Sunday, 30 September 2012

White Bean Bruschetta

I was asked for the recipe for my White Bean Bruschetta. I think this is based on a Phil Vickery recipe.

Toast thin, diagonally cut, slices of ciabatta, brushed with olive oil, in the oven (about 10 mins at 160°C, turning once).

Mix one tin of white beans (butter bean, cannellini etc) with a good tablespoon of freshly picked (eschew the supermarkets, there's always some in a neighbour's hedge!) and finely cut rosemary, a clove of fat garlic, olive oil, salt and white pepper. I use a hand blender so I can keep tasting. You want a coarse paste, much like hummus.

To this mix add: teaspoon of white wine vinegar, teaspoon (or more) of toasted sesame oil, pinch of cayenne and dry oregano.

Spoon (or pipe if you want fancy schmancy) onto the cool, dry toast. Drop or stripe each with a thin line of balsamic reduction. This last bit is important as it adds some essential acidity, sweetness and general stand-up-and-be-counted to the paste.

I wish I had photographs. I'm so rubbish at remembering to do so while I'm cooking.

Week three - party of eight... no seven.

An unfortunate incident for some of our guests en route reduces our numbers to seven. Get well soon SL. This also means we start a good 40 mins later than anticipated. No matter, the potatoes en papillote are very forgiving. Reduce the oven temp to 120°C and leave them in.

The soft polenta and mushrooms are good and, I think, my most accomplished dish to date. The polenta is cooked for (it turns out) 90 minutes. Anthony Demetre (of Arbutus) recommends cooking polenta for at least an hour to develop the grain's flavour. For the first time EVER, I get lumps. This is quickly resolved by Belinda remembering that we have a huge sieve hanging up in the utility room with a fairly coarse mesh (from our Thai cooking days - can't remember what we used it for - maybe draining vast quantities of jasmine rice). Polenta passes through sieve and meal is saved. I add lots of Jersey butter, parmesan, smoked salt and, at the last minute, white truffle oil.

The mushrooms were simple chestnuts, dry fried. I added a glass each of sweet Madeira and then nutty Manzanilla sherry and reduce this liquid to a glaze. Finally a little butter and a teaspoon of cep and truffle paste.

I piped the hot polenta (Ow!) in a ring on each plate and filled with the mushroom mix. Into the middle was pushed a roast shallot (30 mins on 180°C). These were wonderfully sweet Roscoff shallots; bought from Borough Market. The polenta was then sprinkled with fresh marjoram and parsley from the garden.

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Even though profiteroles are easy to make, there's is still something very satisfying with making perfect rows of these little choux buns.



Thursday, 27 September 2012

A bad picture of a very good tart


Charlotte's Higgledy Piggledy Tart in all its glory. 
In retrospect I think the walnut pastry maybe a tad heavy. Next time, I'll replace the walnuts with almond meal, or simply use a paté sucree. Looks delicious even with my awful photography. These people with food blogs, are they all very good mates with food stylists?

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Brisket. Nailed.

This was my third go at brisket this week. The first one was AWFUL. You know that soggy grey rope that hangs wistfully from large ships when they are moored to bollards at port... yeah, that bad.
Second one was much better, using a HFW recipe. He normally knows about meat.
However, the third one was even better. Now, such is the nature of brisket (and skirt, flank, chuck etc) that the improvement might have been pure fluke. I will let you know about the repeat performances. For what it's worth, these are the changes I made.

I bought two 1kg rolled joints, unrolled them, put garlic, dried oregano and caramelised onion slices in the middle and rerolled the two pieces of meat together. I got some beef fat from my butcher, beat it flat, like sheets of paper and wrapped the new joint in this. The whole was then trussed together.
I used a heavy iron casserole. After 30mins of lidless roasting at 180°C, I added a half bottle of red wine, some chunky carrots and a bay leaf.
Lid on, and cooked for 4 hours at 140°C with basting every 30 mins. I also drained off much of the cooking juice, so not to boil the meat. These juices were retained and reduced, naturally.
Lid off for the last hour and temperature up to 160°C. Keep an eye on the juices/wine in the dish at this stage, don't let them get too sticky and burn.
After five and a half hours total cooking, I removed the beef and wrapped it doubly in foil and a blanket. This was rested for 30mins.

To the reduced juices, I added a splash of port and recurrent jelly.
I split the sauce into two pans. One was reduced even further to make a thick daub that I used to brush on the beef. The other I reduced slightly and then allowed to cool slightly before whipping in 50g of unsalted butter for gloss, mouthfeel and flavour. Both sauces were also seasoned.

When combined, this was delicious. Proper BEEFY flavour. The fat had all melted away into the joint. Great texture: soft and yielding and not even slightly tough. A huge umami hit. Like being hit in the face by a slightly charred but very polite bull. I'd say this was some of the best meat I've ever cooked. Of the eight people who eat it, none left a scrap.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Walnut Pastry

...is a pig to roll out and even worse to try and lift. It's very friable and quite heavy. Tastes good though, an unexpected savoury hit in a fruit tart. I haven't made it for years. Now I know why.

I used this recipe: 

110g butter
140 g ground walnuts
220g flour
60g caster sugar
1 egg (ish) to bind.
Wap it in the FP and breadcrumb it. Then add the egg. Then curse and swear for an hour as you try and roll it out and transfer it to a tart tin.
25 mins @ 190°C

BTW. I have much in common with the walnut. Walnut and Welsh (for I am so) both come from the Anglo-Saxon word walh meaning 'foreign'.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Lessons from the first night.. and a menu for the second.

Party of ten coming on Saturday. I learned on the opening night that I need to be able to overlap prep of both first and second course. Practically, this means one on the hob and one in the oven. I could probably do with fewer items in my starter. My vinaigrette of green veg has... ten elements and each one needed to be cooked separately. I also want to use more slow cooking. Partly because it's a way to ensure lots of flavour but also because it's more forgiving of timing, especially with a large party who may eat fast or mull over every (delicious) mouthful.

I also realised that, unlike when you're actually hosting a dinner party, you have plenty of time to prep a complex dessert. This gives me more options for hot puddings, fondants etc later in the year.

Finally, if you're serving spinach for 10, you need a lot... more than you can shake several sticks at. Fieldsful.

With all this in mind... I think I'm going with the following:

First Course: roasted beetroot (purple and golden) with curd cheese and pea shoots. Fresh and simple. Pea shoots are just delicious now; the essence of pea. Must try making a pea shoots soup, maybe with salted mint jelly and crisp pancetta.

Mains: slow cooked, rolled beef brisket in a red wine sauce, with garlic field mushrooms, wilted spinach and caramelised onion and parmesan polenta (set and fried with a crisp exterior). I need a glorious recipe for the beef.  If anyone can suggest, I'd appreciate it. I might just improvise midweek. I mean slow as in eight hours by the way. I want to do more food that's eaten neither in restaurants, because of order timings, nor at home, because we can't be arsed any more (shocking).

Dessert: Charlotte's Higgledy Piggledy Tart. This is an old Prue Leith recipe. I can't find a link to a picture which is a shame as this is a real table gawper of a pud. It's a crumbly walnut pastry, filled with creme patisserie and whipped Chantilly mixed, topped with cut fruit and finished with an apricot glaze. It's one of my all time favourite desserts. I've been making it for twenty years.

My only major reservation is with the main course. Do I need something with some bite or acidity? I don't want the sauce to do it. I think I need another element. Perhaps something pickled?

Monday, 17 September 2012

Micro Herbs - great to have, hard to find

Can anyone recommend someplace not as far as Devon where I can obtain micro herbs? This sort of thing. I really don't want to pay £40 to courier a £5 box of herbs to London. This is the capital city. There must be a place for keen amateurs to get tasty fledgling herbs without a tortuous trip across the river.

It's been suggested I build a symbiotic relationships with local allotment owners. This is an excellent idea (thanks Jane). Not sure it'll solve the micro herb issue though.

First night - Ben & Karen's party of eight. Nasli's party of five


First night. Wow. Who knew I would be that nervous? Two sittings of eight and five. All very accommodating and forgiving. Things that went well... my warm nuts (insert your own punchline), my vinaigrette (recipe to follow), the hot shots of chicken and Maderia consommé, the pineapple and lime granita... What went badly? Actually nothing ended badly. The chicken for the first sitting took ages to cook which upset my timings. But we recovered. I think the pavlova helped.
Fabian and Belinda were predictably doughty, wonderful and very reassuring... especially at the time when I thought I would have to serve omelettes as a main course.
Ben Lister came and took some ace photographs. Many, many thanks to him.
Two tips for the unwary home cook:
• If your chicken comes out of a cool box, it may take longer than usual to cook!
• Don't open a syphon (one of these things) until you KNOW there's no more gas left. I mean, NO more gas. Wow, those things go off with a pop.
Party of ten next week which brings its own problems challenges; not least building some sort of collapsible but sturdy table extension. I can smell the MDF already.

OK. This was asked for on the night. I make mine by sticking a jug on a digital scales and adding the wet and dry ingredients, then pour that into a jar for shaking.

Mustard Vinaigrette.
20g sherry vinegar
20g white wine vinegar
130g groundnut oil
40g Dijon mustard
10g wholegrain mustard
salt and pepper to taste
just under a tablespoon of balsamic reduction. (Note: This is balsamic vinegar reduced to a syrup. You can make your own from cheapie stuff or buy similar balsamic glazes in supermarkets. Add this to taste, as they all vary is flavour and acidity. The end result should be just slightly sweet and fruity as this sets off the mustard heat nicely.)



Thursday, 13 September 2012

Onion crisps

So how do you make wafer thin crispy onion? Anyone have a recipe? Even Heston seems bereft.

First batch done on the mandolin, brushed with olive oil and baked between backing paper and trays for six hours. Nicely crisp but not very interesting and far too thin. Also should use Silpat sheets as the baking paper tending to stick and bursting the crisps into delicious, savoury flechettes.

Next batch, slightly thicker,  brushed with a mixture of salt, oil and simple syrup. Done twixt the Silpat. 80° for 4 hours.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

The first night of the New River Restaurant is September 15. We're already fully booked (16 people). Many thanks to them.

Given that this is meant to be a hobby, I'm probably over-obsessing about the menu. Why are starters so tricky? Nothing wrong with soup and patés of course but my FIRST starter should be something that encapsulates the ethos of the place. Good, simple food; slow cooking that isn't normally available in restaurants; everyday ingredients cooked differently.


I think this is going to be the first menu (subject to massive change):


  • A mustard vinaigrette of green vegetables with curd cheese and sourdough toast.
  • Braised chicken (free range) in a tarragon butter sauce with potatoes 'en papillote', spinach and confit caraway carrots.
  • A show-stopping Raspberry pavlova.

I hope to get some decent pics of the first night. I also want to redesign this blog. Damn it's ugly.