Monday, 31 October 2011

Chocolate Brownies from The Pedlar at Monmouth - Food Find

Having noticed the chocolate brownies at Monmouth Coffee had changed over the past few weeks, my resistance finally cracked today and now I'm hooked.  Rich and intensely chocolatey this little square of fudgy bliss went down a treat with a double espresso.  Made by The Little Bread Pedlar, a baker who has got on his bike to bring bread, croissants and brownies to London's streets and small cafes.  Using top quality flours, chocolate and butter, he's only been pedalling since July so you'll need to check out the website below to keep up with him.  Exceptional lemon madeleines and now great chocolate brownies to go with the excellent coffee at Monmouth.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Bread Pudding with Butterscotch Sauce

Bread Pudding
with Butterscotch Sauce

This is not 'Bread and Butter Pudding'.  Bread Pudding is much less rich.  In August I posted a piece on Bread Pudding dishes from around the world but teasingly I didn't post any recipes.  To make up for that, here's a recipe for English Bread Pudding based on the one in Beyond Nose to Tail written by Fergus Henderson and Justin Piers Gellatly of St John.  This is the follow-up book to Henderson's Classic Nose to Tail Eating.  In conversation with Justin one day I learned they sometimes use their leftover Raisin Bread to make this pudding and that is what I've used in the dish photographed above.  If you can get a good raisin bread, give it a go but any good quality stale sandwich bread can be used together with dried fruit so I have reflected it in the recipe below.  As it is cooking, the spicing will make you think of Christmas and put you in the mood for mixing that Christmas Pud or Cake which we should be turning our attention to soon.

You sometimes see grey, unappetising squares of what they call 'bread pudding' in high street bakery shops in England.  Whatever you do, do not buy it!  Here is the real deal. At St John Bread and Wine they serve this dish with vanilla ice cream and sometimes use ginger cake or date loaf instead of bread pudding.  All three work brilliantly but the thriftyness of bread pudding appeals to me particularly and, as Fergus says, "never waste yesterday's bread".

Bread Pudding with Butterscotch Sauce
(Enough for 8)

350g (12oz) stale raisin bread (if your raisin bread appears rather light on raisins, add a bit extra dried fruit)
[or 250g (9oz) white sandwich bread + 55g (2oz) raisins + 30g (1oz) currants+ 30g (1oz) sultanas]

65g (2½oz) minced suet
130g (5oz) soft dark brown sugar
25g (1oz) chopped mixed candied peel
60g (2oz) Bramley cooking apple, peeled, cored and diced
1 large egg
1½ teaspoons ground mixed spice
½ teaspoons ground allspice
2 tablespoons dark rum
25g (1oz) unsalted butter, diced
1 tablespoon of demerara sugar for sprinkling

Cut the crusts off the bread and rip the bread into small pieces.  Place in a bowl, cover with water and soak for 30 minutes.  Butter a deep baking dish.  I find a loaf tin around 10cm x 20cm is about right but be sure to use a deep dish or you'll end up with a biscuit rather than a pudding!  Pre-heat oven to 170C.
Put all the remaining ingredients, except the butter and demerara sugar in a large bowl and mix with a wooden spoon for 3-4 minutes.  Squeeze all the excess water out of the bread then add the bread to the mixture.  Stir again for 3-4 minutes.  The final mixture will be very wet.  Pour it into the prepared dish.  Scatter the diced butter and the demerara sugar over the top.  Bake in the oven until golden brown - I find if I use the raisin bread as my main ingredient it needs no more than 1 hour of cooking, but the bread and extra fruit version takes 1½ hours at 180C according to the recipe in the book. 

Butterscotch Sauce
This does make rather a lot of sauce so, personally, I find halving these quantities makes quite enough.

250g (9oz) caster sugar
2 tablespoons water
600ml (20 fl oz)double cream
125g (4½) unsalted butter, diced

Put the sugar into a heavy-based saucepan with 2 generous tablespoons of water and melt over a low heat.  Tilt the pan gently occasionally to melt the sugar evenly but don't swirl it or you'll end up with a hard crust of sugar around the pan which won't melt.  Resist the urge to stir it.  Once the sugar has melted, raise the heat and cook without stirring until the mixture turns golden brown and you begin to get that almost burnt aroma.  Slowly pour in the cream (take care as the hot caramel will spit).  Then turn the heat down low to allow the caramel to disolve slowly into the cream for a couple of minutes.  Take the pan off the heat and whisk in the diced butter a few pieces at a time. 

Serve a slice of warm pudding with a slick of butterscotch sauce and either a scoop of vanilla ice cream or a little extra cream.  Should you not finish the pudding all in one go, it will keep for a couple of days wrapped in clingfilm - fry slices of pudding in a little butter.  The butterscotch sauce is also good for a couple of days if kept in the fridge - pour into a heat-proof bowl and warm through over a pan of hot water.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Pietro Romanengo - Genoa comes to London

Pietro Romanengo
Candied Fruits and Chestnuts

Rose petal jam.  Is there a food which sounds more decadent?  Can breakfast get more indulgent than rose petal jam on a slice of warm toasted brioche?  Last Sunday morning started well and just got better as La Fromagerie in Marylebone was showcasing Genoese sweetmaker Pietro Romanengo Fu Stefano.

This artisan producer has been making candied fruits and chestnuts, syrups, flower waters, jams, chocolates, sugared dragees and more since 1780 and is now run by the 8th generation of the Romanengo family.  Based in Genoa on the Ligurian coast, the company has remained true to its original ideals and is considered by many Italians to be their country's finest sweet maker.  The Romanengos arrived in Genoa in the 18th century from France, bringing French ideas and influences to sweet production in this northern Italian port.  The area is nestled between the Maritime Alps and the Mediterranean sea where there is a perfect micro-climate for fruit growing.  Most of the ingredients used, excluding the sugar, are sourced from producers surrounding Genoa, some suppliers going back generations.  No artificial preservatives or colourings are used in the products.

But back to that Sunday morning breakfast at La Fromagerie.  Starting with an intense Black Cherry Syrup poured over yogurt and the sublime Rose Petal Jam on brioche we progressed through Ricotta scented with delicate Orange Flower Water, a smooth Chestnut Cream on truffled Caprini goat cheese, and a dash of Almond Syrup in warm almond milk.  The main show was the demonstration of candying fruit and chestnuts which illustrated just how special Pietro Romanengo is.  Maria Palumbo gave a flavour of the artisan techniques employed to bring out the best of the apricots, peaches, oranges, loquats and pears we tasted.  Maria also candied the finest new season chestnuts.  OK, so we were lucky to be eating them still warm from the final process, but they were delicious and by far the best marron glace I've ever eaten.  To bring our sugar rush to a peak, there were pots of 'Confetti' and dragees including aniseed (literally individual sugar-coated aniseeds, good for stimulating lactation in new mothers apparently!), almonds and sensational sugared pine nuts.  The Violet Chocolate Fondant was a little too sweet for me but the candied violet on the top, a Romanengo speciality in itself, was lovely.

Production is still largely unmechanised and mostly done by hand with equipment and moulds many decades old.  Sugar syrup for candying fruits is used for one fruit only so as not to allow any muddling of flavours.  The sugaring technique is very particular to the Romanengos and it's a slow, time-consuming and very skilled business.  Low temperatures are maintained to preserve the full flavours of the individual fruits rather than just producing the sugary sweetness of many candied fruits. To watch a Romanengo chocolatier giving a final polish to a chocolate egg is to appreciate the love and care that goes into their creations.

The good news is you can buy a selection of Pietro Romanengo's products from La Fromagerie in time for Christmas.  If you try only one thing, I urge you to indulge in the Rose Petal Jam.  In England we are more familiar with a syrup made from the hips of roses.  Perhaps because roses appeal so much to the eye and to the nose in this country of gardeners, we have tended to stay our hand until the blooms have passed and the fruit appears.  The hips are packed with vitamin C so the syrup has long been taken to ward of winter's chills.  Taken neat or used as a cordial, it's a memory of childhood for many.  The rose has long been valued for medicinal, culinary, cosmetic and aromatherapy use.  The use of rosewater in Persian cuisine has been traced back to the early 9th century and in Turkey roses have flavoured Turkish Delight since the 15th century.  The passion for roses spread thereafter into Europe.

As it happens I'm going to Genoa in November, and I now know what I'll be bringing back.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Observer Food Awards 2011 finds Maltby Street - Food Find

Good to see national recognition for "Maltby Street" with the Observer Food Awards voting this collection of small businesses "Best Newcomer" 2011.  Maltby Street is the centre of my Bermondsey Trail which I first posted about in September 2010.  The award encompasses the  businesses operating from the railway arches starting with Tony Booth's fruit and veg  (Tayshaw Ltd) at 60 Druid Street and ending at Kappacasein and Union Ice Cream at Spa Road/Voyager Park.  You can buy everything here from fruit and veg, bread, coffeewinesbeers, prosciutto, mozzarella, parmesan and salamis, British, French and Swiss cheeses and cheeses made on site, Polish sausages, meats, ice creams, cakes, honey and more.  Kernel Brewery was also runner-up in the Best Producer category for its beers, stouts and porters brewed here underneath the arches at 1 Ropewalk.
You won't find a better selection of high quality traders than in this little enclave in SE1.  Also, happily, some of these traders who left Borough Market after a dispute have returned to stalls there now that the Market is under new management. 

See for regular updates.

Friday, 14 October 2011

St John Bread & Wine - for those in need of steadying

St John Bread  and Wine
Looking back through my posts, I'm struck by how much St John (in the form of Fergus Henderson rather than the saint) has informed my thinking and tastes over the years, and continues to do so.  Yet I've never written about my favourite of the three St John restaurants, St John Bread and Wine.  Having eaten several perfect lunches there recently, now is the time for me to rectify this glaring omission. 

This monastically plain square room prepares you for the straightforward food you can expect to eat.  It provides "everything you want and nothing you don't need", which is what Fergus Henderson is all about.  He sees good food and drink as steadying and uplifting, and that's just how I feel when I've eaten there.  You will not find over-elaboration or gimmickry at his restaurants.  He is, however, tireless in his pursuit of the best.  No matter how plain the dish set before you, and some are very plain indeed, it will be the best it can possibly be.  It may be a stunningy fresh sea bass or mackerel, brought to the table whole, or rich brown crabmeat on toast with a spoonful of mayonnaise and half a lemon.  That's not to say you won't get some beautiful plates of food too.  In spring you may be offered a plate of fresh peas, pea shoots and Ticklemore cheese, a drift of purple pea flowers making it look positively pretty, but everything on the plate contributes to the savour of the dish.

British food is St John's thing.  Meat dishes can be hearty, from a simple Gloucester Old Spot pork chop to Boiled Beef and Dumplings, or as delicate as a plate of Roast Quail.  At Bread and Wine you'll find a lot of the food on the menu is offered as small plates so it's a good idea to order a few of these to really get a taste of what the place is about.  Dishes like Cold Roast Beef on Dripping Toast, Bone Marrow with Parsley Salad, Hereford Snails and Oak Leaf Lettuce, Confit Pig Cheek and Dandelion, Kedgeree, Soft Roes on Toast.  Mains are substantial and often shared.

A few dishes have stood out recently: a salad of Potatoes dressed with mayonnaise, Spring Onion, Soft Boiled Duck Egg and Sorrel, a transcendent combination of Smoked Anchovies, soft boiled duck egg and crispy potato stacks and a deeply comforting dish of Oxtail Stew with Turnip Mash.  You will eat sublime versions of classic English puddings:  Bread pudding (or sometimes ginger cake) with butterscotch sauce and vanilla ice cream, Treacle Sponge and Custard, Summer Pudding, Crumbles such as Blueberry and Peach, the fruit changing with the seasons, and Brown Bread Ice Cream.

You can eat at St John Bread and Wine from Breakfast to Dinner.  Their bacon sandwich with home-made tomato ketchup is just the best start to the day you can have, but there is always porridge and prunes, granola, and gorgeous poached seasonal fruit with yogurt and honey served with toasted brioche too.  To fill that odd hour between 11.00 and lunch you can take an uplifting glass of Madeira wine and seedcake.  Lunch can be had well into the afternoon, until 4pm in fact, though be warned some dishes will be sold out.  There's barely a pause before dinner is served from 6pm.  There's quite an extensive wine list and a wide range of prices.  You can also buy wine, bread and some just-baked sweet things to take away with you.  Enjoy a great breakfast for £10 a head or lunch with a glass of wine for as little as £30 each, including service.  Dinner comes in at a shade more.  

Go, and you too will feel steadied and restored.  Just don't all go at once as, up to now, I've never had to book for lunch.

St John Bread and Wine
94-96 Commercial Street
London  E1 6LZ
Tel: 020 3301 8069

Monday, 10 October 2011

Roti Chai Indian street kitchen - Food Find

Portman Mews sounds a bit of a swanky address for what turns out to be an unpretentious Indian "Street Kitchen" serving street food from around India.  In fact the location for this useful little Food Find is an unremarkable alley at the Oxford Street end of Baker Street.  In an area not exactly bursting with decent places to eat, Roti Chai serves up the kind of simple, fresh food you can buy from street cart vendors, roadside dhabas and railway stations when travelling around India.  Dishes from Keralan, Gujarat, Kolkata, Punjab, Bengal and Andhra Pradesh include good spicy Tarka Dhal and Samosas, Papri Chaat (wheat crackers spread with sweet chutney and topped with potato and chickpeas, yogurt and coriander), Idli Sambar (lentil and vegetable stew), Macher Jhol (fish curry) and Railway Lamb Curry.  Desserts include cooling Kulfi and Payasam.  Good food, laid back ambience but focused staff.

Roti Chai
3 Portman Mews South, London W1H 6HS

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Les Fines Gueules - natural wines and good food

Les Fines Gueules
While some good natural wine bars are springing up in London, it's worth remembering that they have been popular in Paris for much longer.  Les Fines Gueules is, I think, one of the best.  Not only does it have interesting wines but very good food to match. 

I stumbled upon it by chance one evening back in 2008 en-route to that old stalwart Chez Georges.  Heading for place des Victoires, it was getting late and panic was setting in - not having a dinner reservation in Paris used to be anxiety inducing.  The 17th century townhouse on the rue Croix des Petits Champs is a Jules Hardouin Mansart (architect to Louis XIV) beauty and all lit up on a rainy night it looked too inviting to pass by.  The welcome was warm, the wine good and the food delicious.  This small bar with a few tables and two small dining rooms, a 3 minutes stroll from les Jardin du Palais Royal and just off Place des Victoires, has been a firm favourite ever since if I happen to be in the 1st arrondisement.

I'm always happiest eating in a bar.  I like the constant activity, the ebb and flow of customers, the chance to see everything that's going on, and not to miss out on any of it.  Owner/Manager Arnaud Bradol sources organic, biodynamic and natural wines as well as top quality ingredients for the kitchen.  Suppliers are name-checked - Desnoyer for meats, Poujauran for breads, even butter and vegetable suppliers are proudly listed on the website - if you want to know they are pleased to tell you but no big deal is made of it.  Everything about this place is understated.  They are confident enough to serve up a delicious plate of what we would call 'Heritage' tomatoes simply dressed with best olive oil.  Good charcuterie is sliced on a 1947 Berkel hand-operated slicing machine which is squeezed into the narrow space behind the bar. The daily changing menu is chalked on a board and is reassuring seasonal. 

I understand the chef has changed in the past year but I didn't detect any fall in standards.  On this visit two of us sampled a natural Beaujolais listed on the board, which was so good we stuck with it.  Ask for the wine list if you want to sample something from the huge cave of wines below the bar.  We shared a starter of burrata, mozzarella and San Daniele ham with fantastically fresh toasted almonds, and a dressing of fragrant olive oil.  The burrata wasn't the creamiest I've had but it was very good.  A dish of Carré de Porc arrived as a huge, perfectly cooked chop on a bed of silky early season mushrooms.  The star dish was Noix de Veau, an exquisite and generous piece of rose veal with a tranche of pan-fried foie gras on pureé  de pommes de terre and finished with an aromatic truffle oil and a scattering of borage (I think) flowers made the plate pretty as a picture (sorry, I didn't whip my camera out but I was too busy eating). Sadly we had no room for pudding but I know from previous visits that they do a gorgeous pear clafouti around this time of year.  We spent 90 Euros on 4 glasses, one starter and two mains and it was worth every Euro.

Les Fines Gueules does get busy, though I have to say I've never booked and they've always managed to squeeze us into the bar.  In good weather you'll want to sit outside.  Inside it's cosy with lovely lighting, bar stone walls, a zinc bar and knee-to-knee dining.  On the second Sunday of each month there are jazz sessions.  You know, I've never been back to Chez Georges since.

Les Fines Gueules
43 rue Croix des Petits Champs (1er)
75001 Paris
Tel: +33 1 42 61 35 41
Open 7 days a week for lunch and dinner
Metro M3 Bourse or Sentier
Metro M4 Les Halles