had over the eventual winner but think they'd chosen correctly. He also said that everyone thought that as John is the chef in the partnership some feel he has more credentials but John would be the first to admit that Gregg is the ultimate punter and dines out a lot more so he maybe has more experiences to call upon.

Our final "meal" in the US

Well 'meal' is maybe a little grand, our last snack in the US was at Orlando airport. There had been some sandwiches and wraps at the hotel before we left but K and I weren't so impressed and hence still hungry. I had a rather odd craving for a 'proper' hotdog and this is what I ended up with. I eschewed the proffered cheese on the chips as this seemed rather odd to me but then I'm sure other people would think that me liking malt vinegar liberally sprinkled on my chips would be weird also! I can assure you I haven't enhanced the lurid colour of the hotdog, this was as it came "au natural". I guess the luminious glow would be useful for nocturnal scoffing.
I wouldn't want one often but the hotdog hit the spot!
K (who possibly is the tiniest person in the world) couldn't decide what of the "fine" Italian fare to partake of so got a plate of tomato doused pasta and pepperoni pizza and garlic bread. Well she had a long flight!
She reckons that the pasta in particular was good. I think I ate better than K but then with all the tomato, what am I going to say?
This er "feast" was extremely different from my first meal in the US on this trip but we can't eat Michelin starred gorgeousness every day!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

A culinary low!

I guess it didn’t really help that my last meals had been the earth-moving prestige menu at Gordon Ramsay and then N’s lovely husband A whipped us up a wonderful asparagus and cheese omelette to fortify us for the exertions ahead. And little did we know what culinary exertions lay ahead!

Any other food after that was going to be a let down and we had the luck to be staying at a hotel that was aiming for some all time lows in catering so the chances are we were going to crash and burn very soon! I won’t name the hotel and to be fair they had quite a challenge, there were over five hundred of us, we opted for the faster/cheaper buffet style delivery and I guess we weren’t there for the food so it was more of a refuelling operation. The various themed buffets (no I’m not sure what the themes were – I deduced at one stage that it was “Caribbean fusion nightmare” and the one with the blue tin plates was possibly some sort of “Cowboy tucker”!) were manned by friendly staff occasionally donning chef’s toques (clearly to give us more confidence in their offerings). In lieu of a menu each dish was labelled and here was the real inventiveness. After tentatively trying some more of the elaborate labelled dishes I realised that the skill was making the actual food bear little or no resemblance to its labels, in fact ideally the food should have absolutely no discernible taste at all but you had a small typed card to tell you what you should be tasting so you could conjure up those flavours. For example I was slightly alarmed by the "pineapple chicken with Scotch Bonnet" as I’ve always understood that the Scotch Bonnet chilli is the hottest blow-your-socks off chilli possible and asked the be-hatted chef how hot it really was. He declared it wasn’t hot at all which was odd, so one can only wonder whether the lip tingling, eye watering chilli had just been waved in the general direction of the chicken or that it was labelled as thus just to spice the description up a bit. I did eat some and when he asked whether I considered it to be too hot I had to admit I found it somewhat taste-free. In fact even the chicken tasted of nothing. He shrugged and said that a lack of taste was maybe better than it being too hot. Am I being too harsh?

Another dish that deserves a particular mention for being just wrong on so many levels was marked up as “mango bread and butter pudding with liquorice anglais” – as DD would say “what the…?” What particularly intrigued me was the lumps of red stuff – possibly strawberries but definitely not mango.

I made sure that I recorded this one for posterity. I can’t remember what I said about this after I'd tasted it but I think I was probably quite rude.

At lunch times we were to venture forth to the treacherous wilderness to partake of another buffet but instead of being outside our slightly humid underground bunker this one was in the full midday Florida sun – hmmm. Now I wouldn’t generally partake of mayonnaise or potato salad (if smothered in more mayonnaise) on a good day but un-iced bowls in that heat, surely a mistake for the more delicate constitution? The chicken sandwiches weren’t too bad after I’d removed the tomato and pickles but the seafood pasta was cold and rather flaccid and the risotto was also cold and just stodgy and to follow the general theme, tasteless. And the desserts just looked alarmingly shiny and sweaty in that sun.

On the penultimate night the most edible thing was the apple and blackberry crumble but it was Florida, it was hot, we were in a slightly steamy windowless room and it seemed a bizarre option for dessert in such a climate but it was all part of the incongruity of our feastings.

The weirdest vegetable accompaniment that night was yucca. I always thought that a yucca was a tall spiky plant that never looked particularly edible to me but if I’d known it was maybe I would have tried to nibble a leaf.

The problem was that not everyone was savvy to the labels so I was forewarned and availed myself of a tentative scoop but many wrongly identified it as the mimosa mash potato and were unbelievably disappointed on first mouthful. I thought “bland and mushy marrow like substance and mostly unpleasant!” and totally a different species to mash potatoes.

On our last night we had a sit-down dinner and our plates were delivered sans labels so the fun of guessing our meal began. It looked prettier than most of our food up until now but I’m not entirely sure exactly what we had but we started with a slightly odd mushroom and spaghetti dish. This was followed by a green salad well once you'd skirted around the tomatoes and then to save the trouble of ascertaining if we wanted fish or meat we had both served with a very curious triangle of potato slices. Though I couldn’t really identify the fish but I think that the meat was beef.

And then the finale was a chocolate and strawberry concoction. It will come as a great surprise that the strawberries didn't really taste of anything! But I guess it looked okay and not all food can be like Gordon's food!

Saturday, March 10, 2007

A virtual cake...

Okay I didn't bake it but I did sort out this rather lurid colour scheme! Hope you have a fabulous birthday back in chilly UK. Here of course it's just hot, hot, hot!

And today is also KK's half birthday - happy half birthday KK from your fairy godmother!

Friday, March 09, 2007

Two London's in one day

Today I jetted off from London to enjoy a fabulous meal in London. That is I flew from London Heathrow to New York JFK and went straight to Gordon Ramsay at the London, and despite the somewhat diva-ish some say crazy prospect of flying all the way to New York for one night for a meal, the resultant jet lag was worth it.

I arrived before A, N and bump – well they had a more troublesome journey from New Jersey than I had! I furnished myself with their finest Kir Imperial and made myself comfortable in the bar. On arrival, the receptionist kindly informed them that J was “waiting and sparkling in the bar” – as every diva should!

Here are some pictures of how fabulous the food would have looked if I'd been able to photograph my dishes with any light at all. You can see the elegantly ridged fine bone china, the design of which Gordon collaborated with Royal Doulton on. I think you MIGHT spot the difference between these and my own humble photographs!

After a brief aperitif we were escorted to the hallowed inner sanctum of the fine dining room to commence our much anticipated feast. Our maitre d’ was the lovely Jean-Baptiste Requien that we all recognised from Hell’s Kitchen and the F word. We had already decided that barring any bump-intolerant food we’d all have the menu prestige and so began our epic epicurean journey.

The restaurant is not extravagantly decorated but understated and ever so sophisticated, the metallic wall panels shimmer in an art deco way but the style is very now and much to my chagrin the lights are very dim – just fatal for food photography! The most vibrant part of the scheme were the obligatory red neon fire exit signs which were reflected the dining room. It did give it an interesting red accent which can be seen in the photo of the glass plate of bonbons. It did make me wonder if that’s why the lights were so ‘atmospheric’, would more dramatic lighting have bounced all over the room reflected in the panels and given the impression you were eating in a très chic fairground hall of mirrors. My London hairdresser assures me that this was all designed by a friend of a friend who also designed Madonna’s “crib”! The elegant dining room serves 15 covers so is pleasingly intimate without feeling at all crowded. We were most intrigued by the chairs, your standard elegant upholstered chair with the hidden surprise being that they could swivel in any direction affording a fine view of our refined surroundings. N was terribly impressed with hers and would have happily requested a doggy bag for it.

My usual anti-tomato stance was duly noted so after our first silken chicken foie gras and toast and tasty miniature onion and bacon tart we were given a blt and a beetroot crisp “sandwich” for the tomato hater. The blt was the star, a bacon and onion cream, chilled lettuce velouté, tomato gelée which I am assured was just the essence of a blt and the sensation of eating a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich which actually consuming one.

I had the less dramatic but very lovely marinated beetroot, ricotta, pine nut and Cabernet Sauvignon dressing which had the thinnest of beetroot crisps that shattered pleasingly when forked and then deliciously mingled with the ricotta and dressing.

The excessive anticipation had not been to no avail and despite the poorly lit photos; you can see we feasted on course after course of perfection. And that’s what Gordon excels in, beautifully presented, perfectly executed, and magnificently tasting sublime food - just heaven!

Next we tucked into a pressed foie gras and game with port sauce and pickled mushrooms. It is such a shame that the fabulous jewel like qualities of the little vegetable and purée accompaniments have been lost in translation. But they tasted wonderful and we had great fun identifying each one, a point to a jet-lagged J for picking out the little tiny dollops of puréed cauliflower. Just delicious!

Next we had one of Gordon’s signature dishes lobster ravioli with fennel cream and shellfish vinaigrette, though I’m fairly sure our menu actually said lobster tortellini. Whichever it is we enjoy a fat and silky soft pasta filled with succulent lobster with a very tasty sauce.

Here my menu goes even more wayward; I asked our waitress if we could have a menu to take away as it saves a lot of furious scribbling of courses. I was duly supplied with a folder of press-pack information on the opening and all the menus but ever so curiously not the actual menu we had. Almost but not quite!

Because we definitely had fish – possible cod sat astride some sort of Basque pepper mixture but the menu refers to striped bass with pak choi and caviar velouté but I know there was pepper. And the reason I’m sure about this is pepper is not an ingredient I am partial to as I always think they’re going to be squeaky, slimy and pervade my whole meal. And they invariably do- until now! Maybe I’ve hit the nail on the head. Years ago when I first read Jeffrey Steingarten’s “The Man who Ate Everything” I was impressed to read that his first task in 1989 on being appointed as food critic to American Vogue was to make his own black list of food phobia and develop a six-step program to eliminate them one-by-one. His technique for this was to find the most exemplary example of each “bête noir” and with continued exposure and each of the food stuffs being consumed in the best possible light he would finally find the good in each. And sure enough after six months of tracking down the finest exponent of each despised substance he was able to declare himself the perfect omnivore. Obviously when I first read this it gave me considerable food for thought, would I be able to take on such a gigantean task? My list is rather extensive, (see right) and I’ve spent many years studiously avoiding them. Could I ever learn to love a tomato? Maybe the answer is to get Gordon to cast his Michelin starred wand over each evil food and maybe, just maybe I could join the tomato adoring, goat cheese enjoying, curry worshipping masses – hmmm, I rather shudder at the thought! Maybe one day… but I’m not sure I have room in my life for such substances. But at least for tonight I enjoyed some peppers.

After that diatribe there’s little doubt which I plumped for our of a choice of mains of roast cannon of lamb with candied onions, confit tomatoes and marjoram jus or loin of venison with beetroot fondant, parsnip purée, creamed ceps and bitter chocolate sauce. Yes you’re right, I tucked into a stunning juicy venison loin with an accompanying little silver sauce spoon so I could savour every last drop of the delicious chocolate sauce.

It’s rare that I eschew cheese in a tasting menu but time and jet lag weren’t really on my side but the alternative – the palate cleansing roasted pineapple with crystallized cilantro (ugh, coriander in disguise) was actually zingy, refreshing and just perfect after the meat.

And then we had a soufflé – an apricot soufflé with Amaretto ice cream. What surprised us was it was quite an impressive size for a tasting menu – and just so light, cloud-like and melt in the mouth and was very good indeed.

And now there was nothing left to have some coffee, tea and to avail ourselves of the extraordinarily imposing and captivating bonbon trolley. This was a multilayered trolley stacked high with every gorgeous sweetmeat you can think of. There was dark chocolate with mouth-watering liquid mint centres, crunchy golden honeycomb, airy macaroons of every flavour and hue, a curious stained glass raspberry confection called a confoundment (possibly not called that actually!), intriguing Clanger shaped chocolate cones, boiled sweets, little crystallised ginger titbits… and so many, many more. We were the last in the restaurant so we thought we should select a few of the most delectable and then take up their ever so kind offer of a tour of the kitchens. I think we were possible the only to have this honour and enjoyed seeing the gleaming metal surfaces the night staff buzzing around (either setting up the mis en place for tomorrow’s service or preparing room service for the London hotel) There’s also a prestigious eight seat chef’s table to enjoy the culinary masterpieces in the heart of the kitchen.

I was trying to find an "if only..." to ensure my review didn't turn into gush-fest but other than personally craving more light so the photographs may have lived up to the food I can't find anything amiss. All the staff were so lovely, they made no attempt to chivvy us along though as we finally stood up from our table to explore the kitchen after every other diner had left we were informed that British diners took longer to eat than their American counterparts. They are extremely knowledgeable and can answer any queries about ingredients, provenance etcetera. As well as being extraordinarily well fed you feel cosseted nay thoroughly spoilt throughout the entire evening and don't really want to go back into the real world again.

I’m not sure that there are enough superlatives for Gordon Ramsay’s New York venture, I hope Michelin do the right thing by them later this year. I will be watching you Michelin!
I am awarding three utterly sublime forks with the addition of removing the esteemed a
nd highly coveted diamond encrusted fork from Tom Aiken and awarding it instead to much worthier Gordon Ramsay at the London, it truly deserves to be my most supreme restaurant experience. Get a reservation if you can and go to London! You won't regret it I can assure you.