Thursday 5 December 2013

(Philip Howard's) Chocolate Soufflé

I have visited The Square restaurant several times. It's one of London's best two stars. Its formality is reassuring and slick rather than inhibiting  It's a place I enjoy. I had a wonderful surprise 40th birthday there (thanks B) with a dozen friends. When I heard that legend-in-his-lifetime chef Phillip Howard was producing a book giving detailed instructions on how to recreate his restaurant dishes, I was fast in with the pre-order. Most of the dishes are beyond my talent but it's invaluable for ideas, techniques and flavour combinations.

The Square's soufflés are exquisite. Somehow they are packed with flavour but light, with a uniform foam but also unctuous (hateful word but no other will do here). It's quite a quivering trick.

So this is Philip Howard's recipe. There are a few things wrong with the one pictured above. The foam is not consistent enough. Too many big bubbles. That's probably me not folding the meringue in sufficiently. But the flavour...  It's brilliant... This dish is still in development. Basically, I need to make it better. More consistent texture, straighter rise, flatter tops.

Sweet souffles are another one of those 'not nearly as difficult as their rep' foods. Also, the want-soufflé-eat-soufflé period is less than 30 minutes. Essentially, you make a flavoured pastry cream, mix in some meringue and bake. However, I can report that there are two things essential to making a great chocolate soufflé.

Not to scale

Yes, you need some of this and one of those. Luckily, most of us have one of those and we can all buy some of this. Valrhona cacao powder is the best. You will taste the difference. Its intensity means you can use less and avoid your recipe becoming, well, powdery. It's about £8.50 a box from here.

The thumb comes later.

Philip Howard's Chocolate Soufflé:
Serves 8 (well... maybe more. See later)

Using soft butter, coat the inside of eight ramekins (5cm deep). Now stroke upwards in the butter so there are no mix impeding ridges. Coat the insides with finely grated chocolate (you can also use caster sugar but it won't look or taste as good). Put in the fridge to set (not that important).

Scrape out the seeds of one vanilla pod and into a boiling pan of 425ml full fat milk, add the seeds and pod. Scald.

In one hit add: 60g sifted plain flour, 30g cocoa powder, 30g grated dark chocolate (70% or higher) and 75g of caster sugar. Bring to the boil, whisking hard. The mixture will thicken much. Set aside to cool. Once cool, pash through a sieve to ensure a smooth, glossy consistency.

Whisk 400g of egg whites (about ten eggs) until stiff, then whisk in 160g of caster sugar until firm and glossy. Take a quarter of the meringue and beat this into the chocolate base.

No wait. In his book Phil says take 400g of the base. Now I know why he says this: in his restaurant some commis has spent the morning making kilos of the base and it's all there waiting to be scooped out. BUT, the quantities he specified earlier means you make over 500g. Why Phil? What do I do with the remainder (apart from bribing my owl-eyed, spoon licking liking, offspring)? That's poor form. It's a waste. And, yes, I've just repeated the error here. If you do take all of the base, you will get a slightly denser soufflé. Worse things have happened.

Anyway, gently fold in the rest of the meringue. This is the Vegas-or-bust bit. Over-fold and your dish won't rise much, under fold and you'll get white streaks and a messy consistency. However, around the family dinner table, no one will complain.

Spoon the mix into ramekins and smooth off the top with a palette knife. NOTE: I found this quantity filled nearly twelve ramekins so... 

NOW. Run your THUMB around the side of the ramekin, creating a small groove in the mix (Indeep anyone?) only a few mm deep. This will allow your soufflé to rise vertiginously, just like they do on the telly. If you don't make the groove, the mix will cling to the sides, dome and then split as the inflated interior bursts out.

Cook the soufflés at 180°C for about 12 minutes until well risen. Phil says eight or nine minutes. I have no idea why. I don't know what kind of space/time contracting oven he's using but an eight minute soufflé in my righteous Neff looks a lot like a four minute soufflé. You'll have to experiment. What a shame!

I like to serve mine with a very dark, warm chocolate sauce plunged into the centre with a spoon. Equal amounts of cream and grated chocolate heated gently until it's dark and glossy. Then add just a pinch of salt, á la Heston. Takes about two minutes. Maybe a vanilla ice-cream or a pistachio cream?

Now, what to do with those ten egg yolks? Could be a lemon tart or maybe my honeycomb ice cream?

Mid December and this is the latest iteration. You really do need to fold the eggwhite in carefully to rid yourself of the clumps and massive air holes (always avoid massive air holes!)

PostScript: I managed to side-straighten and top-flatten. This was the result, serving to a party of ten. Makes your chest swell.

November 30th - Helen

Another all female affair. Helen came for her birthday with seven friends. When a couple left at 10.30 I feared an early night. It was not to be so. Stories will be told.

Helen's in the red dress. This was after the meal but before the brandy (and Coke).

Helen loves goats cheese so I did my fig tart again. This is the third iteration and the most successful. I added a couple of egg yolks and didn't put it anywhere near the fridge. I cooked it for slightly longer and let it cool for two hours before serving. It was STILL a little soft but forgivably so.

Mains was slow cooked pork belly (above). A welcome relief from braised beef. I served it with apple crisps, wilted winter greens, parsnip and apple puree, rosemary and bacon potato cakes and a Marsala and pork cooking juice reduction.

Must mention the bread. It's the bollox now. My new Sicilian Recipe. It's so light and flavoursome. Served cut into cubes and lightly grilled, and invariably stolen by Etien (youngest waiter).

Natalie's Birthday - a study in purple

Not much to report food wise. I'm trying to tell myself that I'm not lacking ambition; it's just I've created a repertoire now. Hmm. Dunno. The braised beef shin is much requested. People do come back for it.

Natalie is a friend of Natalie who came with husband Danny, before. A great crowd, this was always going to be a good night in. Danny nicked my camera for the evening which is why these pics are much better than usual.

My new iPhone controlled wifi lighting looks good here. I have it 'brown' for dining then mess about
when everyone's eaten. You don't want blue light with food.

Natalie and Natalie. Birfday girl's on the right.
Unusually, I'm in this one. The miserable looking bloke at the end.

And this is Lisa... and Ray, who looks a little like Greg What'shisface. I have no idea what Ray is indicating here. There was a wonderfully funny story earlier in the evening about A&E but that's not for me to tell.

Bit late for halloween.

Friday 22 November 2013

Bread and Oil. The best focaccia.


An unusual post this, coming from Sicily where I am staying in the Mandranova resort, close to Palma di Montechiaro in the Southwest of the island. Part hotel, part kitchen, all olive farm, the estate produces some of the world's finest olive oil and almonds. Unlike most others, they don't blend their oil, they produce single varietals: Giarraffa, Biancolilla, Nocellara etc. No, I'd not heard on these before either. 

We had dinner in the hotel several times and one of the treats was the home made focaccia, usually served grilled in little squares. It was better than mine, to be sure. No doubt helped by dousing it in their own oil, fresh off the tree. Sylvia the owner and chef invited me into the kitchen to watch her technique and grab her recipe.

She uses two different flours: the Italian OO more 
commonly used for pasta, and an American bread flour, presumably for its higher gluten content.

Sylvia's Focaccia
400g 00 flour
300g bread flour
dessert spoon of sugar
420 g water
25g fresh yeast (or use 20g dried)
40g olive oil

20g salt
Handful chopped rosemary

Unusally, Sylvia just bunged all the initial ingredients into a mixer and pounded it out for about ten minutes. She then added the salt and the rosemary. Adding the salt slightly later will allow the yeast more uninhibited party time, to produce those all important bubbles in the dough.

The dough was removed when elastic and left to rise (about an hour in a warm Sicilian kitchen).

Then she glugs a good amount of olive oil in her baking tray, enough to slick the whole surface, and she stretches out the dough to fit. Once this is done, more oil is rubbed into the top surface. The dough is left to rise again, for at least an hour.

The bread is baked at 230°C for just 12 minutes.

I'm rather wishing now that I had a pic of her finished product but that would have meant bringing my Cannon to the dinner table; a poor show indeed.

So this is one I made back in the U.K.

Tuesday 22 October 2013

Mary's otto ospiti

So, two photos of Mary's gathering, the first before I remembered how to set the ISO on my Canon and the second one, after. Unfortunately  some guests had left by then. Gah! This was an annual (I think) reunion of an Italian language class - hence the post title.

They had my beef shin and yorkshires followed by chocolate ganache tart with pulled honeycomb and ginger cream (see below). This is all new to me. I think it worked. The flavour combination is good. Should have taken the tart out of the fridge earlier maybe to ensure more mouth-meltiness.

Chocolate ganache tart. Good but could be better, certainly in presentation.

Rowley Leigh's Fig and Goats Cheese Tart... discuss.

Ooh er, missus - I burnt my nuts
My neighbour Mike gave me this recipe from the FT. It looked just up my alley. A savoury tart that includes figs just about fits my 'everyday ingredients treated differently' philosophy. I like vegetarian starters, especially ones that can be repurposed for mains. I like Rowley Leigh's attitude to food. I remember his inclusion in a book of young chefs about 30 years ago; all are household names now. However, I have to report some small failings in the recipe and so, I believe, some improvements.

The basic idea is sound. This is a great combination of sweet and savoury and the pastry is a lovely, buttery crisp. It's a pretty thing too; rustic, charming in that... Sunday supplement, Gideon and I just happened to have some figs left over and a bit of cheese from our friends in Wiltshire who make it between oil painting and high finance so we bunged it all together... way. Gah!

Firstly, he tells you to push the pastry into place, including up the sides of the tart tin. Sod that for a game of gravity defying soldiers. It's polenta pastry so quite friable, yes, but the solution is to roll it out when cold between two sheets of baking paper.

You don't need a kilo of figs, unless your figs are the size of acorns. That's just over 500g up there. How would you get more in?

Thirdly, he doesn't include nearly enough goats cheese (goats' cheese/goat's cheese - still not sure) in the mix. He suggests 75g mixed with 150ml of double cream; I did 120g but I think it needs at least double - maybe 200g mixed with 250ml of cream. Also, season the cream. It needs it.

Worse, he tells you to bake it and then flash grill it. He neglects to mention that you need to leave the tart to cool for at least an hour else you get tarte aux fig-wet-with-the-memory-of-goats-cheese, leaving you weeping at the sight of your expensive chèvre draining away like lactose lava.

Finally, a disagreement rather than a criticism, I found honey too sweet a glaze (and mine was a special live honey brought back from Borneo by Fabian). I'm thinking of a fruit glaze of something tart/sweet like redcurrant or maybe gooseberry.

And do watch it like a tart watching hawk when it's under the grill. High fat nuts and pastry will blacken fast (see above!).

I served this with a simple rocket salad dressed with lemon and balsamic. I'm toying with a rasher garnish of crispy pancetta to but at my gathering of friends I was in a minority of one on this.

So this will be featuring on a menu near you soon (well, near me) but wearing slightly different shoes to this.

And finally... Daisy and Sally... when are you going to 'get your arses in gear'? Soon would be good.

Sunday 29 September 2013

Tomato jelly with basil oil and black olive 'twigs'

I feared I was sitting on my laurels. I've only really ever served two different amuse bouche(s?): mushroom and truffle velouté and tomato crisps with basil oil. The crisps are great in the summer being light and fragrant but now autumn is here I wanted something more substantial. As I am growing my own tomatoes it made sense to use them in glut.

I think this looks like a detail from the Death of Marat.
I won't tell you what my wife said it looked like!
So, take a lot of tomatoes and blend them. Put in double muslin on a sieve and allow to drip. IF you wait you will be rewarded with a near clear liquid that tastes intensely of tomato. HOWEVER, if you are in a bad mood and squeeze  said bag you will get a cloudy soup which still tastes good. Guess what I did?

Reduce the liquid and season. Much salt. While still warm add some pre soaked sheets of gelatine. Sizes vary so check the packet for instructions. Bear in mind though that when gelatine people say 'set' they seem to mean 'like frickin' rubber'. You want the jelly just set. I use shot glasses.

What would I do without my KitchenAid?
It is a little poorly now. I need to find a service centre.
To make the black olive twigs mix 200g bread flour with a teaspoon of salt, a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, some black pepper and about 110g of water. You might need more. You want a fairly dry dough mix. Knead this by hand or in a machine until elastic. Now add 100g of black olive puree, made by pureeing 100g of pitted black olives (someone in the back asked!). This makes a sticky goo that you will struggle to roll out but struggle you must. Thinner the better. I do it between two sheets of floured Silpat. Then sprinkle over more finely chopped black olives, at least another 100g, pressing them in with the rolling pin. Because I'm serving these with my tomato jelly I want these salty so I also sprinkle over some Maldon.

A sod of a job
Yeah, we've come to the fun part: cutting the wet, snag prone, sticky dough into fine strips. I struggled with this. It took me four attempts and I think I've cracked it. Use a rolling pin and a pizza cutter. Cut against the side of the rolling pin, roll and cut, roll and cut. The pin keeps the dough down and the rolling cutter stops snagging. Maybe you can do it with a knife but you'll be a better man than I (and very likely with sharper knives).

Bake at 180°C for around 12-15 mins. Keep a close eye after 10 though. Crisp with a slight lamination is ideal.

Now I don't like black olives but I do like these. I think the heat burns off whatever chemical
compound it is that makes the olives taste like a Bic biro has burst in your mouth (remember in school?).

When ready to serve, float a little basil oil over the jelly, place a basil leaf in each shot glass and serve with at least one olive twig.

Danny and Natalie II

Natalie and Danny's second time with us. Great crowd; lively and appreciative (sadly no dancers though - I did try). This was the first group to try my new amuse bouche: tomato jelly with basil oil served with black olive 'twigs'.

Braised Beef Shin

Been known to have guests weeping with pleasure.
Our most requested dish, braised beef shin is simple but laborious to prepare and needs a good five hours of cooking, plus another 30 minutes to make the port gravy, plus three hours to make a litre of good beef stock. No apologies: good food takes time. You're not that busy. Are you listening Masterchef? 

Shin is a tough mother of a cut. It looks unattractive; a big piece of well worked muscle. There's a lot of sinew and cartilage, but there lies the magic. Cook it slowly and gently and you will persuade the gristle to melt, releasing flavour and lubricating the meat. The end result should be spoon-cuttable.

Allow about 300g per person. However, I wouldn't bother with anything much smaller than 2kg. It's one of those volume/surface area things. You need a decent bulk. It's a meat you can reheat (with possibly some improvement) anyway so none will waste.

You'll need a big heavy casserole dish with a lid. In a thin sheen of very hot veg oil brown the meat on all sides. This is for flavour and appearnce. All that stuff about sealing meat is impossible guff. Remove the meat and set aside. That's one of those recipe phrases isn't it? 'Set aside'... instead of what? Remove the meat and defenestrate?

Sweaty veg

Anyway: In a big knob (snarf) of butter sweat off the following:

coarsely chopped 3 carrots, 2 onions, 1 leek, 2 celery sticks, a clutch of thyme, a bay leaf. Actually, not that coarse,nothing bigger than 1cm say. You want some colour in the veg but no burn. This might take 30 minutes, maybe 45. Don't skimp. Now add a bottle of red wine. No need for Petrus but don't put in anything you wouldn't drink in a glass. Lots of crap mixed up doesn't make a non-crappy meal! Reduce the wine by half. Now add the meat. Fill with home-made beef stock to three quarters full. You could just use water but then, you could stay in bed all your life weeping at its pointlessness... I choose not to. Bring to the boil and place in the oven for at least five hours at 150°C (an hour more if it's a 3kg+ joint).Turn it at least once in the liquor to ensure juiciness. Once it's so soft you can easily fork it, either remove it from the oven or lower the heat and wait for guests.
Good beef stock.
Very good actually.
You think you can do better?
Yeah? Go on then.

While that's cooking, reduce a half bottle of port to a quarter of it's volume. If you can do this with some fresh rosemary stalks, so much the better.

About 30 mins before you want the meat, ladle off a good quantity of the cooking liquor which will now include much meatiness. Fine strain this and reduce. Season and add the port reduction to taste (probably most of it). If you like a sweet edge, also a spoonful of redcurrant jelly. I thicken the whole with beurre manis. This makes it glossy too, always good in a sauce. Season again. You'll prob want more salt. I use dark soy sauce instead for added colour too.

Porty, beefy goodness
I invariably serve the beef in clumps on a bed of wilted and buttered spinach or chard (as above). Beetroot puree is excellent with this. Perhaps some deeply roasted shallots? You'll also want a crisp but yielding carb: maybe glassy roast potatoes or a roast onion flecked polenta fried until golden. There's always the featherlight Yorkshire pudding of course. You could go noodles but you'll be no friend of mine.

Sunday 22 September 2013

On The First Year...

Some random thoughts and reflections after running a home restaurant/supper club for a year.

0. Use a timer.

1. Still can't decide what to call it. Home restaurant sounds like a clinical business idea but supper club sounds too effete; trying too hard to be cute.

2. Men are rubbish at eating out. I don't mean at the food to mouth bit, I mean the arse to table lark. Of the dozens of bookings we've had only five made by men. You see it in restaurants too: lots of mixed tables and groups of women but almost never men together (OK, maybe in Indian restaurants post pub). Why is this? Men like eating. I've seen them.

3. If you wear glasses, wait for the steam to clear when you open an oven door. Yes, I am new to glasses.

4. If something is burny hot, try not to touch it with your fingers. I know, I know, you'd think...

5. I am most frequently asked if I mind having strange people in my house. Well, firstly, I'm a good deal stranger than most but more importantly even strange people are invariably well behaved. We've had hundreds of guests, many are now friends, not one of them did anything untoward. No one was rude, disrespectful or dishonest. No damage either. Well: one glass was broken, one napkin slightly charred.

6. Guests love the little between-course surprises. Veloutés, granitas, sorbets, tomato crisps,home made truffles; all were well received. The single most talked about item I've served is my cheese and onion eclairs. I have plans to build on this. I want to continue to play with this sweet/savoury inversion and produce a whole 'roast dinner' dessert, with some kind of chocolate marquis masquerading as beef, with chocolate 'gravy', sweet roast carrots, sweet Yorkshire pudding (think featherlight clafoutis)... you get the idea.

7. Salmon en paillote and braised beef shin were the most popular dishes, being served twelve times each. Both are great for large parties. The beef is cooked for five hours so is very forgiving of latecomers. The fish takes only 15 minutes in the oven so is also easy for timing - you put it in just after serving starters. I was going to put a link in to my beef shin recipe only to discover that I've never posted it up. My most popular dish too! Epic fail! I will do soon.

8. I'm surprised at how many people are still afflicted with childhood food aversions - and delighted at the few I've overturned. Fish, peas, beetroot... all have been poked at with muted hostility and narrowed eyes... only to be consumed and enjoyed moments later. You have to keep trying things. Taste does change. I'm making some progress with lamb. Also with black olives. Time was when I couldn't touch one to my tongue.

9. Don't buy cheap kitchen equipment. Obvious really. Those pans from Ikea will not do. Even more so cheap appliance. It'll be awful to use until it breaks. I don't mean inexpensive, I mean cheap. Pressed steel tongs are still my choice - much less costly than plastic/carbon fibre/teak 'designer' nonsense but so much more effective.

10. If you use a mandolin... just be bloody careful. It's hard to cook with your fingertips missing.

11. Lighting is tricky. No one wants ceiling mounted bright light but you do need to see your dinner. Candles are good but an expensive way to go. I've lately invested in some Philips Hue bulbs, wifi controllable LEDs. Only available from Apple at the moment. I'm hugely impressed with these. Any colour you want with fingertip control (that's assuming you've been careful with the mandolin) from my iPhone. I always wanted 'brown' light. Now I have it.

12. Always use a timer. Yes, this again. You maybe a cooking god but even he misplaces things (like Lucifer, honestly. Look) Use several. You will forget and those forgotten five minutes will ruin hours of work. USE A TIMER.

More later. My oven is peeping. See!

Had the braised beef for family dinner tonight so I took a picture. Also seen are my roast potatoes (the secret is to roast them with lots of onions) and beetroot puree. The beef is served with a rich reduction of port and the cooking liquor (beef stock and red wine).

Friday 20 September 2013

I'm in love with a German (or, how CDA suck)

Look at it. Isn't it gorgeous? Let me list the ways (apols to WS). And yes, ahem, that is a Pizza Express American Hot in there. I don't bake every day!

Mmmm, sex!

Firstly, it's a compact oven but the internal dimensions are bigger than my old, full size Neff (seen below). This means I can use full size E1 baking trays and Silpat without the potch of inverting my racks (invariably when hot and invariably burning my fingers).

The other WOW is: with a press of a button I can see what the actual oven temp is. This is wonderful. 

The thing just works. The timers and alarms are logical.  I'm so glad I ditched the never-worked-properly CDA nonsense. I tell everyone not to skimp on essential tools and then I did. An oven should last 20 years. You really don't want to be regretting your purchase for all that time.

What was wrong with the CDA? When it arrived the 'Temp Rising' light would never stop flashing. I couldn't tell, therefore, what temp the oven was at. Kinda critical with baking. Also, (but not a fault apparently) once the timer had gone off you couldn't simply reset it or add a few minutes more - because why would you ever want to do that right? You had to turn the oven off and on again! 

Bollox to that.

I called CDA customer services and requested the unit be swapped out. They insisted that the guarantee was repair only. Not true. They told me the purchase date was from the day I ordered the oven. Obviously not true. CDA acknowledged the Temp Rising fault and told me to ring their service people: DOMEX. Called. The engineer was booked for the next available slot: a week later!

Sex close up.
Now it gets fun. The engineer turned up late at 7pm. He looked at the oven and told me he wasn't sure if the Temp Rising indicator was a fault after all. He wasn't sure about 'all the details'. I explained the non-logic of a light that always flashed (same as one that never did) and assured him that he was there only at CDA's behest. It didn't see it that way. Anyway, he didn't have the parts. "So why are you here?" I asked him. He didn't seem sure. He had to leave and write a 'report', to see if the fault was a fault. That would take about five or six working days. So two weeks after buying a new oven I still wouldn't have one that worked as advertised. 

Bollox to that too.

I went back to the shop and told them to take back the CDA. When I buy an appliance I buy a relationship with the manufacturer too. If my oven breaks, I want it fixed FAST. If they don't understand that or can't value my priorities then I don't want to work with them.

DOMEX finally rang me today to see if they could send an engineer around NEXT THURSDAY! That would be 27 days after I bought the thing. 

CDA and Domex. Avoid.

Sunday 15 September 2013

First Birthday (part 1)

I have a Casualty script deadline to meet this weekend so I can't be sitting here writing about food cooked, people met and lessons learned. I'll make do with some photos and post some further updates mid-week. These will include:

A year in... food, people, experiences etc
My second new oven in a week
My new lighting - seen below

But for now, many thanks to Enfield's own Emma Rigby for bringing her party of eight.