Sunday, 28 September 2014

Our food at the British Street Food awards in Leeds


Using recipes from my book Supper Club: recipes and notes from the underground restaurant, myself and Nicola Baker of The Noisy Table food truck have entered the British Street Food awards this weekend in Leeds. We decided, as we are 'newbies', to enter the less populated categories of the awards, drinks and desserts, so wish us luck!
The Pecan Pie: I made about 30 of these over the last two days. We completely sold out but I reserved a last pie for the judging today.

The root beer float: which is, guess what, primarily made from roots. Not giving away my recipe yet, saving it for a future cook book! We also did a 'float' version with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, one of my all time favourite diner foods.

Other stuff we served: the jalapeño, smoked cheese cornbread muffin with lime and chipotle honey butter.
 Fried pickles with chipotle mayonnaise. Finger lickin' good.
 Grilled Cheese: with options like truffle paste, onion, rocket, using Glastonbury cheddar.
Through the large window of the 'air stream' trailer, people would be peering in, it felt like being in a fish bowl. I would often perform for passers by.
 You're an embarrassment. Both Nic and myself had our 20 year old daughters working with us, rolling their eyes at our crass banter. Her daughter, Ells, also had her boyfriend Jonny working like a trojan beside us. Poor boy, the only male, he had to put up with an awful lot of middle-aged female cackling, tacky jokes and repartee about our toilet functions, especially once Nic's mate Jackie turned up. We were like the three witches of Macbeth.
 Ta da! It's me! Despite my perky demeanour, my body hurt so much I couldn't sleep at night. Plus my hotel had a banging techno disco all night. The people in Leeds were dead nice though, so friendly and humorous.

Saturday, 27 September 2014

British Street Food Awards in Leeds: my first food truck


Recently returned from Portland, centre of the street food world, I collaborated with The Noisy Table to participate in the British Street Food Awards in Leeds. I first met Noisy Table's Nicola Baker when she worked for me as a chef at Camp Bestival. I've been watching her progress on Facebook for the last couple of years since she shipped the shell of a vintage (1947) 'airstream' style (Sparton Manor built by the Spartan aircraft company) trailer from the States. Nicola has completely refurbished the inside as a food truck, with 6 burner oven, hob, griddle, fryer, several fridges and freezers. It is truly beautiful, almost like the interior of an aeroplane.
Then I saw a message from Nicola, a single mum like myself, on Facebook saying she hadn't got any bookings and was considering selling it and giving up on her dream of taking it on the road. Well we couldn't have that, could we?
So I messaged Richard Johnson, supremo of the British Street Food awards, taking place this year in Leeds. I came up with an American-inspired menu. Nicola arranged for The Noisy Table to be towed up to Leeds. We managed to accomplish this in about four days.
This morning we switched on the oven, hob, griddle and fryer for the first time. There were teething problems; no fire extinguishers for the gas bottles, the water pump wouldn't work. Some of the ingredients we had ordered didn't come up to scratch, always a problem when using new suppliers. But we opened at 4pm and sold out of everything by 9pm. Here is what was on the menu:

Home-made root beer (with float option) (*our entry for the drinks section in the awards)
Mac and cheese with either: truffle paste, parmesan and garlic breadcrumbs, tomatillo and jalapeño salsa (grown in my London garden)
Grilled cheese sandwich with rocket on sourdough
Black bean and chocolate soup
Smoky cheese and jalapeño cornbread muffins with lime, honey and chipotle butter
Fried battered dill pickle spears with chipotle mayonnaise
Pecan pie with vanilla ice-cream (*our entry for the dessert section in the awards)

Tomorrow it's a double shift but in some ways it'll be easier, we know this works, we know people like the food, we know, just a little bit more, what we are doing.
We'll be serving for breakfast:
Marmite on sourdough toast
Avocado and Jalapeño on sourdough toast
Toasted bagels, cream cheese and smoked Sockeye salmon
Toasted bagels, cream cheese and gin infused trout

Street food, like supper clubs and underground restaurants, is a chance for talented cooks without big budgets to start up a business. You are getting a restaurant-quality dish for the price of a fast food meal. And I have to say, I love doing this sort of seat of the pants stuff, took me back to the early days of starting the supper club/pop up revolution, to my Underground Farmers Markets. You are on your mettle, you push yourself until it hurts, there are always a few tears but also big laughs, plus it's fun working with a team.
Here are some pictures of the day, plus some of the other amazing food stalls in the British Street Food awards. This can only get bigger...







Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Cooking fish the easy way: the 'hobo' pack

Hobo pack sockeye salmon

Sockeye salmon, en papillote

hobo pack salmon
People are scared of fish. What I mean by that is people are scared of cooking fish, they think it is incredibly complicated, an expensive, alien ingredient, that they can so easily get wrong. The majority of fish is bought in the unnatural form of 'fingers' or rectangular filets, covered in orange breadcrumbs. Fishmongers have more or less disappeared from our high streets and we seem to have lost the habit of knowing how to make even fish and chips from scratch. The packaged filets in supermarkets is the nearest most of us get to cooking fresh fish. According to this U.S site, the most popular seafood is shrimp/prawns, second is canned tuna and third is salmon. While in Britain the most popular fish is salmon, then tuna (no doubt canned), then cod (as in fish fingers and fish and chips) and haddock.
The United Kingdom is an island therefore we should have a strong fish eating culture equal to that of Japan, which has the highest per capita fish consumption in the world. Yet we sell our best quality seafood to France and Spain while we eat crappy processed fish. Ideally, we should be eating two portions of fresh or frozen fish per week.
My suggestion to those who are nervous of cooking fish is to use the 'en papillote' method, it's very hard to go wrong with this, it looks classy, and you can add all different kinds of flavours to the packet. Other tricks to make fish cookery simple is to use a digital thermometer. Because I cook on an Aga, I tend to use the oven a great deal more than most people. (The Aga cooking rule is: 20% on the top and 80% in the oven.) When I'm doing a supper club, cooking for many, I'll put say 10 filets wrapped 'en papillote' into a baking tin and check whether they are done by prodding the digital thermometer into the centre. At 62ºc/145ºf, I know it's cooked.
This is a can't-go-wrong recipe using a technique that the Americans call a 'hobo' pack. Hobo is the American term for 'tramp', or vagabond.
The name stems from the ingenious ways that hobos cooked their dinner; being on the move, often jumping onto freight trains to cross America, they had no facilities to cook. So ingredients such as fish would be placed in a coffee can on the embers of a fire. It can be flavoured with tomatoes, lemon, herbs, garlic, and seasoning such as salt and pepper. Today we can reproduce that technique with kitchen (tin) foil.
The great thing about this method is that your fish will be perfectly cooked through but moist and flavoursome.
For this recipe, I used Alaskan Sockeye salmon filets. I served them on Sunday at my Secret Garden Club supper club and my guests much preferred these lean wild salmon filets to the fatty farmed Atlantic salmon. The coral colour of the flesh is pretty too.
I've got two versions here: one with red onions and kumquats, for I think that salmon matches wonderfully with all kinds of citrus. The other is with cherry tomatoes, garlic and olives.
You'll need some kitchen foil, or parchment paper, or this Lakeland product, one side foiled, the other parchment paper, which I love.
When wrapping your pack, feel free to add any vegetables to cook at the same time, suggestions include, thin green beans, mange tout, baby sweet corn, baby carrots, a few mushrooms, spring onions, some ginger and soy.

Wild Alaskan Salmon Hobo Pack recipes

Each recipe serves one.

1 filet of Wild Alaskan Sockeye salmon
2 kumquats, sliced thinly
A thin slice of fresh fennel bulb or fennel seeds
A drizzle of olive oil
Sea salt
Pink peppercorns

1 filet of Wild Alaskan Sockeye salmon
3 cherry tomatoes, halved
A few slices of red onion
A few black olives
1 clove of garlic minced
A drizzle of olive oil
Black pepper

Preheat the oven to 200ºc/400ºf. Wash and pat dry your filet of fish, place it on the slightly oiled foil. Add the ingredients of your choice, season and wrap up the filet with the foil. Place into the oven at 200cº/400fº and bake for approximately 10 minutes or until the temperature reaches 63ºc/145ºf.
Serve with some roasted baby potatoes garnished with chives and a scoop of creme fraîche or sour cream and a bowl of rocket salad. 

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Weddings and food in Sicily

Sicilian on a vespa, Palermo, Sicily
Ciao!
Mural on side of building, Palermo, Sicily
Palermo
Sicilian eating ice cream sandwich, Palermo, Sicily
Brioche and gelato, everyone was eating these.
Prickly pears, Palermo, Sicily
Prickly pear, the vendor will peel it for you so that you don't get pricked.
Green figs, Palermo, Sicily
Green figs sold in boxes lined with fig leaves
Long zucchine, Palermo, Sicily
Long courgettes/zucchine
Large green cauliflowers, Palermo, Sicily
Giant green cauliflowers everywhere
sun dried tomatoes with pistachios, Palermo, Sicily
Sundried tomatoes with pistachios. These soft tomatoes tasted of the sun unlike the desiccated sulphur dried tomatoes we have in the UK.
Black olives with rosemary, Palermo, Sicily
Black olives with rosemary sprigs
Salted capers, Palermo, Sicily
I bought a ton of salted capers and caper berries
tins of sardines, Palermo, Sicily
Sardines are an important ingredient in Sicily, leading to  typical dishes such as pasta con la sarde, pine nuts and raisins
dried beans, Palermo, Sicily
Dried broad beans and la madonna
Fresh oregano, Palermo, Sicily
Fresh bunches of Oregano
Pine nuts and raisins, Palermo, Sicily
The pine nuts were longer than usual
Street trader, Palermo, Sicily
Salvo runs a lunch stall in the food market de Capo on the Antica sede dei Beati Paoli, selling battered broccoli florets, pumpkin in oil, grilled vegetables. For five euros, you can pick four dishes.
Sicilian children dressed up, Palermo, Sicily
Wedding guests
Sicilian calender, Palermo, Sicily

Sicilian children, Palermo, SicilySicilian children, Palermo, Sicily

aperativo, Mondello, Sicily
 Very 80s, fruit in a vase to go with my Americano cocktail
Cannoli,  Palermo, Sicily
Cannoli as in "Leave the gun, take the cannoli"
Sardines, Mondello, Sicily
Sardines at the port of Mondello
Wedding dress fashion show, Mondello, Sicily
Wedding dress fashion show
Ice cream poster, Cefalu, Sicily
 Ice cream sandwich menu
Tagliatelli with tomatoes and sea bream, Cefalu, Sicily
Tagliatelle with tomatoes and sea bream
Crema di cafe, Sicily
Crema di caffé, my addiction on this trip, a kind of coffee granita or slushy
Bruschetta, Mondello, Sicily
Bruschetta classica
Cefalu ceramics, Sicily
Cefalu is famous for ceramics
Beach huts, Mondello, Sicily
The beach huts at Mondello
Mondello, Sicily
Mondello port
What did I eat and drink in Sicily?
  • Campari: with orange juice, with soda, as an Americano cocktail with Martini Rosso
  • Ice cream sandwiches: French women don't get fat but Italian women don't care. For lunch everyone ate buns filled with ice cream. 
  • Granita: like a posh slushy. My favourite type was coffee flavoured, eaten in the morning with brioche or lemon flavoured, after dinner. These cost 2.5 euros.
  • Aubergines: their aubergines are round, sitting squat, the size of footballs. They are eaten in pasta alle Norma (pasta with tomato and aubergine sauce) or Caponata, an agrodolce (sweet sour) aubergine and caper stew, sometimes with swordfish.
  • Pistachios: green slivers, in pesto, on pasta, as a snack, as a spread, also in sheep cheese. 
  • Oranges: I wasn't there in season for the famous blood oranges but they are delicious sliced with either dark anchovy fillets or boquerone style anchovies in a salad, again that whole salt/sweet thang that I love.
  • Bruschetta: pronounced brusketta, with diced ripe tomato or slices of aubergine sprinkled with cheese
  • Cannoli: a kind of fried pastry filled with ricotta or ice cream. 
  • Artichokes: god I love artichokes. I can consume them by the jar. Big Sicilian ingredient.
  • Coffee: no one does coffee like the Italians, nobody. The cappuccino, the expresso, but I also made a discovery, 'latte' just means milk, you have to order caffe latte to get coffee in it. Plus I had coffee flavoured yoghurt, like all your breakfast in a small plastic tub. 
I went to Sicily because of a wedding that I wasn't invited to. My mum and dad were going and I asked if I could come. "You'd better not", they said darkly. "You'll cause ructions. You know what this family is like, a vendetta can start from the smallest thing". My dad's side of my family is Italian/Scottish/Irish. Everybody is an uncle, an auntie or a cousin, even if they are not. I heard family history recounted, old stories repeated, and the odd new one. How my dad, as a fatherless British orphan, was sent to Switzerland for a month as a child, a gift from the Swiss to celebrate the Queen's wedding. How Nanny Savino, who was born a Criscuolo from Sicily, moved to Naples and then England. How she adopted a son who was not 'blood' (this said sotto voce). Something about two brothers who set off from Naples and wrecked their father's boat and were too scared to go home to face the music so became part of our family instead. How Gennaro 'Gancio' (nicknamed the hook because he would pull the girls) Contaldo was courting a girl in Minori and my aunt had to chaperone them & how he stayed with nanny when he first came to England.
(Even my very English mum is not 'blood'. Nor is Auntie Sandra's partner who is clearly 'English' too. The English wives and husbands huddle together protectively at family occasions, rolling their eyes.) My family are supposed to be English but we are not. We are loud, expressive and emotional and most of us are fat and short like vibrant little cuboids made of flesh. But we dance well. This wedding was that of a second cousin, the son of Uncle Dixie who was a boxer, so I was not offended not to be invited. I arrived at midnight Saturday night as the wedding finished. Then I couldn't be accused of being a wedding crasher. 
Sicily is full of weddings; people get married mid-week. Every time we passed a church, a wedding party would exit, once simultaneously with a cloud of white doves. The men are sharp in dark smart suits, with the whitest shirts gleaming at the collar, a glint of diamond on their cuffs or even in their ears, hair slicked back. The women are a treat for the eyes; extravagantly beaded hair, tall shoes, flaming nylon dresses, floral sleeve tattoos. Like TOWIE but with a real tan rather than spray-on. The children are decked out in frou-frou prom-style frocks.
I was staying near Mondello, on the outskirts of Palermo. Mondello doesn't have many restaurants or shops, but has a clean sandy white beach with yellow umbrellas and pastel beach huts, shouldered by looming cliffs. Palermo is worth a visit, particularly the old town, with a food market and Romanesque architecture. I wish I'd known about this particular food tour around Palermo. We drove to Cefalu, along the coast, which was pretty with some good restaurants, rather more lively than Mondello. But a warning: if you miss your turning on Sicilian motorways, it will be miles before you can turn around. I wanted to visit Corleone in the interior, where the Godfather was filmed, despite the warnings that it was mafia country, but my mum doesn't like windy roads. Next time.