Wednesday, 30 December 2009
I am now going into the garden to eat worms. And anything else I can find, including the incredible amount of fox shit, if it make me less related to any species that might even contemplate buying into such bollocks.
PS: I blogged on this topic at length on Sugarvine. Go and have a look - let loose your howls of anger...
Tuesday, 29 December 2009
Monday, 21 December 2009
Wednesday, 16 December 2009
In our house we don't exactly follow tradition. For one thing, Christmas is generally spent with a set of parents so MCD and I don't get a Christmas Day of our own. So what do we do? We disregard entirely the birth of baby Jesus (I mean really...) and have our Christmas Day the weekend before. And when I say Christmas Day, it's got everything. Champagne, crackers, presents, loud christmas music, a huge meal, chocolate, films (Shaun of the Dead is a must), MCD slumped on the sofa with a cocked paper hat on (he is very insistent. 'It is tradition' he cries when I demur. Last year he ended up wearing 4 in his pissed yet doggedly persistent state. There is photographic evidence), me in a pinny drifting floatily round in a haze of breakfast Baileys and elevenses Champagne. And because it's not actually Christmas Day (you poor sad schmucks - what does tradition get you but endless repeats and the Guns of sodding Navarone) the telly is still brilliant. And because it's not actually Christmas Day, we get another Christmas Day a week later. With more food and wine and presents. Clever, no?
(I sincerely love Christmas and I am not ashamed to admit, I love the presents. As a kid, I used to save - save - some presents for Boxing Day to make the festivities stretch further; my sister used to rail against my self-control, declaring me unnatural. On Boxing Day I would smugly and slowly open my remaining gifts in front of her. savouring the sound of her jealous weeping. I might even have saved one till tea-time. This is just another way of spreading the joy of Christmas.)
Aaanyway... because there's only two of us, we now forego the traditional turkey. I did it one year, then we went to the parents-in-law for Christmas proper and came home 4 days later to find the time in the fridge had improved its sorry carcass not at all and the whole thing went in the bin. I look for restaurant-style dishes that indicate we are in for a sumptuous feast. Venison with fig tarts, last year's beef with stewed oxtail stuffed in a marrowbone with a marrow risotto and roast root vegetables and so on. This year, my fatted friends, we have goose. I can make a cassoulet the next day out of the leftovers.
Starter is to be a foie gras and chestnut veloute, courtesy of Pascal Aussignac of Club Gascon. It should also include lobster, but given I am allergic, you can forget that. Then roast goose with Nigella's panettone and Italian sausage stuffing, roast potatoes, maple-roast parsnips, shredded cavolo nero, cranberry sauce and gravy. And then - because what else can you do with it - panettone pudding, made with a bottle of dessert wine in the custard. Hardly Elizabeth David's omelette and a glass of Champagne but, then, we like to feast and know about it afterwards as we roll like weebles back into the lounge.
I shall post photos of my gorgeous dining room when I've laid the table for lunch, but before MCD gets his sweaty mitts on the shiny crackers.
There are other highlights: The Actor who comes in to give helpful hints on how to start a riot at the Crystal Palace cinema campaign; The Sci-Fi Drunk who farted loudly and wetly during the umpteenth discussion on whether we would take his (non-existent?) water-damaged collection (ummm... no.); The bizarre quantity of books we stock by the local rock 'n' roll, band-playing author-vicar; the discount on good coffee at La Bruschetta next door; the mysterious and sometimes frankly weird music we play (I got most excited yesterday that I recognised the songs playing for a whole 43 minutes - it was Crowded House. Customers ask me 'What's the music?' I reply 'No idea - it's on the IPod' as if this is a proper answer.)
Tuesday, 8 December 2009
Having been off formal work for nearly 2 weeks now, I have, in the manner of one who perhaps has a tad too much time on her hands (but only a tad), had a few startled revelations; namely:
1. How in the world does anyone with a full-time job get anything done? I used to be that person, struggling womanfully on, doing all the household chores on a Saturday morning (or even on a Friday night if MCD was out - I know how to have a good time), shopping on a Sunday, cooking every night, working all day with a 3-hour commute to boot - how - how - did I fit it all in? And now it's this present-buying, list-making, freaking-panicking time of the year, it's even more of a conundrum.
These days I seem to be set to a go-slow option, where jobs and tasks and chores are achieved unaccompanied by the mild panic that it must be done and ticked off the list - it's made me realise just how stressed and screwed tight I was; just like every other working woman, I was juggling 14000 different things and surviving - not thriving. That's not to say there aren't hour-long moments of panic about just where my money is going to come from, or whether I'm spending my time fruitfully and in an applied and efficient manner, or whether my brain is simply going to wither away without external stimulation - just that life at a slightly slower pace is a life slightly better lived.
2. Working in the bookshop in Crystal Palace has started off a slightly peculiar train of thought. Back in the heady days of my youth, when I dreamt of being married to a poet and heading my own literary group and living in Paris or Cadiz (don't ask) wearing black polonecks and sipping brandy (probably not suited for both Paris and Cadiz, but you get the picture), Literature was my thing. I knew the new hot titles, the out-of-prints, the rare wanted-but-never-to-be-seen-again titles, books others would love; then I moved into the world of food and my broad love of writing narrowed to the subject in hand. In the last 7 or 8 years, my general literature range reduced as I read more and more about food and got lazy with other genres, stuck with tried and trusted favourite authors, only experimenting with new books when I went on holiday. I became someone I thought I never could be - a restricted reader (the horror). It's nice to know I have a specialised field, but nowadays I am left a little panicky about my lack of knowledge of literature generally.
Now in the shop I stand there behind the counter and think 'I used to know this stuff and now I don't.' This makes me slightly stressed - can I ever learn all this again? Where did all that knowledge go? Why am I so stupid? (As I said, a tad too much time on my hands...) I want to be erudite again. And at the moment, that feels decidedly not the case.
3. Being unemployed - or at least going from the 9-5 to the whatever-whenever - means that your mindset has to change completely and that can leave you out of step with the person you live with. When you're both working full-time, you have something in common, be it the stresses of the commute, the same lack of time, the decisions of whether to spend the evening out with friends in order to catch up or in with your partner to catch up; either way someone is left out. But all the same, it is a common bond and one that means you are running, albeit slightly frenetically, on parallel tracks.
Once one of you loses your job/steps aways from the rat race, that common bond is dissolved. I experienced it myself this year when MCD got made redundant and was out of work for quite some time over the summer. I caught myself feeling a near-constant low-level simmer of resentment that he was off work throughout the summer and I couldn't have a holiday, or that I still somehow had to fit in at least half the housework and all of the shopping (Bless him, he did his bit but why must men require a detailed list of chores after nearly 6 years of living together?) When he went back to work, it was a relief because then we understood each other again.
Now I am at home, I can see the other side of the story, albeit with a slight twist. I am not an ambitious workaholic - the thought of it makes me feel a little ill - so working from home with its flexible time suits me down to the ground. I enjoy pottering and the structure working in the bookshop brings for a few hours at a time, I enjoy household chores and doing bits and pieces here and there. But the common working bond has gone again. The working partner will never quite believe you haven't been sitting on your arse all day (see Point 1), but in your own head you've achieved an incredible amount and you're quite satisfied. I am getting my rest, you think.
I - and I accept this is purely our relationship dynamic - am still, in my head, responsible for making home life as wonderful and pleasant as possible for the disgruntled worker which entails using a certain amount of headspace and mental effort, effort which I rather need for myself right now looking for projects and work. That need to keep each other's spirits up is part of being in a relationship, but sometimes you need to step back for a second and take stock. Life is going to be very different from now on and we both need to adjust and maybe that means recognising that our former work bond must be replaced by something else, hopefully something a lot healthier and less mutually stressful.
Life is tricky, rushed, stressy enough. With a little effort it needn't be demoralising too.
Wednesday, 2 December 2009
Tuesday, 1 December 2009
A splendid, adaptable, winter soup:
Sweat a chopped onion and sliced leeks in butter until meltingly soft. Add a quarter of a cauliflower, divided into florets and a good couple of handfuls of scrubbed Jerusalem artichokes. (Quantities are very much up to you, but this was what was in the fridge). Pour over a litre of vegetable or chicken stock (I used Marigold for the savouriness), add a couple of bay leaves and simmer for about 20-30 minutes, until everything is completely tender.
Blitz until smooth (removing the bay leaves first) and check the seasoning. I've eaten this in a couple of ways so far - try it with crumbled crisp fried streaky bacon; plain with a drizzle of extra virgin; topped with chopped parsley and grated Parmesan and a drizzle of olive oil. You might try adding in crumbled chestnuts (Merchant Gourmet do vac-packed ones that are indispensable) with the bacon, or use Parma ham.
A literary breakfast:
Not entirely sure why, but anyway I tossed cod's roes in a very little flour seasoned with a little paprika, mustard powder, salt and pepper and fried them in some butter. I added a couple of tablespoons of cream, a squeeze of lemon and adjusted the seasoning for a 'devilled' effect, then tipped the lot over a slice of home-made buttered granary toast. One for a cold morning.
A bloody mystery, frankly:
Tonight - depending on what the lump of defrosting red meat is (when, when will I learn to label freezer bags?) - we will be having either Nigel's recipe for lamb chops, where the onions are fried off with the meat, deglazed with some red wine and grain mustard and served with a chickpea mash; or steak stroganoff with cannellini beans and a pile of greens on t'side for our health.
PS: Contrary to all expectations, my own included, I made lamb stroganoff with cannelli bean mash and kale. It probably goes against all the rules, but lamb goes so well with the smoky notes of paprika and meatiness of the mushrooms that it worked. Just remember to keep the lamb pink-ish.
But there are still a few objets de desire that one might wish for this Christmas, to make the heart beat a little faster. Oh and can I recommend that for divine inspiration and the perfect start to the Christmas wish list, no matter who you're shopping for, visit India Knight's Posterous.
1. A bottle of Julian Temperley's Alchemy - his own Somerset cider brandy
2. Any of the gorgeous new Penguin bound editions of the classics
3. A box set of Katharine Hepburn films (now one can indulge on a winter afternoon)
4. Some luxurious new pyjamas
5. A Lartigue photograph (I did mention this was fantasy, right?)
6. Or indeed a Cecil Beaton photograph, perhaps of the Jungman sisters
7. Or maybe Brassai in his French phase
8. A winter rose bush
9. A beautifully bound copy of T S Eliot's poems
10. A jewel ring
And I wouldn't say no to Sacla's tiny jar of anchovies and white truffles, which when melted and gently heated in butter, then swirled with a little Prosecco, make the most incredible sauce for tagliatelle.
Thursday, 26 November 2009
Tuesday, 24 November 2009
Friday, 20 November 2009
So - I am going freelance. Not for me the 9-5, the Clapham omnibus (or rather, the no.52 bus from Victoria up to Ladbroke Grove), the 6.42am starts; I am braving the world of the solitary home-worker. Actually it's all looking rather good - I am soon to be a Kitchen Queen, a prospect that thrills me as someone who lives to cook and also has a worrisome interest in the layout other people's houses. Simply put I teach people to cook in their own homes. I will be an Educator. Although - as MCD pointed out - as someone who might live to cook, but also can barely step foot into the kitchen without having some kind of accident or another, it might be best practice to allow them to handle the sharp objects.
I am also going back to my roots and working in the much-loved local bookshop for a couple of days a week. I used to work in Ottakars before it was bought out by big, bad Waterstone's wolf and I started my London life working in a psychoanalytic bookshop on Gloucester Road, so I have form. And I can embrace my creeping inclination to be Ash from Don't Ask Me Why.
I'm also pushing the food writing - I'm officially a hack for hire, so if anyone out there's looking for a food writer (or indeed any other sort) rather well-versed in SEO and websites, email me. Self-interested promotion now over.
But back to the point of the piece, which was my thoughts on what to eat this weekend. I shall roast some butternut squash, cut into cubes, then toss with sliced, seared pigeon breast and chicken livers, spinach leaves and cherry tomatoes. The pan I use to cook the meat in will be deglazed with a little sherry vinegar and finely chopped garlic and a little walnut oil, then I shall pour the dressing over the other ingredients. Then (I feel like a magician) I shall top the whole with a version of pangrattato - those crisp fried breadcrumbs mixed with some very finely chopped rosemary and some orange zest.
In my head, it's a visual and oral wowser. I shall let you know what reality is like. If I can make it look pretty, I might even treat you to a photo.
PS: There's an idea I came across recently for butternut squash I'll pass on. You make a stock sugar syrup (water and sugar) and infuse with rosemary. You roast butternut squash in the oven until tender, then pour over the syrup for the last 10 minutes or so. The result should be deeply golden caramelised butternut squash. I will give it a go at some point, but if anyone gets there first, let me know what happens.
Monday, 16 November 2009
Fish&Grill in South End, Croydon is nearly brilliant. Nearly. Croydon's South End is a curious place, full of rather nicer places to eat than you might think, including Le Cassoulet (I blogged about this earlier), Albert's Table, The Treehouse and others. We made it to Fish&Grill one Thursday lunchtime; it was a bit of a blow-out early Christmas lunch/first day of a few days off celebration so you must forgive the seemingly orgiastic description that follows.
The focus is - duh - fish and seafood, although there is a nod to the die-hard-beef-eaters with burgers, chicken and so on, but you might as well stick to the fishies; they do it so well. I was tempted by everything from fresh oysters to boulliabaisse, MCD by bisques and scallops. We finally agreed on the platter of fruits de mer to start with - a portion for 2, we thought, followed by a light snackerel of lobster and chips for MCD and fish and chips for me. The sweet waitress, however, was quite firm - a portion for one would suffice. When we actually pointed out we were (snigger and a nod to India Knight) Big Pigs and could take anything she cared to bring us, she stood her ground.
Thank Christ. The platter was e-normous. Clams, razor clams, langoustines, half a crab, mussels, oysters, whelks - the only thing missing was winkles, so they threw on some (incredibly scarily over-sized and not altogether attractive) whelks. All daisy-fresh and a perfect portion for 2 for a good-sized lunch. But for us, no, we soldier manfully on....
MCD was introduced to the lobster first; they seemed to get on so Lobster got poached and served with some addictive skinny skin-on chips and plenty of mayonnaise. My fish and chips - halibut in a beer batter - was good, although arguably the oil should have been hotter to fry the fish. As it was the batter was a touch on the soggy side. Not a disaster as I quite like soggy batter with ketchup, but it is a basic request. The accompanying minted pea puree was refreshing and well-judged. A side order of leek gratin was a molten pot of bubbling cheese and leeks, mopped up with the chips. But why wasn't there Sarson's available - and, no, white wine vinegar is not the same thing at all.
We aren't done yet. MCD found a little corner for a monster portion of sticky toffee pudding; I found I could muster enthusiasm for a wedge of lemon meringue pie. Unfortunately it was a whole pie, nicely contrasting lemon and sweet meringue, although I think the lemon filling could have been more set. And I have to admit it beat me.
The whole, with Kir Royales, a bottle of Gavi, 2 dessert wines and an espresso (in an attempt to make it look less like a debauched drunken lunch and more like we quite seriously intended to do something afterwards than just roll on the carpet clutching our stomachs) came to around £150 - not bad for a real lunchtime blow out, but try the set lunches at £12 for 2 courses.
Wednesday, 11 November 2009
Tuesday, 3 November 2009
She also makes the point that people aren't just using blogs for banality and moribund thoughts from the morass, but rather these are intelligent, thoughtful, blogs revealing - rather, I like to think, in the manner of Jane Austen -the small, intimate details of lives well- or not-so-well lived. To continue the thought, it's surely this ability of many, many brilliant bloggers - and check the blog roll on the right for current favourites - to paint a portrait of everyday life in such a way that makes your heart ache (A Life Reclaimed-sad, brave and uplifting), snort out loud with laughter (wonderful Emma of Belgian Waffling manages to do both with every post), think more closely about an alien subject (Tania Kindersley's ability to make American politics sound like a must-know) or even share the seemingly mundane and innately female - recipes, childcare tips and so on.
The thing is, I think we all feel we're a bit on our own in this dog-eat-bitch-eat-dog world and the connection of blogging simply enables us to feel less alone; that we're not simply howling into the darkness
Friday, 30 October 2009
Thursday, 29 October 2009
Wednesday, 28 October 2009
Tuesday, 27 October 2009
Humming bears is a delightful image. Durrell describes this in his books with the most wonderful description of himself and a bear at Whipsnade when he worked as a keeper singing along together, Durrell providing the lyrics, the bear the background hum while sucking his paw, apparently utterly content.
Monday, 26 October 2009
Thursday, 22 October 2009
Last Sunday was one of those gorgeous crisp autumnal days where, as Bill Bryson once said, you might feel as if 'you could ping the air like a wine glass.' In honour of the last of the good weather, we went en famille on a little day trip to the Horniman Museum, which - despite living ooh 10 mins away - we've never yet managed to get to.
Well, what a find.... The gardens are stunning at this time of year, all glorious golden auburn colours and the views on a clear day show St Paul's and beyond...
This is the beautiful conservatory:
Inside the Horniman museum, it's perhaps not as beautiful, but it's utterly fascinating. As far as I understand, Horniman was a local gent fond of collecting stuffed animals. We're not talking teddies here (imagine my disappointment) but actual stuffed animals, some of which I'm fairly sure wouldn't be allowed to be stuffed today.
Anyway, his collection became too large for his house so he bequeathed it to a museum in his name and it's a slightly creepy but absolutely interest-worthy exhibit. Apes and monkeys, birds of every colour and size, dog heads (! not keen on that bit), otters, reptiles - the list goes on and on - in fact, I can't imagine there's much not stuffed apart from the larger lions, tigers and bears. Upstairs there are fossils and sea life. If you've got small children, they'd love it (or it would give them nightmares but life's hard....) and there's various exhibits on such as a tribal exhibition, robot zoo, etc.
There appears to be some campaign to be launched - please sign - i'll post it when I can find it. This doesn't just affect those who fall into Labour's supposed categoryof every horse owner as landed gentry, but those who sacrifice and scrimp and save for a much beloved family pet.
Tuesday, 20 October 2009
(A small background note: if you're not quite getting all the adulation and foodie-groupie-screaming about his 'return', know this: Tante Claire was the seminal restaurant in London until Pierre Koffman, genius 3-Michelin-starred chef closed it, turning the space over to big Sweary Gord - tant pis. He progenated the chef world with chef babies including Eric Chavot, Tom Kitchin, Bruno Loubet and Tom Aikens. He has been absent for some time; and now he has returned...). The great joke is his proteges are joining him in the kitchen - on the night we visited, we were treated to Bruno on carrot-peeling and Eric on potato-pureeing.
The entrance to the restaurant is one for the exclusivity-lovers. A dedicated -guarded - lift, a quick ascendancy into a simple white corridor. Simple but stunningly decorated with minimalist objets - the ghost-girl with her veil is gorgeous. There's a small bar area but with the American Embassy setting off fireworks just next door, they sweetly moved us to our table in front of the glass wall so we could watch with a glass of wine and the bread basket - choices included bacon & onion, tomato, brown or white.
Then we're in with an amuse bouche of two discs of boudin blanc and noir atop a tiny refreshingly crisp tangle of lightly pickled red cabbage It's a palate-teaser echoing his earthy Gascon roots and it's an indication of the meat-centric food to follow. Veggies beware - this is not for you.
The menu is adventurous for something that's only around for a matter of weeks. Starters: lobster cocktail with avocado and lemon jelly; scallops in a laguna of squid ink; a special of langoustine bisque with accompanying raviolo; snails and wild mushrooms with bone marrow; foie gras with potato galette; game pithivier with a sticky jus corsé... I had the scallops - 3 perfectly seared and cooked sweet, soft pillows of shellfish surrounded by sticky, intense squid ink. I tried some of the snails - I'm still not keen texturally but the flavour was dark, woodsy - a clever pairing of fungi and gastropod. The langoustine bisque was silky-rich but not too sweet.
But, you know, starters, schmarters.... I'm almost tempted to write about nothing other than Pierre's signature main dish of pigs trotters, stuffed with sweetbreads and creamed morels, served with a cloud of potato puree so ethereally light and buttery you could bury your face in it. It came with two translucent discs of pork crackling - a textural foil for the rich sweet creamy unctuousness of the trotter. The sauce was a concentrated but not too sticky veal stock reduction, but fluid enough to coat the potato rather than glue to it. There are other mains available.
Oh all right then... Challans duck with herbs and spices, perfectly roasted; a pave of wild sea bass with artichoke barigoule was saved from being too summery by the woodsy artichokes. I'm told the Hare Royale is autumn on a plate. Or choose from a roast veal cutlet or cod with ceps, but why would you when there's Pierre's pigs trotter...!!??
Desserts - not my favourite thing - are startlingly good. My only criticism of the pistachio souffle - that I heinously had without the accompanying ice cream because the combination does nothing for me - was that it was too big. But then I only eat half a chocolate at a time so what do I know? The Toscano chocolate mousse with muscovado ice cream was another silky confection and saved from over-bitterness and over-sweetness by the orange compote. I'm assured the Gascon apple pie is what Eve should have fallen with, being the absolute apotheosis of orchard fruit.
And there we have it. Some quite stunning petits fours, good coffee and a few bottles of wine - FYI an Italian white called Kerner that I had never heard of and a big French Segla which was a tad too cool, but hey, you can't have everything.
I wonder if a taste of being back in this kind of environment would be enough to persuare PK back behind the stove. But I suspect the fun is in the temporariness - take advantage while you can.
Thursday, 8 October 2009
Also - in a complete left swerve - never had quite grasped that the inspiration for Brett Ashley in Sun Also Rises was Duff Twysden - must find out more about her. How autobiographical that book is is quite extraordinary - it all happened just as Hem describes, with just a little name-changing and a little play about with actual happenings (!). Dear old Hem - succumbed to outrageous jealousy even in his own writings and even when it was Harold Loeb and not him being tossed around on the horns of a bull in Pamplona...
Monday, 5 October 2009
We're now both quite baffled and amused by the torturous language the dear old advert copywriters use to get their product USP across, most of which seems to be how to defy the ageing process and get back that silky smooth skin of lost youth (Did anyone really have that - didn't we all have spots and over-enthusiastic sebaceous glands and eczema and god knows what? What skin memory are we trying to recover here?). Anyway, the sheer terror of ageing and wrinkles and bags and sunspots, ad nauseam has sent the copywriters quite into overdrive and panic has caused them commit such semantically outrageous sins as to make you want to clap your hands over your ears in horror.
Consider if you will my personal favourite 're-perfect'; as in 'this serum can re-perfect your skin texture, making it as smoothly oleaginous as a baby's nappy-rash-ridden backside.' Dreadful, no?
Or how about - last night's discovery - 'reversalist'; as in 'our reversalist moisturiser can now make you look like the pre-foetus collection of cells your lack of brain resembles.'
Or 're-support'; scaffolding for those bags.
Or 're-nutrition'; I'm starting to lose the will to live.
Or 'de-wrinkle'; you sad sack-eyed chump
Or the scary 're-plump'; ew. and aaargh....
Any others, put them down. It's not language, it's a crime.
Friday, 2 October 2009
PS: Today is Graham Greene's birthday.
Monday, 28 September 2009
Friday, 25 September 2009
Thursday, 24 September 2009
See these - perfect lovely scallops. As part of a perfect (pretty much), lovely meal last Friday at Le Cassoulet in Croydon.
Now you might not think Croydon a foodie mecca, but once you head down the high street towards South End, you start to hit a small lacuna of restaurants that are worth more than a quick eyeball through the window and a scurry past. We intend to visit them all, including Albert's Table, highly recommended by your Bookseller, and Fish and Grill, run by Malcolm John, part of a small chain that owns Chiswick's Le Vacherin and Le Cassoulet.
Back to the matter in hand: Le Cassoulet was almost extravagantly wonderful - and this in spite of MCD running the first day of a horrific cold, and even through his extreme discomfort, he loved it. We were also the youngest in there by a good 20 years, which indicates that the older denizens of Croydon know a good thing when they see it.
So glass of house Champagne to start with and a peruse of the menu. LC bills itself as French and I would say leaning towards Alsace, with the extensive - and mostly judicious - use of Alsace bacon throughout. We quibbled over starters: MCD eventually going with scallops with a black pudding raviolo and a little schmear of apple puree; I chose the octopis carpaccio with fennel, orange and caper salad. The scallops were to die for, the raviolo perfectly delicately thin, filled with a slightly spicy French-style boudin noir. My octopus was very firm in the mouth, but not tough - textured is the word - with the salad sprightly and refreshing in all the right ways.
Main courses were tougher. We both leaned towards the chateaubriand, but then we were going to be having an awful lot of cow over the weekend, so MCD went with slow-cooked lamb shoulder with haricot beans and a pomme puree (we will not go into his peculiar obsession with chips at every meal out...). This was delicious, but the little pot of haricot beans and goodies was odlly devoid of beans.... I nearly, so very nearly, went for the confit pork cheek with choucroute, but couldn't match a red wine I fancied with it, so ended up with the most amazing roast partridge. This, dear reader, was a work of art...
Firstly, I was presented with the whole partridge, very much dead but possessed of a bronzed goldenness hiterto unseen in St Tropez. We made our acquaintance most cordially. It was then returned to me with more accessories than a WAG in aforementioned St Tropez. The sauces - 4, count 'em -comprised a brown butter for pouring on first (a first for me too, but duly noted as an excellent idea), a creamy bread sauce, a rowan jelly and a deep red wine jus to flood the plate. Not mentioning the warm game chips, the watercress and the side of epinards a la creme... All fabulous, accompanied by a red from their Natural selection - a Cotes de Jura Pinot Noir - not too heavy as to send you to sleep, but more than a match for the lamb and the game.
Desserts - we're still going - were a bit of an oddity. MCD fancied the poached peach (in September...?) with honeycomb ice cream, which he loved, but which apparently last week had been poached pear, but was now peach... I mused over the cheese trolley, decided it might be a tad too much and plumped for madeleines which came with English strawberries (in September... again...?), which were fabulous, but wanted a sabayon-style accompaniment to be perfect, I think. Un petit Muscat pour encourager les autres and we were just about done.... The bill was incredibly reasonable - for all this glorious bounty, plus water, plus a glass of vin de pays de Gers white with my octopus + tip came to about £160. Not a cheap meal out, but not outrageous.
It's worth noting they offer steak deals in the week as well as 3-course deals, all of which are almost ridiculously reasonable (steak + accompaniments + good glass of red for less than a tenner...?). Go, go now. Just make sure you book, cos we'll be beating you to it.
PS: Don't tell me we aren't lucky to live where we live.... Check out Time Out - Exhibition Rooms and Fish and Grill in 1st and 2nd post...
Tuesday, 15 September 2009
Unfortunately so do potential burglars. I was woken from a solo (MCD was out) semi-slumber at the early hour of 9.50pm (early, but I was knackered from little sleep the night before and trying to ease the sciatica cramp curiously in my leg and foot) by a man apparently of the notion that climbing through my bedroom window would afford him access to all the riches of China. Unfortunately for him, I didn't share the notion and he certainly wasn't expecting a 5ft screaming banshee to shoot out of bed, throw open the window and get in his face yelling 'Get off my fucking roof. I'm calling the police.' Duly alerted to my territorialism, he slid down the roof, back into next door's garden, whence he came and - I have to admit - seemingly sauntered off. At this point I realised I could keep yelling 'I'm calling the police', but it would be more helpful to actually call the police...
I have to say they were amazing. I've never actually seen them swing into action before, but within 10 minutes there were dogs, forensics, welfare officers and a helicopter. They even threw a dog onto the roof to track the scent. They took statements, fed me brandy, waited with me until a very shaken MCD returned, dusted for prints all over. This morning I have had a re-visit to check on me and give me crime prevention tips.
And here's the thing. I have always felt, if not inviolable in the house, at least well-protected. We have great neighbours, we recently installed a fuck-off massive gate and fence at the back and had new security double-glazing. And frankly it makes not the slightest bit of difference if an opportunistic son-of-a-bitch decides that he can pop the neighbour's fence, swing up a tree and in through an open bedroom window (this in itself makes me mad - his presumption that we would be stupid enough to go out for the night, leaving the windows open. Certainly the house was in darkness with only the porch light on, but really - he thought we were that stupid...?).
But now I'm severely shaken. Granted I'm writing this on no sleep, much coffee, races of adrenaline and no breakfast, but now my home doesn't feel quite so safe any more and I hate this man for that. I hate that he has - in part - tarnished a little of the dream of living here. I hate, that by his audacity and lack of morals and downright execrable way of life, he has destroyed my illusion of inviolability, of feeling protected, of making my husband worry about leaving me in the house alone - and making me anxious about it too.
I am obscurely and pervertedly pleased that the police labelled me a 'fighter' not a 'flighter'; that I - in sheer naive and incredulous outrage - stood up and yelled him off my roof (my head refuses to determine all the possiblities for damage and death that may have afforded), but at 4am this morning, patrolling because I couldn't sleep and there were noises, I felt small and afraid and worried.
We're extremely lucky this bastard (I must apologise for the swearing, but I am so mad) just ran off, but it could have been different. So lesson for today is: Install the security lights you've been putting off because of course you always shut your windows when you're out. Install a burglar alarm. Put gripper rods along your fence because they will always find a way in. And I hate that it has come to making our beautiful lovely lovable house a fortress; that we have to actively defend rather than enjoy. But if it stops some madman trying to crawl in through your window in the evening with the express intention of destroying your life, do it.
Monday, 7 September 2009
Were there really good old days in the food world? Yes, yes the government wants to get us all growing potatoes and putting carrots where they really have no business being - and I'm not saying this is a bad thing, devoted as I am to our vegetable plot - but rations weren't all health-a-go-go and bringing a bunny home for the pot. It was hard, hard work to make food that was nutritious and tasted good - it still is - on practically no money and families to feed or else they starve.
Go back even 30 years and the great stampede of convenience food was rearing its plastically-moulded head and we're still living in its apocalyptic shadow even now. But other things have moved on - thank goodness we've gotten away from nouvelle cuisine, or the hideous nightmarish creations of Fanny Cradock or ... or... oh, we've kept everything else, even Smash. We do love our foodie kitsch, it seems.
Restaurants are a shining example of keeping on top of food trends. There's still a chasm in this country I think. Some restaurants take pride in serving good food at decent prices (a relatively recent invention) and their customers recognise it and everyone's a winner; some prefer to serve utter shit and then any money you pay is too much, but they thrive because they are cheap and who bothers complaining... (another can of worms and one for another day). Some restaurants are slowly looking dated - Gordon Ramsay at Claridges, anyone? A genius of his day and probably still a genius chef, but someone change that menu from 1999 to 2009 - and charge the earth, but you're in the hands of a cooking god, don'tcha know? And some places keep steadily doing what they've been doing for 20 or 30 years and because the food is good and well-cooked and sweetly served, because the atmosphere is welcoming and the owner takes care in saying hello and goodbye, they survive even when a glance at the menu makes you wonder why in this racing age of foams and sherberts and clever ideas on cocktail sticks.
All this is a terribly long-winded way of saying Luigi's in Gipsy Hill (no link - there's no website - look at the post-modern retroism) is a rather fabulous place to spend a Friday night. Just on the junction of Gipsy Hill, opposite The Mansion (one to visit - see 1st category), they're quietly going about serving food that wouldn't have been out of place 35 years ago and yet it's still doing a roaring trade. Bruschetta, for the non-cognoscenti, is still described as roast toast. That alone endears it to me. There's even butter curls.
Squid salad came with prawns and mussels and that curiously-texture squid which implies bottled but might not be with a pungent dressing. Mussels with their winey tomato sauce came heaped with garlic roast toast for dipping. Veal osso bucho (sic) was a mammoth piece of cow shin with the marrow still within the bone (more bread please) and a timbale of risotto. Side dishes included carrot batons, hot and crisp deep-fried courgettes, spinach redolent of garlic and turned and impeccably scraped new potatoes. Duck, curiously with lemon and honey, was cooked to a turn, the legs well done but the meat falling from them.
There's a dessert trolley with tiramisu - ask for cheesecake and you'll get what looked distinctly like a quarter of the whole - MCD tried his best, bless him. Espresso is a shot to the heart after the behemoth portions.
And it's the small touches. The fact our chosen wine wasn't available, but a more expensive one recommended but sold at the cheaper price; the flood of Italian from the owner when he thought I knew more than how to order in a restaurant (my graduation cert has a lot to answer for); the fact he dines there, interrupting his dinner to welcome and wave farewell to all the guests - not customers, but guests. The slightly creaking courtesy, the green tiles reminiscent of a Greek taverna - It all made you want to order a Dubonnet and wish the 70s had never left.
But back then it might not have felt half as clever as it does now.
Wednesday, 2 September 2009
I've never really been into making jams and pickles and things - never had to deal before with an own-grown glut of things, so this was actually my first attempt. I have been driven for some years, however, to look out for a pickled green bean recipe - when I was in Boston a few years ago we went for the most awesome brunch and my Bloody Mary was served not with a celery stick, but with a pickled green bean. I thought the combination magical and have been on the lookout ever since, but nothing quite hit the mark until this. The base of the recipe comes from Christine McFadden's Farm Shop Cookbook.
So... with my notes...
Makes 4 x 600ml jars (I halved the recipe as I only had 2 jars).
850g green beans, stalks removed (I had as many as I could pick but that seemed to pack into 2 Kilner jars, but I did have to cut them in half to fit them in.)
1 large onion, halved and thinly sliced
4 garlic cloves, peeled
8 sprigs dill
1.25 L distilled (malt) vinegar (careful halving this as you may need more than half. I can't explain that - I failed Physics over and over)
2 1/2 tsp salt
2 1/2 tsp dill seeds (in lieu of which I used fennel seeds)
Plunge the beans into boiling water for 3 minutes, then drain and refresh under cold running water. I did this as it's supposed to keep their viridian colour, but mucked it up later - see below. Pack vertically - or anyway you can - or layering into the kilner jars with the onion, garlic and dill sprigs.
Heat the vinegar, sugar, salt and dill/fennel seeds in a saucepan, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Bring to the boil briefly, then remove from the heat and leave to cool for a few minutes. I recommend cooling almost completely, as pouring it over the beans when hot renders them khaki rather than appetisingly bright green, as you're continuing the cooking somewhat. Ideally the liquid should come to the top. Seal and store in a cool place for at least a week.
I left these 9 days, then cracked a jar open. The beans had retained their crunch, which I had been worried about and tasted fabulous. A little on the short side, perhaps, but then, aren't we all...?
Tuesday, 1 September 2009
1. The right meat.
Just now I favour chuck, carefully de-sinewed and coarsely minced.
2. The right bun.
Supermarket ones are ridiculous in every sense; I like the idea of brioche buns but haven't yet found one to convince me and an old-fashioned floury bun somehow doesn't hit the right note for a thick own-made rare-cooked piece of beef. Try these - Tortano rolls from The Flour Station.
3. The right topping.
Hmm... tricky one. I dithered for years between the mayo-ketchup combo with fresh sliced tomatoes and a little lettuce, gherkin and melted cheese and blue cheese-mustard-with a tad of onion marmalade occasionally. Both are/were good. The one below's better.
It's not enough to just fancy a burger - for it to be good, you've got to put love, effort, quality into it, otherwise you may as well bugger off to McB King. And occasionally it's enough to read something completely drool-inducingly inspiring - Let me introduce the Bobcat Burger from Helen Graves' Food Stories blog. People, this is our model.
I use about 120g per burger and add simply salt and pepper before rounding it to a thick patty. The reason I like my burgers thicker rather than flatter is that I like them rare and this gives you more margin for error what with the essential resting period.
Cook the burgers preferably in a heavy-based sauteuse, until done to just under your liking. Probably about 2-3 mins per side if rare. Take them out, cover with foil and leave to rest. Then melt a knob of butter in the pan and add a green chilli, sliced and de-seeded (if like me, you want a little heat but more flavour) and about 100ml hot chicken stock. Fry the little chillies in the mixture until the liquid has reduced a bit. Tip in any resting juices from the burgers.
Tip this mixture carefully over the burgers, making sure the chillies perch on the burger, then cover with lots of finely-sliced cheese - I had Jarlsberg, because that's what I could find, but try Gruyere - point is, you want something relatively mild, but that sticks the chillies to the burger. Flash under a hot grill to make the cheese ooze.
Manoeuvre into a split Tortano bun and devour. The buns themselves are very filling so you might not need the handful of home-made potato wedges I made to accompany this. We are simply piggies.
As Helen points out, these come courtesy of The Meat Wagon who tours around, but he's in The States at the mo, learning more on the perfect burger - experiment with this while he's refining his dark arts.
Finding it is not an issue. It's the car park. Getting to it, you run the gauntlet of the kids on bikes doing death-defying speed stunts around the unsurprisingly empty car park, up and down the ramps, avoiding - but only just - unexpected vehicles that have the temerity to be parked there. In the car park. Anyway, once you're out of the car on the 8th floor and you've made it up the next two up to the roof, your next challenge is to make it across the roof without the winds actually sent from hell blowing you over to a splattery death on the high street below. A second's hesitation and you're just another statistic - albeit rather a novel one and a great foodie-challenge way to go.
Having done so, you can then aim for one of the communal benches; people will be accommodating and shove up if you ask nicely. Once you've clocked your surroundings and ordered a drink - the campari list includes bicyclettes (see below) negronis, etc but look out for a light rose which lends a touch of summer to the blackening skies - you're good to go on ordering.
The menu's great - something for everyone and designed as dishes to share rather than hog, though I recommend if you're ordering the vegetables with anchoiade, order two. If you're ordering the ox heart, it comes salad-style so make it three. You might like the sound of crab on toast, charcuterie platters, salads, more vegetables with hummus, grilled sardines. It's all good, quickly cooked and arriving at will with nothing really overstepping the £5 plate. And you can keep it coming until the food actually runs out. That's my kind of restaurant.
With the darkness really setting in, the skyline does start to look quite beautiful; people milling trendily at the outer walls, drinking sophisticated drinks and smirting - you can see why it's a huge hit. There's nothing quite like it, certainly not in Peckham (hardly Food Central, if it doesn't mind me saying so) and people are packing in.
If you fancy going, make it sharp-ish as it closes from 30 September. And two tips - wrap up warm and for God's sake, whatever you do, take the lift down to the bottom on the right hand side of the building. The shiny silver one that goes up and down like Eeyore's balloon - not the old, crappy one that's liable to send you screaming for the wee-soaked stairwell, which in turn will send you screaming back to the elevator. It was eventful, that's all I'm saying...
Wednesday, 26 August 2009
So... for two people, parboil 6 baby leeks for about 3 mins, then leave to steam dry. Add to a roasting tin with quartered radicchio or chicory, courgettes sliced lengthways, quartered fennel - anything you fancy really, but that's what I had and roast until wilted and bronzed.
On the hob, saute chopped chorizo, garlic and rosemary in olive oil until the fat has run. (This recipe is actually a bastardized version of a Jamie at Home, but who follows the rules...?). Then scoop out with a slotted spoon, leaving the oil behind and fry off a good handful of stale breadcrumbs until rusted and crisp. Scoop them out, set aside and add the chorizo mix back into the pan. Add a good squeeze of lemon and 1-2 tbsp of balsamic.
When you're about ready to go, prepare the squid. Mine were whole and - tip from Jamie again - slide a large knife down the middle of the squid, then score concertina-like cuts about 1cm apart along the length of the squid - the inner knife ensures you won't cut through. Add the squid and tentacles to the roasting tin, set the timer for 4-5 mins (depending on size) and gently reheat the dressing.
Take the tin out the oven, arrange the veggies and squid on a plate, pour over the dressing and scatter over a handful of breadcrumbs. Deeply savoury, pleasingly textured and the autumnal hues are spirit-lifting on a dull night.
Monday, 24 August 2009
I did mention Tandoori roasted chicken and pickled green beans in my last post (not to be eaten together, if you've any sense) and I will post the recipes later this week, promise. In the meantime, I thought I'd start an occasional series on where I live in Crystal Palace in South East London.
Actually, intriguingly enough Crystal Palace doesn't exist as a place. Although it has a train station thus called, the area of Upper Norwood - its rightful title - was simply nicknamed after the Victorian Crystal Palace and the name stuck.
One of the nicest things about Palace is the village feel. There are more diverse restaurants (good ones, thank God) than you can think of, an excellent bookshop, nice cafes for coffee, a little bakery, boutiques and antiques and even a sex shop - no village is complete without one. One of the more contentious battles right now is the war between the community and the church in the hostile takeover of the bingo hall. Originally an art-deco cinema, there are plans to re-open it as such, which would be an enormous boost to the area and it would be nice not to have to go all the way to flipping Croydon for a film. However the church believes that what our ethnically-diverse community needs is yet another place of worship and goodness, they're being sneaky about it. Anyway, the battle rages on: you can sign up to the petition for the cinema here.
Another little-known fact, and one strictly for the Durrell (Gerald or Lawrence) fans, is that before the epic move to Corfu before the war, the Durrells lived in a little flat in the gardens of the Queens Hotel on Church Road and after Corfu they lived briefly again, whereabouts unrecorded, in Norwood before moving more centrally. This may mean little to the rest of you, but for me it's kismet, fate, meant-t0-be.... (MCD is quite aware it's only an accident of fate and birth and timing, goddamnit, that I didn't marry G Durrell first - lucky lucky man, the both of them....)
There are a few things missing in the Palace. A farmers market would be no.1 on my wish list. At the moment I go to Penge, which isn't far at all, but it would be nice to have one in Palace itself. There is a market every 3rd weekend, but it's that terribly tired formula of cynically-expensive French cheeses, olives, bread and salami, which is all well and good but not terribly useful when you're still forced to Sainsburys to complete the weekly shop. Hopefully it will grow and diversify, but the space in Victoria Place is a little limited, so who knows....
Apparently there used to be independent butchers, greengrocers et al, but with the reasonably recent opening of Sainsburys, they've gone. It's hard to believe, but there's not a single retail outlet selling fresh fruit and vegetables apart from Budgens (limited in the extreme) and the supermarket. Again, Penge has a remarkable butchers in Murray Bros, so this combined with the farmers market offers a decent spread. However, the farmers market is struggling slightly with lack of footfall - please, please, please my reader(s), support your local farmers market if you have one. Once it's gone, the council won't bring it back.
For a slice of life at the top of the hill, then, I'll be posting restaurant reviews, thoughts, events, anything going on really, as I get wind of it. Anything I've missed, chuck it over and I'll blog about it.