Monday, 27 June 2011

Bacchanalian lunch at Blacks with MsMarmitelover's 18th century menu

An 18th century lunch in pictures. I cooked (with the aid of Robin, head chef) and hosted this lunch at Blacks club, 67 Dean Street, Soho. I spent time with Dr Andrea Tanner, the archivist of Fortnum and Mason, in researching this meal. At the time, a commode would be in the eating room, with a screen. Guests would relieve themselves during the meal. Foreigners complained of the English habit of vomiting mid-meal to make room for more food.
Celery soup Madame de Pompadour with truffle oil, 18th century Viagra. A light soup was considered chic. pic: Kerstin Rodgers/
Celery soup Madame de Pompadour with truffle oil, 18th century Viagra. A light soup was considered chic.
Broad bean and Gloucester cheese fritters, Blacks, Soho pic: Kerstin Rodgers/
Broad bean and Gloucester cheese fritters. Young men would fry fritters on the fireplace of their living quarters.
stargaze pie, blacks, soho,  pic: Kerstin Rodgers/
Stargazy pie, vermicelli (very popular) with garden peas. 
Real blancmange Blacks, Soho pic: Kerstin Rodgers/
Almond blancmanges made from antique moulds
real blancmange Blacks, soho, pic: Kerstin Rodgers/
Pineapple mould: pineapples were so expensive they would be rented for the duration of a meal to impress guests.
Candied peel,  pic: Kerstin Rodgers/
Candied peel was sold in bundles wrapped with raffia on the streets
Stilton and biscuits, Blacks, soho pic: Kerstin Rodgers/
Charles Fortnum lived at Blacks in 1848. Probably a cousin. All the Fortnums were called Charles. Potted cheese and walnut crackers courtesy of Fortnum and Mason, with my confit pineapple. I made confit fruits for the first time for this meal, a process of bathing the fruit in sugar and corn syrup over a few days. 
croquembouche, blacks, soho, pic: Kerstin Rodgers/
Croquembouche with orange flower water creme patissier
 pic: Kerstin Rodgers/
MsMarmite's hose and shoes
 Dessert board with confit fruits, brandy syllabub, ratafias, candied peel wrapped in rafia. Fortnum and Mason also provided dragees. Almonds were very important in the 18th century. Blacks club, soho. pic: Kerstin Rodgers/
 Dessert board with confit fruits, brandy syllabub, ratafias, candied peel wrapped in rafia. Fortnum and Mason also provided dragees. Almonds were very important in the 18th century.
 Rose water and lavender sugar meringue flowers. Meringues would have been small due to the immense expense (a week's wages for a loaf of sugar). The poor used honey., Blacks, soho, pic: Kerstin Rodgers/
 Rose water and lavender sugar meringue flowers. Meringues would have been small due to the immense expense (a week's wages for a loaf of sugar). The poor used honey.
 Strawberries with black pepper pic: Kerstin Rodgers/
 Strawberries with black pepper
 Salted taffy very popular during the 18th century, wrapped in wax paper. Blacks club, soho  pic: Kerstin Rodgers/
 Salted taffy very popular during the 18th century, wrapped in wax paper. I will make more pulled toffee and give the recipe when I have perfected it.
Msmarmitelover at Blacks, soho  pic: Kerstin Rodgers/

Thanks to Jori, Thomas, Guiseppe, Lucy, Daisy, Robin and Torri.
Pictures by Siennapops Rodgers

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Masa harina tortillas from scratch

masa harina tortillas from scratch

masa harina tortillas from scratch

This is a hard core geeky recipe for Mexican food obsessives. I've heard that fresh 'masa' the ground corn used for corn tortillas is much tastier so I had a go at making them myself. 

500g Field corn (hominy) Either order at huge expense from the states as I did or try this:
5g Pickling lime (slaked lime/calcium hydroxide/white lime/lime paste) It's got nothing to do with lime the fruit.
1.5 litres water

Put everything into a big pot and bring to the boil. Then keep at a low boil for 45 minutes to an hour. You should see the following things:

  • The pericarp of the corn should slip off nicely.
  • The corn should be sticky.
  • The kernel should be softish but firm.

If not all of these things are happening then continue to cook. Do not overcook. I did the first time and the corn over-absorbed the lime and was inedible. It shouldn't look like mush.
Then, the above conditions achieved, take off the heat. Leave to steep for 12 hours. Then rinse three times, rubbing the corn hard to get rid of the pericarp and the lime. I mean this. Really rinse it. You don't want it to taste a bit chemical.
Then, unless you have a wet grinder or a special masa grinding stone from Mexico, grind a quarter of the corn in the food processor. Grind until it is as fine as possible, like flour. The finer the grind, the softer the tortilla. Do the other 3/4 bit by bit. Add salt to taste, quite a lot is needed. I didn't get it as fine as if I had a proper machine but it was pretty good. Postscript: I now have a Vitamix which works brilliantly.
masa harina tortillas from scratch
Make a golf ball size ball and flatten in your tortilla press. (First of all cut open a sandwich bag on put each half on each half of the slightly oiled surfaces of the press. This stops it sticking to the press). Cheap versions of the press are available in certain Indian shops as chapatti presses.
masa harina tortillas from scratch
Dry griddle the tortilla, until both sides have slightly bubbled and toasted. Don't let the tortilla get too dry, it should be flexible.
masa harina tortillas from scratch

masa harina tortillas from scratch
 I served with a tomatillo salsa, sour cream, some cheddar and roast tomatoes. Fish is good too as is beans.
For more information about this go to these sites:
Cooking Issues:
Anson Mills:
masa harina tortillas from scratch

Monday, 20 June 2011

A Georgian lunch at Blacks

Here is the compleat menu: I do hope that some of the buggeranti, the macaronis, courtesans and fops from Soho will attend.

Broad bean fritters 
Celery soup Madame de Pompadour with truffle oil

Stargazy pie
Garden peas

Orange flower water profiteroles in a piece montée
Brandy syllabub
 Pineapple Blancmange
Sliced strawberry mosaic with black pepper
Meringues (terribly expensive, using best grade sugar at a guinea a loaf)

Potted cheese and charcoal biscuits kindly provided by Fortnum & Mason's, grocers to His Majesty King William IV

Ratafias, sweetmeats, dragees and coffee 

Possibly salted taffy
and candied oranges
To drink: 
Citron pressée for ladies of delicate disposition
Home-made Barley water 
Ale available on the premises
as is Wine for those with deep pockets

Commodes will not be provided in the dining room on this occasion nor is vomiting acceptable.

(As always I might change my mind about some or all of this menu)

Book with
 35 guineas for food. Drinks in addition. Or you shall be put in the creditors prison at Fleet St.
Next Sunday I'm taking over the kitchens at Blacks, a private club in Soho owned by Guiseppe Mascoli the gentleman behind Franco Manca pizza. Blacks is housed in an atmospheric 18th century townhouse which I'm using as my inspiration for the dishes. Now I'm no expert on historical cookery so I am indebted to the Georgian historian Lucy Inglis for help in devising a menu. These are my notes on our discussion, held over a cup of Earl Grey tea in the dim basement bar at Blacks club.

In 1720 the language on the streets of Soho was French. Many Huguenots, protestants who escaped the purges in France, had moved to Britain, also merchants for luxury trades and artisans.
In fact there were petitions against the French for hanging up their garlicky sausages everywhere.
Food in the 18th century: evidently poor and rich ate very differently, but a sign of poverty was eating seasonally. 

A typical working class menu:
Smoked mackerel filets
Fried slip sole (little soles) in butter
Fritters: classic bachelor's dish…they cooked them on the fire in their rooms. This is how men were taught to cook.
Potatoes not popular in London…it was more bread and flour such as Yorkshire puddings, pastries, buns and cakes.
Buns very popular: for breakfast. They were piled up on boards outside bakeries.
Salad and olive oil popular: John Evelyn's salad dressing had olive oil. Although butter was used mostly.
There are records of haulage rate scales for porters to carry the large vats of olive oil and dried figs across London. 
There was an Italian food warehouse which supplied olives and Bologna sausages.
Vermicelli noodles a popular side dish for everybody.
Vegetables more popular than one thinks: asparagus, purple sprouting broccoli and rhubarb were also grown. Greens such as chard were eaten. Although they boiled the veg, they still retained crispness.
Loads of herbs were used:

Parsley, mostly flat leaf
Curly parsley is Victorian.
In Islington they grew strawberries and watercress.
In Fulham there were market gardens, reason for strange shape of Fulham nowadays. They also followed biodynamic gardening (as one can still see today in almanacs with moon phases).
Thyme and bacon eaten.
Oysters very popular…so cheap they were fed to Samuel Johnson's cat.

Middle Class menu:
A light soup very chichi. (Not tomato). Celery soup. 
No carrots.
Always a fish course. 
In 1760 all the dishes came to the table at the same time 'service a la francaise' as opposed to 'service à la Russe' as we have today, dishes coming consecutively.
Caviar and sturgeon were found in England at the time, but we were also trading with the Baltic countries.
Sturgeon belonged to the king.
White meat: fowl
Dark meat: beef
They didn't hang meat.
Showpiece dish would be a big bird.
Stargazy pie with a hot water crust.
Baked turbot.
Fish often served with garden peas.

The poor bought sweets…candied orange, little bundles tied up with raffia. Sold at Blackfriars.
Brandy was a French import, also used in Brandy cream
Rum very popular because of the Caribbean. (Out of a 600,000 population of london, 5 to 10,000 were black.)
Pineapple was popular from 1660s to the Victorian period; pineapples were grown in hothouses in Bermondsey. But they were expensive so poorer housewives wishing to impress would rent a pineapple for lunch as a centrepiece then return it so it could be hired out for dinner.
Custards were popular.
Icecream was popular for the middle/upper classes
People who dealt in ice and snow got it from America (1720) sent over on big ships.
At Berkley square there was an ice-cream place.
Orange and rose flower water very 17th century.
Strawberries with black pepper.
Salted caramel.

Other popular foods of the time:
Oxtail soup : very Huguenot.
Cured fish: salted herring.
Salt beef
Salt cod
Salmon was a royal fish…farmed at Richmond.
Trout popular out of London…smoked.

Barley Water
Citron Pressé
Wine: 8 per cent strength, was an aspirational drink, most people drank ale and beer (only 2 per cent)
Pineapple rum.
Coffee taken in the morning on an empty stomach as a stimulant.

1802: canned food started. George IV the first king to eat it. Fortnums sold it. 

White bread less than 4%. Light wholemeal or rye.
Baker had to have a bakers mark. Bread sold by weight.
Mechanisation, aerated bread, the Chorleywood process, mid 20th century, changed things forever

Cheese finished the meal:
Cheshire cheese.
Bread/ crackers.

Enamel plates

Cookery writers:
Hannah Glasse
Eliza Hayward (George II's cook)

Saturday, 18 June 2011

For those about to rock: we sauté you!

Morrissey pic by Kerstin Rodgers
In July, I'm thrilled to be playing, I mean cooking, the gig at Camp Bestival. I have a long association with music: starting out as a teen rock photographer for the NME. In fact I was so young and ignorant about how to be a proper photographer, I just turned up one day at their office with a bunch of 10 x 8 glossy prints in a plastic carrier bag and dumped it on the desk saying 'here is my portfolio'. But it seemed to do the trick. 

Unfortunately, my first job for them was a live gig with Screwdriver. I muscled my way to the front where I befriended an NF skinhead named Hector. The minute the band came on, the entire venue rose in a mass upward pogo. By the time I hit the floor, I was covered in gob, had lost a shoe and my flashgun. I managed 5 shots before Hector pulled me up by my belt and passed me over in a humiliating 'crowd surf' to safety at the back. Not an auspicious start.

At the time I was also hanging about with the group Madness: the song 'My girl's mad at me' was written for me. My early photographs of the ‘nutty train’ came about because my photographic studio was tiny, it was the only way I could fit all of them in.

I was obsessed with rock music from a young age, collecting Melody Maker and NME until my mum threw out the yellowing piles when I went on holiday. My only experience actually playing was beating the surdo (the largest drum) with a samba group rhythms of resistance. It was educational to be doing rather than documenting.

The rock aesthetic tends to be rail-thin with cadaverous cheekbones, not one associated with gourmandise and healthy eating. Even in my younger rock chick days, that is one area I never succeeded in. I always liked my grub too much.

However there are a whole list of rock stars who love and feel strongly about food: Alex James of Blur famously makes goat's cheese on his farm; Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand wrote a food column for The Guardian; Kelis took a year off and trained to be a chef; Roger Daltry had a trout fishery; Devo frontman, Jerry Casale is now a wine teacher; Steve Albini, Nirvana’s producer, has a food blog. And how could we forget the recipes from 'Cooking with Coolio'? Or Elvis' ‘Fools Gold Loaf’, an entire loaf filled with bacon, peanut butter and jelly, a delicacy for which he’d send a private jet to Denver?

Despite rock's hard-core wild man image, what with Ozzy Osborne biting off a bat’s head on stage: many musicians fly the flag for vegetarianism and the vegan diet: Morrissey, Chrissie Hynde, Johnny Marr, Kate Nash, Ryan Jarman of The Cribs and Thom Yorke of Radiohead agree that 'meat is murder'. Vegan Moby even runs a teahouse. And Morrissey recently demanded in Belgium, as part of his conditions for playing, that the entire festival went vegetarian for the day. (If you are the king of miz pop, then I think this is ONLY appropriate behaviour.)

The on-tour nourishment of most bands consists of Little Chef dinners, motorway caffs and fast food. Some richer groups bring in their own tour chefs: in the case of the Rolling Stones, it fell to Jo Wood, ex-wife of the errant Ronnie, to try to stuff some age-defying nutrients into the old lags. Take That have a chef to battle their persistent podginess while Madonna has a macrobiotic chef to keep her lean and mean. Other megastars insist on dressing room riders: from the sublime Stereophonics request ‘an ass shaped piñata filled with Cuban cigars and dark chocolate’ to the ridiculous infamous demand by Van Halen for a bowl of M and M’s with all the brown ones removed.

I've cooked at lots of festivals in the past but never ran my own operation. I hope some of you will visit The Underground Restaurant at Camp Bestival, which is basically my living room supper club on the road. Here is where to book:

I've tried to make use, whenever possible, of the products from Dorset (and the Isle of Wight, for Bestival) in my menus, particularly some of the amazing local cheeses such as Blue Vinney, Ticklemore, Little Wallop, Stinking Bishop and Dorset Drum (Dorset restaurateur Mark Hix's choice in Good Cheese Magazine). Fudges biscuits and Dorset Knobs, local cheese biscuits will be a toothsome addition.

To dine at The Underground Restaurant at Camp Bestival is to get a taster of the supper club trend, a back to basics food movement which attempts to combat samey high street chain restaurants by providing home-cooked fresh food. Supper clubs celebrate individualism and cooking from scratch. It also demonstrates, via the punk DIY philosophy, that you don’t need permission to form a band, start a restaurant. To paraphrase the famous punk poster: ‘Here are three chords: now start a band’: here are three ingredients, now start a restaurant.

 The Underground Restaurant is also, at a festival, a chance to have a nice sit-down, be pampered and eat well, a little respite. It’s also why I have decided to put on a midnight sitting: much as we love to party at festivals after the groups have finished playing, you need to eat.

With my background, I’d like to feel I'm continuing this tradition of those involved with music whose career has morphed into the arena of food. Chefs nowadays are like rock stars; but the fans aren’t screaming, their mouths are too full!

Food has come a long way in Britain, we could even call it the new rock n roll. What do you think? Has food supplanted music as a trend? Are we more interested in eating than starting a band? Or is this only for the over 30s?

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Royal Ascot Menu from the Waterside Inn

The formal dining room

Royal Ascot's posh bit, the royal enclosure, asked The Waterside Inn this year to provide the menu for the Panoramic Restaurant. A few bloggers and journalists, including me, came along to sit in on the 'tasting' lunch in the private room of the Michelin star restaurant (25 years with three stars!) presided over by chef/patron Alain Roux.
I cherish his father Michel Roux's books: 'Pastry' 'Eggs' and 'Sauces'; all brilliant resources for the cook with clear instructions and simple but interesting recipes. To the PR's surprise Michel Roux even had lunch with us. I didn't know what to say when introduced, social skills failing me utterly, other than 'Wow'. At 70 years old, Michel Roux is a small leonine man, who despite his haute cuisine background, gives the impression of being down to earth and hard working.
The private room is like sitting in a bourgeois French family living room. The service was formal and discreet, teetering that perfect tight rope of invisible yet amiable. We also met Chef Alain Roux, who managed to be calm and hospitable despite the fact he'd been up all night with his new born son who was in hospital. The epitome of professionalism, he went to work!
People like Tim Hayward (a notorious Francophobe), Janet Street Porter, huff and puff about how French cuisine is demodé. At a recent talk at the Stoke Newington Literary Festival, where I was part of the Fire and Knives panel, I protested "all the basics come from the French. When you go to a decent French restaurant, they wipe the floor with us Brits. We are newbies"
It is old fashioned or classic, but that is also what I love about French cooking: skillfully produced, great ingredients, the bench mark. Despite their reputation for being the centre for fashion, haute couture, France is not as susceptible to it as Anglophone countries. If you want to be a dancer, you first learn classical ballet. Without the foundations, can you successfully experiment?

The dishes photographed here were not the usual Waterside Inn fare, but a special menu for Royal Ascot. We were invited to taste and judge along with some of the representatives of the events company that run the catering at Royal Ascot. I dared, at one point, to venture a criticism that the pasta dish wasn't quite 'al dente'. Michel Roux didn't throw a perfectly baked bread roll at my head with a 'zut alors, 'ow dare you? you totale nobody' which would have been fair enough. He's therefore either a perfect host or intrinsically humble. It was interesting to eavesdrop Michel's sales patter to the suits at Royal Ascot. At times I thought he sounded familiar, well, like me, as he pitched The Waterside Inn as the best restaurant for the job.
To book for the Waterside Inn experience at Royal Ascot go here. It's about £1000 a head, which is astronomical but pretty bargainous considering you get to eat and drink 3 star Michelin food (breakfast, lunch, tea, snacks) and great wine and champagne all day. If you really wanted to treat someone to a once in a lifetime splurge, it's worth it. Get your best hat out!

Starter of a parmesan cream
 Michel and Alain at the head of the table
Veggie mains: was really a vegan mains. Nice manderin oil droplets
 Saffron tagliatelli with lobster
 Exquisitely poached sole with morel mushrooms; proper Michelin star stuff
Salmon (sous vide? very tender)
We were also asked to try the sandwiches as well as the cheese board! I obliged.
Posh swiss roll
Petit fours
My little criticism: "a bit brown don't you think?" You eat with your eyes for sweet things especially
I think this beautifully concocted macaron looks like an arse, maybe Pippa Middleton's.

Monday, 13 June 2011

My Rainbow Cake Recipe

Colourful crumbs...

Short stack!

Rainbow Cake

530g of sifted plain flour

1 tsp of salt

230g of unsalted butter (room temperature)

600g of caster sugar

4 large eggs

A few drops of vanilla extract

480ml of buttermilk or yoghurt mixed with a little creme fraiche

2 tspn white wine vinegar

2 tspn baking soda

Food colouring in various colours, preferably gel or powder


450g of full fat cream cheese

500g of Mascarpone

A few drops of vanilla extract

240g of icing sugar

600ml of double cream, whipped

You need sponge cake tins for this recipe. I only have two so I baked two layers at a time but if you have more, even better!

Sift together flour and salt in a bowl.

In your mixer beat the butter until whipped. It should be spread fluffily around the sides of your mixing bowl.

Then add the sugar and beat for at least 2 minutes.

Whisk the eggs together and add in a slow trickle to the mixture while it is being whisked. Add a teaspoon or two of flour at the same time. You want to try to prevent curdling which makes a dent in your sponge.

Every so often, stop the mixer and scrape down the sides. The mixture should look pale and airy.

Then take the flour and the buttermilk/yoghurt and add alternately to your mixture ending with the flour.

In another bowl mix the vinegar and baking soda together and add to the main mixture.

So now you have your sponge batter.

Take your buttered and floured sponge tins and some bowls.

Divide the mixture between the bowls. If you are really swotty you will do this evenly but I wanted thicker layers at the bottom of the cake, thinner at the top.

Stir your chosen food colouring into each bowl. To make more colours, mix your food colouring eg red and blue make violet, some yellow in the green gives you a different shade of green. Using powdered food colouring means that perhaps the sponge batter is more stable without the extra liquid. You can play with the colours like paint pots. Really fun to do with the kids!

You could also add food flavouring such as lemon essence for the yellow layer, orange essence for the orange layer, mint essence for the green, almond essence for a pale green, chocolate powder for the brown.

Pour the mixture into your cake tins and bake in a pre-heated medium oven, 180 C, until firm, about 15 minutes. In the Aga, I baked the sponges on the top shelf of the baking oven. (You could also use the bottom shelf of the roasting oven with a cold shelf if you have a 2 oven Aga). Put a skewer in the sponge and if it comes out clean, it's cooked.

The layers are thinner than a normal sponge sandwich so use a fish slice or something to turn out the sponge tins onto a rack. Let cool for a couple of minutes then cover to prevent drying out.

While all your layers are cooling, make the icing. The Rainbow cake recipe from Whisk Kid uses a lemon meringue icing but every time I try this, it curdles! So I used a cream cheese icing instead.

Beat the cream cheese and the mascarpone together. Add the vanilla and the icing sugar. Add the whisked double cream.

Assemble the layers one by one in the order of your choice, spreading a layer of the cream cheese icing in between each layer. Then with a palette knife, spread the rest of the icing all around the cake, completely covering the top and sides with a thick layer. I sprinkled some 'disco' white glitter on top.

Fantastic for kid's parties: you could even cover the top with Smarties. This blogger got her kid to doodle on the white surface with edible ink pens.

For a patriotic cake, see my Royal Wedding red, white and blue cake.