Friday, 25 February 2011

The Ball Jar

 A collection of vintage French jam jars
My marmalade in an antique French jam jar with wax (available in French supermarkets)
A vintage French lightning clip jar (left), Weck jars (middle) , Kilner jar, jam jar on top (right).
Wine tastes just as good from a jar
Infuse vinegar with rose petals...
In America they call the renewed appeal of jars... the 'canvolution'... after home 'canning', which is not putting food in tin cans, but an older preservation technique, using fermentation, water baths and glass jars. Over in the states they have Mason jars and Ball jars. In France they used the 'lightning' clip, Kilner jars. Further back, wax was used to seal jars.
I find the jars themselves objects of beauty and search for antique ones. Drinking out of jam jars is very 'squat' chic, a style they have adopted in the US, manufacturing drinking Mason jars with handles. If only I could obtain some over here.
Next Friday, at The Underground Restaurant, I am hosting 'Jar Food' the meal.
Everything will be served in jars, the food, the drinks, the flowers.... finally, a chance to show off my collection.


Pickles in jars

Soup in a jar

Potted salmon rillettes using home cured salmon

Macaroni cheese with truffles

Agen prunes with Armagnac and creme fraiche

£30 and BYO Book here:

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Blacks bacchanalian Sunday lunch with Tom Parker Bowles

Tom Parker Bowles in Tabasco apron, with Alberto on his right and Jori White PR who I met at the Evening Standard's 1000 most influential Londoners party.

Sunday I donned my gladrags, my custom made fascinator (courtesy of Emma Marfé) and staggered in my new aerosoles heels (sorry, not working, still uncomfortable) down to Blacks, a private club in Soho. This tall 18th century townhouse, painted in dusky Farrow and Ball colours, hosts regular Sunday suppers by renowned cooks such as Rose Prince and Tom Parker Bowles.
Blacks has the old Soho atmosphere of the Coach and Horses or The French pub, around the time that Jeffrey Bernard used to drink there. The light is pearly and dim, like a Dutch interior, each room lit up with a roaring fire, underneath which denizens of the club cackle and drink. On the uppermost floor, a four poster bed is draped with Indian rugs, for the use of member(s).
Entering via the basement staircase to the bar, the casual visitor is confronted with la crème de la crème of the food world and a sprinkling of showbiz. Within seconds I had met the flame cockerel-haired Cleo Rocos, of Kenny Everett fame. In the vampire gloom of Blacks, she sounded amazing, all husky Fenella Fielding actressy tones and looking agelessly beautiful. Is it true she started working for Kenny at the BBC at 15 years old or has she got an even better plastic surgeon than Catherine Deneuve? (Of whom Madonna once said "Whoever she's using, I want")
Turns out Cleo Rocos is the UK's 'tequila ambassador'. That's a job I want. Tequila is probably my favourite alcoholic beverage. It's more of a drug than a drink. Lord knows the amount of times I've ended up having the black whirlies from over-enthusiastic guzzling of Happy Hour Margarita jugs. Cleo may come and show off her cocktail skills at The Underground Restaurant.
 Mathew Fort, Guardian food and drink editor, opposite Cleo Rocos. 
 Chef and cookbook writer Thomasina Miers looking radiant
 Lovely design details such as these Coquille de St Jacques shell lights.
 Foreground: the hibiscus and tequila sorbet.
The Mexican themed lunch cooked by Tom Parker Bowles and one of Blacks' Mexican sous chefs, Alberto, was authentic enough to attract Thomasina Miers of Wahaca and the Mexican ambassador. We started with tomatillo salsa, guacamole, a salsa asado, some fish ceviche and corn nachos. The main courses, served buffet style, was mostly meat based, stuffed and steamed tamales for instance. I had the black beans with grated cheese which was delicious. The original hibiscus and tequila sorbet had a deep colour and intense flavour.
Blacks is like a gentleman's club for food lovers, and some of this must be due to the fact that it is owned by Guiseppe Mascoli, one of the creators of Franco Manca pizzeria. I believe it's about £500 to join then £300 yearly fee.
Blacks Private Club 
67 Dean Street, London W1D 4QH020 7287 3381 

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Underground University: Food Bloggers Conference

Delegate's badges!

The night before: the phone rings: "Hello I'm calling on behalf of Daniel Young"
Me: (interior groan, big sigh, this can only be bad news): "So he cancelling?"
Lady: "No, but Daniel has lost his voice and I'm..." big noise in background from Kitchen Aid mixer beating croissant dough " and I will come with Daniel to ...interpret....what he wants to say"
Me: "a kind of"
Lady: "Well I sort of know what he wants to say, and, I have a print out".
Me: (interior: hesitating) "okaaay"
Lady: "I don't know anything about food blogging."
Me: finally, "Okaaay." Deep breath. "And you are?...."
Lady: "Oh I'm his wife, didn't I mention that? I'm Mrs Young and Foodish. I'm in publishing though"
Me: (interior...oh they are married. Should be ok then. She must know his every thought.) "Fine, no problem, see you tomorrow"
Daniel Young's talk was channelled through his wife Vivian, Editorial Director of Reaktion Books. Sometimes, Daniel would whisper further points, which had the effect of making everybody lean in and listen hard. 

We had a 'business breakfast' of home made croissants, plain and almond, pains chocolat (with dark and white chocolate), pains au raisins and coffee. The delegates wore name badges with their blog or Twitter name on them. Food bloggers, suppliers, Tweeters swam in, through rainy February skies, from all over the country, armed with laptops and cameras.
 For these almond croissants, I made them fresh from Michel Roux's Pastry book, but added an almond paste inside and on the top. 
Fresh croissant dough
100g of ground almonds
100g of unsalted butter, diced
100g of caster sugar
A few drops of orange blossom water
A few sliced blanched almonds to add on top.
 Michel Roux's book suggests a triangle template of 9cm's by 18. This produced mini croissants.

 I made the pains chocolat with two types of chocolate that I found in my cupboard: a really serious dark chocolate Original Beans Piura that stood out as an ingredient even after being baked: and also Green and Black's white chocolate. I've never had a white pain chocolat before, they seemed to go down well.
Laura James talked about how to write a recipe, giving a list of jumbled up ingredients and asking people to write out the recipe in an understandable form.
Then lunch: a great opportunity to network and meet the other delegates.
Pictured: Spaghetti Vongole in a bag. Lakeland are now doing this combination parchment/foil which is perfect for cooking things in a bag.
 Rhubarb and custard clafoutis in individual enamel dishes
 Photographic hottie Paul Winch Furness talking about the technicals.
 Fire and Knives editor/broadcaster Tim Hayward in characteristic expansive humour, explaining how he got into writing, his background, his advice on writing. In fact I learnt more about him in an hour than I have in the last two years. 
People went home with their heads buzzing and their hands full with a goodie bag. 
Rachel's Organics showcased their new yoghurts, among them coconut, honey, and passionfruit.
Douwe Egberts gave vintage blend coffee.
A copy of Fire and Knives magazine, the food quarterly. 
Small jars of Marmite!

Next conference May 21st: How to start and run a supper club. 
Book here.
Confirmed speakers: MsMarmitelover
James Ramsden of The Secret Larder
Lynn Hill of My Secret Tearoom
and more conferences to come...

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Fire and Knives Mixed Grill: the caterer's point of view

Loading up the van at 5.30am and driving very very slowly down to Conway Hall.

I'm sure there were great and interesting talks at the Fire and Knives Mixed Grill event on Saturday, it's just that I didn't get to see any. I did the catering. I made a four course set lunch for 70 people and ran the snack/wine/coffee bar. After only two hours sleep on the Friday night, I spent Saturday in a spaced out daze, trying to remain upright and vaguely polite. It would have been a shame to have undone all my hard work by snapping irritably at all the movers and shakers from the food scene that populated this event.
I couldn't have done it without James Benson of My Cotswold Food. This private chef is an expert at outside catering. He never sleeps. He's like some sort of catering shark, always on the move, only catching a bit of shut eye while stirring a pot. James had even less sleep than me on Friday night, and that was in my shed! He lives in his chef's whites.
Conway Hall, where the event was held, has only one tiny domestic oven and one small fridge. Clearly, as much food as possible had to be prepared beforehand.
This was the menu I settled upon:
Scallops cooked on salt blocks seasoned with vanilla salt
added to Cream of scallop soup 
I also gave a short talk and demonstration on cooking with salt.

Dressed whole salmon in aspic

Pea shoot, blood orange salad

Truffled potatoes in a bag with truffle salt

Almond Blancmange with rhubarb jelly

Rhubarb syllabub

Swan meringues with rose water, almonds and blackberries

Plus Italian cheeses by The Deli Station

Coffee by Douwe Egberts

Vintage tea cup candles by Me_old_China

James trained at Claridges and so knew how to do classic French hotel food which was exactly the vibe I wanted. I love old fashioned hotel dining rooms, with the clinking of fork against china, of glass against bottle, the murmured civilised conversations, the silverware, the formality, the white linen, the stiff backed waiters, the domed platters.
I roasted the whole salmon in the Aga. I had to do five, so this took some time. The fish has to be curved around in the baking trays to fit. I filled the trays with water, adding lemon juice and the skins, sliced onions, peppercorns, bay leaves and sea salt, and covered the top with foil After 45 minutes to an hour, I plunged in a temperature gage; when the thickest part reaches 70 degrees C, it's cooked.
The skin came off easily.
At 3.30 am, with James' tutelage, I was still dressing the salmon; piping home made mayonnaise into the spine, layering fine slices of cucumber as scales, criss-crossing the sides with thin strips of dark cucumber peel, as if it were a pin cushioned upholstered chair, studding the triangles with circles of anchovy olive, garnishing the back with capers and proud tufts of flat leaf parsley.
I also learnt to worship the god Clingfilm. How to transport stacks of precious vintage plates and not break one? Clingfilm. Everything was wrapped tightly so nothing jiggled.
We partly loaded up the vans the night before, I was just about to carry out the glasses and James passed on another piece of wisdom: "Don't do that until the morning. The glasses will get condensation on them overnight and we will have to wash them again in the morning."
James is the master of the checklist: "Serving spoons...check; salad dressing...check; serving dishes...check; glitter...check; clingfilm...check (because we will need to wrap it all up again when we drive home)"
The blancmange took forever. I loved blancmange as a kid; my mother had a rabbit shaped metal mould but she made it from a packet with cornflour. Nobody eats blancmange, 'eat white', a sick bay dish of choice, anymore. I made it the authentic way, soaking ground almonds in hot milk for several hours. Some guests said it was their favourite dish, that they had never had proper home made blancmange before. If having a go at home, choose a recipe that add gelatin at the end, it's almost impossible to strain otherwise.
The swans? Chefs laughed when I told them my idea. Undaunted I piped bodies, wings and necks, with a few to spare in case of breakages. I added rosewater to the egg white and the cream. People gasped as front of house marched into the big hall. Each swan had it's own character.
 I used Xanthe Clay's recipe for poaching rhubarb
Forced rhubarb from Yorkshire is in season right now, the middle of 'the hungry gap', so I made a lurid syllabub, served in glass bowls, contrasting the Barbie pink with edible glitter.
The tables looked fantastic, with blue and gold glasses, pretty tablemats, a facsimile of the cover of my book and a mix of my vintage dishes and those from Bristol Vintage, who kindly lent their plates, napkins and babycham glasses.

 Blowtorching the mould to try and get out the blancmange. Note to self: oil with almond oil next time.

 Plating up on the radiator

Like angels...

Rhubarb syllabub

The sandwich and coffee bar, despite St John's sourdough, Taleggio and home-cured salmon sandwiches, stayed empty and so I made a loss on the whole event. It's not easy to make money from food.
Here is James' blog post on the event; as a non-Londoner, he was horrified by the parking charges! And he got a ticket five minutes before free parking started.
Thanks also to Josh, Amy and Mike from Blanch and Shock; Reena Retuta, Helen Gibbons of Corney and Barrow, Yinka Opaneye, Sienna Rodgers; Maria Grist; Alissia Durbridge of Bibendum.