Friday, 31 December 2010

Beef and Watercress


Knowing I was going to be working for 11 days straight up to Christmas Day, I decided a fuss-free joint of beef would be vital for a relaxed Christmas dinner.  Finding time to collect the meat was another challenge but I managed to get to the butchers just in time to collect a beautiful Côte de Boeuf.  Cut from a carcass which had been hung for 60 days, it proved the perfect choice.  Seasoned, roasted for 20 minutes in a hot oven, then for an hour and a half at 160C, this 2kg beauty needed only to rest for half an hour covered in foil to be exactly what I had hoped for. 

It's become something of a ritual with us that the following day the cold meat must be served with Gratin Dauphinoise potatoes.  If there is anything left of the joint beyond that then a bit of inventiveness is called for to keep everyone's interest, yet so much food has been consumed that a light touch is needed.  In this case a cold beef salad proved to be a hit.  Watercress has an affinity with beef so the choice of salad leaf was easy.  Creamed Horseradish was to hand, being a must if you have beef on Christmas Day, as were a handful of the tiniest capers, so this was the basis of my dressing.  I offer this now for those of you who are about to start your New Year celebrations.  I think it would work equally well with warm of cold beef.

Dressing for Watercress served with Beef

1 teaspoon horseradish cream
1 tablespoon lemon juice or wine vinegar
5 tablespoons good olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon capers

Mix the first four ingredients to an emulsion, then stir in the capers.  Dress your watercress and serve with thin slices of beef.

Good Eating and Happy New Year

Thursday, 30 December 2010

Macaron Musings

Pierre Hermé's Rose Macarons
and Pietra Macarons
It looks like our Gallic neighbours are determined to wean us off our love for the ubiquitious cupcake by seducing us with the more grown-up macaron.  They could hardly have sent over The Channel two finer examples of the art of macaron making than Parisians Ladurée and, mostly recently, Pierre Hermé. Not satisfied with their iconic status in France, both have now spread their wings to London and are fighting for our attention.  Hermé's credentials for the title of best Pâtissier are impressive, being apprenticed to Gaston Lenôtre at the age of 14 and and having worked for Ladurée before going solo.  For delicacy of macaron, Pierre Hermé wins hands down but flavour combinations are crucial for these featherlight morsels.  Personally I find two flavours irresistible - Salted Caramel and Rose.  Laduree has the edge on flavour in the caramel stakes, I think, but the perfect Rose macaron has to be that made by Pierre Hermé.  Embued with the the subtlest essence of rose petal, it's the one that does it for me.  

Hermé's inventiveness seems unstoppable, constantly coming up with new flavour pairings.  Not all to my taste.  Now, I can get excited by more exotic combinations - Chestnut and Matcha Green Tea for one - but White Truffle & Hazelnut?  It's a step too far for me, Pierre, though I'm told by another macaron lover that I couldn't be more wrong about that one.  As for Quince and Rose, I can see where you're coming from with this as quince is a member of the rose family but I find the flower is entirely overpowered by the fruit.  

If you want to try them for yourself you can find a small Pierre Hermé outlet in Selfridges Food Hall, and a sleek new shop in SW1 where he's had the freedom to recreate the look of his Paris shops.  Ladurée has an outlet in Harrods, but the real character can be found in their tiny but eye-catching gilded shop in Burlington Arcade, with the added benefit of a few tables in the arcade.  

If you want kiddies food, stick to cupcakes and leave the macarons to the grown-ups.

Ladurée, Burlington Arcade, Piccadilly, London W1
Pierre Hermé, 13 Lowndes Street, London SW1X

Friday, 24 December 2010

My top 3 books of 2010

Rose Prince
'Kitchenella` is Rose Prince's feminine hero of the kitchen.  The book is a paean to all the women who, day in and day out, practically and unselfishy, cook for their loved ones for little thanks.  With chapter headings such as Quick, Cheap and Filling, Things that please children, and A plate of something special its aim is to encourage, and aid, the nurturing instincts of busy women.  Coming from a family of cooks, Rose Prince has developed into a respected freelance food writer and broadcaster.  She is generous in her credit to those who have influenced her.  It is not just a recipe book but, as she puts it, "... a book of answers and ideas, a conversation between people who share an interest in solving problems."  Pan fried plaice with lettuce hearts and lemon is simplicity itself and totally delicious.

Tender Volume II
Nigel Slater
Part two of food writer Nigel Slater’s “Tender” series of books.  Inspired by his experience of acquiring a garden and the joys of growing, and being inspired by, your own food.  Volume 1 centred around vegetables and has become a much-thumbed addition to my bookcase.  This one covers the subject of fruit.  If you have the first volume you will certainly want to own this well written, handsome and beautifully photographed book.  It’s packed with easy to cook, but never boring, recipes in Slater’s trademark non-lecturing style, which encourages you to think for yourself rather than to slavishly follow a recipe.  How about' Roast duck legs with squash and blackberry and apple sauce', or 'Rhubarb cinnamon polenta cake'?

The Geometry of Pasta
Caz Hildebrand and Jacob Kenedy
Although the idea for this book came from graphic designer Caz Hildebrand, owner/chef of London’s Bocca di Lupo restaurant,  Jacob Kenedy, is the writer.  The result is a beautifully stylish, photo-free, tome with Hildebrand’s black and white graphics and Kenedy’s take on classic Italian pasta dishes.  The theme is the science, history and philosophy of pasta.  The book explores the Italian preoccupation, summed up by the book’s full title, “the perfect shape + the perfect sauce = the geometry of pasta”.  Some of the recipes would be difficult to reproduce in a domestic kitchen.  For instance, you may not be able to buy calves or lambs brains for the basic Agnolotti as easily as a professional chef can, but alternatives are given.  Other recipes almost take longer to pronounce than to cook, like 'Garganelli con Prosciutto Cotto, Panna e Piselli'.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Christmas at Neal's Yard Dairy

Neal's Yard Dairy, Covent Garden
Having shopped at Neal's Yard Dairy for many years, I'm confident this is the place for the best in British and Irish cheeses.  No only do they carefully source and hand-pick the cheeses, but they often buy them young and invest considerable time, effort and expertise in maturing them to the point of perfection before they reach the customer.  If you've ever been in either the Borough or Covent Garden shops in London you'll know you're encouraged to taste before buying.  It's important to them that you have excellent cheeses to unwrap when you get home.  You will also have appreciated the knowledge, and friendliness of the staff.  Well now I can vouch for just how genuine their enthusiasm is.

Each year, in early December, the ranks of cheesemongers begin to swell and reach a peak mid-month.  This is the build-up to Christmas at Neal's Yard Dairy and this year I am part of it.  For the past two weeks I have been on a steep learning curve, immersed in the world of the artisan producer and specialist food retailer.  I've met some of the producers, toured the maturing rooms, unloaded vans, cleaned, displayed, cut, wrapped and sold, and seen just what it takes to get that amazing piece of Stichelton, Montgomery's Cheddar, Lancashire or St James into the hands of the customer.  It's no wonder the cheesemongers want to tell you about the product and advise you how to keep it when you get home.  Every cheese is precious, not just for how much money can be made out of it but for the effort that has gone into selecting the milk, making the cheese, maturing it and offering it to the customer.

We Christmas cheesemongers may only be around for 2-4 weeks, or, as many do, we may decide to stay on, but we all receive the same great education from the permanent staff.  I can't think of anywhere else where you can get such total immersion in artisan food production, retailing, customer relations and how to work as a team.  We expect to be totally exhausted by the time we close the doors on our last customer on Christmas Eve and go for a hard-earned drink at the pub on the corner.  We're sure to be red-knuckled from the constant cleaning regime, stiff-backed from being on our feet all day, and sore-footed from wearing our fetching white wellies.  So, please bear with us if you are in the queue, we really do want to send you home with a great piece of cheese for Christmas.

Here's a recipe for my version of raclette based on the dish you can buy from Bill Oglethorpe's stall, Kappacasein, on Borough Market's Green Market, along with fantastic toasted cheese Poilane sandwiches.  Incidentally, Bill was involved in the development of Ogleshield, hence the name.  It's a peasant dish comprising potatoes, pickles and cheese and, in my opinion, nothing save a grinding of black pepper should be added.

(for 4 people)

1kg (2.2lbs) potatoes (Ratte or Charlottes are good)
400g (14oz) *Ogleshield or Raclette cheese
200g (7oz) cornichon (or mix of cornichon and white pearl onions
Black pepper

Boil the potatoes in their skins in salted water until just cooked, drain and crush lightly.  Assuming you do not have a racette iron, cut the cheese into fairly thin slices and either fry in a non-stick pan until just melted before scraping it onto the potatoes, or place on top of the potatoes and grill until just melted.  Add a good grinding of black pepper and serve hot with the pickles alongside.

* An English washed-rind, unpasteurised cow's milk cheese made by Jamie Montgomery and Wayne Mitchell in Somerset.  Rich, long-lasting, fruity wine-like flavours with a creamy and pliant texture.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

School of Artisan Food

A Coulommier style cheese made on 
the course at School of Artisan Food
Sherwood Forest is best known for the exploits of its favourite son, Robin Hood, rather than a centre for food excellence, but these days it's the place to head to learn about artisan food production.  Bread-making, cheese-making, butchery, charcuterie, brewing and more are on the curriculum, from short day-long courses to a degree.  The School of Artisan Food's one year vocational diploma course covers production, food sciences, and business management along with work placements within the artisan food and drink industries.  Incredibly, given the rise of artisan producers in recent years, there is nowhere else like it in the UK.

The base for The School of Artisan Food is the beautiful former fire stables on the extensive Welbeck Estate near Worksop in North Nottinghamshire.  The founding principles of this not-for-profit centre of excellence are based on a belief that communities are forged around food.  Learning where it comes from and how to make it well is vital to our culture.  Artisan is the term used to describe foods produced by non-industrialised methods.  Many have been passed down from one generation to the next but the skills can be, and are being, lost.  A school like this is long overdue.

Being passionate about British cheeses myself, and noticing that the Dairy teachers included long-term employees of the excellent Neal's Yard Dairy, I signed up for a 2-day Introduction to Cheesemaking.  Arriving on a crisp Saturday morning and sweeping up the drive, past a stunning stone Dutch-Gabled property, was a great scene-setter for the lovely converted stable where I was to study.  Lectures were almostly entirely hands-on, with wellies, aprons and hairnets de-rigeur (all provided).  Teachers Val Bines and Julie Cheyney both have years of experience in cheesemaking and delivered a packed 2-day course with enthusiasm and humour.  A dozen students of all ages and varying reasons for being there were completely immersed in the process.  I learnt so much in such a short time - from the importance of milk quality, starters and rennets, making lactic cheese, soft-cheeses and cheddaring through to the moulding of the cheeses.  I even took my own away to tend in a damp garage - which is where my lack of experience showed!  Well, the course was "An Introduction ......" and maturing is another matter for another day.  If it was easy we would all be doing it.

Never mind the Robin Hood trail, I've got my eye on an ice-cream making course to be run by Kitty Travers of La Grotta Ices.  Having enjoyed Kitty's sensational 'raspberry and peach leaf' and 'blackcurrant with blackcurrant leaf'  ice-creams, served from her motorised scooter-van, in London, I can't wait to learn what other flavour combinations she has up her sleeve.  Oh my goodness, I've just seen she is going to be outside Monmouth Coffee on Maltby Street this Saturday 9-2 (see my posting the Bermondsey Trail), and she'll have 'Treacle and Vanilla Honeycomb'!

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Honey Madeleines

Honey Madeleines

I've been obsessed with madeleines ever since a visit to a particular Parisian restaurant around 10 years ago.  It was a special occasion which demanded a pretty swanky restaurant, and Alain Passard's L'Arpege fitted the bill perfectly.  I remember each course being more delicious than the last and, having finally reached coffee and petit four, feeling very content with our prix-fixe lunch.  More coffee was poured and a small warm white linen bundle appeared on the table.  Unfolding the package revealed a dozen, fresh from the oven, perfect petites madeleines.  In a 3 star restaurant this humble little sponge cake from the Lorraine region was the last thing I was expecting but these were no ordinary madeleines.   As I remember it they were flavoured only by their basic ingredients but were delicious, buttery morsels.  I can't claim to have experienced a Proustian moment, but it was a revelatory one.

Writing this posting made me curious to find out what Alain Passard is up to now.  L'Arpege still has its 3 stars.  These days Passard is more inspired by vegetables than meat and cooks with produce from his own bio-dynamic kitchen garden in the grounds of a Chateau near Le Mans.  I remember the meal being expensive but boy am I glad I went when I did.  Prices are now stratospheric but, if you can afford it, he still has those 3 stars and the reviews are good. 

Never having been served better madelaines in the 10 years since, I've concluded my recipe, adapted from one in "The Roux Brothers on Patisserie", is the best so far - no doubt helped by the fact I can eat them fresh from the oven.  Madeleines certainly benefit from being eaten straight away, or certainly within a couple of hours of baking, whilst there is still an outer crispness.  The fact the mixture needs to rest before going into the scalloped tins, and that they take only 5 minutes for small or 10 for large cakes, make them ideal for last minute baking anyway.

Honey Madeleines for tea

Honey Madeleines
(You need a scalloped madeleine tray - makes 12 large or 36 small bite sized)

2 medium eggs
2oz (50g) caster sugar
1½ oz (40g) light muscovado sugar
Pinch of salt
3oz (75g) plain flour
1 level tsp baking powder
3oz (75g) melted butter, cooled
1 generous tbsp clear honey (preferably Acacia)

Butter the tin(s) and dust with flour, tapping off any excess.   
Whisk eggs, both sugars and salt until pale in colour.  Sift flour and baking powder and fold gently into the mixture (don't overmix).  Spoon in the honey and pour in the cooled melted butter and mix lightly.  You should have a fairly stiff batter.  Cover the bowl and leave to rest for about 30 minutes.  Pre-heat oven to 220oC/425oF/gas 8. 
Spoon the mixture into the trays, filling almost to the top.  Bake for 5 minutes for bite-sized and 9 minutes for full sized madeleines - do not overcook them!  Turn them out immediately and serve.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

St John's New Bakery and Pop-Up Shop

St John Brown Sourdough Loaf

The months of anticipation are over.  At last the aroma of freshly baked bread has started to drift from railway arch 72 on Druid Street.  Three arches up from Tony Booth’s fruit and veg HQ my favourite baker in London, Justin Piers Gellatly, is baking his fantastic sourdoughs, wholemeals, ryes, sticks and more for Fergus Henderson in St John’s new bakery hub.   A week spent adjusting to a new oven and fluctuating temperatures in the newly fitted out space, and the bread is emerging better than ever.  The new oven’s feature of a steam element, which helps in the final proving of the dough, is creating a beautiful doming to the sourdough and a light crispness to the crust.  
As if delicious fresh-out-of-the-oven bread wasn’t enough of a draw, there are also freshly baked St John Eccles Cakes, and  brownies.  Now that they have a dedicated bakery they are also making what used to be a Sunday-only treat of doughnuts filled with crème patissière more frequently.  The good news for Saturday morning shoppers is that Arch 72 raises  its shutters for retail trade, along with the other traders on my Bermondsey Trail (posting 16 September 2010).  The imminent opening of St John’s new venture – a hotel and restaurant in Soho where the old Manzi’s restaurant used to be – means new lines are likely to be introduced to meet its demands.  St John will also supply Neals Yard Dairy at Borough Market and their Shorts Gardens, Covent Garden shop when the bakery is fully up to speed.
It has to be said that for those of us who happily picked up our loaf from St John Bread and Wine,  Justin's previous base, there is a downside in the shape of increased bread prices.  Reasoned by a combination of higher wheat prices and the costs associated with the new premises.   There are grumbles from the regulars but who else in London is in this league, other than perhaps Poilane in Belgravia?  

A slice of brown sourdough, a hunk of stichelton cheese from Neal's Yard and a bottle of Porter from the Kernel Brewery - heaven. 
St John’s Bakery
Arch 72 Druid Street
London SE1
Open Saturdays at the Arch 09.00-16.00 or until the loaves run out

Monday, 22 November 2010

Barbecoa the Butchers

Barbecoa - the Butchers

Located on Watling Street, a stone’s throw from St Paul’s, the new Barbecoa Butchers is an arresting sight.  With huge, glass-fronted cold-rooms displaying whole and part carcasses, this is in-your-face carnivore theatre.  Jamie Oliver and American barbecue expert Adam Perry Lang’s Barbecoa restaurant close by may be getting some mixed reviews whilst they get their formula right, but they’ve clearly chosen wisely with the butchery staff in the shop.  Recognising a number of the butchers from quality London shops I had no hesitation in taking a closer look at what was on offer.    
The provenance of the meats is not specified beyond, according to the official website, “Animals from carefully selected British farms and co-operatives are typically delivered whole, then butchered on site”.  At least the ageing, storing and skills of the butchers are more transparent.  Normally I would want to know more about the origins of my food before handing over hard-earned cash, but on this occasion I trusted the butcher and bought some rib-eye steaks.  Two minutes either side on a fierce smoking griddle,and five minutes rest to let the flesh relax, rendered them tender and juicy with a good mature flavour.  Bearing in mind the marketing blurb about animals being typically delivered whole, and the professional look of the place, I tried to buy some fresh suet for a Christmas Pudding I had planned.  No success.  The explanation - the suet layer surrounding an animal’s kidneys is these days stripped out at the abattoir.  Presumably our loss is Atora's gain!
Prices are comparable with other good London butchers, though significantly less than Lidgate’s in Notting Hill (considered by many to be the best butchers in London). 
Barbecoa the restaurant describes itself as “A celebration of the relationship between fire and food” and has committed to cooking the food without gas or electricity - “fire, smoke, wood and charcoal” are used instead.  Those who have been detect Perry Lang’s influence in the distinct New York feel.  Barbecoa’s location at One New Change, in the heart of the City of London with close-up views of St Pauls, will probably ensure its success.  It will need to pull in the punters to pay for the reported £3m spent on it.  The fact the website has a section headed “Interior & Branding” says a lot about the intentions for rolling this concept out elsewhere.   For the moment, Jamie Oliver has stated his intention to work at the Pass but given all his other commitments …….

UPDATE: Butcher, Nathan Mills, now has his own business "The Butchery" - currently open for retail Saturdays in Bermondsey SE1,
Barbecoa The Butchers
82 Watling Street
London EC4M 9BX
Mon-Fri 07.00-19.00
Sat 09.00-17.00

Monday, 15 November 2010

Leila's - a Spitalfields jewel

Leila's Shop & Cafe

Following another strand from The Bermondsey Trail brought me to Leila's shop and cafe on Calvert Avenue, which runs between Arnold Circus and Shoreditch High Street but falls within the Spitalfields are of London.  Leila McAlister first came to my attention several years ago with her Polish sausages and pickles stall on Borough Market, and now also trading on Druid Street, Bermondsey.  Her shop on Calvert Avenue is a jewel. 
In fact the shop has a history as a grocers at least as far back as 1900 when Albert Raymond opened his fruit and vegetable shop, and was succeeded by his son Alfred until his death in 1966.   Follow this link and you’ll find a wonderful photograph dated to 1902 by Joan Rose, the granddaughter of Albert, and more on the history
To describe Leila’s as a grocery store really wouldn’t do it justice, yet essentially it is a grocers but for the way we live now.  In the age of the supermarket, what Leila’s doesn’t try to do is carry a small stock of a large range of goods.   Instead it offers an eclectic range of foods from the best individual sources.  A browse around the shop leaves you feeling a great deal of thought is given to the sourcing and the display and most of the produce hasn't travelled far.  The fruits and vegetables on offer are absolutely seasonal.  For example, at the moment you can find 3 varieties of quince – an English one, a French coing, and a variety brought round by a neighbour from their garden.  For those who think you can get better value in a supermarket, how about autumn purple sprouting broccoli at £1 a bunch?  That’s around £4.00 a kg as compared to £8.95 a kilo at my local waitrose, and even if it was British grown (it wasn't), I wonder how many food miles were involved in putting it on the supermarket shelf.  Of course if I could get my act together I wouldn't have to buy autumn brocolli at all but I've never yet managed to ensure I plant more than the spring sprouting varieties. 

Fresh herbs and strings of whole dried chillies are arranged alongside the Porters' baskets of fruit and vegetables.  Incidentally, the baskets are the same as the ones you can see in the 1902 photograph.  Leila's also stocks a few top quality cheeses, breads from nearby St John, excellent meats including lamb from Montague Farm, as well as the Topolski range of Polish foods.  Preserves are from the excellent Portuguese Rainha Santa, jars of Mel de Cana Sacarina, the hard to find dark and luscious liquid mollases, as well as locally made jams.  There is a dry-goods section with intriguing deep pots containing lentils, pulses, rice and more, all sold by weight, as well as vanilla pods, and chunks of chocolate crying out to be melted into mugs of hot milk.  Every neighbourhood should have a shop like this
As for the cafe next door, you feel like you've just stepped into someone's kitchen.  The kitchen is open to the seating area.  Slightly disconcerting at first as although most of us have by now experienced "open kitchens" in restaurants, there is usually at least the demarcation line of a bar.  Here the cook will rustle up a pan of fried eggs and Serrano ham within a few paces of your table and bring it over to you in the pan when it's ready.  Served with good bread and a generous slab of butter, this is really just good home cooking, as they freely admit, but you'll leave feeling like you've been fed well by your favourite Auntie, or Uncle, in a well-used room just made for company.  You'll also find a soup of the day, brownies and cakes and Monmouth coffee. 
It has to be said that not everyone gets it.  Some people find the place underwhelming, some unwelcoming.  Others would like to move in.  The whole set-up puts me in mind of the original Villandry shop and cafe run by Rose and Jean-Charles Cararini which used to be on Marylebone High Street, before the street became over-gentrified.  I used to almost live there.  I'm told weekends at Leila's are very busy - I'd definitely avoid Sunday mornings as it is too close to Columbia Road flower market for comfort.
Leila's Shop & Cafe
17 Calvert Avenue
London E2 7JP
Tues-Sat 9-6pm
Sun 11-5pm
Nearest Tube: Old Street

UPDATE MAY 2012: Leila's now provides weekly veg boxes

If you can't get to Leila's, here's my take on ham and eggs:

Fried Eggs with Cured Ham for 2
Take a cast-iron pan (around 25cm), add a knob of butter and a tablespoon or two of olive oil.  Heat until bubbling.  Crack two or more eggs into the pan and cook over a moderate heat until the whites are are almost set.  Add slices of Serrano or other cured ham, nestling them between the eggs, and cook, turning once, for another minute.  Spoon some of the fat over the yolks to set lightly.  Take the pan to the table and share.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Romney Lamb from Montague Farm

Slow Roast Lamb Shoulder - Adapted from 
a recipe in "today's special" by Anthony Demetre

I’m particularly fond of slow-cooked meat dishes.  You know, the ones that are easy to prepare, you can put them in the oven, get on with your life, take the dish out several hours later and voila!  No stress, foolproof and delicious – or that’s how it should work.   A shoulder of lamb is a perfect candidate for this treatment and I have the easy recipe of your dreams. 
First, the lamb.  Romney is one of the most ancient breeds of lamb in Britain.  They have long wool, a large frame, are hardy and docile, and good foragers.  This is the breed raised on Montague Farm at Hankham, a 300 acre organic farm and nature reserve on the western edge of the Pevensey levels in East Sussex.  Three quarters of this wetland is designated an area of Special Scientific Interest.  The rest is permanent grazing marshes, running southwards from Pevensey Castle.  The ewes live outside all year round grazing the grass pastures and leys, alternating with cattle.  In winter they are fed hay and during lambing the diet of the ewes is supplemented with rolled oats.  A policy of minimum intervention is practiced.  The emphasis is on good quality feed and rotational grazing.  Lambing takes place in April (the natural time for ewes to give birth), and the farm uses an abattoir just twenty minutes away, thus reducing stress on the animals.  I can’t think of a better lamb to recommend.
Given the quality of the meat, Montague Farm’s prices are competitive.  The Romney Lamb Box looks particularly good value at £89.00 for approximately 7kg – 1 whole shoulder, 1 leg, 8 loin chops and 1 rack (6/7 bones).  At £7.00/kg I picked up a whole shoulder of lamb for £13.50 (easily fed 6 people) for this recipe.  So good was the lamb that I decided to cook the recipe again a couple of weeks later, this time using a half shoulder and reducing the other ingredients in my list by half, to make sure of the quality of the lamb before posting this piece.  It cooked every bit as well as the first. 

A note about my inspiration for this recipe: Anthony Demetre is chef (and co-owner with Will Smith) of Wild Honey and Arbutus restaurants in Mayfair and Soho respectively .  His book "today's special - a new take on bistro food"  is full of recipes using the less glamorous, and less expensive, ingredients showing you just how tasty they can be.  It's an excellent book with staightforward recipes which will inspire you to think differently about what you buy and how you cook.
Slow Cooked Shoulder of Lamb (Adapted from a recipe in  "today's special" by Anthony Demetre)
1 lamb shoulder (2-2.5kg or 4-5lb)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper
40g (1½ oz) butter 
1 tbsp olive oil
2 large or 4 medium onions, thinly sliced
12 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
Few sprigs of savory or lemon thyme
2 bay leaves
300ml (10fl oz) white wine                                                                   
A deep cast-iron pot which has a tight fitting lid is ideal for this recipe but a roasting pan tightly covered with foil will do.  Preheat the oven to 120oC/gas ½

Heat the butter and oil in your pot.  Season the lamb shoulder well with salt and pepper and brown in the pot on all sides.  Remove the lamb and keep warm.  Add the sliced onion, garlic and herbs to the pot and soften slightly.  Add the wine and bring to the boil.  Return the lamb to the pot. Cover tightly and transfer to the oven.  Cook for 4-5 hours.  When the flesh is meltingly soft, raise the heat to  120oC/gas 6 and cook, uncovered, for a further 20 minutes. 

Leave to rest for a further 20 minutes out of the oven.  I usually accompany this with potatoes, scrubbed, rolled in olive oil and sea salt, and baked in a dish popped in the oven 60 minutes before I plan to serve up.
Montague Farm supplies butchers shops in London and the south-east.  
Also on Saturdays at 104 Druid Street, Bermondsey (see my posting 'The Bermondsey Trail').

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Bonfire Night Gingerbread


Ah, Bonfire Night.  You either love it or hate it.  Despite the concerted attempts of the marketeers to turn Hallowe'en into the big event of the autumn months, Bonfire Night, 5 days later, still has a hold on we Brits. Whilst Hallowe'en festivities are much older and used to include bonfires, it is now all about dressing up, making lanterns, apple bobbing and, if you're lucky, ghost stories.  Come 5 November burning an effigy on a fire and setting off a lot of noisy fireworks appeals to a deep rooted anarchic streak in the British psyche.  Rarely does Guy Fawkes top our bonfires these days to symbolise his failed attempt to blow up the English Parliament in 1605, but rather an effigy of some hate figure who has emerged over the previous 12 months.

At least the excuse for a good bonfire means an opportunity to gather round, cook and eat. Traditionally it would have been food that could be cooked in the embers of the fire after the initial blaze and would, at least, have been potatoes in their skins. Wrapped in foil and tossed into the glowing remains they are a must for bonfire night but I'm sure you are planning to be more imaginative.  Here's my contribution - Gingerbread.  Not to be confused with the Gingerbread Biscuit mixture, this is most definitely a cake but was traditionally named 'Gingerbread'.  In some parts of the country the preference for a Bonfire Night cake would be for Parkin (made with the addition of fine oatmeal) but this gloriously spicy, treacly cake is my preference.  You can butter it or serve with a slice of Lancashire cheese but it's very good just as it comes.  The recipe is adapted from The Bread Book by Linda Colister & Anthony Blake.  Make it TWO DAYS ahead of your bonfire party to enjoy it at its sticky best.

Gingerbread slice

(for a 2lb loaf tin)

225g(8oz) self-raising flour
1tsp bicarbonate soda
1 tbsp ground ginger (if you use the last ingredient listed, reduce this to 1 dessertspoon)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1tsp ground mixed spice
110g (4oz) cold, diced butter
110g (4oz) black treacle
110g (4oz) golden syrup
110g (4oz)  muscovado sugar
280ml (10fl oz) milk
1 large egg
Optional: 3 knobs of stem ginger in syrup, thiny sliced

Butter and bottom line a 2lb loaf tin with greaseproof paper.  Pre-heat oven to 180oC/gas 4. Melt the treacle and syrup together, then cool to blood heat.  Over a low heat, dissolve the sugar in the milk, stirring.  Sift together flour, bicarbonate soda and spices.  Rub in the butter until it looks like fine breadcrumbs.  Whisk in the milk and sugar mix, followed by the treacle mix, then the egg.  If using, fold in the sliced stem ginger.  You should have a thin batter.  Pour this into the prepared loaf tin.

Bake for 45 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean.  The cake will sink back a little.  Leave to cool in the tin, then turn out and peel off the lining paper.  Wrap the cake in fresh greaseproof paper, then in foil.   If you can resist, keep for two days before slicing.

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Morito - Moro's baby

Morito menu 25 Oct 2010

Moro has been a favourite with London’s chefs almost since the day it opened.  With the behind the scenes backing of Mark Sainsbury, husband and wife chefs Samuel and Samantha Clark concentrate on Spanish and Muslim Mediterranean food, a culinary mix which is close to their hearts.  With a home in Moorish Andalucia and extensive travels in the southern Mediterranean, their cooking has a sense of place and coherence too rarely seen.  One other restaurant which comes to mind is the reverred Italian influenced River Café, where both Sams served time with Ruth Rogers and the late Rose Gray, before setting up Moro.
Thirteen years of success later they have produced an offshoot right next door.  What was a small, but much-loved, shop run by the excellent Spanish food importer Brindisa (still to be found at Borough Market) is now an intimate tapas bar.  So busy was Morito on a Monday evening that, unusually, you could get a seat at the no-booking bar in Moro at 8.30pm.  Whilst Moro is a full-blown restaurant with a bar for tapas, the more extensive tapas menu at Morito offers the chance to try lots of different dishes in small, affordable portions.  As at Moro, ingredients are carefully sourced and sympathetically spiced.
Of the dishes we tried, salt cod croquetas were crispy and, with a high cod ratio, deliciously moreish; tortilla was made juicy with red peppers; nuggets of cumin coated pork with crackling were zingy with lemon juice; tender fried baby squid were served with an excellent alioli; beef tagine was meltingly soft and wonderfully sticky with the addition of prunes.  Only the tomato bread failed to hit the spot.  A scoop each of Malaga raisin ice cream with a shot of Pedro Ximenez was the perfect ending.  The Spanish wine list is small but perfectly formed and, as at Moro, the range of sherries is impeccable.  Six small plates, two desserts, two glasses of Verdejo and two glasses of house Tempranillo plus two cortados brought the bill to around £50 .
The space may be tiny but it’s well thought out.  Rough grey painted walls and a few simple wooden tables and chairs are countered with a sunny two-tone orange Formica bar.  In good weather more seating is available outside.  Behind the bar, half of the space is taken up by the kitchen with a tiny prep area just beyond.  Despite the number of plates passed over the counter during the hour we were there, the chef was calm and totally in control.  As at Moro, the staff give every indication that they love the place and you are welcome - very much like being in a good tapas bar in Granada in fact.  Sitting at a bar, chatting to the staff, and being able to watch the food being cooked is always an attraction for me.  Food, drink, good company and a cookery lesson, that’s a perfect night out for me. 

Update: Is it me or has this place failed to live up to its early promise?  My last two visits were disappointing.
32 Exmouth Market
London  EC1R 4QE
Tube: Angel or Farringdon

Mon 17.00-23.00, Tues-Sat 12.30-15.30 and 16.30-23.00 No pre-booking
No website as yet but you can find Moro at

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Poached Quince


As promised, (Quince - the versatile fruit), here are those quirky-looking quinces poached.  Delicious served with a ginger or other spiced cake, or simply with yogurt of crème fraiche, or added to winter fruit compotes. In my previous post I mentioned how Northern Europe grown quince could be disappointing as the climate is not perfect for them.  The ones I used this time were UK grown and the flavour was certainly inferior to the Southern European ones I have bought in the past. 

This easy recipe is inspired by one from Alice Waters of Chez Panisse café and restaurant in Berkeley, California. 

Poached Quince (Adapted from: Chez Panisse Fruit, Alice Waters)

400g (14oz) caster sugar
1.2 litres (2 pints) water
1 kilo (2lbs) quinces (4-6)
½-1 vanilla bean

2 slices of lemon
Combine the sugar and water in a large pan, bring to the boil, and simmer slowly until the sugar is disolved.  Quarter, peel and core the quinces and slice the quarters into inch thick wedges.  Split the vanilla bean and scrape the seeds into the sugar syrup.  Add the bean pod, the two lemon slices and the quince wedges to the syrup. 

To keep the fruit submerged in the syrup while it cooks, cover the surface of the poaching fruit with a round of parchment paper and weigh it down with a saucer.  Simmer slowly until the quinces are tender (45 -60 minutes).  Will keep, submerged in juice, in the fridge for 2-3 days or ladle fruit and syrup into clean jars, cool, cover and keep refrigerated for 2-3 weeks.  If you want to keep the poached quince for longer, prepare kilner jars and lids  following the manufacturer's instructions.  Ladle the fruit and syrup into the prepared jars and seal following the manufacturers instructions.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Quince - the versatile fruit


With the look of a monstrous mutant pear that has been consigned to a dusty corner, the quince is hardly a physically attractive fruit.  Get close enough to inhale its distinctive perfume however and you will be intrigued.  Related to apples and pears, there is a hint of both in its fragrance, but the quince is also related to the rose so there is a floral note.   Add a little guava and pineapple to the mix and you have, as close as I can get, to the fragrant, versatile quince. 
Turning from green to golden as it ripens, the best varieties are Smyrna or Pineapple.  The fuzziness of the skin depends on the variety, but the riper the fruit the less fuzz appparently.  Quince will keep in a cool room for a week or two.   As with the Seville orange, never, ever eat an uncooked quince as you will regret it. Although, according to Tony Booth, an authority on fruit, vegetables and fungi (see my posting of 16th September – The Bermondsey Trail) “the Croatians and some people from the Middle Eastern countries eat it straight from the tree because it grows softer in those regions, but it still has that really tart taste”.  I imagine this is the Mulvian quince, the one variety which, according to Pliny the Elder, could be eaten without cooking.
The raw flesh is off-white, hard, dry and astringent.  It oxidises quickly but a little browning isn’t noticeable as long, slow cooking turns it into a soft, rose amber delight (a few varieties turn beige), whilst losing none of its heady perfume.  Jane Grigson, in her invaluable book English Food, has a recipe for ‘Pears in Syrup’ which she describes as a Medieval recipe usually made with “Wardens or cooking pears” that were “as hard as quinces and first boiled until just tender, in water”.  Grigson also makes the point that although wine is necessary for poaching pears satisfactorily, with the much more highly perfumed quince, water is sufficient.
Originating in the middle-east/Central Asia, the quince grows happily in tropical and sub-tropical climates.  A quarter of the world’s crop comes from Turkey but it is also grown in China, Iran, South America and Europe.  They are grown in the UK but in Northern Europe they tend to rot from the centre so you may have some disappointments with those.
Quince is high in pectin so is perfect for jams, jellies or pastes.  Quince pastes are made in many countries – known as membrillo in Spain, cotognata in Italy, and cotignac in France – and are often served with hard cheeses.  A Spanish alioli made with quince paste instead of egg yolk is delicious with roast pork.  Added to long cooked meat dishes, the sliced fruit holds its shape well. It’s a particular favourite, used this way, in the Middle-East and North Africa in dishes such as cinnamon flavoured beef and Moroccan lamb and chicken tagines. 
To prepare quince, clean and rub off any fuzz.  For jams, jellies and pastes, there is no need to peel and core.  Core and slice for adding to slow-cook meat dishes.  Core, quarter and, maybe, peel, for long, slow poaching. The quince is cooked when a knife pierces the fruit easily.  I like to enjoy the heavenly perfume so usually I will leave them out in a bowl for a week or so before cooking them.  It's good to have something slightly tart and fruity at Christmas-time to counteract all the rich food we eat.  Poached quince fits the bill perfectly and if you want to get ahead, you can poach the fruit now.  Bottle them and keep in the fridge until needed (they should easily keep for 3 months if your jars are scrupulously clean).  Beautiful as this illustration by *Patricia Curtan is, check back in a few days, or subscribe, and you'll find a recipe and a photograph showing their transformation into a delectable dessert. 

* Illustrattion in Chez Panisse Fruit by Alice Waters with illustrations by Patricia Curtan

Friday, 15 October 2010

Neal's Yard Dairy and Brogdale Farm

Red Beurre Hardy pear
Source: University of Reading/National Fruit Collection

Randolph Hodgson of Neal’s Yard Dairy (NYD) has long been a supporter of Brogdale Farm, home of the National Fruit Collection at Faversham, Kent.  The Collection is one of the largest in the world and includes over 3,500 named cultivars of Apple, Plum, Pear, Cherry, Bush fruit, Vine and Cob Nut.   Every October crates of little known apple and pear varieties are stacked up outside the NYD shops  in London over the precious few weeks  when they are fresh from the trees.   
Apples and pears go well with a number of cheeses.  Apples team up with hard cheeses such as the cheddars – I suggest Lincolnshire Poacher, Montgomery’s or Keen’s  – or the  sheeps milk Berkswell.  Try pears with the hard, nutty flavoured sheeps cheese  Spenwood or a Pecorino, or a strong blue cheese such as Stichelton or Colston Bassett Stilton. 
This week’s crop at NYD included Belle de Tours - medium sweet, white fleshed, firm  and fragrant, it would surely be perfect in a tarte tatin, although I normally use Braeburn.  Also on offer was the wonderfully named William Crump (a Cox’s Orange Pippin and Worcester Pearmain cross) – described as aromatic, rich, sweet with masses of pineapple acidity, later in the season mellowing to the flavour of a Cox.  I’d say early pickings produce an interesting firm-fleshed  apple for those who enjoy a certain tartness in their fruit.  Other crates were filled with Blenheim Orange and Cornish Aromatic.  The star of the show was a deliciously juicy Red Beurre Hardy pear – described as “juicy tender with rose water flavour”. Perfect eaten just as it is but if you're in the mood for a seasonal pear cake, this one from Nigel Slater which uses soft brown sugar for a wonderful caramelised flavour is the best I've ever found.  I rate this recipe as outstanding.
Honey Pear Cake (Source: Nigel Slater)
3 medium sized pears
2 tbsp honey (for poaching the pears)

For the honey cream:
40g (1½ oz)butter
* 50g (2oz)soft brown sugar
1 tbsp honey
1 drop vanilla extract

For the cake mix:
125g(4½ oz) butter
125g (4½ oz) golden granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 tbsp milk
125g(4½ oz) plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
Pre-heat oven to 180C/gas mark 4.  Peel, core and halve the pears.  Place them in a saucepan and pour over the 2 tbsp honey.  Add enough water to just cover the fruit then cook at a simmer till tender to the point of a knife.  Leave them in the syrup until you need them.
Cream the butter, soft brown sugar, honey and vanilla extract till light and fluffy.  Spread over the bottom of a 20cm shallow non-stick cake tin.  Drain the pears and place them in the tin, cut side down.
Make the cake mix by creaming the butter and sugar until soft and fluffy.  Beat in the eggs one at a time, adding a little flour if they start to curdle.  Sieve flour with the baking powder and fold into the creamed mixture.  Smooth over the top of the pears.  Bake for about 45 minutes until golden.  It should still be quite moist.  Leave for half and hour or so then turn out onto a plate.
* I make the honey cream mix with mollasses sugar or muscovado.  This gives a grittier texture to the cream and I get excellent results.  The cake is delicious served just warm but also keeps well for a day, if you can resist it.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Oviedo - Bar Punto y Coma

Punto y Coma, Oviedo

Could this be the most perfect bar in the world?  Visiting Oviedo in June, in what was supposed to be the sunniest month of the year in northern Spain, left me in no doubt why the lush green Asturias region is renowned for its dairy products.  At such times finding a good bar is essential and a great bar can make even four days of unceasing rain bearable. Having practically lived in Punto y Coma, I doubt I will ever find a better bar.

If you're looking for stylishness or great music, you won't find it here.  So how did it draw us in?  Well, in the circumstances, opening hours of 06.30-01.30 was a good start.  Good value wines, Jabugo hams, great service and an instantaneous feeling that you are in good hands contributed.  Venerable, no-nonsense barmen moved like a ballet behind the long bar, never making body contact no matter how busy (and boy were they busy).  On our fifth visit we got our first smile.  We had proved we appreciated how they did things and were now as welcome as the locals.    

The food is entirely absent of artistry or gimmicks.  Dishes are simple and traditional, and I dare say haven't changed in decades.  We breakfasted on top-notch cafe cortado and perfect golden, chewy bocadillos stuffed with melting Jabugo jamon whilst waiting for the hands of the bar clock to reach 10.00.  This signalled the cooking of delicious, featherlight individual tortillas (tortilletis) within sight, and smell - completely irresistible.  Office workers and early shoppers drifted in and out continuously for their regular orders.  The heavier the rain came down, the more tots of rum found their way into the coffees.

A three-course lunch for 10 Euros can be easily found in Oviedo. Thanks to General Franco and his menu del dia (menu of the day), every restaurant in Spain is still obliged to offer a good, substantial lunch for workers for a small sum.  At Punto y Coma we ate Sopa de Pescado (fish soup) and a Fabada Asturiana (an Oviedan traditional stew of meat and beans).  Followed by main courses of Ternera Gobernada (a veal stew) and Parrochines frites con taquines de jamon (fried sardines with pieces of ham).  We somehow found room for Arroz con leche (the rich and creamy rice pudding with a caramelised topping).  A glass of decent wine and a cortado were included in the 10 Euro per person bill.  For quality ingredients cooked and served with pride it is amazing value.  There is a smart restaurant beyond the bar, but eating there you don't get the ever-changing parade which makes eating in a strange city so beguiling (for me anyway). 
The Asturias is a beautiful region and central Oviedo has plenty to see.  There are traces of occupation since the 1st century and King Alfonso II chose it as his royal seat in the 8th century.  A whole millenium of art from the 8th to the 18th century is represented and the architecture has Visigothic, Roman and Nordic influences.  The Pilgrim's route to Santiago de Compostela runs through Oviedo.  The food is hearty and the region is renowned for dairy products, seafood, dried beans, and ciders (there are plenty of cider houses - Sidrerias - in which to slake your thirst).  Oviedo has an excellent small covered food market in the centre of the old town - El Fontan just off Plaza Ayuntamienta and backing onto the beautiful Plaza del Fontan.

Visiting Spain, rain was not in my plans, but I am grateful for the four day deluge.  Who knows, if it hadn't rained, I may never have found Punto y Coma - unthinkable.

Punto y Coma
Calle Suarez de la Riva 5, 33007 Oviedo, Asturias, Spain