Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Crisps


I love crisps. Here is the link to a previous post on this important subject. Walkers came up with a competition 'Do us a flavour, pick a winner'inviting people to think up new flavour combinations for crisps. This led to much discussion amongst the people I used to do the sweet stall with...'blue cheese and broccoli!' 'brie and cranberry' 'were some of the suggestions. 
There were six winners: my teen and I have put them through their paces...
Builders Breakfast
Me: tastes like HP sauce
My teen: it's a bit like ham
Crispy duck and Hoisin
Me: tastes like sesame oil, soy sauce, hint of ginger, oyster sauce, maybe bit of star anise, quite like it.
My teen: it tastes like Chinese food, which I don't like.
Cajun squirrel:
Me: don't know what a squirrel tastes like, but apparently no squirrels were harmed in the making of this product. Cumin, Oregano strongest tastes to emerge here
My teen: very herby (this is not a good thing in her book)
Fish & Chips:
Me: a slightly fishier version of Salt & vinegar
My teen's favourite: not as tart as Salt & vinegar so I prefer it.
Onion Bhaji:
Me: My favourite. I would get this in a pub with half a lager. It gives you that same buzz as a curry and lager.
My teen: amazingly accurate taste. Except I don't like onion bhajis.
Chilli & Chocolate:
Yet to be obtained.

Papillons and pastry with Lavender Bakery


Each butterfly is hand decorated.


Lavender Bakery had to make an awful lot of butterfly biscuits for The Natural History museum


Food colourings and Lescure butter


The 'guides' either side (those long white sticks)


Intricate piping decoration

Sweet Biscuit Recipe courtesy of Lavender Bakery


200g soft butter
200g caster sugar
1 egg
400g sifted plain flour
1 tsp vanilla extract (or zest of a lemon)

Cream butter and sugar - but not too much, add egg, add flour - refrigerate until firm but not hard.

Roll out, cut shapes,

Refrigerate again on trays,

Bake at 180C until golden brown.

The best pate sucrée recipe (Leiths):


170g plain flour
a pinch of salt
85g unsalted butter (the best quality you can afford)
3 egg yolks
85g caster sugar
2 drops vanilla essence
Sift the flour with the salt on to a work surface. Place butter in the centre of a well in the flour, then place yolks on top of the butter, the sugar and vanilla on top of the eggs.
Using a pecking motion with the fingertips of one hand, combine the centre mixture until smooth.
Using a palette knife if you have one, scoop the flour on to the butter mixture.
Chop the flour into the butter until the mixture sticks together.
Gather pastry into a long narrow rectangle. Then smear together 'fraiser' the pastry.

Lavender Bakery taught me when you roll it out:
  • that you only flour underneath 
  • you can use 'guides' to maintain a similar thickness of rolling
  • you roll from the middle away from you
  • you turn the pastry in quarter turns

Don't forget The Underground Tea this Sunday at 4pm...

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Patricia Michelson, a big cheese!

Limney sparkling champagne




Patricia Michelson, owner of La Fromagerie

The St. Georges day shortbread, decorated with the cross of St George.

St George's Day Cheese and Wine tasting at La Fromagerie, London. St George is the patron saint of England, although he originated from Syria. He is one of the most popular saints in the world, famed for defeating a dragon. St George embraced openness and thoughtfulness. He supported the poor, the rich, farmers and soldiers, especially in times of war. 

This evening was themed around cheese and drinks from countries with which St.George had connections or had visited. The cheeses are all early Spring, light, fresh and tangy.

We started with Sussex champagne: Limney Sparkling wine 2000 (Rotherfield)made from Pinot noir and Auxerois grapes. It’s not cheap at £23.85 a bottle. The programme says it has notes of lemongrass. They aren’t kidding. I yearned for the addition of crème de cassis of which I do possess a miniature handbag sized bottle. Patricia Michelson, the owner of La Fromagerie declared that many vineyard owners from the Alsace-Lorraine area of France are buying up parts of Sussex, so impressed are they with British wines.

This was accompanied by tiny gougéres, light and creamy, using Emmental and Comté, and Poilane bread triangles topped with mushrooms, lemon and parsley. Of course it would have been more appropriate to use St Georges, one of the first maturing edible mushrooms of the year, in late April, but they were not yet ready.

British cheeses have less of a reputation than French cheeses, wrongly, it turns out, for many famous French cheeses are actually based on British techniques. But at present British consumption of cheese is only a third of the French.

On a cheese tasting or cheese plate in a restaurant, you always work from 12 o clock clockwise, in order of strength, from mild to strong.

The first cheese was from Berkshire, 'Wigmore' the rine hand-rubbed in water so that it is not too thick. A ewe milk cheese, it has a silky, earthy, glycerine richness that works well with beer.

The second, a Wensleydale Cheshire cheese ‘Richard III’ ( the area that this king was born) is the oldest British cheese. It was originally made by French monks from Roquefort who had come over during the Norman Conquest. The French Cantal is very similar to Cheshire; the same technique is used; prodding the cheese with needles to expel the water. I loved all the historical references in this tasting; it made me feel as if I were chomping my way through the crusades. 

Thirdly we had a Lincolnshire cheese ‘Poacher’ (the name comes from the unofficial county anthemthat looked like a cheddar but came from The Fens. They cut the curd, the cheese is pressed and therefore nutty. It is very British in style; with our mild weather, we like a tangy bitter cheese. This area of Lincolnshire has very dry summers, for that reason all the cheese are made before June. This is the most aged cheese before the season slows down, one of the best in England. Again this matches well with the hoppiness of beer.

Then we moved across the water, to Ireland, Ardrahan. This part of Ireland likes to brine-wash the rinds. The cheese is affected by the sea breezes, the lush grass, the soft rain. Roasted almonds marry well with this cheese.

This first course was matched by a Chateau Sancrit 2005, Bordeaux (Saint-Andre-de-Cubzac) and a Carmelite beer, Tripel Karmeliet, Buggenhout, from Belgium. Bordeaux is a particularly British part of France; the UK are the largest consumers of Bordeaux in the world. We ruled the region for 300 years (1154 to 1453), most famously during the era of Eleanor of Aquitaine.

A second plate of dairy travels started with  Limburger cow's milk cheese, Zurwies, from Germany. Patricia Michelson has just discovered real German cheeses.

"Most of them are awful, industralised, produced in massive quantities"
she says candidly. But there remain little pockets in Germany still where they are making cheese by hand. This cheese is not heavy or strong and matches well with rye and caraway biscuits.

Moving further south, a lovely ewes cheese, Garrotxa, Borreda, from a tiny farm in Catalonia, near El Bulli. The cheese looks like an old stone; the milk is heated, and the cheese grows a dark suede-like mould, then it is brought into a cooler humid fridge. After six months it is ready. The cheese loses a great deal of weight and is therefore full of protein. This cheese represents a region that has struggled to maintain it’s identity through war and dictators. The Catalan people are reclaiming their countryside, St. George would have approved. I absolutely adored this cheese but then I love goat and sheep.

Returning to Germany, we taste a tangy Adelegger Urberger, a gruyère style cow's milk cheese from Bavaria. A hard cheese like this can work with white wine.

We accompanied this plate with a gros manseng wine from South West France, Domaine du Tariquet, Cotes de Gascogne, which almost tasted German. (As an aside Patricia Michelson said that it matched well with asparagus which is notoriously difficult to match).

Moving onto blue cheese, again from Bavaria, Bad Oberdorf, Allgau.

"This is actually what a cambozola aspires to be…rich buttery…fantastic for sauces" says Patricia. "A great recipe is to mix it with butter and herbs, roll it up, freeze it and cut off little rounds as and when. This cow cheese is great on a burger."

The second blue, made from ewe's milk, is from the Pays Basque ‘Zelu Koloria’ (Basque for 'colour of the sky') The season for this cheese is 7 to 8 months from February until the end of the year at which point it is very strong. On St Georges Day it is still quite mild. 

The last is a Colston Basset Stilton from Nottinghamshire. A fabulous cow's cheese, made with a different style of rennet. Rennet separates the curds from the whey and is a vital element for the cheese maker. Nowadays so many cheeses are made with vegetarian rennet but Patricia Michelson prefers the traditional method. With this cheese you have the full flavour of the white and the blue. The mould marbles through the entire cheese, giving the look of an earth-like stone.

These cheeses are accompanied by a dense treacly Calabrian black fig “made in the toe of Italy” a lovely image that suggests tangerines in the toe of your Christmas stocking.

We end this St George's day tasting in Portugal, a country that also has St. George as their patron saint, with port, Quinta de la Rosa,  the perfect match for blue cheese.

Finally shortbread biscuits were served decorated with the red cross of St. George.

The origin of the St George's Cross came from the plain white tunics worn by the early crusaders. It became the national flag of England in 1277. The England football team still wear it today (although beaten by Portugal at the last world cup in a battle between nations protected by St George). 

I highly recommend a visit to this shop, an enchanted cheese kingdom. Patricia Michelson's book The Cheese Room is a fantastic journey through Europe, a guide to cheese and recipes. I am constantly dipping into it. She is working on a new book. I can't wait. All in all, a fascinating evening, where you are led by the hand by an expert, through history and cheese tasting. My only complaint was that the portions weren't large enough for me. At the end I was still hungry and had to go to the chippie!

Marmite on toast


For my money the best breakfast on the planet. This is desert island food. I'm a Marmite baby, my whole family was brought up eating Marmite. My brother would consume an entire loaf of bread, butter and Marmite when he got in from school.
My favourite bread is Vogels Soya and Linseed. My favourite butter is Brittany sea salt (Tesco's finest Brittany butter is a good option in the UK)with large salt crystals that you can crunch.
My favourite condiment is Marmite. I know Australians and some New Zealanders prefer Vegemite but for me, Marmite is tops. I guess it depends what you were brought up with.
I've had Marmite in India, made in Indian factories. It was a lifesaver but had a slightly different taste. On another trip, whilst halfway through a year in South America, I met a woman who had just flown over from Britain. She had a pot of Marmite. I eyed it lustfully. She noted this, and charitably said that she had brought two and that I could have one of them. It's hard to describe how good, almost a relief, it was to have some Marmite after six months of deprivation. Marmite also contains vitamin B12 which some claim repels mosquitos.
Here is a great link to Marmite history and information. For the record, I'd like to state the Marmite in a squeezy bottle is not as good but will do in a pinch for camping trips.
I've not tried a Marmite crisp sandwich, apparently popular in New Zealand. Great combinations include Marmite and tahini on toast, Marmite and melted cheese on toast, Marmite and tomato on toast. 
I haven't yet tried it on icecream as a topping but this is surely good... I must have a taste for umami foods, one of the five tastes (the others are sweet, sour, salty and bitter)  as I also like parmesan, soy sauce, anchovies and salty liquorice. Salmiakki is the most orgasmic Finnish chocolate, filled with liquid salty liquorice.
I'd like to do a Marmite themed dinner for The Underground Restaurant. The chocolatier Paul A. Young makes Marmite chocolate truffles....mmm
There will of course be some Marmite and cucumber sandwiches for The Underground Tea this Sunday.

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Kitchenaid and icecream


My new paraphilia...








Wild garlic flower salad with walnut oil and dijon mustard dressing

From the sublime to the ridiculous...this week I used two new pieces of equipment:
  • A kitchenaid mixer which costs between £300-£350.
  • An icecream maker I bought at a car boot sale for £1.
I've been lusting after a Kitchenaid mixer for a decade at least. They look great with both retro and modern kitchens; all that enamel, chrome and curvy lines, reminiscent of 30s - 50s American style, the Frigidaire, the Cadillac, diners, Hollywood and the American dream. 

I dusted off the icecream maker. It didn't have any instructions... but the box said if you put your icecream mixture into it, it's all done in 15 minutes.
For my maiden voyage into icecream I chose a passionfruit recipe from Nigel Slater. Easy.
  •  Make a syrup of 100g sugar and 125ml water. Strain the juice of 10 passionfruits, discard the seeds. Add 400ml of creme fraiche to the syrup (I put 600ml). Add the juice. Then scoop out the pulp from another 10 passionfruits into the mix, so you have some seeds but not too many. 
I put it in the ice cream maker. I checked after 15 minutes. Nothing happened. I put the whole thing into the freezer and decide, hey what a genius, to google the instructions on the internet. Oops I was supposed to have frozen the icecream maker for 12 hours previously! I leave the icecream in the freezer overnight and hope for the best.
In the morning I checked, and it was lovely. Passionfruit is one of my favourite fruit, with the creme fraiche you have sour, sweet and creamy at the same time.
I accompanied the icecream with some lemon and almond biscotti, inspired by a post on Mat Follas' blog and an Alice Waters recipe. Very easy again.. But I would probably add more sugar next time.

3 1/4 cups unbleached flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 1/2 cups sugar
100g unsalted butter
3 large eggs
Zest of 2 lemons
1 cup whole almonds, toasted, coarsely chopped almonds (I did some roasted, then added some raw)
Mix it all together, make 2 'loaves'. Bake for 15 minutes at 300 degrees (baking oven of the Aga). Cut into slices, then bake quickly (5 mins) in hot oven 350 degrees.
Dust with icing sugar.

The pizza mix, aided by the Kitchenaid mixer, took minutes to prepare. I can see I am going to develop bingo wings from lack of kneading. I don't care!
It was so efficient, the pizza rose more than I expected. Must work on getting a thinner crust, although a thick crust from the Aga is also good. I experimented too with a spelt flour pizza.


Spelt dough


For starters I griddled red peppers, thinly sliced courgettes and aubergines, basting them with an olive oil, salt, garlic and oregano mix. I dressed the grilled vegetables with a balsamic, pomegranate and maple syrup glaze.


Should have had a picture of the final dish but a certain person hid the camera in her room.

 Wild Garlic Pesto on top of the pizza:
I blanched the leaves for 20 seconds then dried them. In the Kitchenaid food processor, I put a handful of pine kernels, some parmesan cheese, the wild garlic leaves and a squeeze of lemon juice. Mat Follas suggests doing a pesto with just the flowers and the stalks when the leaves become too grassy.
I added the flowers to a mache salad.


After dessert people had a choice of coffee or the most delicious rose petal tea 'lendemain de fetes' from Marseille, given to me by and available at Fred of Galvinatwindows. It is rosehip pink and fragrant.

Friday, 24 April 2009

Alcoholic Architecture


Sam Bompas welcoming people in...

Getting changed into a white paper suit...

The cocktail bar...

About to enter...

The mistifier machine...Bompas got advice from the Eden project technical manager for this

What everybody is wearing in Spring '09...shades of Guantanamo ?

Inspired by Anthony Gormley's installation Blind Light, this unusual art/food project in Ganton St, just off Carnaby St, requires special clothing, a paper boiler suit given free on entry.
We soon saw, er felt, why...on leaving, everything, clothes, camera, hair, phone, is covered with a light sticky substance! 
Hendricks Gin and Tonic cocktails are served at the entry cocktail bar. You then descend into a misty room, a pea-souper fog, where you cannot see further than half a yard. Your tongue tastes of citric acid, your nose starts to run, people are giggling, swaying...
"Do you feel drunk?" I ask one woman.
"Yeah, but that's because I've been drinking" she slurs, drink in hand.
A film crew is trying to film in there. Impossible really. It's a dream-like experience. Shuffling around, all of us in identical white suits, a little disorientated, your breath sticky and short, this reminds me of something... a surreal image springs to mind, unbidden, of the gas chambers...with a party atmosphere.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Scarlett gardens


When I was a trendy young photographer in the 80s there was a face you'd see on the cover of all the hip magazines (ID, The Face), who ran nightclubs, worked with artist Andrew Logan of the Alternative Miss World show and was generally a fashion icon.
I took a famous portrait of Scarlett Canon one day in the studio(above).
Recently, looking for people with local allotments who could provide The Underground Restaurant with fresh organic vegetables, I was recommended this blog: http://heavenlyhealer.blogspot.com/
Imagine my surprise when I realised that this reiki practitioner and gardener was Scarlett! Plus she lives in Kilburn!
She has an allotment in Hampstead (how cool is that?) and has a consultancy for those who want to grow vegetables in their garden. For £100 she will come, walk around your garden, measure, tell you what you can grow and when, and give you a written and drawn plan. Scarlett incorporates companion planting and permaculture into her gardening. Then, if you wish, she can oversee the work with her team.
We've just spent the day in the overgrown Underground garden. She has pointed me in the direction of Franchi seeds with their gorgeous seed packaging, we've made a list of what I can grow this year and what we must plan for the next. We just need some muscle now.
I took another portrait of her; she looks as fabulous as ever...


Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Jagerbombs



Step 1: pour out shot glass of Jagermeister liqueur.

Step 2: drop shot into glass of Red Bull

Step 3: drink it in one

Step 4: snog nearest bloke

Wild garlic



Courtesy of the Food Urchin. Advice on Twitter from Hollowlegs and Eatlikeagirl is to use the leaves and the flowers in pasta. 
I love the way the flowers are covered in garlic skin.
I tasted some of the leaves and the flowers today and they were strong! Really garlicky!
Next Saturday I'm doing a pizza night...straight from the Aga. I think I should use this wild garlic soon before it dies?
Garlic flower salad?
This is an interesting blog post on wild garlic, how to grow it, cut it, cook it.

New Tayyabs



The tinda pumpkin curry

Baby aubergines and dahl


I used to hang out quite a bit at the London Action Resource Centre or LARC on Fieldgate Street in Whitechapel. The building was bought by a trustafarian activist as a place to host anarchist events and meetings. F.I.T  (Police Forward Intelligence Team) were always outside filming us, tracking 'dangerous' activists. 
Opposite is the building where George Orwell dossed when he wrote 'Down and Out in London and Paris', now poshed up as City pied à terres. And next to that is a restaurant where there are always lines of people waiting outside.
This restaurant, New Tayyabs,  turns out to be the food blogger's mecca, which even has it's own Facebook fan page. Daunted by the queues, I tended to eat on the corner, a formica table joint where I'd be the only white woman. The breads are fresh off the griddle and their Sag Aloo rocks. It was hard to eat for over a fiver.
A week or so ago I made it down to New Tayyabs having finally had the foresight to book a table. I took the teen. 
Hanging over the restaurant awning is a winking blue neon sign... almost downtown Lahore. But the clientele is not only Pakistani but white, Chinese, Indian, anyone who loves good food.
New Tayyabs has one of London's few proper naan bread ovens. You see the waiters going past with stacks of these breads, the plain ones cost £2, melted butter ghee nestling in the dents of the steaming dough. 
Sitting down you are immediately faced with a tray of three sauces, yoghurty mint, mango and tomato and two poppodums, plain and spicy plus a little dish of salad. Sauces are authentically spiced to Pakistani standards.
Following @hollowlegs suggestion I ordered the pumpkin curry, Tinda Masala, not something I'd usually ask for. Thank god I took her advice. It was far and away the best thing I had. The little pumpkins (not sure what kind) were small, sweet and orange. This is the kind of dish that, if you were in prison, dreaming about good food, you'd order when you got out.
I also ordered Sag Aloo £4.80p(to compare with the corner, nice but not as good I'm afraid). The mini aubergine and dahl curry (Dailil Baingun £5.00p) was an unusual combination for me, nicely oily and stickily seasoned.
People tend to order the excellent breads (£2.00 to £2.50 depending on what type) rather than the rice but the pilao rice (£2.50p) was so good, perfumed and buttery. My teen picked the fish, Kasahi curry, £7.00p which she wolfed down. And mind, she is fussy.
I was disappointed with the salty lassi topped with caraway seeds, too thin for my liking. I did enjoy the Malai Kulfi, vanilla Indian icecream (£2.50) made in house, which the waiter rolled in his hand to warm it up sufficiently to extract from the plastic bag. 
I need to return really, I was so stuffed. I did ask for everything to be put in a doggy bag for the next day. 
In some ways it's unfair for a non-meat eater to review a primarily meat cuisine but even a vegetarian would be delighted with the food. The bill was £30 for two.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

TV and Thai food

A trip to Wing Yip's Asian Supermarket in Staples Corner. Fascinating, cheap and they pack your bags for you.

Rhubarb for the Eton Mess


The corn fritter mix, Thai Holy Basil and fresh Water chestnuts.

Peeling the water chestnuts. Fresh, they taste like coconut.

Dumpling skins filled with roast butternut squash and shitake mushrooms

We started off by steaming them but in the end, due to time restraints, plumped for a quick boil. They are a little slimier boiled.

Charlie Nelson saved my ass on Saturday. Too much with the TV people!

Thai fish cakes and corn fritters

Frida and Agnetha, the Abba girls (wigs we found in my teen's bedroom)

Happy Birthday to the Swedish dancing queen!



A full house and then, why did I do it? I let TV people in. All too much with simultaneously trying to cook dinner for 29 people. The intended "half hour and we'll be out of your hair" and a "quick chat" ended up as a Paxman-style grilling from investigative reporter Johnny Maitland
"Do you think it's just a novelty?" he hammered the guests "Is this a response to the credit crunch?" 
It's just my bloody living room Johnny, not Iraq!
My sis, who kindly did front of house for me, has taken to calling me MsLimelightLover. She's the actress normally. Her scenes filling the dishwasher for the telly people, over and over again, were a masterpiece in method acting. You felt she meant it. 
I did get the production girl to fry the corn fritters.
"Do you cook?" I ask. 
"Never. My boyfriend would be shocked if he saw me doing this" she replied.
Sooo, apologies if things were a little tardy. I got my first round of applause from one table. The table of nine at the back had a birthday for the Swedish girl. The whole room clapped to Dancing Queen by Abba when her boyfriend, attired in a wig, presented a Happy Birthday cupcake. At another table was sat two girls from Singapore. For my South-East Asia evening. Gulp.
"The food was very interesting" said one of them "a Londoner's view of Thai food. You could tell all the ingredients were very fresh, nothing shop-bought."
Her friend chipped in
"I really like the dumplings. Biting into them and getting butternut squash was such a surprise"
At the same table was a man who used to work with Keith Flint's dad. This information emerged because I mentioned that the previous night I had been to see Prodigy at Wembley Arena. Horrible venue but the band were great. Keith Flint may not be the 'talented' one but he has charisma in spades. You can't take your eyes off him. Keith Flint's dad owned a vineyard. So the firestarter is a nice middle-class boy after all. 
I inserted subversive messages into fortune cookies but forgot to serve them...