Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Isle of Wight tomatoes with recipe for pizza

I can eat tomatoes like sweets. Popping the little cherry tomatoes, pop pop pop, into my mouth. I love to sprinkle them with salt. I like them fried. I like them grilled. I like them rubbed on toast, bruschetta stylee or pan con tomate if we are talkin' Spanish. I like them fresh. I like them canned. I also like tomato juice, especially in Bloody Marys. I like them on pizzas. In stews and curries. I've even had them with cream and sugar, people swore they were strawberries. But most of all I use tomatoes for pasta. Most people use canned tomatoes for a pasta sauce. I would encourage people to use fresh tomatoes too. Diced, keeping all the juices, frying them in olive oil, with plenty of garlic and some fresh bay leaves, you can't go wrong. It's a quicker pasta sauce than canned.
One of the sweetest juiciest places to get tomatoes in the UK is The Tomato Stall on the Isle of Wight. I went to visit them last week. I was impressed by the greenhouses which use advanced and sustainable techniques for growing. Several varieties of tomato were laid out for me to taste, from Piccolo cherry tomatoes, to baby plums on the vine, then bubu beef tomatoes that you could cut a slice out of, like a cake, they ranged from yellow and pink, to tiger striped and pillar box red.
When it's sunny, the sales of tomatoes go way up. This year has been tough for all gardeners, blight has been a problem with all this rain. It has affected commercial growers too.
I remember when on the vine tomatoes came out. I couldn't believe how they managed to stay on the vine all the way to the shop. I learnt that certain varieties are used, where the branch is strong and the tomatoes do not drop off. Now on the vine is common place. Many chefs are using the vines in their cooking too. That gorgeous smell, a kind of green hairy odour, that comes from the vine not the tomato.
By the way, you must never put a tomato in the fridge. Kept in a bowl in your kitchen, they continue to ripen and retain their flavour..
Tomatoes are a new world food, originating in Peru. Technically they are a fruit, a large berry, but are acidic rather than sweet like most fruit.
The Tomato Stall also make this fabulous ingredient, one of my favourites: oak roasted semi dried tomatoes. Seriously I love this. They make great aperitif snacks, but can be added to salads too.
Yesterday I made a quick pizza using Isle of Wight tomatoes and the oak roasted tomatoes.

500g of strong flour
20g semolina
50ml olive oil
10g of sea salt
10g of quick yeast
320ml of warm water
1 tablespoon of honey

2 balls of mozzarella.
1 or 2 vines of tomatoes, halved
a dozen oak roasted tomatoes
sea salt

Measure out the flour, semolina, olive and salt (put on one side) into a mixing bowl.
In a jug put the yeast, water (not too hot, don't kill the yeast) and honey. I leave it to rest on the Aga. When it froths I add it to the mixing bowl, taking care not keep the yeast away from the salt. Salt slows down the rising action in the yeast.
Knead or mix until you have a stretchy dough.
Leave covered for an hour then lay on an oiled baking tray.
Scatter torn mozzarella, halved tomatoes and oak roasted tomatoes with plenty of sea salt. Use the flavoured oil from the oak roasted tomatoes too.
Leave to rise again.
Bake in a hot oven (375 degrees) for 15 minutes.
I should have had a picture of the above pizza when cooked. But we ate it too quickly.

Sunday, 26 August 2012

The Duchess of Marmite: Club Gascon

One of my favourite cookbooks, with stunning photography by Jean Cazals, is Cuisinier Gascon by Pascal Aussignac. It centres upon the cuisine of Les Landes, on the Atlantic coast of France. It is very meat-heavy, with a concentration on foie gras, which I totally disagree with, nevertheless the beauty and originality of this book shines through.
Chef Aussignac, a Puck-like figure who looks at least a decade younger than his 42 years, came to London 13 years ago. He was trying to set up a restaurant in Paris but new ventures are difficult in that anti-entrepeneurial country. He and his business partner decided to open near Smithfield market in London, which was, at the time, a bit of a culinary wasteland apart from St. Johns Restaurant and Maison Novelli. Their restaurant, Club Gascon, was an immediate success, there were literally queues around the block. "Before la crise" Pascal told me "bankers and people from the city would come for lunch and they wouldn't leave. They'd sit around smoking cigars and drinking Armagnac, doing business all afternoon. It was like a gentleman's club. In fact we had to ask them to go before the dinner service. Even the staff lunch had to be eaten next to them. Now of course it is different."
The financial crisis of 2008 has changed everything, especially for high end restaurants. Restaurants everywhere suffer, but particularly those that rely on expense accounts. (You can always tell how good business is for posh restaurants by how many expensive bottles of wine they sell. On my visit to L'Anima a year after the crash, they'd only sold one £800 bottle of wine in the previous six months whereas before they sold several each month.) This probably explains the trend towards more casual dining: supper clubs, street food, no reservation hip themed restaurants such as Meat Liquor and Spuntino. The emphasis is on fun rather than fine.
Smithfield also has changed with successive waves of new restaurants: Hix and John Torode's restaurant, Morgan M, Modern Pantry, Vinoteca, Bruno Loubet and now yet another branch of Polpo. As this area has very little residential housing, and remains fairly empty on weekends, it will be interesting to see how many of these restaurants can survive in a flatlining economy.
Pascal Aussignac is frustrated that more hasn't been done with Smithfield, expanding the meat market into vegetables and flowers. "In an instant" he cries "this area would become the place to go to at weekends, like Borough. Unfortunately the butchers don't want it and the Corporation of London, who manage the area, will not consider it. There is an empty market here and plenty of parking. It's perfect!" Aussignac lives in the area, next door to his restaurants. This is a man who lives and breathes his job. He's actually in the kitchen during each service, in the sauce station. He's not in Hollywood hanging out with Posh Spice nor is he pontificating on telly. He's there, cooking, every day.
Spending a couple of hours with Chef Aussignac, one is struck by his sensibility. Fine-boned and elfin, with facial expressions shifting between a young Al Pacino and the French comic actor Fernandel, we talk about the differences between London and Paris. How nobody looks at each other in London which is simultaneously alienating and freeing. How Paris is locked into itself, 'coincé', with secret codes of behaviour and dress. The importance of the number '13' to Club Gascon, whether it is lucky (French) or unlucky (British). He also worked near Grimaud in the South of France, where I spent a year. We talked about the Cannes film festival and movies and Godard, bloody Godard.
He continues the French tradition of the philosophic cultivated craftsman, the Eric Cantona of cooking. The only child of a single mother, there is also something quite fragile about him, but also very intense,  very driven. His artistic hand is evident throughout Club Gascon, from the exquisite hand-made plates to the floral arrangements, which he does himself, rising at 6am every Tuesday to buy the flowers at the market.
He made for me a vegetarian adaptation of his winning dish at Taste of London. I'm not a fan of this upmarket overpriced food fair (in fact I've often thought about squatting it) but Pascal says it is one of the few occasions where he can spend time, four days!, with other chefs of his stature.
The dish fuses a classic British ingredient, Marmite with a traditional Auvergnat dish, aligot. He calls it La Duchesse de Marmite (after pommes duchesse). It has a couronne (crown) of deep fried crisps. No dish uses more than three elements. So here we have potato both purée and fried, cheese (Tomme) and Marmite.

Book for Club Gascon here.
Lunch is only £25.
The Cuisinier Gascon book. 

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Light lunch for a city summer

 What I eat is dictated by the weather and this weekend, despite the muggy suffocating heat in London, I decided to stand by my Aga and cook. My parents had come over and I had no food in the house.
But I do have food in the garden. My dad and I dug up some of the potatoes including the purple skinned heritage spuds. I had plenty of courgette flowers, some tiny cherry tomatoes, a few herbs flowering and going to seed. What can I make?
I'm often inspired by colour when it comes to composing a menu. The purple and green spring onions I have in my fridge and the mauve potatoes....a Swiss rosti? garnished by the purple flowers of Oregano. Where did that idea come from? The last time I had rosti was on the Annapurna trek in Nepal, where every teahouse served it for dinner.
So I grated and chopped. My parents waited. The sweat dripped and the onions sizzled. The air was still as I fried. Even the activity of the flies and wasps seemed half-assed. I had squeezed the liquid out of the strands of potato and onion, the pale green and the purple threads (I kept the skins on). A rosti must be as dry as possible. I was dubious about this rosti however, I'd never made one before. Would it be raw inside?  Does raw potato straw just cook?
I served my purple and green rosti with pale chartreuse coloured cucumber salad and cream, some stuffed baked courgette flowers, a glass of teensy tomatoes picked before blight hits, and sprinkled on the herb flowers.
A clinking of knives and forks, scrapings and sloppings were heard. Then a voice, my mum: "Can I have some more?" My dad and daughter eyed the remaining rostis, awaiting seconds.
I tasted. A rosti has a textural mouthfeel. The crispy strands on the outside were crunchy and satisfying, the insides perfectly cooked. I always want crisps, salty and oily, when it's hot. The rosti fulfils all of those needs and more.
I made a cocktail of Rhubarb flavoured Chase vodka, frozen flower icecubes and soda water to wash it all down. The parents were impressed.
Pudding was a plate of Smarties.

Rosti Recipe:
Serves 4 to 6

5 purple spring onions
5 green spring onions
half a dozen purple skinned potatoes
half a dozen normal waxy potatoes, peeled
3 eggs
100g of Parmesan, grated

Put the spring onions and potatoes through the food processor grater, or grate them by hand.
Putting a handful in your palm, squeeze any liquid out of it and put into a bowl. Continue until you have squeezed dry all the mixture.
Then mix in three eggs and the parmesan. Season to taste.
Squeezing a small handful of mixture, place it in a frying pan of hot olive oil. Press it down with a fish slice. Continue to add small mounds of mixture to the pan, leaving space for pressing down between potato patties.
Allow the bottom to go golden then carefully flip over the rosti.
Fry until both sides are golden.

Cucumber and cream salad

This is like a really sinful version of raitha, the yoghurt and cucumber salad.

Serves 5 or just one person, in front of the telly, bowl in lap.

Use a mandoline. Really. Buy one here. I've got an old wooden French one.

3 cucumbers, peeled, finely sliced into rounds on a mandoline
Good sea salt.
300ml double cream

Cover the cucumber slices with salt. Cover and put in the fridge. Then drain off the salt. The cucumber are seasoned and crispy. Put in a nice bowl and cover with cream. Add a sprig of herb flowers.

Baby tomatoes from my garden

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Beyond the conflict: Israel, blogging and a recipe for tofu shakshouka

Shakshouka: at Cordelia restaurant in Jaffa, at beach restaurant Manta Ray, at Arkadia restaurant in Jerusalem. 
How do you solve a problem like Israel?
Well, you can't. Certainly a mere food blogger such as myself cannot. All I can do is enjoy and learn about their food, coming as it does from the Jewish diaspora and infused with influences from their Arab neighbours.
So I'm going to write about Israeli food - not the politics, which is a topic without end and probably without solution in my lifetime. Another thing I will talk about is that, on this trip, I got to meet some of the most important food bloggers in the world.
My week in Israel was as the guest of Kinetis, an organisation that seeks to promote Israeli culture beyond the conflict. They invited bloggers from key countries* and, at various times, groups who specialise in particular subjects: music, mummy bloggers and food bloggers. 
Why bloggers rather than 'proper' journalists? Joanna Landau, the organiser of these trips explains: "Recent research shows that people are not influenced by celebrity endorsement. Rather they believe their friends' recommendations." She elaborated by saying that bloggers are more like friends, people follow their exploits, they are influencers in the way that ordinary journalists aren't. 
On this journey I met probably the most influential individual food blogger in the world, David Lebovitz, a tall man with a slyly caustic sense of humour. He was originally a pastry chef at the famed Alice Waters restaurant 'Chez Panisse' in the United States, until he upped and escaped to Paris where he has resided for nine years. He has an adoring public and gets hundreds of comments on each beautifully written and photographed blog post. Equally influential in her own country is heavily pregnant Estonian blogger Pille Petersoo, creator of the Nami-Nami food blog, who has become a TV and radio pundit expounding on her day job of sociology as well as food. Also on the trip were two 'professional' bloggers, paid to write by heavy hitter (both in terms of traffic and influence) group food sites such as Serious Eats (Erin Zimmer, who has a ridiculously infectious giggle) and The Kitchn, represented by Cambria Bold (fabulous font-like name).
Becoming a successful blogger, like anything, requires application and talent. But most of all, you have to keep going. So many blogs stutter and stop after three months. Lebowitz and Pille both started pre-blogger format, in 1999 and 2000 respectively. That's over a decade of constant posting. Without pay. You only do this if you are committed, slightly obsessed and really have something to say. 
Serious Eats and The Kitchn, the latter site being an off-shoot of Apartment Therapy, started around 2005. Each employs around a dozen bloggers who post several times a day. 
Another reason for inviting bloggers as opposed to mainstream press is that Israel has a vibrant IT and new media sector, not far behind Silicon Valley. One part of the trip we met Israeli internet start-ups and listened to their pitches for new foodie apps. Said one "ipad style computers will match then replace desktop computer within two or three years'. 
Apps, and therefore bloggers, are inexorably part of the future of publishing. 

And so to the food. Yesterday, with sultry summer weather, leafing through the reissue of Claudia Roden's evocative book 'Picnics', I felt in the mood for testing some of the dishes I ate in Israel, at home. Shakshouka is a classic Middle Eastern breakfast dish, eggs baked in a spicy tomato sauce. On my last day in Israel, I went to a cool vegetarian friendly hang-out cafe Orna and Ella  with my friend Professor Aeyal Gross, who had just been protesting against the White Night in Tel Aviv. Orna and Ella served a vegan version: tofu shakshouka. It was one of the best things I ate in Israel.
Yesterday I made it, not knowing the official recipe, but just like before, I scoffed the lot in one sitting. I'm a big fan of tofu, which tends to get a bad press for being bland but, paired with strong tastes, it's an extraordinary flavour sponge. For this dish use silken tofu, a delightful textural contrast. For the last couple of weeks I've been getting purple spring onions in my Riverford Organics vegetable box, so I used those too, for the taste and the colour.

A good slug of olive oil
Half a dozen cherry tomatoes, split in half
1 red bell pepper, seeded, cut into thin strips
5 sprigs of purple spring onions, chopped into rounds
5 cloves of garlic, cut into slithers
A tin of chopped tomatoes
1 box of silken tofu, cut into squares (on your palm, or in the box)
1 tablespoon of sweet paprika
1 tablespoon of freshly ground coriander seeds
1 teaspoon of ground cumin
A few strands of saffron
1 teaspoon or more, to taste, of crushed chilli peppers
Salt to taste
A scoop of sour cream or yoghurt (optional)

Heat up the oil in a good quality cast iron skillet or a decent non-stick frying pan such as Green Pan. Then add the cherry tomatoes and the red pepper strips, fry until slightly golden. Add the spring onions. Ditto.
Then add everything else. Don't stir. It's cooked once all the tomatoes seem cooked through and the tofu has sort of poached into a silky wobbliness but still retain a cube-like shape.
Once it's done, add some sour cream or yoghurt and maybe a few slices of the purple spring onions on top. Eat with warm pitta.
Really, this is a dish to convince non-veggies. 
The red and green peppers are just starting to ripen in my garden

As I couldn't find the fresh mint in the garden, because I was thinking, mmm fresh mint tea with sugar and pine nuts to cool me down, I accompanied this with a citron pressé, a cool tall drink, popular in French cafés. 

Juice of half a lemon
1-2 tablespoons of caster sugar
Soda water
Ice cubes
Squeeze the lemon into a tall glass. Add the rest of the ingredients.
Citron pressé, watching bumble bees bounce upon the sprigs of lavender, a pink blanket on a green lawn
*Kinetis target bloggers from particular countries like France, Spain and the UK because they tend to have a negative view upon Israel. "The UK has always been pro-Arab", said Joanna.

Saturday, 18 August 2012

The Urban Kitchen Gardener by Tom Moggach

I'm so tired of the empty ghost-written celebrity/TV driven cookbooks which have no heart or soul. The love and thought is evident in The Urban Kitchen Gardener, for this is a book actually written and lived by the author, Tom Moggach. Suggestions such the 'daily patrol' of your plants, to tune into them, accompanied perhaps by a strong cup of tea, are born of experience and intuition. Tom's book is vital for the city gardener and, at the same time, contains inspiring recipes for the green-fingered cook, so the Secret Garden Club, devoted to growing their own food, is a fan!

A few months ago, on a dusty but eye-opening trip through Georgia, the former Soviet republic, I met Tom Moggach. He was reporting for The Food Programme on Radio 4, exploring the markets in particular. I tailed behind him as he fearlessly bought mysterious seeds wrapped in wriggly writing newspaper cones from a market stall. I grew some of these seeds myself, unsure what would emerge from the soil a few weeks later.
I also led Tom astray from the path of legality when I found tiny purple Parma violet plants, sweet and sickly like confectionary, growing wild at a central Georgian vineyard. We used our water bottles to make mini protective greenhouses for these plants and smuggled them home in our pockets. My Parma violets* are doing very well in my London garden, despite the sodden British weather this summer.

I've always struggled with growing coriander, which is a shame because it is probably my favourite herb. Tom has useful tips, telling you to sow it every couple of weeks to retain a regular source of leaves for use in cooking, to only use seed less than two years old, to choose the brown unpolished seed to germinate. He also uses fresh green home-grown coriander seeds in his cooking which sounds deliciously intriguing.
The book is divided into vegetables, herbs, leaves (for salads), fruit, edible flowers; each section has enticing recipes such as chilli cornbread, fresh coriander and coconut chutney, home-cured mackerel (makes a change from the usual gravad lax), tomato and lemongrass rasam (a kind of South Indian soup).
Tom's growing stuff that we've not tried: I've never eaten mouse melons, small and crunchy like cucumbers, nor have we grown shisho leaves, a Japanese ingredient with a distinctive flavour. Yet.
It is equally good as a cookbook, offering genuinely innovative recipes, as a gardening manual for small urban spaces. Tom Moggach teaches school children to garden, therefore his style is approachable as well as informative. This is a great book to inspire and instruct beginner gardeners.

Buy Tom's book here or here on Amazon. Highly recommended. Makes you feel good, that real authors are still writing heart-felt personally researched books rather than the empty soulless drivel that passes for publishing nowadays.

*must make sure I split these after spring flowering, to propagate some more. I'm not sure of the exact cultivar. 

Friday, 10 August 2012

The United Plates of America: Global Feast

Scott Baker is adorable, everyone fell in love with him on the day that he guest-cheffed for Global Feast. He spent yesterday standing over a hot fryer with his jeans halfway down his rear end! He first came to public attention when he competed against Thomasina Miers in Masterchef a few years ago. Thomasina went on to win the competition but Scott left his job in IT and has been working in food full-time ever since. Three years ago he started Kooky Bakes which sells every weekend at markets like Eat St and Sunday UpMarket in Brick lane as well as Selfridges. Now he's starting a supper club to promote North American cooking, southern style @theunitedplates. Judging from last night, it should be very successful.
As readers of my blog will know, I love some down home southern country cookin' (yes you must leave the 'n' off everytime you cook southern, in fact, even as I'm writing this, in my head, I'm speaking in a Scarlett O'Hara accent). I've done Elvis nights and Dolly Parton nights. Scott was the one that told me about the heavenly combination of butter and maple syrup, whipped together and spread unctuously on corn bread. He did this again last night, serving bowls of melted maple syrup butter, for guests to ladle over their authentic Southern fried chicken.
Mint Juleps (perfect for last night's heavy heat)

Devils, pups and pickles
(Devilled eggs, hush puppies and pickles: watermelon rind, peach and 'bread and butter' cucumbers)

Shrimp and grits

Waffles, succotash and deep fried chicken in a cayenne cornmeal batter, served with maple syrup and butter
Catfish steaks for pescatarians

Chess pie, peach cobbler, Key Lime pie

Scott was born in Georgia, the peach state, also famous for it's pecans and peanuts. Georgia was an original confederate state which had a large African-American slave population up until the civil war. This black population and their foodways from Africa influenced southern cuisine; native American culture in the use of corn (grits and cornbread) as well as Caribbean and Creole populations also play a part in the formation of typical southern food.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

172 degrees longitude: Anna Hansen cooks for Global Feast

Anna Hansen is the perfect chef for a global feast. Her parents were Kiwi and Danish, she's lived in Canada, Jordan, Europe, Asia and London. Her food reflects this multi-national upbringing: she cooks widely, using ingredients from all over the world. We can see a fragment of this in last night's thoughtful menu:
Williams Gin with elderflower, tonic and muddled mint
Wines from New Zealand vineyard Marlborough Wines, perfect for this menu

Smoked mussel and fennel seed besan (gram flour) chips, seaweed tartare
Roast beetroot, goats curd and pumpkin seed crostini, Seresin Estate orange oil (from New Zealand)

Lemongrass braised cherry tomato, lemon roast fennel, green bean, marinated feta and endive salad, hazelnut crumbs, verjus (often used in New Zealand, I've noticed, it's a less acidic vinaiger)and manuka honey dressing

Persian spiced lamb rump, roast sweet potato and amchur mash, tahini and moromi miso lemon cream

Veg option: Feuilles de brik

Pacific Eton mess, Matcha meringue, spiced red wine poached tamarillo (or tree tomato), yoghurt cream

This menu draws inspiration from New Zealand, particularly with the smoked mussel (NZ is famous for the green lipped mussel), the manuka honey and the tamarillo. The Eton Mess is a nod to the Pavlova, the ultimate Antipodean dessert.
Anna is, according to interviews, MsVegemitelover. Her food is confident, flavoursome, deceptively casual in the Antipodean style. With a loyal following, her night was the first to sell out at Global Feast.
Global Feast news: The bar has turned into a techno rave late night jobbie. If you want to meet a medallist, come along. We seem to specialise in rowers.
The night before last, a prisoner on the run came home nearby and was reported by a neighbour. Police chased him through the Global Feast site at 5am. The week before, we discovered one of our chefs couldn't stay to work, as he had to leave the country to face charges of triple murder.
Only a handful of nights to go, then I can put my feet up for a bit. Then Bestival.
Book here for Global Feast.  Ends Monday night.
Book here for Bestival. 

Visit Anna's restaurant The Modern Pantry in Clerkenwell, book here. 

Tamarillo poached in red wine and star anise, matcha meringue.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

135 degrees longitude: Japanese food at Global Feast

Yuki Gomi
Yuki, in common with our other Asian nights, arrived well prepared, prep list in hand, ingredients ordered and delivered. She runs a Japanese supper club in Crystal Palace in London called Yuki's Kitchen, she also gives Japanese cookery classes and has a book coming out with Penguin next spring. As soon as I asked her to guest chef at our Japanese night she didn't hesitate, for her British husband is an architect. He took one look at Alex Haw's amazing table and told Yuki that she must say yes.
Yuki's menu:

Beer by TsingTao
Many ingredients sponsored by Clearspring foods.

Marinated mackerel with shisho bo sushi
Authentic Japanese sushi selection

Matsukaze chicken: baked chicken with miso
Sea vegetable and cucumber salad with mustard sesame sauce (the sauce was delicious, you combine English mustard and tahini)

Akauo (Red fish) marinated in Malted Sake "sake kasu"
Green beans with black sesame sauce (moan of pleasure)

Tokyo mess: A Japanese Eton mess. Green tea mascarpone with seasonal fruits.

The fish, it must be admitted was a courageous dish to serve. It's made with a specially imported ingredient from Japan, malted sake. It's almost like a Japanese marmite: using the top fermentation of sake rice wine. I loved it, but some guests thought it made the fish too strange, too pungent, almost 'off'.
We also had Japanese dancers leading a karaoke dance... side, side, forward, clap, knees, knees, L-shape, L-shape, sleeeve, sleeeve, clap, wave your hands to the side, then the other side, dip and bend. The whole table entered into the spirit of it! (Especially, bien sur, the food bloggin' posse comprised of the gayest man on Twitter Mr Hugh Wright and his latest protegé, fashion illustrator Joseph Larkowsky, Hollow Legs, Food Stories.)
The Worldscape table is almost finished and needs a home after August 13th. Contact Alex Haw on +44(0)7815 040 619 if you have a gallery or space that can house it.


Here is Yuki's stunning recipe for Green beans with black sesame sauce.
200g of green beans, trimmed and cut in half
100g Black sesame seeds, ground with a pestle and mortar
20g of brown sugar
40g of brown miso
30ml of Mirin,
20ml of soy sauce

Boil the beans for 5 minutes maximum, they must stay crunchy.
Grind the black sesame seeds into a paste, add the other ingredients.
Mix with the green beans.
Serve warm or cold.

Another highlight of the evening for me, was that I got to handle an actual Olympic medal. Athletes are coming into the bar after the meal, this time a Canadian lady rower who had won silver. The medal is massive and rather heavy. "Now I know why I got up at 5am every day to practice rowing" she said, her face shiny with happiness. Her boyfriend, an Olympic swimmer, was also there, she met him at the Beijing Olympics. She confirmed that the Olympic village is a hot-bed of virile healthy super-humanly fit people, pumped up with adrenalin, fucking like rabbits.
During the day I emerged for the first time from the thick-walled (no phone signal) turret of Stratford Old Town and walked to Stratford station and Westfield shopping centre. There are thousands of folk, all good-humoured, from all nations of the earth. Groups of people are shouting the benefits of, variously, Islam, The Bible and Veganism. Stratford has, for a couple of weeks, evolved into a thronging market place for all humanity. Yes, the specially commissioned leaf sculptures look like fish and are even called 'shoal' but Stratford, on the meridian, zero degrees longitude, is where it's at right now.
Come down for the last few nights of Global Feast: spaces left for North American night and Caribbean night. Don't miss out, we'll be closed after Monday. Book here. 

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

101>106 degrees longitude: Thailand and Vietnam at Global Feast

Perm's drawings to describe plating, Thai sweet corn fritters (tapioca flour is the secret),  performer at the event.
Uyen Leluu was born in Vietnam and came from a refugee camp to the UK at the age of five. She was brought up in Hackney when it was rough not trendy, not far from the old Vietnamese community centre cafe on Englefield Road, one of the original Vietnamese restaurants which sparked a flourishing food scene in that part of London, now known as Little Vietnam. Up till now, Vietnamese in the UK went into three industries: nails, clothing manufacture or food. Today, second and third generation Vietnamese are encouraged by their parents to become doctors. Uyen started out as a fashion designer with her own shop in Carnaby street. Towards the end of 2009 she started a supper club in her London Fields home; since then her career seems destined to remain in food. Jamie Oliver has been to her supper club (well jell!) and she's recieved good reviews both in the UK and internationally for her authentic Vietnamese cooking.

Poonperm Paitayawat or 'Perm' is known in the food world as author of the blog The Skinny Bib (a reference to the Michelin 'bib gourmande') and is Thai, of Chinese extraction. He came to Britain to study theatre history. He turned up yesterday with an intriguing basket of ingredients: small booklets of Thai gold leaf and a large box of Rice krispies.

Perm and Uyen worked together quietly and efficiently, the kitchen has never been so calm. The food they produced was delicious. I learnt from Uyen about a particular combination of herbs, perilla, a kind of Shiso leaf and Cockscomb, a mint lemon balm leaf only sold in Vietnamese supermarkets in Hackney. Uyen runs Vietnamese cookery classes.

Beer provided by Tsing Tao
Many ingredients sponsored by Wing Yip Asian supermarket

Gin and tonic by Williams Gin.

“khao pod tod” – sweet corn fritters with sweet chilli sauce
“miang tuna” – sour and spicy salad of cooked tinned tuna served on fresh baby gem lettuce.
“plar plaa salmon” – Thai -style salmon ceviche
Vietnamese BBQ Chargrilled pork belly with cold vermilcelli noodle salad
“kao nhiew piak lum-yai” – syrupy sticky (black) rice pudding with coconut flesh and longan.
Finished with salty & sweet coconut milk.
I was a little dubious about the idea of the cooked tinned tuna, which turned out to be one of my favourite dishes. Here is Perm's recipe, try it!
Miang Tuna
Serves 4 
185g high quality chunky tuna in spring water 
3 very fresh baby gem lettuces 
2 sprigs of coriander, chopped 
1 fat clove of garlic, minced 
2 birds eye chillis, chopped 
1 spring onion, finely sliced 
2-3 limes, juiced 
2 tbs sunflower seed oil 
1 tbs quality soy sauce 
2tbs quality fish sauce 
1 tsp sugar 
1/2 tsp salt 
Heat the oil in a saucepan or wok. Drain and add the tuna. Season with fish sauce, soy sauce, sugar and salt. Stir-fry until the liquid evaporates. the cooked tuna mixture should border on being a little salty. Leave to cool down. 
Mix coriander, spring onion, garlic, bird's eye chilli with lime juice. Add the room temperature tuna and toss. Season with extra salt or lime juice to taste. Serve spooned over an individual leaf of baby gem lettuce.
Uyen and Perm who after soaking the skewers, threaded on the pork; Uyen's main course; herbs used in Vietnamese cookery.
Perm with his gorgeous gold leafed tuna canapés; salmon ceviche
Perm's pudding ingredients

Book for Global Feast, less than one week to go, many nights sold out. 

Monday, 6 August 2012

103 degrees longitude: Singapore at the Global Feast

Century eggs and tofu
Goz Lee and Jason Ng of Plus Six Five supper club
The bench mark and creator of the table, Alex Haw
Goz Lee and his mate Jason Ng breezed into the kitchen in their surfer dude gear and casually cooked up a 5 course feast. Every day we in the kitchen are confronted with a new cuisine, a new style, a new attitude. Every day a new guest chef. Plus Six Five supper club (named after the phone prefix for Singapore) made it look effortless, a Usain Bolt attitude to cooking, you could say. They have time to look around before they cross the winning line.
Singaporean food is not well known and is often confused with Malaysian and Thai food. It is ethnically located at a crossroads: Chinese, Malay and Indian fused with a bit of British thrown in. This mix is known as Nyonya or Peranakan cuisine. Plus Six Five go further, their food is the kind of thing you eat in Singaporean homes rather than restaurants. It was unusual and challenging. Probably the weirdest food since Chris Massamba's West African Raw Vegan. But it was also delicious and creative.
Here is the menu:
Singapore Sling
Tsing Tao, a light refreshing Chinese lager,  was served with the rest of the menu.

Thanks to Wing Yip Asian Supermarket for sponsoring many of the ingredients

Braised pork belly in lettuce cups
Pineapple, lime, chilli in croustade cups

 Tofu with century egg and Cloud Ear mushrooms (braised in soy sauce, rice vinegar, chillies, rice wine, sesame oil and sugar)

Hainanese Chicken Rice
Singapore curry (asparagus, red pepper) with rice (incredible recipe)
Chicken broth

 Tang Yuan glutinous rice flour balls filled with peanut butter in a ginger soup

Petits fours:
Tapioca Cake (best use of cassava ever) Goz's grandmas recipe.
Tang Yuan balls rolled in coconut. (I loved these)

The century eggs, once peeled, revealed a filling of black and green jelly, not colours you associate with tasty food. Traditionally these are fermented in either horse urine or little boy's pee. Texture is extremely important in Chinese/Asian food, be it the gelatinous wobble of preserved eggs, the stickiness of the rice or the crunchy Cloud Ear mushrooms. Their cuisine mirrors the other-dimensional complexity of the Chinese language in which they have five different tones for each word, each importing another meaning. This food isn't just about taste, they are working on other levels, balancing ying and yang, hot and cold, hard and soft, wet and dry, dark and light, masculine and feminine foods. Sticky is good, it 'brings people together', 'round food' is equally appreciated. For instance tofu is Yin while mushrooms are Yang, therefore they are matched in the starter. Glutinous rice is Yang, while water is Yin, therefore the Tang Yuan balls are served in water/soup.
Pandan leaves had several uses: to plate up the petits fours, also in the soup for the rice ball dessert. Pandan or Screwpine leaves are employed extensively in Singaporean cookery, with a flavour close to vanilla. In Singapore, most people have them growing wild in their back garden. I got mine from Wing Yip. It's so exciting to finally find out how some of the adventurous ingredients available in Asian supermarkets are actually used.
The Tapioca cake was a recipe from Goz's grandmother, who taught him how to cook. Another word for Singaporean cuisine is 'Nyonya' or 'grandma/auntie'. It's interesting linguistically how this Malay word is so similar to the Italian 'nona' or the English 'nan'. When it comes to the kitchen, grandmothers from all over the world, rule.
In other Global feast news, the bench has been almost entirely put on. It's amazing what a difference this makes to the look. The Marianne trench has been built, climbing underneath the surface of the table, so close to the two-metre-high tessellated Himalayan range. The table now looks like the work of art that I imagined when I took on the challenge of the Global Feast. This table should not be broken up and auctioned. Some forward thinking gallery or public space should buy it. Pass the word.
Night views, Tsing Tao beer, singer Radhika
Global Feast. Tonight is the turn of Vietnamese supper club hostess Uyen Leluu and Thai Perm of The Skinny Bib.
Coming up: Caribbean night with Tan Rosie. This Saturday book here.
North American night with @scottcancook of @theunitedplatesofamerica supper club. Book here.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Longitude 105 degrees: China at the Global Feast

Celebrating Jessica Ennis' win. The Olympic Swiss rowing team visits.
Latest report from Stratford Old Town Hall: we've seen athletes! Big ones. In fact they are all enormous, looming triangular people with long limbs and mile-wide shoulders. They have shiny white teeth and exude energy, cleanliness and good health. This is jock culture taken to its highest level, virtually super-human. Looking at these athletes I have an uncharitable thought: these guys are just genetically lucky. If you naturally grow to 6 foot 5 and are muscular well, doh! of course running, jumping and stuff is gonna be easy.
Why are we suddenly seeing athletes? A local venue that was running a nightly party for the athletes has been shut down by health and safety so the entire shindig has been decamped to Stratford Town Hall. The upstairs ballroom is now pulsating to bad euro-techno until four in the morning and will be for the next eight days. My 'bedroom' is above that.
Alison, the manager of the town hall, is trying to squeeze every penny in revenue from the games. She's attempting to rent out, maximise profit, from each square inch. Yesterday I went to my 'bedroom' which out of the three rooms available, is the only one with a shower, and discovered a dripping naked man. "Didn't you know?" he said "Alison has given permission to workers at our event in a local park to shower in your room". He was not joking.
Last night Chinese supper club hostess Cherry Smart of Fedbytang supper club, based in South East London, was our guest chef. She was joined by Hammant and head chef Chao from new dimsum restaurant Courtesan Dim Sum. It was always going to be a problem steaming dim sum for so many guests without specialist equipment. I visited Courtesan Dim Sum's kitchens to see their wok range, a terrifyingly hot series of wok burners, set in a sink and cooled by running cold water; also high pressure steamers for dim sum and dozens of stacked bamboo baskets. No western-style kitchen can provide that kind of heat. We have to improvise with pots, griddle pans, trays of boiling water. While diners waited, Hammant gave an interesting talk on dim sum, originally a royal food, then a treat given to entice traders on the Silk Road, and how his Brixton based restaurant is attempting to update this genre of food with fusions such as jerk chicken dim sum. It takes around 5 to 10 to train as a dim sum chef. The translucent 'skin' of the dumplings demonstrates a particular skill.
Cherry Smart's pork canapés disappeared at a faster rate than any others during the Global Feast. People can't get enough pig it seems.
The duck breast main course was, according to guests, moist and not dry which it can often be, although some guests complainted about the large portion size. I never really understand people complaining about too much food. Too little food is a problem but too much food?
Cherry comes from Hong Kong and her food, bravely, is Cantonese, the most common form of Chinese food found in restaurants. Brave because Cherry shows her guests the real home-cooked Cantonese.
  TsingTao beer from Qing Dao in China

Mini Chinese crispy roast pork belly
Soy sauce soft boiled egg with salmon roe
Another sort of pork

Dim sum by Courtesan dim sum
Prawn and roe steamed dumpling
Mushroom puff
Chicken dim sum

Sichuan peppercorn duck breast with lightly dressed cucumber, sweet and spicy soy sauce dip and steamed rice with star anise
Stir fried asparagus with carrot and black fungus 

A slice of mango tart with fresh coconut ice cream.
I'd like to thank Tala cookware for their sponsorship of the tart tins. Very useful! I have lots of Tala stuff in my kitchen. Nice retro packaging too.

I particularly loved the marinated soy eggs. Cherry gave me the recipe.
Eggs, lightly boiled, shelled.
Soy sauce
White Pepper, ground
Fresh ginger, minced
Salmon roe

Put the soy, mirin, sugar, pepper, ginger in a bowl with the egg and marinate for 24 hours.
Cut in half, revealing the white interior and the brown outsides. Top with salmon roe. Delicious!
Tonight: Singapore from PlusSixFive supper club. Book here.
Book for the rest of the Global Feast. Only a week to go.