Here's a brilliant recipe I discovered in an old 1970's book on French Regional Cookery. Jambon au Cidre. Ham with Cider. It comes from Le Manoir d'Hastings, a hotel found in a 17th century priory in Normandy. It's an old dish. I love the simplicity.
You take a 3 kg ham and soak it in several changes of cold water for 24 hours. You then place it inside a large saucepan and pour in two bottles of cider, or enough to cover the ham. I would try and find a decent Norman cider, rather than using that sparkly, fizzy, sweet stuff.
The pan is brought slowly to the boil and any scum skimmed off the top. The heat is lowered and the ham simmered very gently until tender. About two and a half hours. 20 minutes per ½ kg. Once done, the ham is left to cool in all that lovely cooking liquor.
And now for the interesting bit. Slice the ham and sauté the slices in a frying pan, in unsalted butter, until they get a little bit of colour. Transfer the cooked slices to a serving dish.
To make the sauce, déglacez the pan with six tablespoons of Cider Vinegar, add 250ml of the reserved cooking liquor and reduce over a brisk flame until syrupy. Taste, and season with salt and white pepper, if needed. Whisk in a knob of unsalted butter, which will give your sauce a nice glaze. Pour over the ham slices, garnish with finely chopped flat leaf parsley and serve.
Enjoying yourself? said a voice behind me.
It was Mr Maudsley, also bent on meteorological investigation.
Wriggling (I could not help wriggling when he spoke to me) I told him that I was.
'Been pretty hot today,' he remarked.
'Is it a record?' I asked eagerly.
'I shouldn't be surprised,' he said. I shall have to look it up. Hot weather suit you?'
L. P. Hartley The Go-Between (1953)
Last night the man on the television set said that this August was quite possibly going to be the hottest on record, with temperatures touching 100 °F. In our Brave New World of topsy-turvy weather this was reassuring news. For this is how August should be. There is something evocative about this time of the year, reminiscent of languid summer holidays in Italy and France (the under-rated Rumer Godden re-creates this brilliantly in her once-famous novel, The Greengage Summer), drousy wasps and ripening fruit; spider's webs and haystacks; or the vacuous laziness of the South of France in Françoise Sagan's rights-of-passage novella, Bonjour Tristesse; or the harvest moons, dusty cornfields and deer-parks of Norfolk, so beautifully depicted in Joseph Losey's film, The Go-Between.
If I was ever banished to a desert island and was only- God Forbid!- allowed to take just one book, it would have to be a toss up between The Great Gatsby and The Go-Between; an agonising decision, as both books, I think, are contenders for 'the most beautiful novel ever written in the English language' competition.
What's the most appropriate food for this month? The French, of course, are very good at this, and I'm thinking long painted tin tables set up on gravel outside Breton and Norman Manor Houses, stuffed with friends, family and photogenic well-behaved children all drinking the chilled local hooch and having a jolly good time. Cue the music of Fauré and Debussy.
Oh, so much more desirable than the hell of the pseudo-Antipodean English barbeque: the flimsy orange Sputnik rocking on it's rickety tripod, the under-cooked salmonella drumsticks wrapped in tin-foil, the cold lumpy barbeque sauce, the hearty Neanderthals in their Ralph Lauren polo shirts with their ridiculous over-sized logos knocking back cans of lager. One of them always has to be in charge, have you noticed that? A spooky, control freak, he-man, fire-making thing going on there. And then you have to stare at the hideous contraption all the year round, rusting on your terrace, when the truth is that you've probably only used it once or twice due to the vagaries of our beloved English climate. No. I don't like barbeques. Family lunches in the French manner are so much more appealing. And a home-made sorbet would be perfect for this, would it not?
Françoise Sagan's House, photograph from The Peak of Chic.
Back in 2008 (loyal Greasy Spooners may remember) I came up with my own recipe for an Earl Grey Sorbet flavoured with Orange. I didn't have an ice-cream maker then, so I experimented using a plastic carton. And by golly, it worked.
I mixed a cup of sugar with two cups of water, and brought it to the boil; then simmered it for about five minutes, and left it to cool down. Next, I mixed in several spoons of prepared Earl Grey tea, with a squeeze of fresh orange juice, and infused the mix with some fresh mint leaves (which I previously rolled around between my fingers to release the oils). I tipped this liquid into the sugar and water (first removing the mint leaves), mixed it around, and left it to cool.
I poured the tea flavoured sugar water into a plastic container, and shoved it into the deep freeze. It was then taken out of the deep freeze when half-frozen, mashed up with a fork, and shoved back into the deep freeze again. Once frozen, it was taken out, mixed up again in the Magimix and put back into the deep freeze before use.
It would be a good idea to experiment further, perhaps reducing the sugar and adding more of the tea. The sorbet comes out a lovely, very subtle light biscuity colour and looks utterly appealing. Your friends and guests- seated at that Long French Tin Table Under The Vines- will be impressed.
The number one aim of sorbets is to achieve that silky smooth texture. I know I talk about 'freezing' but actually you don't really want the mixture to freeze. It's not an ice-lolly. It's not a flavoured ice-cube. There are a few tricks to help you achieve this.
There's an excellent recipe for Armagnac Sorbet in Michel Roux Jr's The Gavroche Cookbook. The Rouxs add glucose to their syrup as it helps stop the sugar crystallise. This is a useful technique to know about, and it might be worth adding a small dollop of glucose to my Earl Grey recipe. The other trick is to add a bit of alcohol- as it stops the whole thing from freezing. But in this case I think alcohol would be best left to the armagnac and vodka sorbets. Alcohol and tea is not necessarily a good match. It's an elegant plan to serve the sorbet as a palate cleanser- between courses, rather than as a pudding or at the end of lunch. I'll leave it to you.
Technorati Tags: august food recipe, earl grey sorbet recipe, french lunch food, french lunch recipe, holiday lunch recipe, how to make sorbet, joseph losey go-between, l p hartley go-between, rumer godden greengage summer, sorbet recipe, sortbet tricks and techniques, summer food recipe, tea sorbet, when to serve sorbet
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Scotland in August! Heather. Haggis. Single Malts. Stalking. Tartan. Fingal's Cave. Deep Fried Mars Bar. Midges. And here's another find to add to the list: Balmoral Chicken. Strangely- for a Scotophile, I had never come across it before, only learning about it very recently from someone I ran into at a Scottish Love In. At a Pop-Up in Darkest Vauxhall- of all places. It's a very Greasy Spoon dish.
Before I reveal the recipe, a little bit about its history. There isn't any. Or not much to speak of. Like tartan, I have strong suspicions that it's a relatively modern affair.
Making the thing is simple enough. You take some chicken breasts and make a deep incision along the side to create a pocket, leaving a centimetre or two at each end. You then take a spoonful of Haggis, squash it into a sausage shape and stuff it into the chicken.
The breasts are then wrapped in back bacon, seasoned with salt and pepper and brushed with melted butter, before being sealed with tin foil (much as you would do with Haggis) and cooked in a pre-heated oven at 200° C for half an hour. Ten minutes before the end, the foil is opened up to allow the bacon to crisp up.
To make the Whisky Sauce, add a generous slug of Scotch Whisky ( I would use a decent peaty Single Malt such as Laphroaig) to a hot pan. Flambé it (you'll find it goes up with quite a whoosh). Add some double cream (double rather than single, otherwise it will split). Reduce to a medium consistency and season with salt and pepper.
To serve, slice the Balmoral Chicken across the width, arrange on the plate and pour over the Whisky Sauce.
Technorati Tags: Balmoral Chicken, Balmoral whisky, british cooking, british recipe, chicken with Haggis, Haggis recipe, highland recipe, royal family recipe, royal scottish recipe, Scottish recipes, Scottish whisky recipe
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One more post about curry. Then I will shut up. You will remember, dear reader, that in the last post we were flirting with the charms of British Indian Restaurant Cookery. I tried a recipe or two from Undercover Curry (the secret of British Indian Restaurant cookery) and, Mein Gott, it was one hell of a marathon. The base sauce took an hour or two, and then I diligently obeyed orders and had to make a garlic and ginger paste, a tomato and tandoori mix and a tandoori masala marinade. Several years later, I came up with a reasonably authentic curry. A bit like the sort of thing you might order from your local takeaway. Except it wasn't as good. Tasted similar, but something was missing. The Sag Aloo was greasy, the base sauce had a lingering cabbagey smell, and the 'Madras' was far too tomatoey. Scary amount of vegetable oil too. Swimming in the stuff. All this, of course, could have been- and probably was- the fault of Mein Host, but it would have been far easier, frankly, to have picked up that telephone and rung up my old friend from bachelor days, Captain Korma.
Which takes me to Rick Stein. One of my favourite restaurants is his Seafood Restaurant in Padstow. I like their professional, friendly attitude, I like the fact the tables are spacious. I like the way they ladle their Cornish version of Bouillabaisse from a generous tureen, enough for two. And the food is still fabulous. It tastes of something. Oh yes, Rick Stein is still going strong, after all these years. And first "discovered" by none other than one Mr Keith Floyd during the making of his early series, "Floyd on Fish".
Rick Stein's India is a recent addition to the cookery library, and it's a superb compilation. It's based on his recent television series in which we enjoyed the sight of Mr Stein eating his way across the Sub-Continent. Don't be put off by all the generic BBC television hype. It's a buy.
Don't know about you, but I am so fed up with the current crop of television documentaries. Photogenic Oxbridge dons striding across the Saharan desert in jeans and open necked blue shirts, gesticulating wildly. Next shot they're on the Great Wall of China. Then they're driving a hired open Mustang on the freeways of the Deep South, their Byronic locks blowing in the breeze. Cue long shot of television expert standing on the edge of Beachy Head (Go on Man! Jump!), staring out to sea. Or on the Grand Canyon. Or gazing at the heavens and contemplating the mysterious Universe. Step forward Doctor So and So. You know who you are. And those ridiculous repetitive intros. Which reminds us retards- i.e. those of us with attention spans of five seconds- you and me- what the series is all about in the first place. Because we've forgotten since last week, haven't we? Tiresome intros which run about five minutes into the programme. "Im Professor So and So, and in this series, for the first time in television history, I will be unlocking the secrets of the ancient kingdom of ..." Cue commercial break for international television. They're always "unlocking" the past in these programmes. Yawn.
This is the reason why the younger crowd don't watch British television. Because it ain't no good no more. There, gastronauts, I've had my little rant. Now back to Mr Stein and the dilemma of authentic and not so authentic curries.
I've really thought about this one. Not quite sleepless nights, but it's been niggling me for the last few days. I don't see the point of going to all the trouble of making a British Indian Restaurant curry when you can knock up authentic street food from Rick Steins' book in about fifteen to twenty minutes, with minimum ingredients and little washing up. So far I've made the Dry "Curry of Cabbage, Carrot and Coconut", "Cochin First-Class Railway Mutton Curry" and "Chettinad Chicken". All were superb, especially the last two. I'll be using this brilliant book for years to come. Before you reach for that telephone, please give it a try. Buy it.
Technorati Tags: authentic curry, authentic indian cookery book, curry recipes, indian recipes, indian street food, Keith Floyd on Fish, Keith Floyd Rick Stein, rick stein book, rick stein curry, rick stein recipe, rick stein review, rick stein's india
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Gastronauts- a question for you this fine, sunny, July morning. Do you have a thing about takeaway curry? A secret addictive vice? Go on. Admit it. It's gloriously tacky, I know, unquestionably laddish, and possibly, no probably, horribly fattening (more about that later), but isn't there just something so very comforting indeed about a rich, oily, meaty, salty, spicy Madras on a Friday night, after a difficult week? There's a place for it, despite what Mrs Aitch thinks. Her view being that why on earth anybody would want to re-create the flavours of a British Indian Takeaway is beyond comprehension.
British Indian Restaurant (BIR as the aficionados call it) is a different ball game from genuine and traditional Indian food- as prepared and eaten by families across the Sub-Continent. It all started when Bangladeshis arrived in Britain just after the Second World War. They developed a new style of cooking, perhaps more suited to British taste buds, which could be prepared with relative ease, and on a strict budget, allowing many different dishes to be served at once.
Ever wondered how your local Indian Taj Mahal manages to serve up so many different dishes at such short notice? Ever wondered how Indian restaurants manage to survive even though you're the only punter in the room?
The secret lies in the various very affordable base sauces and pastes which the restaurant makes up before hand. I became curious about this and started to investigate. Surprise, surprise, there's a whole BIR sub-culture on YouTube, with beery jokey blokey types revealing 'for the first time' the mystery of the 'base sauce' and curry fanatics peddling their e-books revealing the 'secret' recipes of British Indian Restaurant Cookery. There's also several internet forums full of angst-ridden middle aged men arguing about the exact quantity of this spice and that sauce. In truth, there are now so many of these curry evangelists, that to claim the whole caboodle a 'secret' is, perhaps, as trifle economique with the actualité.
I've discovered that the base sauce tends to be, in essence, a puréed vegetable stock. There doesn't seem to be any major rules, but the sauce tends to include cabbage, carrots, peppers, fresh coriander, garlic and ginger paste, green chillies, tomatoes, water and a great deal of onions. And a great deal of oil. As much as a litre of sunflower oil is poured into the cooking pot, which explains why you get that dark red oily surface floating on top of your curry. The vegetable bit is extremely healthy, but I'm not sure about the quantities of oil. A litre of oil does seem like an enormous amount. Scary. Coming to think about it, none of the Curry Crusaders I watched on YouTube seemed to have- how can I put it delicately? - washboard stomachs.
Anyway, to move on. To cut a very long story short, it's simmered for several hours. When ready it can be used as a base for any dish you think of. There are all sorts of other nifty little tricks to know about too. In a Korma, super fine coconut flour is used, not desiccated coconut. And butter is added to the dish, as well as cream. Tomato ketchup often goes into a Rogan Josh. And so on and so on. Meat is pre-cooked and then warmed through in the sauce before serving.
The first book published on the subject seems to be Kris Dhillon's The Curry Secret. In its day it was breaking new ground. I've read this slim volume from cover to cover, and it's a bit different from all the e-books and YouTube videos out there. Very pared down. Basic even. The base sauce, for example, is much simpler and seems to lack ingredients (like cabbage and carrots) everyone else is recommending. I finished this book slightly unfulfilled, not convinced that with this one, we really were learning "The Secret"- whatever that might be.
A more complicated (and perhaps more genuine) approach seems to come from Dave Loyden's Undercover Curry, an insider's expose of British Indian Restaurant Cookery, which goes into great length and detail about exactly how to prepare all the sauces, pastes and wotnot that you need to create genuine BIR food. It's like a technician's manual. All great stuff, and worth getting, but there's so much emphasis on the technique, there's not much room left for the recipes. Classics such as Chicken Korma (which I would have loved to have learnt how to cook properly) seems to have been left out.
And then you turn to the internet. I love YouTube, I think, partly because I like enthusiasts. There's so much quirky stuff out there for enthusiastic amateurs. If you suddenly decide you want to breed orchids, raise Alpacas, restore a Bentley Mark VI or learn how to speak Cornish with a Newlyn dialect, there's going to be some nut on YouTube showing you exactly how to do it. And with their videos come helpful 'how-to-do-it' e-books.
For once, the Sinister Kindle seems to have come into its own. Talking of which, I'm toying- and I mean toying- with the idea of writing a "Best of The Greasy Spoon" recipe book. There could be two paths- a relatively expensive de-luxe edition, wood-cuts, hand-made paper, limited print run et al, or a democratic, affordable e-book, which could be downloaded immediatley to the computer screens at your Counting House for a few golden nuggets. With the first option, I would probably end up loosing money, with the second- I might actually make a few bob or two. Enough to keep me in take-away curries for a few months. But that's beside the point.
Which one would you prefer? Are there any unmissable classic dishes that you think I should include? Please email me at email@example.com with your views.
Technorati Tags: BIR food, BIR recipes, british indian cookery, british indian restaurant cookery, british indian restaurant food, british indian restaurant recipes, chicken korma recipe, meat madras recipe, secrets of the british indian restaurants, the curry secret
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Over the years I've managed to amass a large collection of cookery books without even really thinking about it. It's easy to forget once popular books languishing at the back of the shelf. I had forgotten about Raymond Blanc's Cooking For Friends, first published back in 1991.
It's a terrific book and comes with my recommendation. I remember buying it new- today, looking at the photographs of a svelte Monsieur Blanc in his all-white kitchen with its Villeroy & Boch Luxembourg pattern tureens and the emphasis on the French Cuisine Bourgeoise, it seems slightly dated.
Thinking about it, there are two types of cookery book. There's the complicated, cheffy, 'secrets of the so-and-so restaurant' type of book. And then at the other end of the spectrum there's the dumbed-down, pretty pictures, coffee-table, celeb chef, supermarket blockbuster thing. There's often a problem with both of these. The recipes don't work!
How many times have you tried a recipe exactly as written, only to find that there's not enough sauce, or the fish is overcooked, or there's too much sauce, or the blasted thing is burnt to a cinder. And quite often the measurements are just wrong, as if the books been rushed to the printer, and nobody seems to have actually tried the recipes out first.
Cooking For Friends falls somewhere in the middle. Okay, it ain't perfect- I tried the Poulet à la Creme et au Riz, and it definitely needed a bit of tweaking, but the Cabillaud à la Boulangère, which I am about to share with you, was fantastic, even if I poured in too much stock and the sauce was a bit watery. But that was my fault, not the fault of the book.
The recipes are relatively simple, (ingredients can easily be sourced from any supermarket) but aimed at people who enjoy cooking and have a bit of knowledge to go with it. Enthusiastic, intelligent amateur cooks.
Here's how I made Raymond Blanc's Cabillaud à la Boulangère. Braised Cod with Boulangère Potatoes.
First you make the Boulangère Potatoes. You get one of those shallow rectangular or oval enamel dishes (with a lid) and grease it with a knob of butter. Into the dish goes a layer of sliced onions, over that goes a layer of sliced skinned potatoes which you've previously rinsed in cold water (I used Maris Piper), and then another layer of onions, topped off with a final layer of potatoes. Each layer is seasoned generously with sea salt and black pepper, and sprigs of thyme and a few bayleaves added to the dish. Chicken stock is poured up to half the height of the dish.
Put the dish on the hob and bring the stock up to simmering point. Obviously you need to make sure at this stage that your dish won't crack with the direct heat. The dish is then placed inside a pre-heated oven (230°C) and cooked without a lid for about half an hour.
While this is going on, cook the cod. Heat oil and butter in a large non-stick frying pan and pan-fry the cod very briefly. Raymond Blanc says 'both sides for five minutes', although I found the fish cooked much quicker than that. The important thing is to not to over-cook the fish, otherwise it will start to flake and go rubbery.
The browned cod is then placed on top of the onion and potatoes, the lid put back on top of the dish, and the whole thing is finished off in the hot oven for about eight minutes.
To serve, arrange the sliced potatoes and onion to one side of the plate, place the braised cod on top, squeeze over a bit of lemon, and check the seasoning. The sauce is spooned over the dish. Garnish with finely chopped parsley.
This is delicious. Its' simple to make and looks great on the plate. If your sauce is too thin and watery, you could always strain it into a small saucepan and reduce it on a high heat. This would thicken it up. I haven't tried doing this yet, but it might be a small improvement.
I like pop-ups restaurants. They're creative. They're fun. They're slightly bonkers. So I don't think it's especially clever to be too hard on them. You're eating food cooked in a garage or shed-like environment; look- it's not exactly The Ritz or The Waterside Inn at Bray is it?
Bearing this in mind, we booked ourselves into the Dram & Smoke, a new pop-up venture in edgy, up-and-coming inner-city Vauxhall. It's where we happen to live, so it was a pleasant five minute scurry from our Victorian hovel to get there. It's in a former steel yard. Think cobbled streets, holes in walls, shabby old typography, rusty iron braziers and the wafting aroma of roast pigeon and you'll get the picture. Wun, Wabbit, Wun Wabbit Wun Wun Wun. There was a roof.
The brainchild of Edinburgh entrepreneurs, Paul Ross and Nick Fulton, Dram & Smoke has food of a Scottish theme, with the emphasis on theme. You sit at communal tables and there's a bar to one side, selling the excellent toffee flavoured Innis & Gunn Beer, whiskies and bottles of wine. The transfer printed Royal Worcester porcelain was a nice touch. Monarch of the Glen, Landseer, the Famous Grouse and all that.
To be honest, the whole thing was a massive Scottish Love-In, which slightly caught me off guard as I was expecting (perhaps idiotically) to encounter- how shall we say- a more international bunch?
Scottish Independence was, thank God, off the menu, although talk was consistently of the "Back in Scotland..." and "I support Andy Murray, as I am Scottish" persuasion. I did, at least, learn the recipe for Balmoral Chicken.
Does Scottish Cuisine exist? Does British Cuisine exist? What makes a menu Scottish? Is it the ingredients? Is there a thin dividing line between classic and cliché? Dare I open an English themed pop-up in Glasgow serving Sussex Pond Pudding, Cromer Crab, Toad in the Hole and Brown Windsor soup without being lynched? If I did, I don't think I would try and serve Autumnal or Winter dishes in the middle of Summer, even in the climatic heaven that exists north of the border.
Anyway. First up were balls (bon-bons) of deep-fried Haggis, served with Chili Jam. I'm always a champion of Haggis (aka "sheep's pluck boiled in its stomach" to non-Brits) and it hit the mark, although the 'jam' was strangely runny, almost sauce like in its consistency.
Next came 'Scottish' Charcuterie. Lots of it. Good-ish chunks of Chorizo and Parma Ham served up on a bit of old plank, with pickled vegetables in a Kilner bottle. Not sure how 'Scottish' that was.
Then came some form of marinated, potted Smoked Mackerel, served up in those jars you used to catch tadpoles in as a child. Juicy and Fresh. Decent Flavour. The Cullen Skink (like Vichyssoise, but with the addition of Smoked Haddock) was fine.
And then came hunks, I repeat hunks, of red, rare, Smokin' Venison Haunch, served on pearl barley, propped up on a pair of bricks, with some form of beetroot sauce. Now, I'm definitely a rare steak sort of man, (as it happens I turn into a werewolf at the rise the Full Moon), but this was food of the Gothic persuasion. I couldn't banish from my mind the image of a circle of ravenous Neanderthals gnawing into the raw backside of one very kaput deer.
And then came the pudding. Deep Fried Mars Bar with Ice Cream and Irn Bru sauce. It was ghastly. How is this Caledonian delicacy made? A Mars Bar (made in Slough if you've ever wondered), is dipped in batter and then deep-fried in a vat of boiling oil. I cannot even begin to describe the horror. It tastes like a piece of shrivilled skin embalmed on a nodule of chemically zapped caramel. Even the complimentary mini-bottle of single malt Monkey Shoulder whisky couldn't sterlise the taste. Mrs Aitch liked it. I'll leave that one to the Scots.
£40 a head plus the cost of a bottle of wine.
It's crunchy. It's spicy. It's horribly addictive. It's laced, I suspect, with our old friend, Mr Monosodium Glutamate. It comes in those little bags from the local corner shop. It's Bombay Mix. The Queen's a fan. Apparently she draws lines in felt-tip across her porcelain snack bowls. She discovered that quantities of the stuff were mysteriously vanishing. The Royal Protection Squad were the main suspects.
I've currently got a 'thing' about Bombay Mix too, finding it works beautifully for some reason, with a decent Gin & Tonic (Portobello Gin mixed properly, Fever Tree tonic, ice cubes and a wedge of lime). The rather appealing Bombay Mix in the picture above comes from the admirably named Ludlow Nut Company.
Mrs Aitch asked me what was in it. I'm ashamed to admit I couldn't tell her straight off. Nuts? Noodles? Raisins? I wasn't even sure if it was genuinely Indian either. Could it be one of those strange Anglo-Indian concotions conjured up in the 1970's?
Actually it is Indian (chiwda, chevdo, bhuso, chevda (चिवडा) or chivdo (चिवडो), Chanāchura, chanachur (চানাচুর) and chuda) a traditional snack which is enjoyed by millions right across the globe. Ingredients can include: peanuts, fried lentils, chickpeas, flaked rice, fried onion, noodles and curry leaves, flavoured with salt, pepper, coriander and mustard seed.
There are various recipes out there on the net. Every Indian family has their favourite mix, there doesn't seem to be any major rules. I like Ms Marmite Lover's version, which includes aromatic fennel, green chilis, sunflower seeds, red lentils and almonds.
Courtesans, Company Style, Northern India, 1800-1825.
Technorati Tags: authentic bombay mix recipe, bombay mix recipe, chevda recipe, curry snacks, history of bombay mix, how to make bombay mix, indian snack, indian street food, indian street food recipe, what is bombay mix
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Roald Dahl with Cartier cigarette.
It's odd that I haven't written about Roald Dahl before. Perhaps I have been waiting for the right moment. Like so many others reared on "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" or "James and the Giant Peach", I'm a fan of the old boy (described memorabily by Lynn Barber, I think, as Baldilocks). Actually, I'm a massive fan. Of course I am. The man was a genius. I still have my dog-eared copy of "James and the Giant Peach" lying around somewhere; a bizarre book if you think about it: a group of insects hi-jack a gigantic peach and fly it across the Atlantic to New York, where, if I remember rightly, it ends up spiked on the Empire State Building and the anti-hero (a centipede) becomes Mayor.
Roald Dahl by Sir Matthew Smith, 1944
Back in the late 60's and 70's (about the time I was wearing long grey shorts, sporting bloodied knees and fantasising over the admirably plummy Jenny Agutter in Lionel Jeffries' The Railway Children) Dahl was known as much for his creepy short stories as his children's books. Who can forget that amusing story about the gormless American vegetarian who gets served up as a juicy top side of pork?
Those of a vintage will remember "Tales of the Unexpected". And the slighty ersatz television series from London Weekend Television. Dahl introduced each episode by firelight from the civilised environs of his country house library in Buckinghamshire. The tantaslising opening titles featured a voluptuous woman in a body stocking and Lady Diana hair-do (according to my father and the South Buckinghamshire Advertiser, a housewife from Princes Risborough) prancing Bond-Like- super-imposed over a montage of tarot cards, roulette wheels and Aztec crystal skulls. I've got the slightly sinister fairground-y theme music going on in my head as I type.
We lived relatively close to the Dahls' house in Great Missenden, and sometimes stories about the goings-on at Gypsy House filtered through, fourth hand, through "friends of friends". This included Roald wheeling in one of those domed silver hotel serving affairs at a dinner party, from which sprang a flapping, live chicken. I have no idea if this tale is true, but it does seem very much in keeping with the Master of the Unexpected.
Gypsy House, Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire
Roald's widow, Felicity, opens the garden at Gypsy House from time to time in aid of the worthy Roald Dahl Foundation which supports children in the three areas of neurology, haematology and literacy (Dahl's seven year old daughter, Olivia, died of measles and his son, Theo, was severely injured following a horrific accident with a New York taxi). It's well worth a visit if you have any interest in gardens or the great man himself. It's a delightful house. And a delightful garden. I've posted some of my photographs from a recent visit.
Which takes me to "Memories with Food at Gypsy House", later re-published as "Roald Dahl's Cookbook". This is a charming book which I bought from one of those dreaded remainder piles back in the early 90's. You can buy it from amazon, and currently the price ranges from a ridiculous penny to a ridiculous £99.
This is a gourmand's cookbook, with a collection of sophisticated recipes, anecdotes, quirky Quentin Blake drawings, and an opportunity for Roald to digress on subjects as wide ranging as wine, gambling, the history of chocolate, mushrooming and the beneficial health effects of the sweet potato. I like Roald's recipe for Oeufs en Geleé: "...this is the most beautiful and delicious dish, but it is difficult to make well. If you can succeed in having the eggs not only soft-boiled inside but also separately suspended in the jelly, and yet not having the jelly too firm, then you have acheived the miracle." It's a buy.
I'm back. And itching to write about all things rook. Yup, the good old Corvus frugilegus. I've always had a thing about that very particular sound rooks make; it's very English: a croaking, cawing noise so typical of a raw morning in February or March. Thinking about it, it's up there with other comforting sounds: the peal of church bells on a Sunday morning, the thwack of a tennis racket on a hot June day, children playing on an echoing tarmac ground, the buzz of a light aircraft on a lazy Saturday afternoon, the distinctive grumble of a London Taxi on a wet, foggy evening in November.
In English folklore, rooks build their nests- the rookery- near places where money is to be found, which is why I am very keen indeed for Mr and Mrs Rook to come and build their nest in the tiny back garden of our London hovel.
Did you know that the glorious 12th of May is traditionally, rook shooting day? According to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's River Cottage Cookbook:
In Victorian times, this used to be considered a suitable sport for boys and young ladies, who would traditionally gather on 12th May, with their specially made rook rifles, for a little genteel sport.
Shades of Gormenghast. Now my wife, Mrs Aitch, claims to have been fed Rook Pie on a regular basis as a child by her grandmother's cook. Does this fill you with horror? Four and Twenty Black Birds, baked in the Pie? No reason why it should, as I gather that the breast of young rooks ("the branchers") tastes very similar- if not better- than pigeon, and, apparently, has a "delicate gamey flavour". Mr Conran, if rumours are to be believed, has even put it on the menu at one of his "fashionable London restaurants".
Here's Mrs Beeton's recipe for Rook Pie, taken from the 1936 edition:
6 young rooks
¾ lb. of rump steak
¼ lb. of butter or good dripping
½ pint of stock
salt and pepper
Skin the birds, without plucking them by cutting the skin near the thighs, and drawing it over the body and head. Draw the birds in the usual manner, remove the necks and backs, and split the birds down the breast. Arrange them in a deep pie dish, cover each breast with strips of steak, season well with salt and pepper, intersperse small pieces of stock as will three-quarter fill the dish.
Cover with pastry and bake from ½ to 2 hours, for the first ½ hour in a hot oven to make the pastry rise, and afterwards more slowly to allow the birds, etc., to become thoroughly cooked.
When the pie is three-quarters baked, brush it over with yolk of egg to glaze the crust, and before serving, pour in throught the hold on the top, the remainder of the stock.
Time- To bake, from 1½ to 2 hours. Sufficient for 5 or 6 people.
Technorati Tags: english country recipe, english pie recipe, may 12 rook shooting, may 13 rook shooting, mrs beeton pie recipe, mrs beeton rook pie recipe, pigeon pie, rook folklore, rook pie, rook pie receipe, traditional english pie
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We're almost there with our stand at the Battersea Decorative Antiques Fair which opens this Tuesday (29th April 2014). Please join us for cocktails and canapés on Tuesday evening. It's been a terrific amount of hard work, all slightly bonkers- but enormous fun.
We've gone for "The Gothic Victorian Rectory meets English Gentleman's Retreat" Look. Here I'm examining a most delightful bakelite kidney section, while my trusty assistant, Miss Caroline Watson, reads a stirring John Buchan thriller.
Back to food stuff when it's all over.
I hope you'll forgive me if I write a quick post about my up-coming stand at the Battersea Decorative Antique Fair in London.
In my other life- that is when I'm not dreaming or thinking about food, I'm an antique dealer specialising in quirky "Country House" stuff: old globes, Directoire backgammon boards, 18th century racing mezzotints, library steps, convex mirrors, Gothic furniture, tinplate toys, Mahjong sets, gamblng antiques, 1920's fortune telling machines, 1950's Fu Manchu books- quirky and amusing things like that. Oh, and a large (and splendid) 1930's shop display model of a Goodyear Zeppelin.
I spent today putting down the floor for my stand, which is open to the public next Tuesday. The distressed reclaimed floorboards are from an old house in London's East End- and they look great- the stand's going to look fab. Asparagus green walls from a 50's paint range, bookshelf wallpaper from Andrew Martin- the idea is to re-create a Country House library with a "London Edge", if that makes sense.
I would be delighted if you can join us for a drink and Venetia's (aka Mrs Aitch) home-made canapés on Tuesday evening. Please click on the link below (which will take you to my newsletter) and you will be able to print out free tickets to the Fair:
Here's a recipe for an excellent- and aromatic- chicken curry which I've based on a version in Manju Malhi's recommended book, Brit Spice. It's similar-in a way- to the chicken curries of the Punjab in Northern India. I like the simplicity of the dish. It's a brilliant after-work standby: if you're in the mood for a decent supper, but can't be bothered to make anything elaborate. The ingredients are more than readily available in any supermarket- even one of those ersatz 'quick-stop' corner places.
Whiz up two green chillies, a generous knob of peeled ginger, a few cloves of garlic and a squirt of lemon juice in your magimix. This will create a paste. Put some chicken breasts into a bowl and smear them with the paste. Leave them to marinate for a few minutes.
Meanwhile, take a largish saucepan (I love those wide-ish, flat-ish saucepans with sides) and fry two chopped onions in oil, until brown. Fry them gently. You want them to go a golden brown colour, to caramalise. This will help to create a brown-coloured sauce. This is a good thing.
Stir in a teaspoon or so of garam masala, a teaspoon of turmeric and a generous pinch of sea salt. Add the marinated chicken pieces and cook for a few minutes, stirring until the oils come to the surface. Top the dish up with water, cover, and simmer for a few minutes. You can play around with the amount of water to add, depending on how thick you like your sauce to be. That's it. Incredibly easy, and you'll end up with an authentic tasting curry in no time at all.
Before I sign off, a quick note on Garam Masala. In Britain (a nation of curry lovers) you can buy this easily enough in little jars. It's a blend of spices used in the cookery of Northern India. If you're in the mood you can make your own:
Heat up a heavy frying pan and 'dry roast' the following ingredients: a handful of cloves, a cinammon stick or two, a few green cardamon pods, black cardamon pods, a tablespoon of cumin seeds, a few coriander seeds, one or two black peppercorns, a teaspoon of black mustard seeds and some grated nutmeg.
I gather that recipes for Garam Masala vary from household to household, so don't freak out if you can't get all the ingredients. Nothing is set in stone.
Don't add any oil to the pan- you just want to toss the spices very quickly in the pan until you start smelling the aromas. Make sure they don't burn. We're only talking about a minute or so on the heat. Whizz them up on in a coffee grinder or spice grinder and store. You could, of course, also crush them the old-fashioned way in a good old pestle and mortar.
I'm not sure why I haven't written about Bath Olivers before, as they're a very Greasy Spoon thing. "Fortt's Bath Olivers". The most elegant biscuit ever created, in my opinion: generously large, soft to the touch, light on the taste, with that quirky indented impression of their inventor, the good William Oliver, Physician of Bath.
It is thought that Oliver invented them around 1750. I suppose, in a way, Bath Olivers are really just like any other, more ordinary, dry cracker, but they do have that certain something which is hard to define. An Englishness perhaps? In Rudyard Kipling's charming children's book "Puck of Pook's Hill' they evoke the nostalgic Edwardian idyll of Kipling's Sussex manor house, Bateman's (cue Elgar's Nursery Suite):
...they were not, of course, allowed to act on Midsummer Night itself, but they went down after tea on Midsummer Eve, when the shadows were growing, and they took their supper—hard-boiled eggs, Bath Oliver biscuits, and salt in an envelope—with them. [...] Everything else was a sort of thick, sleepy stillness smelling of meadow-sweet and dry grass."
Puck of Pook's Hill, illustration by Sir Arthur Rackham, 1906
One part Gin. One part Red Vermouth. One part Campari. Serve on the rocks with a twist of orange.
Its origins are unclear. Count Camillo Negroni is supposed to have asked his barman to replace the soda in his Americano with Gin. This was back in 1919. In Florence. A the Caffè Casoni.
The Negroni was a favourite of that wunderkind, Orson Welles, who tried it for the first time in 1947 and is supposed to have said in that marvellous fruity voice:
“The bitters are excellent for your liver, the gin is bad for you. They balance each other.”
Nice one, Mr Welles, and a great excuse to post a photograph from another all-time favourite, F For Fake, which includes a hilarious sequence at La Méditeraneé, Paris: Orson holding court on Modern European Art, surrounded by an entourage of giggly and extremely pretty girls.
I'm a massive fan of Orson, and not just because of his tacky advertising campaigns (Paul Masson, California Carafe "we will sell no wine before its time"). His 1938 "War of the Worlds" radio broadcast was terrific in the true meaning of the word. Would I have joined the panicking hordes, as they fled their cities from alien invasion? Quite possibly.
Technorati Tags: bitters cocktail, bitters cocktail, campari cocktail, campari cocktail, classic cocktails, classic cocktails, history of the negroni, history of the negroni, how to make a negroni, how to make a negroni, negroni cocktail, negroni cocktail, orson welles negroni, orson wells f for fake
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I've been meaning to write about Olof Wijk's 'Eat at Pleasure Drink by Measure' for some time now. This is another long forgotten book, which, like yesterday's 'Clubland Cooking', you can buy online for a pittance. If I had to choose a Greasy Spoon Top Ten, it's very possible that 'Eat at Pleasure Drink by Measure' would cut the mustard. I cannot stress how much I love this book. It's a bedside companion, like having a civilised old friend at your elbow.
Olof Wijk was a director of the now long defunct Jermyn Street wine merchant, Christopher's, and was "born in Gothenburg of Swedish parents. Educated at Harrow and Sandhurst, he assumed British nationality on joining the 4th Queen's Own Hussars in India."
Elizabeth David by Madame Hassia, National Portrait Gallery, London
in 1960 he came up with the inspired idea of sending out food and wine leaflets to his clients. Elizabeth David would write the recipes, and Olof would contribute his own thoughts on wine. The result was a charming semi-autobiographical seasonal anthology (including delightful wood-cuts by Yvonne Skargon in the manner of Thomas Bewick, poetry and historical quotations), which Constable re-published in book form in 1970, and like so many other books of this period it's a triumph of production with lovely soft creamy yellow paper and distinguished typography.
I know that if I had met Mr Wijk I would have liked him very much indeed. An Officer and Gentleman of the old school, he comes across as a rather lovely old boy, and his writing is full of humanity and civilised anecdotes. His love of wine, food, classical music and the finer things in life shines out. And he was a terrific writer too- almost Hemingway-esque at times, probably without even realising it. Here's Olof on how to host a dinner during the month of March:
All I ask is that it be easy to do. And I can't spend all day cooking. And it must look sensational. And taste exquisite. And I refuse to be doing something messy in the kitchen while everyone else is drinking. And it has got to be original- one is so sick of Chicken à la Creme and the indomitable mousse. And what with everyone dieting and George Brown going on so, and Lent upon us, one is ridden with guilt if it is at all rich and expensive. I doubt if there is a complete answer.
I realise it's not summer yet, but here's Elizabeth David's recipe for Fresh Figs with Orange Juice, taken from 'Eat at Pleasure, Drink by Measure'. It sounds refreshing and original:
Elizabeth David's Fresh Figs with Orange Juice
Allow two firm, very slightly under-ripe purple or green figs per person. Cut the stalks from the figs but do not peel them. Quarter them, put them in a bowl, and over them pour juice, freshly squeezed, of one large or two small oranges for eight figs. No sugar is necessary, but the fruit should be prepared an hour or so before it is to be eaten.
Presented in a perfectly plain white china salad bowl, or in individual clear glass wine goblets, this fig salad is one of the most beautiful as well as one of the most exquisite of all fresh fruit dishes
But before we get too carried away with all this, while browsing my much-thumbed copy this morning I discovered a pencilled annotation in my grandmother's spidery hand writing against Olof's entry for Mousse de Jambon: NO GOOD AT ALL.
Technorati Tags: christopher's wine merchant, elizabeth david christiopher's, elizabeth david food and wine leaflets, elizabeth david recipe, fig and orange, fig recipe, olof wijk, st james's wine merchant, summer fig recipe
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I bought this charming- and splendidly crusty- little book for a few pounds in a second hand bookshop. It's called Clubland Cooking by Robin McDouall, published in 1974 by Phaidon. I've just twigged that it's in the same series as Fortune Stanley's English Country House Cooking. They're both attractive books, with decent typography and illustrated with old Victorian wood-cuts.
For us members of The Don't Like Puddings Club, Clubland Cooking comes up trumps, with a chapter dedicated to savouries. Nobody seems to serve these anymore. But how refreshing- and stylish- it would be if someone offered you Canapés Ivanhoe or Beignets soufflés au fromage instead of the obligatory trifle-like concoction. Pretty easy to make too.
To get you in the mood- and inspire ideas- here's a selection of savouries taken from Robin McDouall's Clubland Cooking. The instructions for White's Club Canapé Windsor remain slightly enigmatic, but I assume that you serve the ham mixture on top of fried bread or toast cut into a manageable square.
Devils on Horseback
A great favourite with Edwardian hostesses and my friend and favourite novelist, Anthony Powell: prunes instead of oysters wrapped in bacon. The only merit I can see in them is that do not do much harm to a red wine. The Guards Club do a savoury of grapes wrapped in bacon.
Mushrooms on toast
De-stalk some mushrooms- flat ones, if they are bought mushrooms, flat or button if they are home-picked. Fry them in plenty of butter, turning them to cook on both sides. Either fry de-crusted bread in butter or toast it and butter it. Pile each piece high with mushrooms, season with salt, white pepper and cayenne and pour on butter from the pan.
White's Club Canapé Windsor
2 oz of ham minced very fine. Add a little port and double cream. Place one large grilled mushroom on top of the ham. Serve hot.
This recipe I pinch from Lady Sysonby's Cook Book.
"1 pint of thick cream, 3 tablespoons of grated Parmesan, salt, pepper and cayenne, and a little paprika. Stir well together..."
Leaving her recipe at this stage, make the ice a you would any other ice- I make it in the ice-cube drawer of my refrigarator. It takes about 3 hours at maximum freezing and needs stirring every hour.
Returning to Lady Sysonby, she says "With this serve plain ice wafers (unsweetened), dipped in melted butter and sprinkled with a little salt, and cayenne. Bake in a hot oven, and serve with ice on cold plates."
Technorati Tags: british canapés, british club recipes, british nursery food, british retro food, club canapes, clubland cookery, english nursery food, gentleman's club food, old fashioned savouries, savoury recipes
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It's easy with hindsignt to imagine what career path you might have taken, if say, the course of events had led you down a different path. I quite like the idea of marketing spirits and liquers, especially if (through some sort of occult timewarp) I had been whisked back in time to the 1970's. But then my father used to be the account director on the Booth's Gin account, and I seem to remember tales of long liquid lunches at their panelled offices in Park Lane. Full Circle.
Another amusing fantasy career would to have been some sort of slick exec for the Franklin Mint. Hours of entertainment thinking up new ideas to flog to the unsuspecting readers of The Sunday Express: "I'm loving your King Henry and His Six Wives Chess Set, Luke" (dig in the ribs) "Real Class, Kiddo"..."Tooled in 24 karat gold and lined in lovingly crafted kidron?"..."Sure"..."But we're gonna up the limited edition size"... "Saya Ten Thousand?"
The Courvoisier account would have been fun too. Brilliant advertising. A fairly ordinary, supermarket shelf brandy was transformed into a sophisticated cognac enjoyed- no savoured- by connoisseurs, aristos and no one less than the Emperor himself. Buying a bottle of Courvoisier gave you that certain 'je ne sais quoi'- or that at least, is what the advertisers hoped for: the whiff of a leather-bound library, an ancient chateau in the countryside outside Paris, the discreet chime of an antique clock, the crunch of a gravel drive, sophisticated after dinner chat, the hint of an aristocratic pedigree. We're in the same territory as After Eight Mints.
Imperial Leather soap- by Cussons- was another one. Pretty ordinary stuff to be honest. But then the Imperial Leather family used it, didn't they? They liked to share a bath. All of them together. Didn't their butler bring them one of those old fashioned telephones to use? As they played backgammon whilst reading the Financial Times? These days that sort of thing would be banned. I can hear the tut-tutting now as I type, drifiting up over the leafy environs of Tunbridge Wells.
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From left to right: Maria, Alexandra, Alexei, Tatiana, Nicholas II, Olga, Anastasia, 1911
It all started with an email. From a German tea company peddling a new product; a variation on the ubiquitous tea-bag. "Please send me the Earl Grey flavour" I said. The tea arrived, along with a demand that it should not be taken with milk. I found this slightly irritating. The English (surely one of the world's greatest nations of tea drinkers?) have always taken their tea with milk, it's what we do, it's ingrained in our culture- and since the 18th century too. I sent them an email pointing this out and was told that this was 'sacrilege'. This irritated me even more. Look, I wouldn't dream of adding milk to say, my smoky, delicate Lapsang Souchong, but Earl Grey which should, by my book, be a mixture of Indian and China teas flavoured with orange and bergamot, has enough punch to take it. And I wouldn't dream of lecturing Germans on how to pickle sauerkraut.
Anyway, the tea arrived and we tasted it. Mrs Aitch took it into the office and gave it to the boys to try out. There was a general consensus: "Doesn't taste of anything"... "Slightly Bitter"..."Where's the Bergamot?"... "This ain't Earl Grey"... "Dishwater". Nope. I'm afraid this particular tea failed to hit the mark. It seemed, also, to have been made entirely from Indian or Ceylon teas, which didn't seem quite right to me, failing to capture the true spirit of Earl Grey, the very essence of the cult.
The search for the perfect Earl Grey continued for a few months, and then suddenly, yesterday, bingo!- I think I found it. It's "Anastasia" Earl Grey tea from Kusmi of Paris. It's horribly expensive. I paid ten pounds for a small cardboard pack of tea bags. Beautifully made, dinky little muslin bags, mind you- but tea bags.
Kusmi tea has a distinguished history. The company was founded by Pavel Michailovitch Kousmichoff in St Peterbsurg in 1867, relocating to Paris after the Russian Revolution in 1917. I'm a sucker for packaging, and by golly, the Kusmi tea company does this extremely well, evoking images of lost Tsars, displaced Russian aristos, samovars and night-time rides in troikas to remote dachas in the Russian steppes. The blurb says:
Since 1867, Kusmi Tea has been creating exclusive blends and classic teas in baroque and colourful packaging faithful to the original labels. Distributed all over the world, Kusmi Tea gives endless enjoyment and gustative treasures to connoisseurs and neophytes with its inimitable aromas and flavours.
And for once, the hype is true. Fabulous citrusy, floral smells hit you the moment you discard the wrapping. And Mein Gott, this tea is truly, deeply delicious. Utterly delicious. Clean and fresh with a decent hit, masses of marmalade, bergamot and floral flavours going on, with subtle and very slight caramalised sugary hints- and a delicious orangey after-taste that stays in the back of your mouth for several minutes. This tea would be marvellous on a hot English afternoon in late June, served with a a plate of properly made cucumber sandwiches. With milk.
Mrs Aitch gave this to me this morning; as a present for Valentine's Day. Venus in the Kitchen or Love's Cookery Book was first published in 1952, edited by Norman Douglas (the subversive author of South Wind) and with an introduction by Graham Greene.
It's a collection of recipes with an aphrodisicial twist: Sturgeon Soup à la Chinoise, Black Risotto, Kidneys with Champagne, Oyster Cocktail, Artichoke Bottoms, Wild Boar. Many of the recipes have an Italian flavour, which is not surprising, as the author lived in exile on the island of Capri. The blurb on the front dust jacket reads:
The author explains that "after a succulent dinner with several bottles of red wine", some of the elder guests began to lament their declining vigour. Someone suggested that there must be certain dishes whose ingredients and spices would be likely to revive the fading ardours of middle age. The author then began to make a collection of these recipes.
I love old books like this: the slightly musty smell, the browning to the edge of the crisp, acidic paper, the decidedly old-fashioned pen-and-ink graphics ("decorations by Bruce Roberts"). And then there are those interesting bits of ephemera which fall out of books: old tickets, bookmarks, postcards, even letters. In this one some dreadful old goat had bookmarked the page opening at "Pie of Bull's Testicles" with a torn piece of old newspaper, leaving a tell-tale foxing mark behind on the page.
Here's Norman Douglas's recipe for Anchovy Toast:
Cut some slices of bread, toast nicely, trim to any shape required. Have ready a hot-water plate, on which put four ounces of butter; let it melt; add the yolks of four raw eggs, one tablespoon of anchovy sauce, Nepaul pepper to taste. Mix all well together, and dip the toast in, both sides; let it well soak into the mixture. Serve very hot, piled high on a dish, and garnished with parsley.
Anchovies have long been famed for their lust-provoking virtues.
Norman Douglas's last words were: "Get those f*****g nuns away from me".
"Just a Beaujolais sir, but a good bottler..." The Servant (1963)
One of my earliest restaurant memories is being taken by my grandfather to The London Steak House, somewhere near the old Roman Wall in the City of London. We were the only customers in an empty restaurant. I remember a few things. The head waiter falling over backwards to fawn over my grandfather (he looked distinguished- my grandfather, not the head waiter- not unlike David Niven with flamboyant Harvie & Hudson shirts, an Errol Flynn moustache and well-cut suits with narrow Edwardian cuffs and drainpipe trouser bottoms).
The London Steak House, I seem to remember, was a (relatively upmarket?) chain- but to an eight or nine year old's way of thinking, achieved sophisticated heights. Here a waiter would advance, and in a hushed tone ask if Sir would prefer "English, French or German Mustard?" All Colman's of course. I seem to remember thick (burgundy?) carpets, padded banquette seating and linen tablecloths. The claret was served in a ducky wicker cradle. My grandfather kept them waiting for about a minute while he swirled the wine around his glass and sniffed. It was a terrific performance. I was terribly impressed.
The London Steak House, Old Brompton Road (1966)
"The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there". Back then (this was the early 1970's), people aspired to middle-aged sophistication, to becoming a grown up. Recently I've had fun flipping through old House & Gardens from the 1960's and 70's. Full of advertisements for cognac, expensive cigarettes, fine liqueurs and Martini. Libraries with chocolate lacquered walls, Chinese ancestor portraits and bookshelves lined with fine leather bindings seemed de rigeur. A place to relax at night with a balloon glass of armagnac, admire your collection of Marquis de Sade firsts and listen to the Bach 48 on the Bang & Olufsen.
Middle-aged aspiration, the true spirit of the 1970's, Dormeuil (1979)
I don't know why when somebody mentions the 1970's everyone starts thinking of Mr Travolta, white suits, hairy chests matted with sun oil, 100% polyester flares and Night on Disco Mountain. I remain unashamedly fond of Disco, for in truth, Studio 54 was a deadly sophisticated affair, a sybaritic rendezvous where Truman Capote, the Jacquelines Onassis and Bisset could intermingle with the likes of Andy Warhol, Disco Sally and the urbane haute monde. And for every tenth thousand turmeric-sprayed Austin Allegro (with square steering wheel and brown deckchair striped seats in static inducing draylon) there was one hand-made Rolls Royce Camargue, coachwork courtesy of Pininfarina, a car in which Lady Penelope herself might have cut a dash.
I found very little about The London Steak House on the net, apart from a stylish matchbook on Ebay, with black salt and pepper pot graphics set against a brown ground and the photograph shown above. Note the half-decent abstracts on the wall, and the serving trolley (Flambéed Steak au Poivre and Crêpes Suzettes?).
Retro diners are currently toute la rage in Old London Town at the moment (Soho is full of 'em), which is fine- good even; but wouldn't it be refreshing if some brave entrepreneur decided to look up for once, rather than down, ditched the 50's Americana Shack Look and aimed at something, well, just a little bit more sophisticated? These days everybody aspires to be a dungaree-wearing, Pepsi drinking, bearded 17 year old hick from the Deep South rather than a Bentley driving clubable chairman with an interest in rare books, antique furniture and Dry Martini cocktails.
So in memory of The London Steak House (long may it Rest In Peace), here's my recipe for a simple cognac infused Green Peppercorn Sauce. You have it with steak. The green peppercorns come in little jars full of brine.
The Greasy Spoon's Green Peppercorn Sauce
2 tablespoons peppercorns
Knob of unsalted butter
1 chopped shallot
Dash of Cognac
1 teaspoon of Flour
100ml Beef Stock
60ml Double Cream
Heat a small to medium sized saucepan and add the butter. Fry the chopped shallot and the green peppercorns very briefly.
Add the dash of cognac, and stir. Add a teaspoon of flour and stir, making sure it cooks properly.
Now add the beef stock and bring the sauce to the boil. Turn down the heat and let it bubble away gently. After a few minutes, add the cream and let the sauce reduce gently.
Season to taste, and serve with steak.
You may need to play around with the quantities of flour, stock and cream. The sauce needs to be just right. Not too thick (and floury) and not too thin (watery). I've found chef Michel Richard's similar recipe from The Washington Post which looks great. He adds a tablespoon of Soy Sauce, which, I think will help to bring out the beefy, meaty, umami flavours.
I've got mixed feelings about old Sir Terence. I still can't make up my mind about the rather empty, sparse Design Museum; loathed Mezzo (a formulaic joint for raucous Essex Girls up for a Night on the Town) and Quaglino's, although back in 1993 an exciting place for a liaison dangereuse, became a shadow of its former self. Conran's take-over of Heals, the famous furniture shop in the Tottenham Court Road, was also iffy, I think. I seem to remember that half of the amazing Art Deco convex (or is it converse?) shop windows were ripped out, a commerical decision, I'm sure (difficult to display stock), but not exactly a reassuring move from one of Britain's leading design gurus. And a half-hearted act, too.
And I've never been entirely convinced by the conranisation of his classic redbrick Georgian house in Berkshire either, as featured in the Sunday colour supplements and the old House and Gardens lying around at the bottom of my wardrobe. Not that I don't like it, it's all very lovely, but...but... it's as if the history of the house- the very essence of what the house is all about- no longer exists.
And then along comes the marvellous Boundary, a grown-up, civilised restaurant of the old school serving Anglo-French food with mâitre d's in pin-stripe trousers; a recent-ish enterprise located in the modish East End, a stone's throw from the former haunt of Jack the Ripper. It's all very confusing.
But then maybe I am missing the point. How exciting Conran must have seemed in the late 50's and early 60's! The man has had a huge and massive influence on post-war British culture. And for the better. If you wind back in time to the late 50's and 60's, Conran's sophisticated designs must have seemed like a breath of fresh air in a world of smog, lukewarm Brown Windsor Soup and grimy flock wallpaper.
For the young, aspirational couple, strapped for cash, newly in love with the colour supplement lifestyle as championed by Elizabeth David, Arabella Boxer and Robert Carrier; and attempting to convert a shabby tenement block back into an elegant and fashionable town house, the affordable but stylish Habitat catalogue must have come as a godsend. Especially as everything was paid for by the newly launched Barclaycard. It's bizarre now to think of a society where credit cards didn't exist, but until 1966 that was exactly the state of the union.
And the middle classes were travelling for the first time on a regular basis, to civilised places like France, Spain and Italy. Habitat led the charge, re-creating (successfully, I think) the imagined ambiance of a French ironmongers, with kitchen utensils piled high on scrubbed pine tables, white painted brick walls, terracotta chicken bricks, Cornishware, red enamel oil lamps, Victorian scales in iron, and colourful posters of Toulouse-Lautrec and the Belle Epoque. Classless too. Conran was more interested in the Quaker simplicity of the downstairs scullery than in the Great Exhibition fripperies of the upstairs Drawing Room.
And I had forgotten about Terence and Vicki Conran's recent cookbook, Classic Conran. This is a fantastic book, very much along the lines of our he-who-can-do-no-wrong-foodie-god, Simon Hopkinson, but with a practical edge, more suited to domestic cooks with less time to spare.
There's an emphasis on the classics of Anglo-French cookery, simple dishes made with good ingredients and cooked properly: kedgeree (they use the preferable curried pilaf Grigson method); Jambon Persillée, Eton Mess, Soup à l' Oignon, Poached Chicken with Tarragon Sauce, Chocolate Mousse, Steak and Kidney Pudding, Entrecôte Béarnaise, Roast Grouse, Toulouse Sausages with Lentils, Braised Oxtail, Leeks Viniagrette, Irish Soda Bread. This is Greasy Spoon food. This is what The Greasy Spoon is all about. The book's so darned good it's currently got pride of place in my top ten "cookbooks of all time" list.
I came across the Conran recipe for that old classic, Scotch Broth. I don't know what the weather's like where you are, but here in London it's cold and wet with that English dampness that chills you to the bone. The Greasy Spoon herb garden is sodden. My tarragon plant seems to have vanished and I've lost hope. And this weather is making me hungry, very hungry. Ravenous in fact.
I've got a craving for Scotch Broth. It's a British Classic. I used to hoard this in my tuck box at school. Tins of Baxter's "Scotch Broth". Or was it "Cock-a-Leekie"? There are numerous recipes on the net, many seem to be similar, some are identical. All seem to agree on the following ingredients: carrots, a turnip or two, onions, celery, leek, pre-soaked dried peas, cabbage (or kale) and pearl barley.
In the Conran version you simmer a neck of lamb for an hour or two until tender, leave overnight, skim off the fat, breaking up the meat into small pieces and then cook gently with the vegetables and lamb stock for a further hour, adding the cabbage towards the end. The soup is finished off with a garnish of chopped parsley. The BBC version is very similar but leaves out the lamb. Marguerite Patten's version in her Classic British Dishes, is almost identical in method to the Conran's except she refines it by blanching the barley in boiling water, which, apparently 'whitens' the barley and 'gives it a better texture'.
I'll leave you to experiment. Bon Courage.
Technorati Tags: british soup, british winter food, british winter soup, classic british food, classic british recipes, classic conran review, scotch broth recipe, terence conran food, terence conran habitat, terence conran recipes, terence conran restaurants
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Mrs Aitch is making marmalade- as I write this. She makes it every year, and there's this terrific wait for the Seville oranges to arrive in England. Some years they arrive early, other years they arrive late. But January's the month for Seville oranges. If you're interested in her original recipe, here's the link. It works every time and makes an extremely professional tasting marmalade- I gather the secret is all about the quality of the pectin in the oranges and getting to the right temperature to release it. It sounds scientific.
This time I thought I'd have a shot at making Seville Orange Gin. It's a lovely old-fashioned drink, and apparently, a favourite of HRH The Prince of Wales. I've never made it before, so I've trawled the web and come across several recipes. They're all very similar- and pretty simple.
I can't hand-on-heart tell you if this recipe is any good, as I'm literally just about to make it. What I have learnt with Sloe Gin and Gooseberry Gin, is that it's often a good idea to go easy on the sugar, and if anything, deliberately add less sugar than the recipe demands. If your gin is too bitter in taste, it's an easy matter to add more sugar to taste. But if your gin is too sweet- there's nothing you can do about it, apart from chucking the whole thing down the sink.
5 Seville oranges
a litre bottle of gin
4 oz caster sugar
Peel the Seville oranges, carefully removing the zest from the pith – the pith is bitter and you need to get rid of it. Cut the orange peel into strips.
In a large sterilized demijohn combine the gin, sugar, orange peel and two cloves. Seal and keep in a dark cupboard for three months. Turn (or shake) the container every few days to make sure that the sugar dissolves.
After three months you strain the orange gin and, using a funnel, pour off the strained alcohol into sterilized bottles and seal. Ideally, you need to leave the orange gin for a year or two to mature and mellow over time.
Not that the readers of The Greasy Spoon need any reminding:
Lady Login's Traditional Haggis (1856)
1 cleaned sheep or lamb's paunch
2 lb (900g) dry oatmeal
1 lb (450g) Lamb's liver, boiled and minced
1 lamb's heart, boiled and minced
1 lamb's lights boiled and minced
1 large finely chopped onion
½ teaspoon each: cayenne pepper, ground allspice, salt and pepper
1 pint (600 ml) stock
See that the paunch is well cleaned, then soak it in salt and water for about two hours, take out and let it dry. Put the oatmeal on a baking tray in a low oven and let it dry out and crisp up a little.
Then cook the liver, heart (trimmed) and lights in salted water to cover and cook for about 1½ hours. Strain, but reserve the stock, and chop the meats up finely, or mince. Mix all ingredients (except the paunch) together and season well. Then add the stock. Put into the cleaned paunch (fill to about half) and sew up loosely, but securely.
Have ready a large pot of boiling water mixed with the rest of the liver stock, prick the haggis all over with a small knitting needle to prevent bursting, then cook in the water and stock, at a slow simmer uncovered, but keep up water level, for about three hours. Serves about sixteen.
The John F Kennedy Archives recently released a recipe for JFK's favourite fish chowder. It's a rather touching story. In 1961 a disabled girl called Lynn Jennings wrote to the President asking 'what he liked to eat'. The president's special assistant wrote back, thanking Lynn for her 'nice letter' and enclosing the typed out recipe (below) and a photograph of the president. Kennedy, apparently, was terribly greedy and liked to wolf down this chowder in enormous quantities.
NEW ENGLAND FISH CHOWDER
2 pounds haddock
2 ounces salt pork, diced
2 onions, sliced
4 large potatoes, diced
1 cup chopped celery
1 bay leaf, crumbled
1 quart milk
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Simmer haddock in 2 cups water for 15 minutes. Drain. Reserve broth. Remove bones from fish. Saute diced pork until crisp, remove and set aside. Saute onions in pork fat until golden brown. Add fish, potatoes, celery, bay leaf, salt and pepper. Pour in fish broth plus enough boiling water to make 3 cups of liquid. Simmer for 30 minutes. Add milk and butter and simmer for 5 minutes. Serve chowder sprinked with pork dice. Serves 6.
I like the way Jackie's reading a pristine copy of "Portrait of a President" in the famous LIFE photograph below. Nothing like a subtle plug, is there?
Technorati Tags: american chowder, east coast chowder, jack kennedy chowder, jacqueline kennedy cookbook, jacqueline kennedy recipe, JFK new england fish chowder, John F Kennedy new england fish chowder, kennedy chowder recipe
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I'm a great believer in doing simple things well. This is far better than doing complicated things badly. The Croque Monsieur is a case in point. I've very recently eaten one (or more accurately, a Croque Madame) at Boulestin, and my God, it was good: perfectly fried brioche, creamy Emmental (or Gruyère) cheese, Béchamel Sauce, salty juicy ham and a fried egg. It's a fabulous classic- very much the sort of thing The Greasy Spoon approves of- and champions.
Not that you've forgotten, the "Monsieur" is essentially a fried cheese and ham sandwich, and the "Madame" is more of the same, except it's topped with a fried egg. The egg is supposed to look like a fashionable woman's hat (knowing the French, isn't there a far more obvious explanation?), and according to Wikipedia (so it must be true) only dates back to around 1960. In Normandy the "Madame" is known as a croque-à-cheval. The strange thing is that experts think that the "Mister" only made its first appearance on a Parisian cafe menu in 1910. The earliest mention seems to have been in Marcel Proust's "A Remembrance of Things Past", published in 1918.
But how to make the perfect Croque Monsieur? I turned to Dining with Proust, a luxurious coffee-table book published in 1992. Splendid book, but no recipe. There was another book, "Dining with Marcel Proust", but I haven't- as yet- got it and it's currently on my amazon wish list.
I had better luck with the New Larousse Gastronomique:
Cut slices from a fresh or stale loaf. Spread with butter on one side, and lay a thin slice of Gruyère cheese on top, with a slice of lean ham on top of that. Close the sandwich and fry until golden in clarified butter.
Ginette Mathiot's I Know How To Cook says:
Cut the (stale) bread into thin, evenly shaped slices. Spread all the slices with some of the butter and sprinkle with the cheese. Put a piece of ham on half the bread slices. Cover each one with a buttered slice. Tie together with kitchen string. Melt the remaining butter in a frying pan over a moderate heat. Add the croque-monsieurs and brown for 4 minutes on each side. Remove the string and serve.
But how did Boulestin make theirs? The bread tasted very similar to a brioche and I suspect that this was fried in butter very carefully- to avoid burning. I'm not exactly sure what cheese they used, but it may well have been Emmental- which had been grated into a creamy Béchamel sauce. Personally, I'm keen on the "Mrs". I like the way you cut into the fried egg, and the soft, runny yolk oozes over the fried bread.
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One of the greatest pleasures of life, I think, is spending a happy Sunday afternoon, or so, re-arranging your books. It's a simple pleasure- as often the best pleasures are- and it gives you a chance to take stock, throw-out (or give away) those books you've lost interest in, and re-discover old friends. If our house ever burnt down (God Forbid!) it would be the books I would miss most- more, I think than the furniture, paintings, silver, Chinese porcelain, mezzotints, clocks, tin-plate clockwork toys, rocking horses, looking glasses, globes and all those other nick-nacks you've either inherited or accumulated over the years.
Anyway. I discovered that I'd built up an accidental collection of books on Indian Food, especially Anglo-Indian food as it was back in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In recent years the British have adopted "curry" as a national dish. We're an odd lot (a difficult people, I think sometimes); it's strange that we've adopted curry considering we've been lampooned in the past for our bland culinery tastes. But then, historically, the British have always been adapatable; compromise is a fine art.
So I'm posting up their covers to inspire you. All these books should be available from amazon or second-hand from AbeBooks. Maybe you could start your own collection? British cookery would be another great area to think about, as would the food of the American Deep South.
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I'm glad Christmas is over. I can't believe I'm writing this, as in the past I've rather prided myself on being a Christmas type, identifying (bizarrely to those that know me) with Scrooge's jolly hearted, blind man's bluff-playing, back-slapping nephew in Charles Dickens's 'A Christmas Carol'. Quite out of character. A strange fantasy. But this year Christmas was, frankly, a bit of a nightmare.
First I enjoyed a dose of genuine, old-fashioned influenza. Of the 1918 variety. Or was it Victorian Scarlet Fever? This wasn't Man Flu, this was the real McCoy, with delerium, high temperatures, rapid weight-loss and other unpleasant and unmentionable side effects. Had me in bed for two weeks.
Then, the moment that one was over, our beloved, pesky little sixteen year old Burmese cat, Oskie, decided the time was right to fall seriously ill. Multiple organ failures, infections, you name it- she had it. On a drip, and in the Belgravia animal hospital, the poor beast had more medication than you and I've had hot dinners. You know its time to get worried when the nice vet starts talking in a low voice and throwing around euphanisms ("we need to make a 'decision' very soon".) The whole thing was utterly, completely traumatic. We were devasted- as only those who have animals will understand. And then Oskie developed further complications- cat 'flu possibly picked up in the animal hospital. A few days before the monstrous hordes descended en masse, to sample our bread sauce, christmas pudding and Turkey Surprise. Anyway, the family has now gone, The Cat has made a miraculous recovery (O Hallelujah!) and the decorations have come down, as tradition dictates. Peace and Harmony reign. Almost.
I like January, especially if you've got a beautiful red amaryillus about to burst into flower. And then there's Twelfth Night, which sadly, these days, is barely recognised. It marks, of course, The Epiphany- the end of the Twelve Days of Christmas, the date when the Three Wise Men finally made it to the stable. But should Twelfth Night fall on the night of the 5th January or the 6th? Historically, it was a time for merry-making and anarchy. A Twelfth Night Cake (containing a bean and a pea) was baked and a King and Queen of the Night's Festivities crowned. Shakespeare's 'Twelfth Night' was written to be performed as a Twelfth Night entertainment, though the first recorded performance was in front of Queen Elizabteth in the Middle Temple Hall at Candlemas, February 2nd, 1602.
Which brings me, in a roundabout way, to artichokes. Jerusalem artichokes. January's vegetable is without any shadow of doubt, this noble ingredient. They're nothing to with artichokes by the way: bizarrely, they're actually the tuber of a species of sunflower, Helianthus tuberosus; winter root vegetables. They look a bit like small, knobbly potatoes, with a pinkish coloured skin, and were grown by the Native American Indians long before the arrival of the European settlers. I love their subtle, slightly earthy, smokey, velvety taste. But why Jerusalem? It's possible that it's an English corruption of the Italian word Girasola, meaning 'sunflower'. Gerard's 'Herball' of 1636 describes it as such.
And there's something else it's essential to know: Jerusalem artichokes make you "windy"- whatever that means. Every time some television chef mentions Jerusalem artichokes on screen, they suddenly "come over" all coy (the otherwise excellent Nigel Slater was a recent culprit), it's slightly bugging; my theory is that if you cook them well enough, you shouldn't have any problems.
Here's how I make an excellent Jersualem Artichoke Soup, which I would recommend without hesitation. Probably one of my all-time favourite soups. It's velvety smooth; and utterly delicious:
Chop up an onion or two and fry gently in butter and oil with some chopped celery. In the meantime, take a decent amount of Jerusalem Artichokes and using a peeler, remove the skin. You might find it easier to cut off the knobbly bits first. Plunge the peeled artichokes into a bowl of cold water into which you've given a good squeeze of lemon. This will stop your artichokes turning grey. You'll find that they start changing colour very quickly if you don't.
Chop the artichokes into small pieces, and add them to the hot pan. Stew them gently with the onions and the celery for about fifteen minutes. When they're soft, pour in some stock (I used an excellent, slightly salty ham stock), and simmer for a further twenty or so minutes.
When the artichoke pieces are cooked (ie soft), transfer the contents of the pan (the artichokes and the hot liquid) to your magimix or blender, and puree the mixture until smooth. The soup will be a creamy-white colour.
Push through a sieve into a clean pan (this will help to make the soup velvety-smooth), check the seasoning (I used an oak-smoked salt from Waitrose which helps to bring out the slightly smokey flavours, lots of freshly grated nutmeg and some white pepper) adding a decent squeeze of lemon juice, and stir in several tablespoons of double cream to taste. Stir carefully and simmer gently for a few more minutes until hot enough.
Serve with crisp croutons and garnish with fresh dill.
Technorati Tags: epiphany recipes, jerusalem artichoke soup, twelfth night cake, twelfth night elizabeth, twelfth night history, twelfth night middle temple hall, twelfth night recipes, twelve days of christmas
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Having grown up with the various shops dotted around St James's, I think I can afford to be grumpy when they close down, or get 'made-over', which seems to happen at an alarming rate these days.
Sullivan Powell (where I used to buy little boxes of unfiltered Turkish Sobranie Cigarettes rolled, apparently, on the thighs of hearty Balkan peasant girls). Gone. Maitland's the Chemist (until very recently, a corner shop at the top end of Piccadilly Arcade, where perfumed soap gathered dust and the clock stopped in 1914). Gone. Hawes & Curtis (once purveyors of fine shirts to King Edward VIII, Lord Mountbatten and Cary Grant). Completely, Utterly Ruined. Bates the Hatter (most famous resident Binks the Cat, stuffed and boxed, jaunty topper and cigar in his mouth). Demolished. That one really hurt. One of the last, original, authenticly preserved, genuine 1920's shop interiors, unnecessarily knocked down to make way for a parade of bland, slick 'international' units. Where Bates traded for almost a hundred years, can now be found Sunspel, the Y-Front shop, which looks, frankly, if it could be found in any city where rich people cluster: New York, Shanghai, Hong Kong or Geneva, or failing that Terminal 4 at Heathrow Airport.
And there are several others I could mention. I'm currently worried about D.R. Harris, chemist and perfumers, established 1790, which has recently closed for re-furbishment and re-development. I'm praying that this is going to be nothing more than a lick of paint and that the old atmosphere of the Victorian shop, with its apothecarist's bottles and mahogany shelving, will be preserved. Modernisation for Modernisation's Sake. The relentless creep of Internationalism. I don't like it.
But I'm not a complete curmudgeon. I do realise that times change, and if shops are gong to survive, they need to move with the times. The trick, I think, is balance; to keep somehow, the ethos of the old place: a daunting task for designers who may often have been raised on distant shores.
Budd, the shirt and pajama makers in Piccadilly Arcade, recently bought up by Huntsman, has re-fitted the shop brilliantly, improving things here and there, but keeping the atmosphere of the old, rather discreet shop, known to the lucky few. This is the antithesis of global brands such as Ralph Lauren, where cricket bats are displayed as props and portraits on the walls are still wet to the touch. Long may it thrive. Budd, not Ralph Lauren.
Fortnum's is another example. The recent re-fit has been a triumph. Every Christmas I make a quick trawl, primarily to buy presents on my way to Hatchards, but also as an excuse to breath in 'that' honeyed smell which hits you as you push your way through the swing doors: a mixture of rich wool carpet, glass, crystallised fruit, liquers and plastic. It's very hard to describe. They've managed to keep all the essential elements that make Fortnum's so special, the fitted carpets are still cerise, the woodwork is still painted in eau de nil, the staff still wear morning dress, often a size too small, or a size too big. It's a shame that the old St James's restaurant is now kaput, as for many Londoners, this place held special memories: the carving trolley (I can see my grandfather discreetly tipping the carver), the poe-faced waitresses in their 1920's starched linen headbands, the naff Montague Dawsons in their heavily gilded Impressionist frames. Full riggers in stormy seas. Still.
I love the new range of tea caddies that F & M have just brought out. Guard's Blend in particular. Brilliant, evocative packaging. They remind me of Edward Bawden's sumptious designs for Fortnum's Christmas catalogues.
Technorati Tags: edward bawden christmas, edward bawden design, edward bawden fortnum mason, edward bawden packaging, fortnum and mason christmas, fortnum mason presents, fortnum mason tea caddies, london shopping, london shops, st james's shops
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Every year I post my recipe for Christmas Pudding. It works. I hope you attempt to make it rather than buying one of those ready-made affairs from the shops. It's not especially difficult and for those who like this sort of thing, there's nothing like watching their eager little faces as you carry it through to the dining room, set well alight. Here's the post:
Believe it or not, it's time to make your Christmas Pudding. Here in London, Christmas seems to start earlier and earlier. The television advertising spree has begun, and suddenly our screens are full of earnest, eager types wrapped up in noddy hats and woolly scarves, grinning kiddywinks, and beaming Old Dears. Teflon snowflakes are having a field day. The lights have gone up in Sloane Square too, yet the leaves are still on the trees. Look, I love Christmas, please don't get me wrong: I'm no Scrooge; but often the expectation is, truthfully, more enjoyable than the actual event itself. But London is particularly pretty in those two weeks leading up to Christmas, and I can't think of a better place in the world to be at this time.
Right now is the time to start making your Christmas Pudding; and if anything it may even be a bit on the late side. Traditionally, the Christmas Pudding was made on "Stir-Up Sunday", which was the last Sunday before Advent, (about four to five weeks before Christmas Day), but in our family we used to make it as early as late October. I love Christmas Pudding. The way your spoon plunges into the moist (you hope!), rich, fruity mass; and the contrast with the smooth, rich, alchohol infusedbrandy butter.
Here is my tried and tested recipe for Christmas Pudding. It's based on our age-old family recipe (which I suspect was nicked from Cordon Bleu), but I've "improved" it with the addition of Guinness and Black Treacle. It went down extremely well with my brother-in-law, who gobbled down the lot, and apparently, declared it "one of the best Christmas Puddings he had ever tasted"; in fact- "never was there such a pudding". Incidentally, as an experiment last year, I added Scotch Whisky instead of the traditional brandy- and it sort of worked, although the resulting smoky taste was not really that appropriate. So back to good old Cognac it is.
Here's the recipe:
Stir up all the following ingredients in a pudding basin:
350g Mixed fruit and peel (this means crystallised peel, dried apricots, currants, saltanas, raisins, grated lemon rind, and grated orange rind)
50g Chopped glacé cherries
25g Flaked almonds
50g Dried suet (you can't get the proper stuff anymore- the EU has made it illegal)
35g White breadcrumbs
35g Plain flour
70g Moist dark brown sugar
A dash of mixed spice and grated nutmeg. Some weirdos add carrot- but very sensibly, I leave this one out.
Once you've stirred all the ingredients together, mix in the following ingredients:
Two beaten eggs
The juice of half a lemon and half an orange
Two tablespoons of a dark stout (ie Guinness)
A tablespoon of black treacle
A dash of decent Cognac (ie Brandy or Armagnac)
Stir it up like mad. Now's the time to add the mixture to a basin. Recently, I've had this thing about those old-fashioned ball-shaped puddings- the ones you see in the Victorian illustrations of Phiz and in Walt Disney. A few years ago, I managed to track down a ball-shaped pudding mould from Divertimenti in the Fulham Road, and used that- but a traditional ceramic pudding basin is just dandy.
Smear the inside of the basin with butter. This will stop the pudding sticking to the side. Pour in the mixture. Top off with a piece of buttered greaseproof paper, ideally cut down to fit. Finally, place a cloth over the basin, and tie it off at the top with a bit of string.
Steam it for five to six hours. This means getting hold of a large pan, filling it about a quarter full with water and bringing it to the boil. Place the pudding in the middle of the pan, and put the lid on. The steam will rise up within the pan, and cook the pudding. Once it's cooked, leave it in a cool place with a piece of tin foil on top. It will mature in the run-up to Christmas. On the great day itself, you will need to steam it for a further three hours.
Technorati Tags: authentic christmas pudding, british christmas pudding, christmas pudding, christmas pudding history, christmas pudding recipe, english christmas pudding, how to make your own christmas pudding, traditional christmas pudding recipe
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Go on. Admit it. You use stock cubes. Of course you do. We all do. I make proper stock from time to time (and freeze it) but when I'm in a hurry (and that's quite often these days) I resort to ready-made, shop-bought stock cubes. The trick is, I think, to track down the better quality brands and to use less of it then the directions tell you to on the packet. Otherwise, everything tastes too salty.
I've just discovered these brilliant mushroom flavoured stock cubes. Made in Italy and exported to the UK, they're currently available in Waitrose and various up-market delis. Perfect for an after-work autumnal mushroom risotto or a Saturday late afternoon beef stew. Makes a change from the ubiquitous chicken, doesn't it?
© Tomas Castelazo, www.tomascastelazo.com
The Mexican Day of the Dead (Dia de Muertos) takes place from October 31st to November 2nd. Mexican families gather to honour the departed souls of their loved ones. To us, this may seem macabre, but, in reality, the festival is the exact opposite: it's a joyful occasion with much feasting, dancing and merry-making. Private altars are set up laden with colourful sugar skulls, fruit, marigolds, paper cut-outs and presents. It's an extraordinary, spectacular- and fascinating- carnival.
If you're interested in finding out more, there was a marvellous exhibition at the British Museum, The Skeleton at The Feast, and the accompanying book is still available. Malcom Lowry's neglected minor masterpiece, "Under the Volcano" is worth adding to your reading list. There was also an 'iffy' film starring Albert Finney, Jacqueline Bisset and Anthony Andrews.
I've had a thing about Mexican food now for several years. My first authentic taste was at a drive-in gas station in San Deigo. You paid your money, and a tanned hairy arm shot out of a hole in the wall with your food. I seem to remember empadanitas. Utterly, utterly delicious.
So for this year's Day of the Dead, I've dug out two authentic- and simple- Mexican recipes that could be cooked at home. I'm aware that getting hold of Mexican ingredients, in England at least, can be next to nigh impossible, unless you buy from an online Mexican food supplier. But then that's all part of the fun, isn't it? Both recipes are taken from Marilyn Tausend's excellent Mexican.
Shrimp in Chipotle Sauce
Take 20 raw shrimps (in England, prawns) and marinade them in 8 cloves of minced garlic, 1/4 cup of lime juice, sea salt and pepper. Toss, until well-coated and let them stand for five minutes.
Heat olive oil in a frying pan and add a finely chopped onion. Fry for a few minutes until golden. Add two tins of chopped tomatoes to the pan and let them bubble away. Transfer the lot to your Magimix and whizz. Add two tins of chiles chipotles en adabo, 1/2 cup of Coca-Cola and a pinch or two of dried oregano. Whizz. That's your sauce.
Remove the prawns from the marinade and pat dry. Fry them in olive oil (in batches so that they fry rather than steam) and cook until opaque. You'll find that this happens very quickly. Only takes a minute or so. Try not to over-cook them. Return the sauce to the pan and cook to taste- until the sauce thickens. Add the cooked prawns and toss through. Again, you just want to warm through the prawns, you don't want to over-cook them. That's it. Serve with rice.
Coca-Cola may seem like an odd ingredient, but apparently, since the 1940's, the Mexicans have been using it to replace piloncillo- after all, it's really just a caramelised syrup when you think about it. Mexican ingredients are available online from the award winning: http://www.mexgrocer.co.uk
Watercress Salad with Orange, Apple and Avocado
The original recipe used Jicama, rather than apple. Jicama is the Mexican Turnip, although, just to confuse you, it's not related to the turnip family. It looks a bit like a potato. It has a crunch. The chances of finding Jicama in Britain are remote. It just ain't going to happen- so I've substituted apple.
First, you make the vinaigrette. In a small bowl whisk together lime juice, a thinly sliced green chili, sea-salt and white pepper. Pour in 1/2 cup of olive oil, whisking as you go.
Secondly, the salad. This is just slices of orange, fresh watercress and crisp, peeled apple, cut into thin strips. Dress the salad with the vinaigrette, and carefully fold in sliced hass avocados. Adjust the seasoning with sea-salt, if you feel it needs it, and serve.
Technorati Tags: malcolm lowry under the volcano, mexican day of the dead food, mexican day of the dead recipes, mexican day of the dead volcano, mexican festival food, mexican food, mexican november food, mexican street food, under the volcano
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Welcome to the first of a new series: "The Greasy Spoon tastes..."
I've always rather liked the idea of having your own brand of something or other. The suave actor, Sir Gerald du Maurier, had a brand of cigarettes named after him, as (almost unbelievably by today's standards) did Sotheby's- "Sotheby's Special Service": in a very smart green and gold embossed box. The late Mark Birley had his own cologne. And then that charmer, Patrick Lichfield, had his very own gin, called, you guessed it, "Lichfield Gin".
And now there's Martin Miller's Gin. I've yet to meet Mr Miller, although our paths may well have crossed in the salerooms, in the Portobello Road or in the back of a lorry. Originally an antique dealer (and then married to the antiques expert, Judith Miller) he now owns a chain of off-beat hotels and restaurants.
Anyway, to cut a long story short, following my recent post on Dodd's Gin, a PR company got in touch and very kindly offered to send me a free bottle of Martin Miller's Gin for review. It arrived with a promotional hardback book, priced slightly bizzarely at £10.50: Born of Love, Obsession and Some Degree of Madness...The story of Martin Miller's Gin.
Within there's a photograph of Mr Miller, looking in part like the hybrid child of Laurence Llewelyn Bowen and Lovejoy, surrounded by a bevy of models (in various stages of undress), pretty boys with waxed chests and eye-liner, a wolf-like creature and a huge poodle, coffiered, topiarised and dyed pink.
The gin, apparently, is distilled here in England (in an Edwardian still, name of Angela, if you wondered), and then shipped all the way to Iceland, where it is mixed with pure Nordic water, filtered through volcanic rock.
I approve of this madness (in the best traditions of British Industry): it reminds me of the manufacture of the infamous Hillman Imp by the Rootes Group: you will remember that half the car was made in Glasgow, the other half in Coventry, then the whole thing reassembled, vice-versa- a round trip of some 600 miles; or the production of the glorious 1963 V8 American-Engined Gordon Keeble, in which the car cost more to screw together than the selling price. And they wondered why only 100 or so were ever made.
But back to the gin. First, the packaging. I like it. The glass bottle has clean, slick lines. There's a charming olde worlde map of the British Isles and Iceland, surmounted with crossed pennants and a silvery-coloured cap. It's all rather nautical in flavour, reminiscent of yacht clubs, Robert Louis Stevenson, and the 1930's- remember Old Spice? I note that "since 1999" is printed in a tiny- almost unreadable- typeface.
Second, the all-important tasting. The gin is delicious. And that's an objective opinion. It's subtle on the nose, but the number one overwhelming sense is of smoothness and creaminess, with a hint of sweetness to balance the dry. I tried a blind tasting alongside good old Sainbury's own brand (distilled by the distinguished old firm of G. & J. Greenall). Martin Miller's Gin was so smooth that it could quite easily be consumed neat- almost as if it was a liqueur. It would be a perfect candidate for a Dry Martini. It's a buy.
Sainsbury's, in comparison, although a perfectly respectable and drinkable gin, was raw and unsophisticated when taken neat- definitely a candidate as a mixer for Schweppes tonic water. Millers is 40% Alc/Vol., Sainsbury's 37.5%. Miller's costs £25 for 70cl.e, Sainsbury's £15.50 for a litre bottle.
My current worry is the problem of tonic water. I'm not exactly having sleepless nights over this, but you should get the drift. Why buy a premium gin if you're going to mix it with a sweet, fizzy generic tonic water? Fever Tree is a good brand, and might be the solution. Dunno. I'm also currently researching the possibility of making my own tonic water (from cinchona bark) but that's going to be for a subsequent post. Tomorrow is another day.
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I could have have called this post 'A Tale of Two Restaurants'. I'm standing at the upstairs bar of Village East, Bermondsey, a stone's throw from The London Dungeon. I've been standing there for a very, very long time. Waiting to be served. Both the barmen think they're Tom Cruise in 'Cocktail'. They're spinning martini glasses into the air, pouring liqueurs from great heights, working the till with hip gyrations- as if they're dance extras in Saturday Night Fever. It's all slightly embarrassing, and to be frank, a bit of a yawn. They think they're cool, but as my 10 year old niece- going on 19- would say 'are so totally not'. To my right are two boys; skinny creatures with straggly beards. They pick up on my raised eyebrow. I ask them what they're drinking. The barman's making patterns in cocoa on the surface of their brownish coloured cocktails. Espresso Martini, they tell me. Vodka flavoured with Coffee. They sense my disapproval, and shunning me, like some ostrasized beast, turn away in unison.
This is not my place. The strange thing is that I don't think it's got anything to do with my late youth. I don't think I would have liked it even if I had been twenty years younger. Dear old Claudio at Harry's Bar. I can't imagine him serving an Espresso Martini or keeping thirsty clients waiting for fifteen minutes as he shakes his way through a Cucumber Mary. Still, I feel rather at home in Bermondsey, with its narrow cobbled streets, and Hogarthian vibe. It's a bit like being in a Leon Garfield novel. Bill Sykes's manor. It has the feel of an English country town- with The Shard standing in for a church spire.
We meet up with an old, and discriminating friend, Michael, and move on to Casse-Croûte, a few doors up. It's a tiny French restaurant with a very different integrity; all red checked table cloths, Charles Trenet crooning on a bakelite radio, stained Absinthe posters (actually I made that up, but there could have been). The problem with this sort of place is that it can almost become a caricature of itself. A caricature of 'le zinc'. The nictotined ceiling has been painted in burnt umber, all of six months ago. It's never seen a Gitanes in its life. The young chap who serves us sounds French. Very French. Lots of Zzzz going on. You almost expect him to drape onions around his neck, wear a striped Breton shirt and to radiate garlic breath. Not that I would dream of stereotyping anyone. How d'you say?
I've been rabbiting on about French food for years now, and Casse-Croûte is a welcome return to the delights of simple French cooking, presented well. I detect a trend: there's Jeremy King and Chris Corbin's Zédel, their Colbert in Sloane Square and Joel Kissin's newly opened Boulestin in St James's Street, which I've yet to eat at.
The restaurant, of course, is packed out, with a very mixed crowd. We make friends with a young couple at the next table. A pretty girl with peroxided blonde hair and yet another scrawny beardy type. Kenny Everett springs to mind. I admit to her that I write a food blog. She seems reasonably impressed but my cover's blown when she sees my iphone- It's one of the older types, slimmer, more streamlined, with a touch of Deco, but to her eyes this went out with the ark. My 'hip' status plummets. 'I think you'll find', she says, 'that the so- and so- iphone, Model XZY takes much quicker photographs.' The Kenny Everett association vanishes when they start canoodleing at the table. We return to the food.
Mrs Aitch had the goats cheese salad, which was served luke-warm, almost cold. She looked a little bit disappointed. Michael ordered the creamy mussel soup: it tasted good, but was certainly not generous: the helping was definitely on the mean side- but with these sort of prices they're going to have to cut corners somewhere, aren't they? I had the marinated red mullet, which was subtle and hit the spot. This came with a simple green salad, nicely coated and tossed in dressing. So far six or six and half out of ten.
The main courses were much better. Mrs Aitch had hake with a white bean pureé. It was excellent. The fish was cooked perfectly, and the beans made a jolly alternative to the dreaded mashed potato. Michael ordered a classic pork tender loin, again perfectly cooked, with creamy mashed potato. I had a slowly cooked beef daube, in a glossy rich, beefy sauce, served with pearl onions. It was excellent, well presented and generous.
For pudding, the pear tart was fine. Mrs Aitch enjoyed a gooey dark chocolate pudding which was a 'fix' and 'hit the mark'.
Wine was red, and of the house variety, served cold in a carafe. All this was a good thing, but then a much-needed second carafe failed to materialise, despite asking for it quite clearly. And by then, it was too late. I suppose if your English ain't up to it, the way forward is to smile- and ignore; and there for The Grace of God...
But another grumble was the coffee. We expected it to come black, with, perhaps, a tiny jug of milk, but instead, were given creamy cappucinos- almost insulting- as if this was the sort of plebian coffee les rosbifs enjoyed after dinner. I'm a fully signed-up black coffee drinker and although I can just about stomach a cappucino at breakfast, it's the last thing I want after a rich pudding.
I like Casse-Croûte, I do. I admire their simple menu, it's great value (around £35 a head, including wine). The food is cooked well and looks professional on the plate. They most certainly know what they're doing in the kitchen. But at these prices they're going to have to cut corners somewhere, and this shows in the slightly disappointing first courses. And for such a small restaurant, service is erratic, quite probably Lost in Translation. And, through no fault of its own, it lacks that authentic patina created by the greasy vapour of twenty thousand French cigarettes. Two and Half Cheers for Casse-Croûte! Booking is essential.
Casse-Croûte, 109 Bermondsey Street, London, SE1 3XB (020 7407 2140)
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On our trips to Paris, we normally stay at this rather good little hotel in the 7eme. It's relatively close to the Boulevard St. Germain and almost as importantly, happens to be bang smack next to the Bon Marché Grand Epicerie.
Here you can buy just about anything. One of my rarer finds was a bottle of Louisiana Gold Horseradish and Pepper Sauce. Now I expect in America this stuff is as ubiquitous as Heinz Baked Beans, but I tell you, in England, you can't get your hands on it. It's completely non available. The shelves are bare.
I've also got no idea if Louisiana Gold is a much loved American brand, or some recent marketing man's invention. It's got all that corny riverboat, gunslinger, Old Man River, cardsharp, Deep South stuff on the label. But I've become addicted to the horseradish version which is genuinely delicious and I've now got a problem. I've run out of the stuff, and I'm looking at an empty bottle as I write. I need my fix. I think it would work brilliantly in a Bloody Mary.
Can anybody tell me if a) Louisiana Gold is a decent brand and b) if not, if there is a better (and more authentic) American pepper and horseradish sauce to recommend?
Oh- and one, preferably, that I don't need to travel to Paris to buy.
I do hope The Greasy Spoon is unpretentious. Know what I'm getting at? I'm always happy to recommend the bog-standard option- if I think it's up to scratch. Take tinned sweetcorn for example. Niblets. The stuff made by the Jolly Green Giant. A terrific product. Can you really tell the difference between corn, taken off the cob, and the tinned variety?
Heinz Tomato Ketchup is another winner. It's just got that certain something. Many tinned beans and pulses are excellent, too. As is Uncle Ben's Long Grain Rice. That rice with the starch removed. Brilliant for making a non-mushy kedgeree. And there was that infamous television programme when Rick Stein, during a blind-tasting, turned his nose up at various organic and corn-fed chickens and declared a plebby battery supermarket chicken the pick of the crop.
But garlic's a different matter. Let me tell you more. Mrs Aitch recently bought a plump head of garlic from a farmer's market and vineyard shop down in Hampshire. It came from the Isle of Wight. It may- or may not- have been organic. I can't remember. But what I can tell you is that this sun-kissed garlic head was larger in size, juicier and packed full of flavour. It was an utterly different beast from the pathetic, inspid, flavourless, ersatz garlic bulbs currently offered in your local British supermarket; in our case, Sainsbury's, Nine Elms- and even- dare I say it- Waitrose, Belgravia. Supermarket garlic, it ain't good.
I was sorting out my considerable stock of old auction catalogues the other day, and came across one I had forgotten about: the Elizabeth David Kitchen sale from 1994. Many moons ago, I used to work as a works of art specialist for that venerable, if slightly eccentric, auctioneers, Phillips (or Phillips Son & Neale as it then was) founded 1796; and this auction was one of their more interesting efforts.
Elizabeth David, 1957
Held at their shabby Bayswater salerooms, on the day of the auction a queue formed around the block. Everyone wanted a slice of the action. At the time, the directors of Phillips hadn't really appreciated quite how famous Mrs David was. I seem to remember one of them- who shall remain nameless- openly admitting that he had no idea who she was at all. Not one iota. I shake my head in disbelief: obviously not an admirer of the cuisine bourgeoise.
The auction, of course, went crazy, with a scruffy kitchen table fetching £1,850, famously bought by one Pru Leith, and pots of worn wooden spoons running into many hundreds of pounds.
It was almost as if, by some occult osmosis, Mrs David's relics might impart or transfer a little bit of that magic into your own cooking. Could Potage aux Haricot Blancs et à l'Oseille really taste better if served in Lot 34, an "earthenware two-handled crock, part glazed, 34cm high"?
Elizabeth David by John Ward, National Portrait Gallery
I've just made a kilner jar of Piccalilli. It's going to be good, but I think there's room for improvement. A quick recap (using my standard recipe): I chopped up garden vegetables, sprinkled them with sea salt and let them stand for 24 hours. I drained off the water and rinsed them in cold water. Next, I combined a bottle of cider vinegar (500ml) with 250g of white sugar, a dollop of Colman's English Mustard, various spices (including turmeric) and heated it though. I added the rinsed vegetables and cooked the whole thing gently for about ten minutes. Finally, a cornflour paste was added to thicken it up.
It's going to need tweaking. So if you're a Piccalilli junkie, and interested in getting it just so, here are my kitchen notes fresh from this Friday morning's experimentation. The beauty of Piccalilli is that, apart from the mustard and the cauliflower, there are countless variations, and it's impossible to say that one recipe is more correct than another.
Piccalilli: What is it?
A typically British chutney, often made at the end of summer and in early autumn. Essentially, left-over vegetables bound in a mustard yellow sauce. The dish probably originated in 18th century British India.
Traditionally, yellow. A radio-active yellow. And I think, in the interests of nostalgia, it needs to be like this. Otherwise there's a danger it's just going to look like yet another chutney. The stuff I made this morning's having an identity crisis- it's turned brown. I think that's because I used cider vinegar (rather than the lighter coloured white wine vinegar) and my turmeric wasn't fresh enough.
They need to be crunchy; to have bite. I used cauliflower (broken up into small florets), yellow and green peppers, cucumber, baby carrots, baby courgettes, shallots, baby yellow tomatoes and green beans. The vegetables were cut up into small, bite-size pieces, placed in a bowl, sprinkled with sea-salt, and left overnight. This is a "Dry Brine". After 24 hours, you'll find that masses of water will have drained away from the vegetables, leaving them extra-crunchy and crisp. The salt was washed off before cooking. The earthy smell that came off the fresh marinading vegetables was heavenly. This technique would also be great for Vegetables à la Grecque.
Ideally, I do think that the vegetables used in Piccalilli need to reflect the British nature of the dish. Mr Oliver includes mango and dried oregano in his. The Waitrose version includes American butternut squash. Really not sure about either of these and I'm not convinced by Jamie's addition of grated apple. After much thought, my ultimate piccalilli vegetable list might include: cauliflower, marrow (oh, the whiff of the allotment), red and green chillies, silver skin or pearl onions, cucumber, green beans, shallots, fennel, baby carrots, baby courgettes and baby yellow tomatoes. I would cut them up into relatively small pieces, too.
Mustard. Hints of Curry. The dish originated in India, after all. I used a large dollop of Colman's English Mustard, turmeric, ground ginger, ground mustard seeds, ground cumin, smashed up coriander seeds, chili flakes, nutmeg, black pepper and cayenne pepper. I think I can probably improve on this.
It needs to be thick. The Waitrose version looks too runny. Cornflour, you're needed! As well as being a fantastic thickening agent, there's also that shiny, glossy surface thing going on, think Chinese sweet and sour sauce. But it needs to be cooked through properly, otherwise you get that stodgy, uncooked floury taste. My original version adds the cornflour at the end. Much better if it's cooked right at the start.
Sweet and Sour
My current version is too sweet. I need to cut down on the sugar. Getting that balance between the sweet and the sour is difficult. I'm really not keen on sickly over-sweet chutneys. If anything, an authentic piccallili needs to be on the sharp side.
So after much deliberation (trumpet fanfare) here's the newly improved, ultimate and official Greasy Spoon Piccalilli Recipe. Please do let me know if you think we can improve upon it:
1 cauliflower, broken up into small florets
1 small marrow, diced into small chunks
2 green chillies, finely sliced
2 red chillies, finely sliced
Handful of green beans, chopped into small pieces
Handful of silver skin or pearl onions
A few shallots, chopped up into cubes
2 bulbs of fennel, cut into small chunks
Handful of baby carrots, peeled and cut into small dice
1 small cucumber, peeled and cut into small dice
Handful of baby yellow tomatoes, sliced in half
A finger or so of peeled ginger, grated
2 tablespoons mustard seeds
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 tablespoons fresh turmeric
2 tablespoons Colman's English Mustard Powder
Pinch of grated nutmeg
Sprinkling of chilli flakes
Pinch of cayenne pepper
3 cloves garlic
500ml white wine vinegar (ie small bottle)
200g white sugar
3 bay leaves
Place the vegetables into a large bowl, and sprinkle generously with sea salt. Leave overnight. In the morning, drain off the vegetables in a colander and rinse with cold water.
Heat up a large saucepan, and add a little oil. Mustard oil, if you can get it, would be ideal. Fry the mustard seeds, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, fresh turmeric, a sprinkling of chilli flakes, grated ginger and pinch of grated nutmeg for a minute or so. Lower the heat and add the Colman's Mustard Powder, crushed garlic, three tablespoons or so of cornflour and a splash of the white wine vinegar. Stir until it forms a paste. Let the flour and garlic cook for a bit.
Gradually mix in the remaining vinegar, stirring all the time so that the ingredients are combined. Then add the white sugar, bay leaves and a pinch of cayenne pepper. Check the seasoning, grating in some chunky black pepper if you think it needs it. Cook on for a few minutes, stirring well to make sure the sugar dissolves.
Add the drained vegetables to the pan and stir well. Cook for about ten minutes on a lowish to medium heat. The vegetables need to be slightly cooked through (especially the green beans), but ideally, at the same time you want them to be crunchy and firm.
Decant into sterilised jars. The piccalilli will need to mature in a dark cupboard for about a month, and then should keep for at least six months, meaning that it's most certainly going to be ready in time for Christmas.
You can play around with the amounts of flour, sugar and vinegar to use. You want a smooth, slightly thick, tangy, mustardy sauce and a nice balance between sweet and sour. I don't think you'll need to add any salt, as the vegetables, although drained, have been sitting in sea salt all night long.
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I was pleased to see that Boulestin has re-opened on St James's Street. Or rather, a re-imagining of that old London institution which closed down in 1994. I've yet to book- but from the outside it looks desperately pretty, and the old-fashioned French menu looks promising: where else in London can you enjoy the Gothic delights of tête de veau on a regular basis? (It's Monday's dish of the day for £14.75). I'll report back soon.
This made me go and dig out my Boulestin books from the back of the shelf. So far, I've got three: "Classic French Recipes", "The Finer Cooking" (published 1937), and "Recipes of Boulestin". If you're inclined to collect, I'd urge you to have a look at the various Boulestin cookery books published over the years.
Xavier Marcel Boulestin was born in 1878. Very much a talented jack of all trades, he scraped a living from a variety of ventures, (including a sophisticated interior design shop in Belgravia) before settling on his eventual and successful career as the first television chef and restauranteur. In 1923 Boulestin published "Simple French Cooking for English Homes" which was an immediate hit. In 1927, The Restaurant Boulestin opened in Covent Garden- at the time the most expensive restaurant in London. In a prominent place was an immense bottle of 1869 liqueur "cognac de la maison". The food at Boulestin was obviously terrific, and apparently, Boulestin's standards were of such a high standard that the restaurant failed to make a profit, forcing Boulestin to make money from articles, books and public appearances. Boulestin died in 1943, trapped in a Paris occupied by German forces.
Boulestin's recipes are curiously charming, and by the fenickity standards of Auntie Delia, rather vague; allowing the reader the chance to develop his or her creativity. Here's his recipe for Sauce aux Noix (Italian Sauce with Crushed Walnuts):
This is a very pleasant sauce to serve with spaghetti; it has a delicious and unusual flavour. Peel a handful of walnuts and pound them well in a mortar. Fry in oil a small quantity of garlic and parsely finely chopped together ; add the pounded walnuts, cook a little but do not brown, moisten with a little olive oil, and very little boiling water. Mix well with the hot spaghetti and serve immediately.
This reminded me of my disastrous attempt to make Italian Walnut Sauce as described by one Mrs Elizabeth David. I shouldn't be surprised by this as Elizabeth David, apparently, fell under the spell of Boulestin and the Great Man influenced her writings.
Anyway, I'm a fan of the French cuisine bourgeoise, and feel strongly that it's time for a revival. As much as I like all that Amalfi coast/Mediterranean stuff, I do think that French country cooking is more appropriate for the Northern climate. After all, isn't Welsh Rarebit really just a Croque Monsieur in disguise?
Technorati Tags: boulestin books, boulestin restaurant london, classic french restaurants, first television chef, french cookery writers, french cooking, french restaurants london, marcel boulestin, xavier marcel boulestin
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"The Barbara Cartland Cookbook". Believe me, it exists. Or more accurately, "The Romance of Food", published by Hamlyn in 1984. I came across a copy on eBay, and just couldn't resist it. I've got a soft spot for the old gal in a way; not that I've ever read any of her lovey-dovey stuff (not my cup of tea), but there was a deeply entertaining biography "Crusader in Pink" by John Pearson, the former biographer of Ian Fleming and The Clermont Club gamblers (under the pseudonym of "Dr. Henry Cloud") and for a few days, Bab's bizarre semi-autobiographical "I Seek the Miraculous" made hilarious- and strangely compelling- bedtime reading: here she lists in chronological order all manner of supernatural and mystic experiences she had experienced over the course of her long, and much documented life.
Barbara Cartland, of course, was a terrific self-publicist, and "The Romance of Food" is no exception. We learn that as well as being a playwright, lecturer, political speaker and television personality, she was also an historian and has sold over 400 million books across the world. And it goes on and on: as a gossip columnist she raced MG's at Brooklands, and in 1984 she received the Bishop Wright Air Industry Award for her pioneering long-distance 200 mile tow in a glider, eventually contributing to troop-carrying gliders which were used so effectively during the D-Day landings.
And don't forget that "in 1976, Miss Cartland sang an Album of Love Songs with the Royal Philarmonic Orchestra". One for the record collection, eh? As Barbara croons: "I did fall in love in Berkeley Square and I swear a nightingale did sing in the trees as I was kissed":
Barbara Cartland sings I'll See You Again
But back to "The Romance of Food". It had me on the floor. Doubled up. In stitches. Where on earth do I begin? It's full of rather pretty technicolor photographs of food, beautifully arranged in 80's style, and with carefully chosen antique porcelain and Regency pearlware nick-nacks alongside ("all photographs were taken under the personal supervision of the author at her home in Hertfordshire using her own background and ornaments"). And then, underneath each photograph, Bab's own romantic captions to put you in the mood for love. She seems to be especially enamoured with "the throbbing enchantment of gypsy violins" and "the allure of passionate Russians". Each recipe is peppered with Barbara's historical asides, anecdotes and nutritional recommendations: the Queen of Love was, of course, a champion of multi vitamins and Royal Jelly.
"What women does not long to be carried like a lamb in the arms of the man she loves?"
But she's an easy target. In truth, the recipes, have been taken from her private chef, Nigel Gordon, and in their 80's way are actually perfectly all right, if not actually rather good (if you ignore the decorative chicken wishbones soaked in bleach) in that understated Country House sort of way. I'm keen on the food private chefs tend to rustle up. Simple favourites, with a nod to the French classics, and cooked and presented rather well on the plate. Who wants restaurant food on a daily basis? So I'm assuming that the book is made up of the exact recipes you would have received if you had spent, say, the weekend, sorry the Friday to Monday, at her appealing house, Camfield Place in Hertfordshire- once the childhood home of Beatrix Potter.
I made her "Devilled Crab" and it was both simple and excellent: you fry some chopped spring onions until soft (shallots might be better here, surely?) and then stir in dry English mustard powder and two teaspoons of cognac. A roux is made from butter, flour and cream, seasoned and combined with the mustard mixture. Fresh crabmeat is stirred in, and the mixture spooned into ramekin dishes, with breadcrumbs scattered on top. The dish is baked in a moderate oven (180° C, 350° F) and served piping hot.
I will leave you with a Barbara Cartland ancedote. During the 1960's, Miss Cartland was interviewed by the BBC.
Sandra Harris (to Barbara Cartland): Do you think class barriers have broken down?
Barbara Cartland: Of course they have, or I wouldn't be sitting here talking to someone like you.
Despite writing a food blog, I'm not ashamed to admit to you that I've struggled to cook a decent poached egg. Over the years, I've been bombarded with advice. Some insisted on adding salt to the water, others considered this a serious no-no. Cheffy television types required you to swirl the water with a whisk, and slide the egg into the water from a saucer. An attractive girl on the television demonstrated how to poach eggs using sheets of cling-film. Mrs Beeton recommended that you add vinegar to the water. And so on, and so on. Everyone agreed that it was essential to use a fresh egg.
The trouble was that I also ended up with one mess of an egg. The white would spread everywhere, and in the worst case separate from the yolk. I happen to like soft, runny yolks, but this meant suffering a slightly undercooked white, reminiscent of you said it- snot. And on bad days, the egg white would turn an unappetising grey colour, and even congeal.
In desperation, I ordered one of those 'poach pod' things from a well-known mail order company, advertised as 'a brilliant new invention'. And the result? Disaster. The result didn't look like any normal egg you and I know, the sort of elusive poached egg you might come across in a decent restaurant. The egg cooked well enough, but ended up with a rubbery white (is there some bizarre scientific connexion with plastic?) in a strange artificial looking shape, not disimilar to the miniature re-creation of a breast implant. Into the culinary dustbin of history went the brilliant invention.
I tried the clingfilm technique. But again, disaster. The egg white stuck to the plastic, and I managed to drop the soft egg all over the kitchen floor.
And then, Oh Praise The Lord!, I discovered (oh serendipity!) the brilliant Time Life 'Good Cook Series', edited by Richard Olney. And sure enough, there, in black and white and glorious technicolor, were simple instructions on how to 'poach an egg'. It works. This is how you do it:
Take a shallow sauté pan (in the past, I had used a small, deeper pan) and fill it with water (note, no salt, no vinegar). Bring it to the boil. Turn off the heat. Immediately crack your fresh egg into the water, making sure that you crack it as near to the hot water as you can bear (this helps to keep the shape compact).
Put the lid back onto the saucepan, and let it stand for just under three minutes. Slide the cooked egg onto a slotted spoon and transfer it to a bowl of cold water. This stops the cooking immediately. When you're ready, place the cooked egg onto a kitchen towel to drain off the water. Trim the edges of the egg white with a sharp knife. That's it.
When you're ready to eat them, dip them quickly into hot water to warm them up. You can play around with the timing according to taste. My idea of the perfect poached egg is a firm white (no snot in sight) and a firm-ish (but runny in the centre) yolk, which oozes when you cut into it. A cooking time of just under three minutes seems to do the trick.
One of the many beauties of England is the diversity of its landscape and architecture. The grey limestone of the Cotswold Hills surrenders to the warm red brick, clay and flint of the The Chilterns in the space of a few miles. Each county- however small- has its own identity. Norfolk, the most English of counties, is no exception, with its wide, open skies, undulating barley fields, ancient copses, Dutch gables and bleak, windswept salt marshes.
And late August is an especially poignant time to visit, reminding me of the spectacular and languid cinematography in Joseph Losey's "The Go-Between", when the great fields turn to the colour of straw, and the heat and dust throw up spectacular Harvest Moons.
The Gunton Arms sits away from the Cromer Road, on the edge of a heart-breaking thousand acre deer park. The house itself, gabled, and built presumably, in 1840's chalet style, has more than a whiff of the Hunting Lodge about it. The art dealer, Ivor Braka, spent two years restoring the place with the help of the interior decorator and antique dealer, Robert Kime; re-imagining the interior as a relaxed country house of the Old School (Voysey-esque paper and worn leather in the hall, inlaid Hoshiapur side tables, deep free-standing bathtubs, recycled Persian runners, racing prints) accented with a choice selection of contemporary Brit Art, the likes of Mr Hirst, Miss Emin and Messrs Gilbert and George. It sounds incongrous, but here it works, harmonising into a relaxed whole, albeit with a slight edge. It's all a bit rock n' roll.
At first glance The Gunton Arms doesn't shout from the rooftops, but with time there's the realisation that everything works beautifully, with great attention to detail- there's a hidden light in the wardrobe, curtains have been beautifully sewn, the beds are spacious and comfortable, there are digital Roberts Radios by your bedside, your keyring is attached to a tiny deer antler from the park- a lovely touch. This is understatement taken to a high art. It's also staffed with a seemingly never-ending supply of helpful and charming young people.
There are eight bedrooms. We stayed in "Langtry" (it is thought that the Jersey Lily stayed in the house during the 1890's; it's relatively close to Sandringham).
The restaurant (The Elk Room) is dominated by a huge pair of pre-historic Elk Antlers displayed over an open spit and grill: here you can watch the chef toast your Cumberland sausage. This must be an evocative room in autumn, especially when venison makes a welcome return, and the heat of the fire banishes the October chill. The menu is inspired by Mark Hix; this is very much my sort of thing: British food, cooked extremely well, for the food at the Gunton Arms is rather good.
Over two successive nights, we sampled (amongst other things) a Middle White Pork Terrine with Piccalilli (£7.50), Cornish Squid with Heritage Tomatoes and Chili (£6.50), Scallops marinated in olive oil and lemon juice, a Cider and Ham Hock Pie (£12.00), Barbequed Beef Brisket with Slaw (£14.50), home-made bread, and Ivor's Crab and Chili Pasta with Parsley (£12.50).
The terrine was superb, full of meaty flavour, and nicely offset with a tangy Piccalilli, properly made in the old-fashioned way. The Cider and Gammon Pie, again, came with a rich sauce, and is possibly one of the best pies I have recently tasted. The scallops, sadly, failed to meet their mark, their delicate sweet taste over powered by an unneccesary marinade, and Ivor's own pasta (although admirable in concept) was too salty and too spicy for most palates- but hey, these are trifling quibbles over what was otherwise, a delightful experience. The house wine (Am anti del vino prmitivo salento, 2011) was also a relative bargain at £16.00 a bottle: smooth, full of blackcurrent and velvet plum; a relevation. Iced tap water is served (in old whisky advertising jugs) without request.
After dinner we took our drinks into the garden and as darkness fell, watched the deer herds drift across the landscape.
As you've probably gathered, I like the Gunton Arms- very much indeed. They've got it right. Spot On. It's thoroughly unpretentious. There may be some who dislike the lively bar- it's very much still a pub, with a snooker table, television, rock music and bags of peanuts hanging from a saucy display card- but this is a good thing. There's nothing worse than a Farrow and Ball'd gastro-pub which alienates the locals, many of whom have probably been going there since before you or I were born.
There may be others who wring their hands over the torn leather, the slightly louche atmosphere, the naughty Tracy Emin plates hanging over the bar, the deer droppings in the park. And to them, I say, it's your loss and our gain. Four Cheers for The Gunton Arms! We will be returning.
Photographs from The Gunton Arms website.
The Gunton Arms, Cromer Road, Thorpe Market, Norwich, NR11 8TZ (01263 832010)
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It's fun to discover a new series of books to collect. Browsing the net, I came across the Time Life "The Good Cook" series, edited by none other than our old friend, the great American gourmet, Francophile and food writer, Richard Olney.
I'm ashamed to admit to you that I had never heard of it before. Several foodie websites rate it as one of the best, most useful, and most comprehensive cookery books ever produced; they have a cult following. Published in hardback between 1978 and 1981, they were sold on a month-by-month basis. There are a whopping 28 volumes to collect; you'll find them on ebay and amazon priced at a few pounds each. I think the American and British editions are slightly different. Here's an entertaining American television ad for the series, I've just discovered on youtube, featuring an extremely pretty Stepford-y housewife (If you're a subscriber to The Greasy Spoon, you will have to log back on via your browser to see it):
I've ordered three so far- "Terrines, Pates & Galantines", "Hot Hors-d'Oeuvre", and "Snacks and Canapes", and from the moment the first one arrived, I can see what all the fuss is about. They're fantastic. This is serious cooking.
The first half of each volume covers technique (fully illustrated with step-by-step colour photographs), the second half has a comprehensive selection of recipes, carefully chosen from various highly reputable sources- Richard Olney, Jane Grigson, Michel Guerard, Fernand Point, Mrs Rundell, writers like that. The beauty of the thing, is that with 28 volumes covering a multitude of subjects, all the intricacies of sophisticated cookery can be explored in loving detail. I learnt, for instance, to add cold water at regular intervals to a simmering stock to stop it boiling. Sounds obvious, doesn't it?, but in the past I've just turned the heat down- and ended up with a cloudy stock as a result.
The Good Cook series is, of course, a trifle out of date (some even might consider it retro) with its emphasis on French cuisine; its detailed examination on how to disect, cook and glaze a dear little sucking piglet (presented Henry VIII style on a huge silver platter, curly tail and all), and it's obsession with layered vegetable terrines and aspic. Personally, that's part of its charm, and I can hand-on-heart say that if you studied, and followed, the instructions in these 28 volumes, you will learn a great deal.
A very different book is Charlotte and Peter Fiell's Essential Equipment for the Kitchen, A Sourcebook of the World's Best Designs which has just been sent to me for review. Charlotte and Peter Fiell are distinguished modern design gurus. If The Good Cook series is all about hands on technique, method and practical preparation, "Essential Equipment" is an indulgent trawl through a century of kitchen utensils and gadgetry (in all their immaculate glory), a bible of materialism and product placement.
Did you know that the Rex Model 11002 peeler was designed in Switzerland in 1947? That's that ubiquitous peeler which you know and love- the one that works. Or that Le Parfait jars were born in the 1930's?
Although this is an amusing- but utterly non-esssential- book to add to your cookery library, there is undoubtably the smack of perfectionism going on here. A case of 'Hey, Come Round and Have a Look at my Brand New Francis Francis XI Espresso Machine' (first designed in 1995 by Luca Trazzi, bn. 1962 if you've ever wondered).
All this reminds me of Patrick Bateman's' apartment in Bret Easton Ellis's "American Psycho". It made me have a sudden- and most juvenile- urge to seize hold of a shiny new Le Creuset L25W3-3630 wok (designed in 1992) and dribble sesame oil all over it, so that it stains. I'm afraid it is a truth universally acknowledged that there are many people out there who have shiny and immaculate kitchens, and yet never cook.
Essential Equipment for the Kitchen by Charlotte & Peter Fiell, published by Goodman Fiell RRP £19.99 is available from www.carltonbooks.co.uk and all good bookshops.
Technorati Tags: best cookbooks, Charlotte Peter Fiell Essential Kitchen Equipment, retro cookery books, retro cookery library, Richard Olney Editor, Richard Olney Food Writer, Richard Olney Time Life, Time Life Good Cook Series
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Last week I had the greatest pleasure in tasting a new gin; a well received present from Mrs Aitch. Dodd's Gin, the stuff's called; I had only been vaguely aware of it, which is not really surprising as it's a brand spanking new gin, fresh on the market. Not that you would think that from the brilliantly Victorian packaging, and the beautiful old-fashioned bottle with its wooden stopper: 'crafted by season and established in 1807'.
This gin is produced by the London Distillery Company, at a traditional distillery in Battersea (just down the road from the Greasy Spoon Residence), using a 140 litre copper alembic by the name of Christina. Its organic botanicals include rasberry leaf and wait-for-it, London honey.
This gin really tastes of something, it's clean and almost medicinal (in a good sense) with a strong sense of clove which cuts through, but doesn't overwhelm.
But then you start looking at the price. It costs around thirty quid for a 500ml bottle. I realise, of course, that this is an artisan crafted gin, produced in small numbers (each gin has a hand-written batch number) and aimed at a high budget, connoisseur's market, but I just can't get out of my head that a 1 litre bottle of the perfectly drinkable Sainsbury's own, distilled by the distinguished old firm of G & J Greenall up in Scotland (but sold with naff Sainsbury's packaging) costs a very reasonable £15.50 (and is often available on discount, too).
'But that's unfair!', I can hear the gin distillers cry, 'that's like comparing Teacher's blended whisky with a Knockando Single Malt'. Perhaps. But as I happen to enjoy that Old English habit of adding tonic to my gin, I'm not entirely convinced. Sainsbury's Own for the tonic, and Dodd's for the Dry Martinis, served on High Days and Holidays (including the opportunity to toast St Swithin). That might be the way forward.
Nico Landenis once said: "A gin and tonic says a lot about you as a person. It is more than just a drink, it is an attitude of mind. It goes with a prawn cocktail, a grilled Dover Sole, Melba toast and Black Forest Gateau."
I would like to state publicly, on record, that I adore Prawn Cocktail, love a grilled Dover Sole, and would sell my mother to get my hands on a decent bit of Melba Toast.
The most extraordinary thing. It's baking hot, here in England. Almost like that famous summer of 1976. Day after day of Mediterranean heat. We've just come back from a marvellous holiday staying in a fabulous house in St Mawes, on the south Cornwall coast, with sub-tropical gardens and views stretching out to a blue, blue glittering sea.
I've been coming to St Mawes, on-and-off now for many years. It's the most pretty coastal village- all Treasure Island, thatched smuggler's cottages with lattice windows, harbour inns with creaking signs swaying in the wind. It's like going back to the 1950's. The harbour is full of period varnished sailing yachts (including the 1939 yacht Pinuccia, rumoured to have been the former Olympic yacht of Il Duce).
There was nobody there. No transistors blaring on the beach, no plastic gin palaces, no floating discotheques (instead, a sprinkling of nice old cars, MG's, Mercedes Pagoda Tops and the like, in the harbour car park). Peace reigns. And its very much like the South of France. I kid you not. I really mean it. Palm trees, the scent of trailing rosemary, low stone walls flanking twisting coastal roads, stepped terraces punctuated by tall Scots Pines, steps down to private shingle beaches. If you've seen the 1958 version of Bonjour Tristesse, the one with David Niven lounging around on terraces in silk dressing gowns, you'll get the drift.
On the Monday night, we had dinner at The Tresanton, about a minutes walk from where we were staying, lovingly re-furbished by Olga Polizzi in 1997. And a very good job she has done too. In the 70's The Tresanton was a rather swish- and utterly expensive- hotel. There was a collection of Impressionist paintings. By the 90's it had fallen into that inevitable decline; I remember a rather strange lunch there out on that extraordinary terrace. Now, of course, things are utterly different.
I love it. This is like something out of Agatha Christie: Evil Under the Sun, or Peril at End House. White Star ocean liner railings, staff in brass-buttoned white mess jackets, and with its tiled floor mosaics of Neptune and Trident, and roughly-plastered walls in white, has more than a whiff of the Amalfi Coast about it or, indeed, Clough Williams-Ellis's Italianate fantasy at Portmerion.
Anyway, all this happened to co-incide with the kind arrival of an advance copy of Lindsey Bareham's The Fish Store, published by my friends at Grub Street. This is a new paperback edition. The book first came out in 2006.
I'm a fan of Lindsey Bareham's rather understated and intelligent approach to food writing, The Prawn Cocktail Years, which she co-authored with Simon Hopkinson, being one of those treasured books I would probably try to rescue if, God Forbid, the house burnt down.
The Fish Store is a slightly misleading title for those of you who judge books by their covers. It's actually the name of her Cornish holiday bolt-hole, a former pilchard packing shed in Mousehole, Cornwall (she married into the family of Augustus John) and is a semi-autobiographical and reflective tribute to Cornish holidays, family life and all the food- and associations- that go with it. This is very much my sort of book. It's a literary fest- with a few illustrations here and there (some in black and white); very much the antithesis of those colourful celebrity picture books, heavily promoted and flogged in your local supermarket, all style over content.
Her "Roast Haddock with Barlotti Beans and Tomatoes" went down especially well. It's a very simple dish of unsmoked haddock, balsamic vinegar, cherry tomatoes on the vine, sea salt and lemon juice, served on the beans, which had been simmered very gently with chicken stock and the juices from the pan. Probably one of the best things we've had in a long while; the secret of course, being in that we'd bought some very fresh haddock a few hours before. My nine year old niece, Sammie, formally announced to the table that this was one of the best things she had ever eaten.
And then there was the mackerel. James Brown, a friendly local skipper, took us out to sea, about two miles off the coast for a spot of wreck fishing; we hit a shoal and started reeling in tiny, turquoise zig-zaggy mackerel (flashing in the hot sun) and some larger pinkish whiting.
James gutted the fish on the way back to harbour. About two hours later we filited the mackerel, and my brother in law (no mean cook) fried it in the pan with rosemary, olive oil, lemon juice and flaky Cornish sea salt. I can honestly, say that I think this was one of the most delicious things I have ever eaten. Uber fresh mackerel, eaten on a baking hot, sunny terrace. With the sound of the sea. Happy Memories.
The Fish Store is published by Grub Street, and costs £14.99.
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We were in the shabby Regency sea-side town of St Leonards-on-Sea, on a day-trip to that fascinating vintage habadashery, Wayward, purveyors of a glorious array: vintage braids, French Tri-Coleur ribbons in yellow and red, bakelite buttons, bolts of chalk-striped West of England cloth; charming remnants from the 1950's- including period chromolithographic birthday cards in original, pristine condition (God knows where they found them); that sort of thing. And then we needed somewhere to eat. A helpful woman in one of the numerous bric-a-brac shops gracing Norman Road (where I found a perfect Super 8 ciné camera for twenty quid) mentioned "that Michelin star place at the top of the street". Our ears pricked up. We couldn't get out of her shop fast enough.
The first thing I can say about St. Clement's is that it is a restaurant. Yup, a restaurant. Not a gastro-pub, a café, a funky bar or a retro brasserie. A proper grown-up restaurant. And I've suddenly decided that we need more of these in England. There's just something more civilised about a restaurant. Okay, St. Clement's is a simple affair; the interior's not much to write home about (the usual ubiquitous abstract daubs) but it did boast a thin, poe-faced French waitress who didn't especially want to become my great friend in the manner of our American cousins (a good thing), but was still prepared to laugh at my appalling jokes. I liked her insouciance.
And incidentally, the "Michelin Star" was sort of true. Up to a point. St. Clement's has been awarded a "Michelin Bib Gourmand", which is the next step down: "good cuisine at a reasonable price..." And affordable it most certainly was. Our two course lunch, with a large glass of the House Red (Castillo del Moro Tempranillo, 2011 and two bottles of lager beer (Chapel Down) came to £23.00 a head.
My Duck and Pork confit terrine was full of texture and taste, and the piccalilli which came with it was crunchy and sharp. My second course of tuna with a tomato salsa and white beans sounds slightly bland, but the tomatoes had an intense depth of flavour which one so rarely comes across these days. It was truly good.
Mrs Aitch's Hastings Fishcakes were served with a herb and caper crème fraîche (a Gallic twist on the very English Tartare Sauce) which, again, was remarkably herby; making me want to try and re-constuct the recipe for another post. I also enjoyed two bottles of Chapel Down's "Curious Brew", an English lager re-fermented with the addition of Champagne yeast.
I would be interested to go back for the full hog one evening. I've a feeling that the atmosphere would be different. Our Saturday lunch companions weren't exactly spring chickens (the old boy in the corner might have been wearing a bib), and an overheard conversation seemed to focus repeatedly on the National Trust and the art of making jam for the Women's Institute, but hey, it was St Leonards, wasn't it? The English Sea-Side. And a great destination for the worthwhile cause of affordable antiques and affordable food.
St. Clement's, 3 Mercatoria, St Leonards on Sea, East Sussex, TN38 0EB (01424 200355)
Technorati Tags: english seaside restaurants, hastings restaurant review, st clements hastings, st clements st leonards, st leonards restaurant review, st leonards restaurants, sussex restaurant review
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Another great programme from Simon Hopkinson yesterday evening (Simon Hokinson Cooks, More 4, Monday Evenings), in which he made a classic Dry Martini. I know that this blog is in danger of becoming a tribute site to Mr Hopkinson, but he really is exceedingly good. And he made his Martini exactly how it should be made- right down to the Harrys' Bar glass pitcher.
First point- it's a gin martini. Gin. Not Vodka (Mister Bond got that one wrong), nor, god forbid, apple juice. No cherries, slices of limes, "inspired" extra flourishes, garnishes or anything like that.
Second point- it's stirred, not shaken. Stirred. (Mister Bond got that one wrong, too).
How to make it? Greasy Spooners won't need to be told. But if you're a new reader, this is how you do it:
You get hold of large glass pitcher or mixing jug and you pour into it a decent amount of fresh ice. Simon H rinsed his ice off with running water to get rid of the 'fridge smells- and that seems like an excellent plan.
Into the pitcher goes a decent splash of a dry white vermouth. Noilly Pratt (to rhyme with cat) would be great. Or, of course, Martini Extra Dry. Simon H probably put in a bit more vermouth than I would have done, but, hey, each to their own. Swirl the ice around with a mixing stick, spoon or chopstick.
The Martini is poured into cold, frosted glasses- straight from the deep freeze. My own preference is for dinky, small glass tumblers, rather than those Martini glasses everyone seems to use, and you see on television. But, again, that's me.
Finish it off with a twist of lemon peel. Simon H just twisted his peel over the glass, so that the citrus oils floated onto the Martini- and then discarded it. I like the simplicity of this. No fuss. No garnishes. Just a classic Dry Martini, made properly. Simple, and served very, very cold. In small tumblers.
Technorati Tags: classic dry martini, gin martini recipe, harry's bar dry martini, how to make a classic dry martini, proper martini cocktail, simon hopkinson cooks, simon hopkinson dry martini, simon hopkinson martini
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Good news, Greasy Spooners- Simon Hopkinson's presenting a new television series (Simon Hopkinson Cooks, More 4, Monday Evenings), and if the first episode is anything to go by, this one's actually rather good. You may remember that his previous series made me a trifle grumpy. That one was made by the BBC. Loud pop music, gimmicky camera angles, slow-motion offset by super-quick editing which made F for Fake look like Tess of the d'Urbervilles. Over Produced. This new series, however, is made for Commercial Television. That's a good thing.
My current theory is that the BBC is bogged down with political correctness: earnest acned producers (Oxbridge Fresh) desperately (and cynically) trying to appeal to a mythical yoof market that probably doesn't exist. Consequently, any germ of creativity is going to be found on the commercial networks. Look at the success of Downton Abbey for example. Admittedly it's trashy, but it's beautifully made, great fun and everyone loves it. I doubt very much that it would ever have passed through the hallowed pearly gates of the BBC. Too much of a risk. Not enough Kitchen Sink. Actors speaking Proper, Like. Put it this way, if Oliver Cromwell and his new Model Army crowd were still around, they would, without any doubt, be paid up supporters of The Beeb, not ITV.
Anyway. I really like the look of this series. In the first episode Mr Hopkinson explained how to make a classic Negroni (Neat Plymouth Gin, Campari and Sweet Red Vermouth, not that we need to be reminded), dropped by a few decent London restaurants (The River Café was one, where he had the most civilised exchange with Ruth Rogers; and the superb Fino in Charlotte Street where he chatted up the Spanish chef and learnt how to make an authentic paella, (along with an interesting green garlickey dressing), cooked a creme bruleé, anchovy toasties, a simple green bean salad à la Parisienne, and, to cap it all, a naked gnocchi. Next week he's going to make a Prawn Cocktail. Oh, I love it.
I gather that Simon Hopkinson was surprised when his production company agreed to 'allow' him to make Negroni cocktails. This really says it all, doesn't it?
I'm suddenly obsessed with pink peppercorns. Big deal, I hear you cry. I expect you've been munching them for several years. But even if you have, are they not a godsend?
Peppery- yes. Strong in taste- sort of. Not really. Sweet- yes. Fruity- yes. And if you add them to a sauce, or as a garnish (sorry, dreadful word, but you know what I'm getting at) they can add an instant je ne sais quois to an otherwise bland dish.
Here's my recent invention for a light, summery dressing:
It's for an "Orange Viniagrette with Pink Peppercorns". I squeezed out the juice of an orange, and combined it with a teaspoon of white sugar, a splash of cider vinegar, a splash of water, a few grains of sea salt, fresh majoram leaves (picked off their stalks) and a handful of crushed pink peppercorns. The peppercorns are suprisingly mild, so it can take it. Put it this way, you can eat the peppercorns raw, and it's a pleasant "taste sensation". Visually, the pink peppercorns are also pretty- and that's important.
I quite like the idea of warming this dressing up and drizzling it over braised fennel and sliced, pink-ish duck breasts.