Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Teenage barbecue

The teen decided to have a primary school reunion this weekend, a barbecue. Lesson learnt by me: don't even bother with salads or vegetables, even half French teenagers, brought up on a diet of good food, are only interested in Doritos, Coca Cola, 7up, marshmallows and meat. Except for my kid who had all the previous plus veggie sausages. The bread on a stick went down well though. I tried the recipe 'Damper bread' from the camping section of Alice Hart's new book from the New Voices in Food series published by Quadrille.
However for broader minded adults, it is possible to have delicious meatless barbecues: halloumi should be a store cupboard staple for unexpected vegetarians; home-made veggie burgers, made of beans and cheese, are so much better than ready-made, fold into home-made pitta breads with tendrils of salad and home-made ketchup. I've threaded tiny parboiled new potatoes on skewers, sprinkled them with rosemary salt, and baked them slowly over the coals. Add sticks of rosemary and bunches of sage to your barbecue for instant incense! If you eat fish, I like to wrap an entire one in a wet newspaper. When the newspaper is dry, it's cooked. Perfect for wild camping.
As for salads, vegetables and anything remotely healthy... who are these perfect mothers that manage to make their kids eat this stuff?

Bread on a stick: they were interested by this....

 I've known these kids since they were three years old.

 I made bread coiled around manchego al romero, a Spanish cheese with rosemary

 Vegetable kebabs: halloumi, red pepper, courgettes, basil leaves, marinated in oil and balsamic: untouched.

 Toasting marshmallows for starters! The teen diet.

 Radishes, butter, salt: only I ate them.

 They didn't touch the mozzarella and heritage tomato salad.

 Plenty of beer, alcopops and soft drinks in the outdoor 'fire' bath. (Built by my squatter ex boyfriend, you fill with water, light a fire underneath, enjoy a hot bath under the stars)

 Salad: why did I bother?

Monday, 28 June 2010

Fans of Cornishware: competition!

 My dresser

People who follow this blog and who have visited The Underground Restaurant will perhaps have noticed that I have a bit of a ceramic fetish... I've been collecting blue and white china for a decade now, mostly from French brocantes and vide-greniers (sounds way cooler than 'jumble sale' doesn't it?) and British charity shops (they don't seem to have charity shops in France except for Emaus). I suppose that whereas I once used to spend my money on shoes and hairdressing, I now spend every spare penny on my kitchen!
Designs were often from the classic blue and white' willow' range, I also branched into the green and pink versions. All the china and glassware is mismatched at The Underground Restaurant, being vintage, but it is shouting at the same volume. 
Another of my favourite designs is the classic Cornishware. I once watched a documentary on how they make those classic bands in blue and white stripes, which is not just a case of painting them on, but a complicated process involving craftsmen cutting the bands freehand on a lathe. Famously the blue and white bands are reminiscent of the blue sky and white crested waves of Cornwall. 
 Vintage Cornishware rolling pin

There is something very cheering about Cornishware, it has a vintage appeal that designers such as Cath Kidston have tried to emulate. It's now a collectors item, some pieces are worth a great deal, depending on the condition. This blog talks about how Cornishware was the "smart, yet thrifty" alternative to bringing out the best china. One day I hope to have a whole shelf of Cornishware jars! Here is the official Cornish blue collectors site.
T.G. Green who made the Cornishware from the 1920s went into administration in 2007, but have started up again with a whole new range. Apart from the classic blue and white, you can also get a variety of shades: moss green, yellow, mauve, pink, pillar box red, reminiscent of seaside bunting. I'm using my mugs now but these are also a collectors item for the future!

T.G.Green have offered readers of The English Can Cook a 'Cornishwear' blue and white striped apron and matching oven gloves (pictured above). All you have to do is comment below suggesting a recipe using a typically Cornish ingredient. 

Sunday, 27 June 2010

'Ahoy' pop-up restaurant on a boat

Emily O'Hare

Oh lucky me! On one of the hottest nights of the year I get to enjoy on a one day only pop-up restaurant on a boat!
A beautiful Thames-side walk from Hammersmith to Chiswick, gazing at cream-painted seaside style houses with bowed picture windows overlooking the tides, with jasmine and honeysuckle in full bloom, led me to the boat 'Cecilia'. On the upper deck sat 40 guests, chairs sliding gently towards the dock. An inspired cocktail of orange bitters and Cava in my hand, I picked at marinated olives and prawns.
I've always wanted to live on a boat and the owner/chef Charlie allowed me to spy inside the surprisingly spacious interior. The bathroom was particularly luxurious and the spa-sized bathtub doubled up as a champagne cooler.
Upstairs some last minute guests turned the layout into a squeeze for the waitress, we all pitched in and moved our table. For many it was their first experience of a supperclub: "After this any normal restaurant will seem boring" exclaimed one older gentleman.

This dinner was the second sitting of the day, Charlie, her co-chef Eliza and team had already done lunch for 35, and local riverside restaurant Pissaros (surely a great bet for lunches with a view and it looked reasonably priced) had lent them tablecloths for dinner.
Charlie did prep the courses in another kitchen, she is a full time caterer. Emily O'Hare, sommelier at The River Café, gave warm humorous chats between courses on the wine matches she'd chosen. The 'Bera Cannelli 'Moscato d'Asti' 2009 was a revelation, light, mildly alcoholic at 6°, tasting of elderflowers, the perfect pudding choice for this balmy summer's eve. There still aren't enough women in wine: Emily runs a facebook group 'Women, know your wines and help me prove a point!'. My friend and head waitress for The Underground Restaurant, Alissia Durbridge, talked to me of a Bordeaux 'en primeur' tasting for 800 people, and only 10 of them were women, mostly wives.
As a long cheeseboard was handed down the table, we watched a red moon rise over the trees, a partial eclipse.

The menu

Crab, avocado, cucumber and watercress salad with dill & Maldon salt flatbread. Fresh and light starter.

Rare roasted beef fillet with thyme and rosemary infused jus; beetroot dauphinoise, seasonal vegetables, rocket and a piquant horseradish creme fraiche sauce. I had a pastry wrapped artichoke bottom.

Elderflower jelly with redcurrants, lemon syllabub, almond feather biscuits (crunchy and delicious) with raspberries and vanilla cream. Dark Chocolate mousse cake.


 Waiting for the money... £45 a head, 4 courses with cocktail and matched wines

Friday, 25 June 2010

Meeting the queen of Fairy cakes

Mich Turner

Like the American grey squirrel pushing the native red squirrel into oblivion, the American crayfish decimating the native white claw, the fairy cake, a modest, flat, glacé-iced creature has lost out to the blowsy top-heavy cupcake in recent years. The Dolly Parton of small cakes has dominated our pallid native offering; whole bakeries are devoted to cupcakes and prices have risen as high as the frosting.
But we will fight 'em on the beaches, or at least in the baked goods aisle, England expects! The backlash has begun.
I was invited by Allison's flour to attend a fairy cake decorating class. They even sent a car! Luxuriating in the back of the sedan I thought, I could get used to this...
We alighted at the poshest and most beautiful house I have ever seen, owned by a woman called Veronica, who possessed the kind of upper-class English beauty that judges would describe as 'fragrant'. As you entered the hallway, there was a model of a miniature farm, high ceilings, a large vintage chandelier; glimpses of other rooms (oh I would have liked to have looked around!) revealed marble fireplaces and simple but classy furnishings. It was like stepping into a style magazine, 'Interiors' probably. We were led downstairs, down creamy marble steps to a wide open kitchen/dining room. The pale wooden table was big and round enough to fit all of Arthur's knights. Around the room were open shelves with artfully placed displays of retro cookware.
Outside the perfectly judged garden, all cream coloured wrought iron, spiral staircases and casual bouquets, glistened in the June sunlight.
Mich "without a T" Turner, awarded a CBE only a few days previously, was going to be our teacher. She runs the Little Venice Cake Company and has written several books.
At first we are directed to a counter with several Kitchen Aid mixers. Mich starts talking and demonstrating something with butter. We all, press and bloggers, stand there immobile, fazed no doubt by the heat and champagne. I see Mich's face tense:
"Are we supposed to be doing what you are doing?" I venture.
"Yes" she replies.
"Shall we wash our hands?" I continue, being the class goody-goody.
"Yes" she says and moves out of the way of the sink.
We queue up. There's no soap. We use washing up liquid.
Back at our stations we are instructed to put the butter and the sugar into the bowl of the mixer. We turn it on.
  "Higher" says Mich. "You really want to get some air in there".
"There are 4 methods of cake making"instructs Mich "1) boiling 2) all in one 3) creaming 4) (I didn't catch it, the mixer was too loud)."
The recipe today was:

  • Cream butter and sugar together at a high speed.
  • Crack the eggs, mix in. If it curdles, add a spoonful of flour.
  • Add 1 tablespoon of flour, fold in which keeps the air in. 
  • Then pour in the rest of the sieved flour including baking powder.
  • Stir the mixture then make a cutting motion down the middle with your spoon, repeat until all the mixture is folded in, stir, stir, cut, cut.
  • Bake.

Mich never uses margarine. Quite right too, full of hydrogenated fats, which the body can't absorb. Allinson's 'Nature Friendly' flour is milled from Conservation Grade wheat from farms that encourage wildlife. This is especially important to safeguard the future of bees. Mich also recommends Billington's unrefined icing sugar which gives a caramelised flavour to the icing.
Mich believes the British fairy cake stems from the Victorian era where they used to bake individual cakes in tea cups and decorated with a glacé icing, using no fat. In America, the first mention of a cupcake was in 1828: possibly an extension of their use of cups as a cooking measure rather than weighing, as are poundcakes. They are often crowned with swirled butter creams. Cupcakes became popular because they bake quicker than a large cake, especially important on the wood fired stove of the era.

Now we sat down for our decorating lesson. We are trying to achieve this:

 Looks hard doesn't it?

We were given a little kit of instruments to make shapes. 

 Using 'petal icing', you roll a small ball of red dough, make it slightly pointed, carve a line down the middle and using a fine paintbrush, paint the dots and head with black icing. 

For the bumble bee, we made a sphere of yellow icing, then rolled out some white icing with a teensy rolling pin. We then, with a tiny cutter, cut out wings. We glued them to the 'body' with a miniature icing gun of royal icing.

The trick with the piping bag is not to press on the sides, but on the top, with your thumb

 I put a smile on the bumble bee's face with a curved instrument. 

 Kinda cute huh? They had personality.

 The journalists concentrating very hard. I said to Mich, feeling confident, "I want to make a dragonfly." The lady next to me piped up "I want to make a horse". We were flying now, blue sky thinking!

At the end, our cakes boxed up, I said goodbye and, laden with my hessian goodie bag of Allinson's flour and my own icing kit, head towards the stairs. Unfortunately, when I got to the stairs, a hardly visible cream marble in a pastel sea of good taste, I fell over. When I got home I opened the box and found this:

All of the cakes were squished into a corner. I still ate them though, while watching Big Brother.