Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Wet Weekend recipes: Strawberries, saffron and almond potatoes, salmon with orange & pink peppercorns

Strawberries with black pepper and balsamic
But no mind, even if it's raining, we can still eat strawberries. I like them simple with a glossy trickle of balsamic vinegar and flecks of black pepper. Eighteenth century Londoners also enjoyed strawberries with black pepper. Strange it might sound, but strawberries also marry well with Dijon mustard, as I discovered recently when I went to visit the Maille mustard HQ!
salmon with orange and pink peppercorns
I also made some saffron and almond roast potatoes, pink peppercorn and orange salmon en papillote for lunch which I feel is quite Spanish, despite the weather. Serves four.

Saffron/Almond Potato Recipe:

500g of peeled potatoes, cut into chunks
50g of slithered almonds
3 cloves of garlic
a few strands of saffron
Bay leaves
Sprigs of thyme
Olive oil
Sea Salt ( I use rosemary seasalt, available in supermarkets).

Put the potatoes into a large pan of salted boiling water for ten minutes. Then take off the heat and add the saffron strands. Leave for a couple of hours.
Drain the now yellowy potatoes and place in a baking tin with a generous lashing of olive oil.
Sprinkle the almonds, add the garlic cloves and bay leaves, thyme and sea salt. Mix until potatoes are nicely covered with the oily mixture.
Roast for fifteen minutes in a hot oven (200c or Aga roasting oven) or until the edges of the potatoes are crispy and golden.

Salmon with Pink Peppercorns and Orange Recipe

4 x 150g salmon filets, skin removed. (You can always roast/fry up the skin separately if you like it)
1 orange, thinly sliced.
1 tablespoon of pink peppercorns
Olive oil.

Make four squares from either tin foil or parchment paper. Place the salmon filet in each on top of 2 or 3 slices of orange. Sprinkle some pink peppercorns and a little salt over each filet along with some olive oil.
Close the parcels either by folding the tin foil or tying a little kitchen string around the paper.
Place in a baking tin and roast in a hot oven (200c or Aga roasting oven) for 15 mins.
saffron and almond roast potatoes

Friday, 27 May 2011

Video: In conversation with i-d magazine

A little chat with an old friend from my clubbing days. This can also be seen, as part of a series of interviews, on i-d magazine.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

The Craft day on June 4th

In my efforts to push the boundaries and uses of private space into whole new areas, readers may have noticed that recently I am varying the home restaurant concept and doing classes, workshops and conferences (The Underground University) but which still contain abundant food, cooked from scratch by myself!
So far I've hosted two conferences: how to be a successful food blogger and how to start your own supper club plus a Secret Garden Club  with gardening lessons and tea. These were hugely enjoyable for all participants, great networking and we all learnt something too.
I've always been interested in craft, spending time making mosaics for instance, or learning to repair antique picture frames so it made sense for me to launch a craft day at The Underground Restaurant featuring brunch and tea! (I love in-between meals don't you?)
Through The Underground Farmer's and Craft Market I have met Me Old China, (her twitter @meoldchinatweet) a very talented craftician who makes scented candles in vintage china tea cups. The candle glows beautifully through the china, is long lasting and I personally would love to learn how to make them. Vintage tea cups and all the materials will be provided, but you can also bring your own containers. (I'm thinking...Marmite candles? in Marmite jars?). We may also make some bunting out of vintage tea towels...

 I love granny squares!

We will also have the pleasure of the happy hooker, Cherie Matrix Holt of Trashy Crochet who will teach us how to crochet bunting, some granny squares and guerilla yarn bombing. This is a woman who made a life sized crochet model of her own intestines! Not to be missed.
The astrologer, author and life coach Annie Lionnet will also be on hand through the day, to give astrology readings, give counsel and sort out our life path. She's also a craft geek.
All food, drink, workshops and materials will be provided. Book here. I've lowered the price to £85 per person which is a bit of a bargain considering everything you get, for a whole day workshop. It's a new project, hopefully one to be repeated, and hope to see some readers here on the 4th of June.


Monday, 23 May 2011

The Supper Club Conference

What an interesting bunch of people came along on Saturday for the Underground Universities 'How to start a successful supper club' conference.
 Linda, James and Andre. Lynn is sitting at another table. I didn't take many pictures, too much to do.
I feel sure that 16 new supper clubs will start as a result...ranging from game cookery supper club in Milton Keynes, to pescatarian menus in East London, cooking workshops and after school tea for mums and kids that want to learn to cook. People came from Ireland (a mum and daughter, both keen cooks, the daughter is gluten-free, I said plenty of gluten free types over there needing great food) and Scotland and all over the UK. One lady wanted to start a Croydon supper club for divorcees. I did warn her, there are simply no single men in London. I suggested she start a 'first wives club' in which guests could plot revenge and bitch.
We had a West Londoner with roots in the West Indies: who wouldn't want proper home style Caribbean cooking?
Another lady who runs a small creative business in architecture wanted to start up a food and creative networking club.
We started the day with a talk by Lynn Hill who explained how she started her secret tea room near Leeds. From the kitchen I heard applause so I guess it went well.
Next up was Linda Williams of Bright Blue Skies who gave the lowdown on tax and the law for small food businesses. One guest said to her "you've achieved the impossible: you've made tax sound interesting".
Meanwhile guest supped on coffee, tea, fresh juices (blood orange and watermelon) and home made pain chocolats and croissants. I was up till 2.30 am rolling them out in a sweaty kitchen with my new vintage ceramic rolling pin.
Lunch was Mexican style and out in the garden. Some of it was cooked on the open fire. Most of the recipes are contained in my book.
Fish tacos with red pepper marinated mahi mahi (er it's a sort of dolphin)
Tomatillo and chille en adobe salsa
Salsa asado
A wet garlic, fennel and kohlrabbi salad
Shredded pointy cabbage and lettuce
Brokeback beans but with added lime juice.
And corn tortillas.
Now there's a bit of a story behind the tortillas. They weren't quite as successful as I hoped. I imported hominy from Anson Mills in America at great expense (the actual stuff wasn't expensive but the shipping was and...then the £30 I had to pay to release the hominy from custody, I mean customs). To make fresh masa from hominy is supposed to be one of the best flavours you can find. I limed the hominy, soaked it overnight, pretty much cooking the corn for 24 hours. I even learnt the proper word for that cellophane stuff around popcorn kernels that gets stuck in your teeth: pericarp! But despite all my efforts, frequent pleading for more info on Twitter, begging emails to Glenn at Anson Mills, it tasted bloody awful. Chemical. Possibly...even dangerous to eat. I will have to try again.
Fortunately I had some masa flour from the coolchilecompany. I'll just mix that together and press out the tortillas, I thought. I interleaved them with greaseproof paper. Mistake! When I took them out to the fire, the dough was stuck to the paper, the tortillas were falling apart.
A lovely guest called Barbara, who has experience in catering, came to the rescue with a brilliant tip: get out some ice cubes and the dough peels away from the paper. It worked! Hooray! By this time the fire had burnt down somewhat so they weren't as good as I hoped. Normally it works fine. Maybe it was the humid weather?
Then we had a large cheeseboard and baked ricotta with gooseberry and elderflower compote, a recipe from the new Riverford Organics cookbook by Jane Baxter 'Every Day and Sunday'.
In the afternoon James Ramsden of The Secret Larder supper club and Andre Dang gave talks. James mentioned his biggest supper club cock up: Ravinder Bhogal let him do a rose water pannacotta recipe to make for dessert. It wouldn't set so they just changed the name to 'rose water milk'.
Andre Dang came up with punning names for each supper club. The man is wasted in food PR, he should be a Sun headline writer! I've never seen someone think so quickly on their feet about an angle on a story.
We finished with prosecco and peppermint creams.

Next event at The Underground University: Craft Day! Workshops in making scented candles in vintage china cups, crocheted bunting, astrology readings, brunch and tea! Book here for a lovely day out: hen parties welcome.
Leisurely Sunday lunch on June 19th: book here.
Book Camp Bestival tickets here
More dates soon.
I'm afraid I wont be doing a pop up night at the Hay Festival. I was 'disinvited'. Nice. Not.

Friday, 20 May 2011

How to run a successful supper club conference tomorrow

After the book, the hands on workshop. Get it from the horses mouth and get fed and watered into the bargain.
Pic: Paul Winch Furness

Myself of course...I will concentrate on the social media aspect of promoting your supper club.

Lynn Hill of The Secret Tea Room will give you the lowdown on setting up an underground tea room. She will also talk about the Clandestine Cake Club. Lynn also helps administrate my site Find a supper club, become a fan, a worldwide directory for supper clubs. 

Linda Williams of Bright Blue Skies, also known on Twitter as food blogger @goodshoeday helps small businesses to set up, manage their taxes, circumnavigate the law with regard to employment and insurance. She helped me fill out my tax returns. She rocks.

James Ramsden is a newcomer to the supper club scene but his Secret Larder supper club has been remarkably successful. He's also a writer for The Guardian, The Times and Sainsbury's magazine and has a cookery book 'Small Adventures in Cooking' out in June. He will be talking about his experiences, how to set up a supper club.

Andre Dang is a PR for the food and restaurant industry. He has a depth of experience working for and promoting a wide range of clients including Ruinart champagne, Kings Fine Foods, Lov Organic Tea. 

This conference is suitable also for anybody wanting to set up a small food business as well as potential supper club hosts.
'Delegates' will be given a 'business breakfast' on arrival at 10 am.
Lunch will be served at 1pm.
All food, drinks and talks are included and there will be a goodie bag to take home at around 6pm.
The last conference on How to write a successful food blog was incredibly inspiring. I'm sure this one will be equally exciting and informative.
Still some tickets left...if you are serious about starting a supper club, do come along as I don't know when and if there will be another conference at the Underground University on this subject. Book here.http://www.wegottickets.com/event/108906  (Price £100). 

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Warwickshire supper club: Squis!to!

Sara at her Rayburn
Alex pours the wine
Cat and chicken feed from the same bowl

This is what I mean! This is exactly what I mean! kept running through my head as I sat down to eat at Squisito supper club, somewhere near Rugby.
Yes, professional chefs have exploited the supper club trend as have conventional restaurants. Yes, unsung sous chefs have got to promote their food in a supper club setting. Yes, it's put a new spin on eating out/eating in. Yes, food writers/ personalities/bloggers wanting a career in food have used the phenomenon as a means of promoting themselves.
But what I always wanted to see with supper clubs was and is to taste the food of brilliant home cooks, often female, often mothers and grandmothers, who, because of their child rearing responsibilities, could never have worked in a restaurant, with it's long hours, macho culture and evening service. One of my inspirations, beside going to Cuba and visiting a paladare, was listening to a programme on Woman's Hour about 'cesarine' in Bologna, opening their homes to tourists, serving authentic regional Italian home cooking.
At Squisito, I found the British equivalent of the 'cesarine', Sara Chambers. She is one half of Squisito Deli that she runs with her husband Alex. It's no surprise then that their speciality, apart from fantastic sausages made by Alex, is Italian food.
They live in a small village in a cottage with a Rayburn. From the window you can see a dead chicken hanging. In the garden is a pizza oven and more chickens. Last Saturday Sara did a stall at Kenilworth Food Festival, then came home and cooked for ten people. Their brightly coloured modern dining room was laid out with italian colours, red, green and white, alternating the coloured chairs and tableware. In the corner was a sausage making machine.
The food was simply fantastic: rich, perfectly seasoned, generous. The guests, neighbours and from nearby villages, gossiped amusingly:
"Did you see the police tried to arrest him again? He stole £50,000 from the village hall" started one guest about a local.
"AND the money from the allotments, don't forget that" chipped in someone else.
"They've tried four times now to bring him to court. But every time he knows they are coming, he doesn't take his diabetic medicine and goes into a coma! The police won't arrest him then"
"And he's spent it all on online poker" tutted a guest.
In the living room, another guest has left her one year old baby, looked after by Sara's teenage daughter. His blonde curls and innocent blue eyes, whenever he is brought in for inspection, inspire all the women, including myself, to coo and sigh with baby lust. Do men feel that primeval tug on the heart strings when they see babies?
We are at the epi-centre of Britain here. Nearby is the village of Meriden, where the A5, the Roman Watling Street, runs a straight thread from my house in Kilburn, up towards Holyhead in Wales.
Turning to me, later on, diners mention that this "is Balti country you know. You get the very best Balti curries around here." I looked at an Asian male guest who has a Midlands accent, he says "I do all the cooking at home, but I only cook Western food". His white wife sits smiling and nodding.  It seems appropriate that in multi-cultural Britain, that 'Middle England' is the centre for Balti curries and great Italio-British home cooking!

Squisito supper club is held monthly. Book here. You won't regret it.

 Dead chicken outside: this is the countryside after all.
Giorgio peeking out over a Jamie Oliver anti-pasti table with cashew nuts.
 My book, pride of place on the mantlepiece.
 The house is so pretty but always rather chilly as they were made with one brick thickness of walls only, typical for working class Victorian houses.
 Divine goat's cheese tart with home made puff pastry. 
Organic chestnut mushrooms, creme fraiche, home made pesto, small potatoes baked in a bag. Loved it!
 Inside the package.
 One guest brought along his home brewed hedgerow wines which were excellent. Here is the Dog Rose wine. I want him to sell at the next Underground Farmer's Market.
 It's always Tusk Time in Alex the sausage makers world.
Asparagus risotto, creamy and rich.
Taleggio cheese with pink peppercorns and honey
So nice to see my own recipes from the book being made! Sara's home made gooseberry icecream (gorgeous) with crystallised herbs in an icebowl. Fantastic!
 Radio 4 inside and chickens outside: bliss!
There was also a fantastic aubergine and pine nut pasta and roast pork with a large bowl of crackling, crispy rosemary roast potatoes and dishes of perfectly cooked chard. 

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

My first public cooking demo

A lovely book store in Kenilworth, the first time I've seen my book in a shop window! I almost physically dragged customers in from outside.

Saturday morning, Kenilworth food festival, near Warwick. I've been asked to do a food demonstration to promote my book. Arriving by train from London, I arrive on site at 12.30, my demo should begin at 1.30. We make our way through the stalls of the food festival to where I'll be doing the demo.
"Look at our specially built kitchen!" says the lady who will be introducing me.
I look. It's a kitchen in a trailer.
The only food demos that I've ever seen are at shows like The Real Food Show, with slick shiny modern mini kitchens built around islands where women hoisting canvas goodie bags crowd around smouldering Italian chefs like Giorgio Locatelli. Chefs today are Donny Osmond for the middle aged. Only the screaming has turned into scoffing. But this kitchen is one up from a caravan.
I've decided to demonstrate three simple dishes which are, hopefully, interesting but easy so I won't get too flustered.
They are:
  • Cooking scallops and fennel on a pink Himalayan salt block
  • Marmite palmiers
  • Asparagus mimosa with edible flowers.
I was asked to provide a list of ingredients. I brought my own brick.
I put the brick in the oven straight away as I knew it'd take about an hour to heat up. "Not that one!" shouted a hovering chef "that one doesn't work. Use the other". I just hoped the other oven was working.
I'm going to set everything up now, I thought nervously. I look in the bag of ingredients. I asked for puff pastry, in a roll. It's in a block. I look for a rolling pin. There isn't one. In fact, looking around the trailer kitchen, I realise that neither is there washing up liquid, oven gloves to take the salt brick out, tea towels, or...knives. There isn't any flour to roll out the pastry either. I'm starting to shout a bit. I'm looking like a prima donna 'I simply can't work in these circumstances!'
"Is this normal?" I mutter to the PR from Harper Collins who has accompanied me. "Is this how Jamie started out?"
"Yees" she drawls "but normally they do have knives"
"If only they'd told me I would have brought stuff with me"I look at the nice lady who brought us.
"I'm sure I asked for puff pastry on a roll. Then I wouldn't need a rolling pin or flour" I said to her, rifling through my memory of emails exchanged.
I try again "Do you sell pastry on a roll here in Kenilworth?"
"Ooh yes. We have very good supermarkets here"She looks at me sympathetically "The trouble is, the lady that did your shopping never cooks, she knows nothing about food"
Choking back a 'then why the fuck was she asked to do the shopping?' I ask "What shall I do? Use a wine bottle?" They'd given me a bottle of wine as a present for coming. My first food demonstration is starting to look ropier by the second. This is turning into a cookery version of Spinal Tap.
At that, they went out to buy some flour and found a rolling pin.
Two chefs in whites, who looked greasy and exhausted, were backstage, ie.standing on the grass next to the trailer, with me. "I've just come off a 16 hour shift" said one. "I'm the head chef at the local Holiday Inn, but I'm letting my sous chef do the demo, he's more confident. Any help you need, let me know"
The demo with the sous chef was starting, so I asked the head chef to thinly slice the fennel, boil me two eggs for the mimosa and roll out the pastry. He blended into the background, whereas I would have stood out, in heels and shocking pink, prepping away behind the other demo.
My moment is drawing closer. I'm given a headphone mike as a local camera crew is filming it. I feel like Cheryl Cole, about to do a dance routine. I realise that my every breath and utterance will be broadcast to the entire festival. Must. Not. Swear. I tell myself.
I start by taking the salt brick out of the oven with the hastily purchased oven gloves. It's hot, but not really quite hot enough. I dig the scallops out of the fridge and place them on the brick, explaining brightly to the audience about how you don't have to season when cooking on salt bricks. The scallops are making a puddle. They are cooking too slowly.
Meanwhile, I put the asparagus in a griddle pan and soften them in butter and hot water. I'm talking. I don't know what I'm saying but I hear laughter. The audience are with me it seems.
I hand out some of the scallops. "What do you think?" I perkily ask the audience.
A shrivelled lady in the front says "they are too salty". 
I grimace, try to explain.
I take the rolled out pastry and spread Marmite on it. I roll it into a palmier shape and display it to the audience. The head chef, who is assisting me, cuts it into slices and puts it on a baking sheet into the oven.
I have a massive burn on my forearm. I tell the audience that this is how you can tell someone who cooks for a living. The head chef holds up his arms, they are blotched with repeated burn scars. I wonder if I'm impressing this small town audience with our displays of Anthony Bourdain style hard-core Apocalypse Now cheffery.
I dish up the asparagus, pile the grated egg onto it, and decorate with viola flowers, a recipe from my book. It's handed round, there are approving nods. I smell burning.
I open the oven and half the Marmite palmiers are burnt. The chef, who was supposed to be keeping an eye, bows his head. Still, I'm grateful for his support. Much easier to do a demonstration with a sidekick. I'm a lurid Fanny to his Johnny.
I hand round the palmiers. I ask for questions. I get some applause. 'Johnny' gets more applause. I sit down next to a pile of books, sell one or two and sign a bunch of others. A signed copy is a sold copy. One man with thick glasses, a combover, and wearing an anorak is looming silently.
"Hi, is there something you wanted to ask me?" I say to him finally.
He starts, droning like a serial killer: "I heard you on the wireless yesterday" He means Woman's Hour. I look at him, actually beneath the terrible clothes, he's about 50. Why is he saying 'wireless'? No one has used that word since the 50s. It's pure affectation, designed to draw attention to his basic weirdness. He's still talking, I'm nodding politely. The PR from Harper Collins steps in 'I'm afraid Ms Rodgers has an interview'. I've waited all my life to hear phrases like that.
"Thank god you broke that up" I say to her.
"I figured I'd give him a minute and a half then get you outta there" says the PR.
It turns out that the local film crew want me to do a little interview. An orange male 'presenter' with dyed blonde hair, a thinner Ollie Smith, asks me a few questions. At the end I say, 'How was my demo?'
"It was great, it was just like an ordinary person talking. You weren't doing all that rapid chopping like chefs. It felt like anyone could do the recipes."
I think that was a compliment?

Monday, 16 May 2011

The Wild food /Natural Wines supper

Nick Weston arrived on Thursday night with boxes of foraged food and his bramble beer.

Hazel sticks

Gas lamps

Nick stayed the night and built an amazing bonfire 

Emily O'Hare, posh sommelier at The River Café, ended up having to 'shower' the burdock leaves, not what she's used to.

While I was making the flat breads with nettle pesto on the fire, Radio Hayes called up and interviewed me. Talk about multi-tasking!

Pine needle vinegar made by Nick

Chicken in the woods mushrooms, foraged by Nick

I fried them up with butter, white wine and garlic. They tasted like Quorn.

 Nick gave talks to the diners in the garden.

I made duck egg frittata with chicken of the woods, hop shoots and wood sorrel. 
Isabelle Legeron, aka That crazy French Woman, gave diners tastes of stunning Natural Wines. What a treat! I will get the list of wines and post it up later.

Nick made some fantastic home made cheese with wild garlic. Delicious!

Elderflower cordial (home-made by Brie who sells it at my farmer's market) cheesecake which I made: a total hit. The Japanese Knotweed crumble didn't work out unfortunately, too woody, so I didn't serve it. I needed younger shoots.

Nick got the diners involved in making sweet damper bread rolled around the hazel sticks.

At one point the guests looked like the tribal gathering on Survivor!, the show where Nick first came to prominence. Or like something out of Lord of the Rings, sitting around the fire with sticks and blankets. One guest said "it's like being in the cubs again".

One guest was so relaxed, he fell asleep in the shed on Nick's bed.
A fantastic magical evening. I'll definitely do more events in the garden.


Flatbreads with nettle pesto
Beet soup with freshly dug up horseradish quenelles
Duck egg frittata with chicken of the woods, wood sorrel and hop shoots
Baked carp wrapped in burdock with wild garlic
Home-made cheese with wild garlic
Elderflower cheesecake
Spotted damper bread
Bramble beers
Tisane of lemon thyme

Natural Wines 
We started with a red, then moved onto white,  then sparkling then orange. That crazy French woman!

- Macea pinot noir
- Analepse
- Riffault Akmenine
- Dinavola Bianco 
- Petillant Naturel Veilloux
- Chateau Fouguet

Nick, Isabelle and me. Looking devillish beside the fire.