Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Burns Night part 3: whisky, cheese and address to a haggis

Cranachan: oatmeal, raspberry coulis, whisky, double cream

Tatty scones...

Tattoo and kilt

Toasting oatmeal/making raspberry coulis

Soaking the prunes in leek stock...

Guest in a kilt, his family tartan

Cockaleekie soup with prunes...

Calum Walker reciting 'Address to a haggis' by heart

Stabbing the haggis during the address...

Nips of haggis and neeps (which I cooked with tons of butter and cream)

Whisky tasting

Alex, a whisky ambassador...

Single Malt Whiskies: Singleton of Dufftown (delicate, citrussy and rich), Talisker (chocolatey and smoky), Glenkinchie (grassy and delicate), Dalwhinnie (light and peaty). You can download a copy and find out more about these delicious whiskies here. Alex, the whisky ambassador explained that the first taste of whisky is often a shock, but as you continue to sip, you get the full flavour. Smoky whiskies get flavour from the peat that is used to dry the barley, whereas as 'delicate' whiskies contain unpeated barley. These whiskies matched the cheeses in an interesting way.

Cheese board of Scottish cheeses...a cheddar from the Isle of Mull; Strathdon blue cheese, Seator's Orkney and Cromarty by Rory Stone in Tain (my favourite) with sourdough and of course, oatcakes!

Irn Bru batter for Mars Bars... that wonderful day glo orange, so full of vitamins!

One guy said to me "I'm Scottish and this is the first time I've had a deep fried Mars Bar! Thank you!"

Burns Night part 2:curing my own salmon


The cure

After 12 hours...

Drying and hooking...

The smoking shed

On the rack...

Cured in Kilburn, smoked in Camden...

Canapes for Burns night...

The food writer Tim Hayward messaged me on Twitter to offer me the facility of his smoking shed in his Camden back garden. I love smoked salmon, in fact most smoked foods, but didn't know what it entailed.
"What do I do?" I asked Tim.
"Cure it, then bring it over for smoking overnight. I'll vacuum pack it in the morning. Leave it for a week to fully absorb the flavours before serving" said Tim.
  • I ordered a whole salmon, split into two filets.
  • Mix up 3 cups of sel grise and 3 cups of sugar (which I had previously used to candy orange, lemon and lime peel, which still retained some citrus fruit flavours).
  • Cover the bottom of a dish long enough to lay out the salmon, with half the sugar/salt mixture.
  • Chop all the fresh herbs I had in the food processor (mostly tarragon, some basil, dill, thyme, and parsley).
  • Spread half the herb mix on the salt/sugar mix in the dish.
  • Lay the filets, skin side down on the salt/sugar mix.
  • Cover the top of the filets with the herb mix and salt/sugar mix.
  • Place another dish on top, weighing it down with cans.
  • Leave in the fridge for 12 hours,
  • After 12 hours, take off the weighted dish,
  • Scrape away the salt/sugar/herb mix to one side and drain off some off the liquid
  • Turn over the filets (you will notice they are stiff now) and cover the exposed side with the reserved herb/sugar/salt mix.
  • Replace the weighted dish and leave for another 12 hours.
  • After a 24 hour cure (although I left mine for 48 hours so I guess it doesn't matter if you do it a bit longer), remove the filets and wash off the mixture.
  • Pat dry with a non fluffy tea towel.
  • Drive to Tim Hayward's house
Tim has a little shed in his back garden with a little smoking machine attached. You put 'tablets' of compressed oak chippings in the machine which are heated up, the smoked from which is pumped into the shed.
The salmon filets were hung up on hooks but as soon as we had shut the door, there was a thud.
The filets had fallen off the hooks.
"Did you scale it?" asked Tim, perplexed.
I shouldn't have done that. For smoking you leave the filets unscaled. Tim then niftily constructed a Heath Robinson device from a rack and some lengths of wire upon which we could lay the filets.
A week later Tim dropped off the smoked salmon labelled 'MsMarmitelover's Home Cure'.
For Burns night, I served it in little slices upon whisky infused cream cheese and tatty scones.
Normally potato scones are larger and cut in four. I made mini ones with oak smoked flour which served to highlight the oaky aroma.
I must say, and many people agreed, it was the best smoked salmon I have ever eaten.

'Tatty' scones

Boil a kilo of floury (Maris Piper) potatoes
When cooked, pass through a ricer
Mix in 250g of salted butter
2 teaspoons of Maldon salt
1 teaspoon of baking soda
250g of oaked smoked flour (or ordinary)

  • Knead the mixture together then
  • Roll out onto a floured board about a centimeter thick
  • Cut out little rounds with an egg cup
  • Cook on a cast iron or thick bottomed frying pan on the simmering plate of the Aga or a low heat
  • Rub a little butter on the warm pan
  • Cook the scones until the texture stiffens, puffs a little and it colours each side to a light golden brown.
If serving later, lay them out on tin foil making an envelope and keep them in a low oven.
Serve with the whisky cream cheese, smoked salmon, a sprig of dill, a little lemon and black pepper.

Burns Night part 1

No sleep. Wake up. Crawl to Tescos in bashed up van, didn't remember to order from cheaper/better places. Bleary eyed. See veggie haggis for sale. Think sod it, I'm cheating, I'll buy it, not make it. Never cheat normally. Whole point of restaurant is not to cheat. Get home. Unload van. Toast oatmeal for Cranachan dessert. It's taking forever. Look at Aga temperature dial. Heart stopping moment: FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK. It's not working. It's OFF. Whaaaat! Look at 'Do not switch this off or you will DIE' plug: it's on.
Brain slowly whirrs. Um, fuse? How do I change plug fuse? Is this something I know how to do? Can't remember, been long time since I did it. Do I have any fuses even?
Ring Laura James of Aga who is a friend. A man answers. Sounds very officey even though I know it's their home. He sounds, erm, a bit testy that I'm calling him in Norfolk about my Aga in Kilburn. As well he might be. But I'm in no mood for logic. Eventually I ask if he is Laura's husband, he says yes. He says Laura coming home tomorrow. Why don't I call the local Aga shop in Marylebone. BOLLOCKS BOLLOCKS BOLLOCKS
Go to laptop. Look up Aga number. Call it. Woman answers and I can't understand anything she is saying. I know she is speaking English but my brain, stalled by fatigue and panic, won't work properly. "Do you normally get serviced by Aga?" she says. I ask her to repeat this. It feels like the most stupid question in the world. Yes, I reply dully, of course I do, I've got an Aga. Who else would service it? British Telecom? "Madam, it's just that some of our customers use other companies to service their Agas. Anyway we can get a service engineer out to you tomorrow"...she says, tapping on invisible computer keys.
I'm now hyperventilating. TOMORROW AFTERNOON? I'VE GOT 30 PEOPLE COMING FOR DINNER TONIGHT! AND THEY ARE SCOTTISH! I screech. This seems to work. She asks lightly "have you tried reigniting the pilot light?". Pilot light? I think. There is a pilot light? HOW DO I DO THAT? I wail.
"The instructions are on the door" she says in that 'I'm not going to nurse you through this' way. Clenching my iphone to my ear with my shoulder, I open one of the oven doors that doesn't contain an oven. I've never looked at it before. There are wires and switches. On the back of the door there is a metal plate with instructions and drawings. It looks a bit like a boiler and I think there probably should be a flame inside the little window. There isn't. The Aga lady is still talking to me, albeit muffled...there is no flame I say. "Maybe the wind blew out the pilot light" she says. "Were there strong winds last night?" I look wildly around my kitchen, thinking how can the wind blow out a flame indoors? encased in a cast iron oven? This makes no sense!
I start flicking at switches, I see something on a dial saying 'ignition position'. HAHAHAHAHA by doing this I make a flame...I've reignited the pilot! I'VE DONE IT!!!! I'VE 'FIXED' THE AGA!!!
Limp after this rush of adrenalin, I hang up on the Aga lady. I'm now fully awake. But I have to wait several hours before the Aga is heated up again enough to cook dinner.

Monday, 25 January 2010

Way to go

If you are gonna die, cut off in your prime, ravaged by Motor Neurone Disease, then I could not think of a better funeral than that of Val Jones, activist and samba drummer with Rhythms of Resistance. In a band, you often spend hours with someone, in practice, at gigs, waiting backstage, sometimes we were in heavy situations, penned in by the police, at marches or travelling for three days in a sweltering mini bus to a political conference in Belgrade. I never knew Val was married. I never knew her surname was Jones (I thought it was 'Dazzle' her activist name). I never knew she went to art school.
In terms of attendance, her funeral was a veritable 'Who's Who' in the activist, alternative political world, the one that you never hear about on TV and in the papers, except as 'evil protesters' but which, undeterred by bad press, are an engaged force for grassroots change. Much of the congregation wore pink and silver, the colours of Rhythms of Resistance. Val wasn't famous, there will be no obituary in The Guardian or The Times, but everybody in that unacknowledged world of political protest was there, celebrating her life.
You know those demonstrations, those protests, particularly against the war in Iraq? You know how marches used to be so dull? And how they have become lively exciting edgy street parties rather than an angry futile trudge past an uncaring parliament to Trafalgar Square? Then again you may have flinched with projected embarrassment at the straggly mohican haircuts, the dreadlocks, the rag-tag colourful anti-fashion freegan outfits and the unpaid ridiculous idealism of scruffy students and dyed-in-the-wool older activists delusionally imagining they can even dent, let alone change, the status quo...
But you can't deny their hope, their dedication, their concern...nor their sense of subversive fun and sheer bravery.
Much of that is thanks to tactical frivolity...a form of protest which started in Britain with Reclaim the Streets in the 1990s and truly took flight at the beginning of this millennium, in 2000, at the protest against the IMF in Prague. Rhythms of Resistance was formed in London afterwards, the first practice taking place in Highbury Fields. We are now ten years old. RoR were the musical wing of the pink and silver block, samba having always been a form of protest in Brazil by the blacks, former slaves drawing upon their Angolan and Congolese roots, against white landowners.
Val was part of Reclaim the Streets, a non violent direct action collective that would occupy roads and throw a party, briefly preventing traffic from dominating public space. RTS formed a sign language for meetings: one finger up meant 'I'd like to say something'; both hands waggling in the air meant 'agreement'; hands forming a 'T' meant 'I'd like to make a technical point with concrete information'; a fist meant 'I'm blocking this'.
As Val's colleagues, representatives from the Rossport anti-Shell pipeline protests, carrying the Irish flag, Mark from London Action Resource Centre, playing guitar, somebody from RTS, talked about Val, there was laughter as well as tears and some of us used the hand language to demonstrate agreement.
Val, ever the ecologist, chose a green ending, with a woven biodegradable casket, so pretty you almost felt it could double up as a nice bit of conservatory furniture, and a forest burial at St. Pancras cemetery.
We all formed a line of drums and played some of Val's favourite samba tunes as she was lowered into the ground.

A sensual evening in pictures

It takes practice, eating with your fingers, to do it with style... but my guests were game

Cutting the Durian, protecting myself from the spikes with a towel...

This is probably the dinner at which I would have most liked to have been a guest at my own restaurant.
For the 'sound' course my daughter made a seashore tape to go with the ceviche.
The fun really began though with the main course 'touch' where I encouraged everybody to eat with their hands, explaining as best I could, the Indian technique. We gave everybody wipes to clean their hands before and after.
I had bought an entire Durian fruit, costing over £30, for the 'smell' course. Durian has it's own export plane and it's illegal to take it on public transport in the far East. Judging from the reaction at Wing Yip supermarket where I bought the fruit, I was the first Westerner to ever do so. They packed it into a box and taped it down, after having shown me the end where to 'open' the fruit. One guest said
"I loved it when you brought the giant mutant conker to the table".
The inside had the texture of artichoke hearts with a sweet and sour taste. It didn't actually smell too bad, being quite fresh.
I 'matched' this with 'Stinking Bishop' cheese which was practically crawling off the cheese board by itself.

At the end I asked everybody to don their masks...the effect was of a roomful of Zorro's! As we handed around the desserts, I had to place the spoons into guest's hands. Some had found their spoons but were stabbing around on the table cloth trying to find the ramekin. Comments from guests about eating blindfolded:
"Time slowed down. Normally I wolf through dessert, but this time I savoured the taste"
"I felt vulnerable, exposed. Like everybody else was looking at me with their blindfolds off"
"I liked it. It meant I could concentrate on my dessert without talking to anybody else"
"Because I couldn't see, I didn't realise that I could eat the hard chocolate base, I thought it was the bottom of the dish, then I realised I could dig further"
On the hush that descended once the blindfolds were put on:
"I went to 'Dans le Noir' (a restaurant in Clerkenwell where you eat in darkness and the staff are blind). There, I noticed everybody talked louder, as if having their other senses deprived meant that they had to compensate."
One girl asked if she could take her blindfold home, her boyfriend "had plans".

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

In the realm of the senses...

This Friday's meal, coincidentally my birthday, no, I'm not telling you how old I am...is a dinner exploring the six senses...



A Japanese ceviche fish course with the sounds of the sea...will it heighten the experience? Does it taste fresher?


Brinjal and Tinda curry
Coconut dahl
Cachumber...an Indian salad

You eat with your hands as they do in India. People say food tastes better if you can feel the texture, get physically close to your food.
Actually Indians eat with their fingers not the palm. Use your right hand, it is impolite to use the left. (Not sure if this is still the case for left handers).
Using all five fingers work the rice plus the curries or dahl into a ball. They will help the rice become sticky enough to form a ball.
Gather this up onto the tips using the thumb.
Bring your hand to your mouth.
Feel your food...


This course could be controversial....I'm serving two of the smelliest foods known to man: Stinking Bishop cheese and Durian fruit. The former is one of the most odorous cheeses on the planet, but actually tastes quite mild. The latter is adored in the East but is too challenging for Western noses. It smells..."like a morgue suffering from a power cut" but tastes sweet. Bring your own clothes peg.


Or lack of it. For this course, dessert, my guests will be blindfolded. The Marmarati donated the masks, sourced at a sex shop! I'm not telling you what it is, guests will have to use their sixth sense...
Is the taste more intense?

Monday, 18 January 2010

60 minute makeover does extreme catering

Brixton Village/Granville Arcade

Waiting for the key...tick tock...we manage to get in at 11am

Setting up...

Two tables which seat eight

Nice! Tin plates and copper water jugs (Ayuverdic) from Wembley, better than yucky paper plates

I couldn't stop laughing when I saw the 'kitchen'

No running water, dodgy gas rings which wouldn't heat things up properly

Not easy this Harry Potter cupboard under the stairs style supperclub!

Quick, quick, prepping production line. Only 1 peeler. I peeled the ginger with my fingernails!

Oil was frozen, tried to heat it up with a candle...

This is how we drained the potatoes...pic: Andy Broomfield

First guests...phew

We look pretty efficient here don't we?

Having to wipe the condensation off the ceiling of the cupboard kitchen, so it didn't drip into the food, Health and Safety would have had a heart attack

In Brixton they call it Moet

We used the steam effectively as decoration

The take down. Amy of Blanch & Shock, trolley to load up the van. We were out by 4...

Basmati Rice
Coconut dahl
Aubergine and tinda curry
Chickpea and tomato curry
Sag aloo
Coconut raitha
Mint, coriander, onion and pomegranate cachumber

We borrowed cutlery off Rosie Lovell, had to wash up from a public toilet, strained the potatoes into a street drain... chairs, tables and gas rings were borrowed from a local church and the Evelyn Grace Academy in Brixton.
One guy became impatient about getting cutlery, so, lacking water, the new batch of washing up not having returned (people were queuing out of the door!) I cleaned his spoon with half a lemon. He was cool with that!
We opened an hour late at 1pm, having cooked and set up the 'restaurant' from scratch in two hours. Until 3pm we served 80 people until we ran out of food and made £471. I spent £188 which leaves £283 which I'll round up to £300 to be donated to Medecins Sans Frontiers for their work in Haiti.
This brilliant project by spacemakers takes empty units and breathes life back into recession hit areas by creating pop up shops and cafes. Join the spacemakers ning group if you are interested in utilising 'slack space'. Find out more information here: http://spacemakers.org.uk/
Ah, isn't London an amazing city? Fuck the recession, we are resourceful!

Thanks to Susan, Alyssia and Mike and Amy from the creative catering company of Blanch & Shock. Fantastic team work, couldn't have done it without you!

Related link: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/01/19/never-can-say-goodbye-art_n_428386.html