Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Monkey Tennis?

Life is full of classic combinations. Gin and tonic, fish and chips,the Daily Express and Princess Di conspiracy theories. It's inconceivable to think of one without the other.

At the moment, it seems that if you combine reality/eviction shows with celebrities, you strike TV gold. Mmmm. What could those celebs do next I wonder, work in a kitchen? Seen it. Live in the jungle? Seen it. Learn to dance? Seen it. Learn to juggle? oh come on, some originality please! Ok, manually pleasure pigs then.

I mean these are the ideas that got approved. What about all the ideas that came out of the brainstorm but didn't get commissioned?

I would personally be glued to the box to watch Celebatoir where a team of WAGs are taught to slaughter livestock and make handbags out of animal hide. More compelling might be Celebrity Love Nunnery where D list lothario Calum Best takes a vow of silence and has to try and seduce the convent's Sisters using only those cheeky little eyes.

Best: an eye for the ladies

Nuns: in a word, naughty

It seems the splicing of interests has now entered the world of daytime food TV. Picture yourself back in the brainstorm...

"So celebrity chefs are massive, yeah, I'm sure we could combine them with some other big trend, you know, like women being too busy juggling childcare and their careers to cook a meal for the family every night..."

"How about Indulgent Invasion? Rick Stein bursts into an unsuspecting Mum's bathroom during her precious moment of
me-time and pampers her by rustling up a nice bit of turbot by the side of the bath?"

"I like it. But I don't think Rick would do it."

"Worrall Thompson?"



"Now you're talking, you know how Ainsley loves his soapy suds. If we can get a barbie in there it's a done deal."

Meanwhile down the corridor, a similarly dumb idea is being suggested. Food Poker. Celebrity chefs play Texas Hold'em but instead of making winning hands out of the playing cards they have to make a winning dish out of the ingredients featured on a specially created pack of "food cards". They take the 2 cards they are dealt which feature, let's say, pork belly and vanilla ice cream. They can then pick three ingredient cards from the shared 5 cards on the table and make up a fantastic dish for the judging panel. The panel then votes on the winner and er, that's it.

Tense music plays as Atul Kochnar stares worriedly at his hand. He's holding pig's ear and coca-cola. Opposite him Paul Rankin tries to maintain his Food Poker face as he looks at the salmon and dill cards he has in his grasp. Meanwhile annoyingly chipper presenter Matt Allwright tries to increase the non-existent tension with his inane probing. What will the final 5 cards throw up? And now Rankin doesn't look so smug. On the final five cards are a drinking straw, gin, vodka, tequila, and rum. What are the chances of that? Atul produces a stunning long island iced tea, the pig's ear hanging over the rim of the glass like a slice of lime. Rankin does salmon and dill brochettes flambeed in gin. The judges get drunk and vote for Atul. The end.

Shamefully this programme exists. I watched it yesterday. I will never watch it again.

Later that evening I played my own hand of Food Poker and dealt myself brill, leeks, red wine, shallots and potato cubes.

Monday, 29 October 2007

You say fo, I say fuh, let's call the whole thing off.

It seems you can get pretty much anything for lunch in London nowadays. A new wave of sleekly branded restaurants is popping up purveying everything from hummus to falafels to burritos to risotto. It's certainly a far cry from Spud-U-Like.

Faced with all this exciting choice, the humble sandwich seems a bit dull. When it turns up at the ACLS (Annual Congress of Lunchtime Solutions), Cheese Sandwich has an early night while Hummus, Falafel, and Well Dressed Salad go partying in Brighton.

"He ain't hanging with us, he ain't got no trendily designed logo, dope colour palette, or disarmingly conversational tone of voice."

"Yeah, and David Schwimmer don't like him either!"

For some reason, and don't ask me what it is, lunchtime comestibles have terrible grammar.

Rightly or wrongly, sandwiches just seem so outdated. I mean why put filling between two slices of Sunpride when you can wrap it in a tortilla? Sliced white is soooooo last century.

Why buy a tray of sushi when you can pick-and-mix what you want and select individual portions which have been wrapped in their own cellophane by a japanese robot? That's so, er, wasteful! But hey, it's done by a FRIGGIN' ROBOT and that's just cool AS...

When I was working at Naked on St John St, a new Vietnamese joint opened up down the road specialising in their national soup dish, Pho. Cunningly named Pho and with, yes, a sleek logo and trendy interior, it lured me in on a wintery lunchtime when my buddy Mat was visiting from Sydney. Since forever I have been a guzzler of won ton noodle soup but the steaming bowl of Pho I tasted that day made every won ton soup I had eaten taste like dishwater. The depth of flavour in the stock was unbelievable, and enhanced by the herbs I added along the way. It was rich, hearty, aromatic and meaty. It was the beginning of a love affair.

The love affair continued when I went to work in Shoreditch, a stone's throw away from Old Street and Kingsland Road's authentic Vietnamese restaurants. My colleagues Dermot and Paul were true aficionados of Vietnamese cuisine and took me to try out different restaurants in the area. They opened my eyes to Banh Xeo at Song Que, the most delicate crispy pancakes filled with chicken, beansprouts and shrimp. And at Cay Tre I found a Chicken Pho that matched the one I first sampled in Clerkenwell. For the next year it would be my weekly lunchtime treat.

Last week I decided on an experiment to see how many lunches I could make out of a medium sized chicken (answer=9). I naturally had to have a crack at making an authentic Pho from the stock and it turned out pretty fine. The mere addition of some ginger, star anise and cinnamon took a basic chicken stock to another level, and after adding mint,coriander, chilli, noodles, chicken and a splash of hoisin sauce to finish the dish, I could have been back in Shoreditch again. And if you're wondering about the title of this post, Pho is pronounced "fuh" not "fo".

Thursday, 25 October 2007

Broken leg v death by boiling. You choose...

Poor Gavin. One minute he's crossing the road on a Friday evening filled with promise. The next he's in A&E having a broken leg put in plaster, the promise turning out to be as reliable as an Elizabeth Taylor "I do". Since he is now housebound, bored and lacking primate friends to play Sega Rally with, I offered to head up to North London and cook him lunch. In these situations, where the wounded or ill are feeling sorry for themselves, it's always best to put their injury into context.

En route to Stoke Newington I stopped by the fantastic Chinese cash and carry, See Woo in Greenwich, to pick up a live crustacean from one of their tanks. Together, we continued our journey to N16 side by side, singing show tunes and regaling each other with witty anecdotes from our respective pasts. I told stories of crazy japes in advertising. He told stories of Chinese lobster trafficking and the promise of a better life in London. We had the chemistry of a classic double act from the past - Laurel and Hardy, Morecombe and Wise, The Chuckle Brothers. But ahead I could see the steely eyes of the driver in front, glancing at me suspiciously in her rear view mirror. She knew my intentions. She could see through the charade. There would be no better life in London for this stalk-eyed decapod.

We arrived at Gavin's home and indeed he was an invalid. As he hobbled around the flat there was nothing for it but to show him that life wasn't so bad after all. No, there would be no can-canning for a while, no he couldn't go out and play kiss chase with the girls, and no, Bargain Hunt is no longer presented by David Dickinson. But let's not be negative. These things are mere inconveniences when compared with death by boiling.

And then it was over. No last minute pardon from the King of Thailand. With a dive worthy of Didier Drogba, my pincered pal went headlong into the salty maelstrom.

Lobster with chips and sauce vierge.


Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Pumpkin Curry with Channa Dal

In truth I didn't make a complicated beef wellington after slicing my thumb, I actually made a fairly simple pumpkin and lentil curry, but that's not really that impressive is it? My last post was just full of lies, damned lies. I'm not really hard and thumbs are in fact quite useful, especially when playing Xbox or Playstation games. You only have to look at our animal friends to see the proof. In general, cats are rubbish at Sega Rally whereas Bornean Orangutans are pretty good. They have four thumbs, you see. Cats tend to get their own back at MC Groovz Dance Groovz, as they can breakdance and backflip and always end up with four feet back on the dance mat. No handheld joypad is required.

So as I was saying, editors have power and can manipulate your mind.

I'm not really much of a pumpkin fan. Never really experimented with them that much, either in the warding off of evil spirits or the warding off of hunger. Incidentally, if you are buying a pumpkin to ward off evil spirits, make sure it's organic. The extra nutritional goodness makes it particularly effective at scaring away the most vicious of spirits. Unfortunately it won't work on those boys from the local estate who are intent on egging and toilet papering your house. For them I recommend filling the pumpkin with petrol and using an onager to catapult it from a first floor bedroom window onto their hoodied little heads.

I do love a pumpkin risotto, with the flesh roasted, pureed and stirred through the rice at the end of cooking, but beyond that my repertoire is small. Pumpkin pie doesn't really fill me with much excitement so I thought I'd try a vegetarian curry with split yellow peas or Channa Dal. It was ok. As a meat lover, it wasn't really my kind of curry, but it was fantastically economical, and provided about 6 portions for £2.00 which can't be sniffed at when the purse strings are tight.

Saturday, 20 October 2007

Editing Power

It's now commonly accepted that you can no longer trust what you see in the media. Whether it's Gordon Ramsay spearfishing in Cornwall, Culture Secretary James Purnell being photoshopped into a hospital photograph or the Mirror's hoaxed pictures of British soldiers abusing Iraqis, decisions are being made by editors on whether duping the public is an acceptable thing to do. Much of it comes back to money again.

The Gordon Ramsay brand is about machismo, and spear fishing certainly helps to make him look like "fucking action man" as he so eloquently described himself at the time. Sensationalist photos on the front of the Mirror are there to sell more copies of the paper and nothing more. When Purnell himself was caught out, it exposed his own hypocrisy on the matter, as he had only recently told broadcasters to "put your house in order" over the recent string of fakery rows and phone-in quiz scandals. Yet it seems nothing really changes. Piers Morgan is still free to make millions from his books and TV deals, Ramsay carries on building his empire, compensating for his fishing failure by swearing even more. Purnell keeps his job in the cabinet. We accept it and maybe even begin to expect it. Don't even get me started on advertising imagery.

So if you can't beat them, join them.

With a bandaged thumb and limited movement at the joint, I was potentially out of kitchen action for a few days. However I'd already bought the ingredients for some beef wellingtons I'd been planning, and not wanting to waste the fillet steaks I decided to soldier on anyway. The Wellingtons were pretty tricky to assemble, with the steaks being wrapped in parma ham, a mushroom duxelle, a chive pancake, and then a final layer of puff pastry which has been rolled and kneaded for 10 minutes to break down the layers. As I couldn't get my thumb dirty or wet, this was a hugely tricky procedure.

I served them with fondant potato "chips", sauteed brussel sprouts with garlic and bacon, and a madeira reduction.

See that? That's tough cooking that is. Not for wimps. I can hang with you, Gordon. Next time you want to spear some fish, call me on 0800 TOUGH NUTS. Want to know how I managed to keep my bandage dry? I removed it. In fact I removed the rest of my thumb too because it was getting in the way. Because I'm hard. I'm action man. Thumbs are for chimps and hitchhikers, and I'm no hitchiking chimp.

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

When I embarked upon this journey, I knew I would probably sustain a few more injuries than I had done in my advertising career. True, at times I suffered from chronic boredom, powerpoint induced migraines, and shattering ear pain from some of the utter crap spouted in meetings. Fortunately though, none of it drew blood.

Well, apart from the time i stabbed my leg with a biro under a meeting room table to keep myself awake while listening to the millionth marketing discussion about a modern woman's need for "pampering" and "me-time". It wasn't worth the pain or the trouser damage. I should have just caught some zzzzzzzzzzs.

Kitchens on the other hand are dangerous places. Heat=pain. Sharp things=pain. Hot sharp things = serious pain. Hot sharp things + salt + lemon juice + chilli powder = guantanamo interrogation.

On the many TV programmes where I have watched chefs using mandolins, they always warn you to keep your fingers away from the blade, and if possible use a guard. Now I see why. Yesterday evening I was invited by Steve Wallis to help him with a cookery demonstration he was doing for House and Garden and Poggenpohl and I willingly accepted. He had a great menu lined up and the first thing he asked me to do was mandolin some turnips to produce some wafer thin discs. No problem, but I was conscious there was no hand guard.

Do you ever suffer from that weird compulsion to do the exact opposite of what you're trying to do? Like when you're trying really hard not to blaspheme in front of your devoutly religious grandparents? The tourettes kicks in and by God does it become impossible to not take the Lord's name in vain. Or when you're wandering around the narrow aisles of a fine china shop and your elbows suddenly take on the proportions of a 747's wings. Or when faced with an impressive cleavage and a low-cut top, eye-to-eye contact becomes a struggle against gravity, no matter how loudly the voice in your head is telling you to NOT LOOK DOWN. Probably just a guy thing, that last one. I think there may be a concentration threshold above which things start going a bit out of control.

So as I sliced those turnips, and focused purely on keeping my fingers intact, there was only one possible outcome. This would be a short evening. Casualty was beckoning. The blipping theme tune was beginning to play in my head. Charlie Fairhead, nurses in uniform, possible cleavages, then arggggggggggghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, Jesus! Mary! Joseph! shocked grannies, and it was all over.

Thumb carpaccio. A coulis of blood. Thank you and good night.

I ended up spending more time in A&E than i did in the kitchen and was as much use to Steve as curdled hollandaise. On the plus side I had sustained my first kitchen injury, and the first of many I'm sure. In the right column of this blog I'm going to keep a record of injuries sustained in the course of duty - I think it's a little more interesting than cigarettes and calories, Bridget Jones.

Congrats to Steve on what apparently was a very successful night, and thanks to Meri for walking me to St Thomas Hospital!

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Allez les Rosbifs!

Following England's defeat of the French on Saturday night, it seemed only appropriate that we cook a huge hulk of British Rosbif for lunch on Sunday. It was lovely to get out of London for the weekend and my parents took us to a fantastic butcher in the Staffordshire village of Alrewas to source the meat. As urbanites, we Londoners forget how local you can really get when you move outside the M25. The pork at the butchers was all sourced from Packington Moor farm, a few miles down the road in Lichfield and it was clearly in demand as a queue snaked out of the door on Saturday morning.

But for us it had to be beef and we left with a nice rib on the bone. It was a pretty weighty piece, although admittedly it was probably only they size of Sebastien Chabal's thumb.

One of the things that made most sense to me when I read Heston Blumenthal's Family Food was his thinking on optimum cooking temperatures for meat. To quote the book:-

- From 40 degrees, meat proteins begin to contract until by the time they have reached 60 degrees, they begin to force moisture out and by the time they reach 70 degrees most of the precious meat juices are gone, leaving a grey, dry piece of meat.

- At 100 degrees, the water contained in meat (up to 75%) evaporates. This must be avoided as the meat becomes totally inedible.

Now this makes absolutely logical sense to me, and I think there is nothing better than a piece of beef cooked evenly pink throughout, without a thick brown/grey ring around the edge.

I was torn between cooking the beef the conventional way and getting a cracking gravy or choosing the low temperature method to keep the juice in the meat itself. In the end, science won out and armed with a new thermometer I started the joint off at 75 degrees at 9.30 on Sunday morning aiming for a 1.30 lunch. Unfortunately this was pure guess work and I had no idea how long it would take the internal temperature to reach 60 degrees (medium rare). In the end, it took about 4 hours with much nervous prodding of the probe and changing of the oven temperature. Still, the result was the desired one with perfectly pink slices from edge to edge.

I think I will continue to cook beef in this way and maybe even try the 50 degrees for 24 hours approach if I ever have a good enough oven. The major issue is the lack of pan juices so it is vital that you have a gravy already made from a good reduced beef stock.

Thursday, 11 October 2007

Pear Tart

There are good times to choose to go on a diet and there are bad times. I would class the day I'm making a pear tart as a pretty bad time, but no amount of persuasion can break the Chief Taster's resolve. Credit to the girl, she won't even have a sliver, even as I torture her by eating a fairly large slice in front of her eyes. Oh well, that's one big tart for me to get through over the next few days. Chief Taster suggests taking some of the remaining tart into her office to share with her colleagues. What a lovely idea, it really should go to a good home and I'm sure it will hold its own amongst the patisserie of W1. Besides, there'll be plenty left for me.

The next morning as usual, Chief Taster leaves for work while I am still semi-conscious in bed. She says something about the tart and I grunt in agreement. When I do get up and head to the kitchen, I open the fridge to find that actually, there isn't plenty left for me. Most of it has disappeared, gone, shazam! My lovely pear tart with the shortest of shortcrust pastry has been reduced to a solitary segment and my plan to eat a slice at 3 hour intervals throughout the day has been scuppered. She emails to say she didn't want me to get fat, and she's right of course. Because only I know how much butter went into that tart...

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

More reasons to love South East London

"Do i need any more?", I hear you cry,"You had me with the Rosendale. I've already spoken to Foxtons and they've told me to get out of Islington, and fast! They've even offered me one of their fashionable little Minis to whisk me round some terribly bijou neighbourhood, what's it called again? oh yes. Honor Oak Park, that's it. SE23 or something. Sounds just perrrrrrrrrrfect. I'm sure I can convince Tabitha, Blabitha, and Shabitha to move too. Sorry dahling, i've got to go and help Oscar with his colouring in. You'd think as a 40 year old corporate lawyer he'd have mastered Crayola by now..."

What's that got to do with the price of fish? Not much I admit. It's just a clumsy segueway between this and the last post. But as an exercise I thought I'd go and compare the price of fish at Borough Market with my local SE London Fishmonger, FC Soper of Nunhead. Everyone loves Borough Market. It's a foodie heaven after all, and just 10 minutes on the train from chez moi. You can't help but get a rush of endorphins just walking around the place, seeing fresh produce stacked high on tables, aged wing ribs of beef, and cascading displays of fish.

What's more, as an unemployed loafer, I'm now able to saunter around on the relatively calm days of Thursday and Friday and avoid the hell that is Saturday. Joy. Of course the downside of unemployment is a distinct lack of dollar to buy any of this stuff so I just have to lasciviously eye up the meat like a Ben Sherman-ed 19 year old on the pull in Kudos nightclub, Watford.

Food at Borough is beautiful, but it comes at a premium. I wonder just what that premium is?

Seeing as I was after some Red Mullet, I thought I'd compare fish prices between Borough and Sopers, my local fishmonger which is also recommended by none other than Jay Rayner. Armed with my digital camera I took some pictures so I could note all the prices quickly.

Some examples

Red Mullet

Borough - £18.50 per kilo
Sopers - £8.00 per kilo

Lemon Sole

Borough - £16.00 per kilo
Sopers - £11.60 per kilo


Borough - £29.00 per kilo
Sopers - £18.50 per Kilo


Borough - £6.90 per kilo
Sopers - £4.65 per kilo

Skate Wings

Borough - £15.00 per kilo
Sopers - £9.50 per kilo

That's a pretty big premium to pay, in some cases over 100%, for the privilege of getting your fish from Borough market. So what makes Borough fish so special? Is it transfered to port in a multimillion pound Sunseeker yacht, sipping vintage Krug in a saltwater jacuzzi? Does it arrive in London in a stretch limo with Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton for company? Or is it just shrewdly priced by a fishmonger who understands the cashed up market he's selling to?

Food sold at Borough Market is as much about the packaging as the raw ingredients, and by packaging I don't mean plastic wrapping or paper bags. I mean that Borough Market itself is the packaging, a premium brand, and a place to be seen that bestows additional credibility on wannabe foodies. On the other hand, spend an hour buying veggies at the countless african stalls on Peckham High Street and you'll return home a lot richer but without the "status" that shopping at Borough bestows. Strangely I feel slightly guilty writing this, like I'm slagging off the Queen to monarchists, Shoreditch House to media whores, or Boujis to It Girls and Eurotrash.

It becomes clear I've been sucked in by the Borough Market brand too and I guess I'll continue to go there and pay over the odds in order to feel smug at being able to find yellow tomatoes and 2 foot wide puffball mushrooms. hurrah!

Cornish Red Mullet with a Yellow Tomato Sauce Vierge

The Rosendale - Time Out Gastropub of the Year and YES, IT'S IN SOUTH EAST LONDON!!!

Rejoice! Rejoice! None other than the London bible Time Out has deigned to put on its mining helmet and shine its torch on the dimly lit and forgotten coalface of London, the one that bears the postcode SE.

For this year in its Eating and Drinking Awards, it has awarded Gastropub Of The Year to The Rosendale in West Dulwich proving that civilisation does exist south of the river. So take note you 'northern' mugs from Barnsbury to Broadway Market, maybe you'd like to come down and visit us for a change! Contrary to popular belief, South East London isn't in Kent, you're unlikely to catch the pox, and Millwall fans are a surprisingly quiet bunch (unless you happen to be on the 2.15 from London Bridge to Bermondsey on a Saturday afternoon).

Anyway I shouldn't really have to extol the virtues of SE. Down here it's Simply Exquisite, Surprisingly Erudite, and Snozdangley Erbumbatious.

But I digress. The Rosendale is really a very good restaurant indeed. Hectic on a Sunday lunchtime, but smashing grub nonetheless. I had the best (home) smoked salmon ever with a light horseradish cream (5 Gold Stars), and then a plate stacked with Saddle of Lamb and crunchy veg. Delish. Go there, travel from far and wide, read the 20 odd page wine list. It's an absolute gem.

Tuesday, 9 October 2007


After all that cooking, it was definitely time for a couple of days off. It's always a pleasure to have the in-laws over - they come laden with gastronomic delights: foie gras, champagne, Swiss chocolate and this time, an interesting bottle of fig balsamic which I can't wait to try. It's great that they appreciate the good things in life! Every time they come to London we try to take them somewhere unusual and this time we chose Bacchus in Hoxton.

We're so spoilt for restaurants in London that it's rare that we go back to the same place twice, even if the meal has been great. Bacchus is the exception. The menu changes every month and the experience is so different each time that we have now been back on three occasions. I don't think there's another restaurant in London that is as inventive and on many dishes it really does challenge The Fat Duck and L'Enclume in Cartmel for inspired flavour and texture combinations. All three of these restaurants, and WD-50 in New York have proved to be hugely entertaining dining experiences, provoking interesting debate around the table.

On Saturday we had the 6 course taster menu with wine pairing, and at the end of the meal I think a few of us wished we'd gone for the 9 course. For me the stand out dish was Calamar a La Plancha with squid ink porridge, slow roasted coconut, lime leaf oil and powder and a foam of lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves, but all the other dishes sparkled with originality as well.

I have to say i can't imagine ever being able to produce food like that.

On the two previous occasions we had been to Bacchus the restaurant had been nearly empty but I'm happy to say on Saturday night they were fully booked. Despite its somewhat isolated and famously gritty location, it does appear that word is spreading and diners are making the journey over to Hackney. I don't think it will be long until it picks up its first Michelin star. In my eyes it certainly deserves it.

Monday, 8 October 2007

Rabbit Terrine (Vegetarians and Rabbit lovers DO NOT READ ON)

What is it about rabbits that makes some people feel guilty about eating them? Is it their big doleful eyes? Their bushy little tails? The way they lollop playfully around the countryside? In another post I discussed the defensive qualities of some plants that help them to survive. Animals are blessed with them too. Some have hard exoskeletons that act as protective shields, others have spikes and venomous bites. Men have guns.

A rabbit's best form of defence against human predators is to look cute.

Well sorry Bugs, it doesn't work on me. I'm no Glen Close but I'm quite happy to get stuck into a bit of bunny. Maybe it's because I've never read Watership Down or had a rabbit as a pet.

Whatever, a rabbit generally has a fairly active life involving lots of potholing, the odd bit of swinging, and rivers of illegal moonshine that they brew in their subterranean speakeasies. Well that's what I've heard anyway.

I think in comparison to battery hens and veal calves, rabbits have things pretty good.

There are two rabbit dishes I've been keen to to make. One is Mark Hix's Stargazy Pie from Great British Menu. The other a Rabbit Terrine with Celeriac Remoulade which I ate recently at Magdalen, my restaurant of the year so far. With a bit of time on my hands and 5 coming for dinner on Friday, I decided on the terrine as a starter.

I bought a whole wild rabbit from my local butcher and proceeded to remove all the flesh from the carcass - I think I may have inherited by father's surgical hands as it seemed a fairly painless and enjoyable process, although incredibly fiddly at the same time.

The rabbit leg meat was mixed with pork belly and chicken livers and marinated overnight in Armagnac, herbs, lemon juice and garlic. The following day I lined the terrine with bacon and filled it with the rabbit mixture, adding pistachio nuts and layering long pieces of rabbit saddle throughout the terrine to create a different texture. The terrine was cooked in a bain marie for 90 minutes and pressed overnight ready to be served on Friday evening accompanied by a mustardy celeriac remoulade.

Full on food

It's been a busy week and so I need to catch up on some posting. First thing to note: I probably weigh 5 kilos heavier than last week after several days of serious eating.

One positive outcome of not getting the pub job was that I could put some serious effort into cooking for the in-laws who would be visiting at the weekend. I've had a number of things in mind to cook so I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to try out some new techniques and use ingredients I've never handled before. I composed the following menu for Thursday:-

Morrocan Aubergine Charlottes
Open Oxtail Lasagna with Cauliflower Cheese Foam and Asparagus
Strawberry Vacherins

An Aubergine Charlotte makes for a visually stunning starter. They can be prepared ahead of time in moulds and quickly reheated before serving so perfect for dinner parties. I copied the presentation from a Gary Rhodes recipe but changed the filling to a mixture of aubergine and courgette, lightly spiced with smoked paprika, cumin and coriander to give a more Morrocan flavour. This is one of those dishes where impressive presentation can really add impact to what is a fairly simple plate to assemble, and the fragrance on cutting into the Charlotte is wonderfully aromatic.

I'm a huge fan of oxtail, both its rich meaty flavour and its sticky and stringy texture and preparing it allows me to indulge in my current favorite method of cooking - braising. The thing I love about braising is that you can prepare an amazingly flavoursome sauce at the same time as cooking the principle ingredient, all in the same pot. Oxtail is fantastic for this because when braised in red wine, the high amount of gelatin in oxtail renders down over the prolonged cooking period to leave a lovely, sticky sauce ready to serve as part of the final dish. The last time I served oxtail on the bone to Emilie, she wasn't that impressed so I came up with my own take on lasagna using home made egg pasta and a cauliflower cheese foam instead of bechamel. Result? Oxtail is now back on the menu chez Lien. Apologies for the blurry photo!

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Trials and tribulations

On Saturday I went for a three hour trial in the kitchen of the newly refurbed Forest Hill Tavern. I was going to be helping the chef, a genial Scot imaginatively named Scott, prep for a function they were hosting that afternoon. By function, I mean Irish piss-up.

As expected, my primary duties were vegetable-based. Peeling and coring butternut squash, peeling carrots, chopping cabbage, and slicing tatties. I'd been told that the purpose of my trial was to see if I had any common sense, if I could spot when things needed doing and use my initiative. So I turned into what might have come across as an eagle-eyed speed freak with OCD. Every drip was wiped, every stray plate was rehoused, nothing was left to be washed up.

Scott the Scot seemed impressed with my attitude, my questions, and the fact that I washed up using hot soapy water which none of the other triallists had apparently managed. At the end of the three hours he said he was pretty sure he'd be seeing me again and promised to call me by Monday. I left with all fingers in tact, on a high, hoping for more.

Monday came and went without news. I waited like an anxious teenager, hoping for 10 A*s. Would I get the chance to be Scott's trainee and learn everything this well travelled chef would share with his eager apprentice?

Tuesday brought the answer, and the answer was no.

Apparently he trialled someone with more experience on Sunday, and has given the job to him. It seems he was after a specific degree of wetness behind the ears. Soaking was too wet after all and maybe he's found something between moist and damp that he's more comfortable with.

I have to say I'm gutted.