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.


Friday, 6 September 2013

An additional oven

It couldn't have come too soon. The death of our microwave meant we had a hole in our units. We only ever used the microwave to cook soup or peas so I jumped at the opportunity to install a 'compact' second oven.

I like to slow cook my restaurant food. All good, apart from when you need to heat up something else. Having one oven and a piece of shin that needs six hours at 150°C is a real bind when you have some something else that can only be prepared after 10 minutes at 180°C. And it's such a relief having an oven set to low so that things can be kept snug, things that might otherwise sit on the hob, with all the attendant burning potential. 

I didn't have much choice in my choice. The aperture was set. My budget was severely limited. None of the Germans seem to make an oven only version. Bosch, Miele, Neff, Siemens etc all insist on adding a microwave function. This both doubles the cost and gives you a shoe-box size interior. So I now have a CDA SV430SS (for the stove spotters among you), an Italian brand that's new to me.

But!! I've had to book an an engineer already. The temperature light keeps flashing so the only way I know the temp of my interior is with a thermometer. (You can see it in the picture.) I do hope this isn't an evil harbinger CDA. If it is I will be blogging and Tweeting loudly.

Children in the restaurant?

"Is it OK for us to bring the children?" Asked Sarah. "Of course." I replied. And then a thought. "How old?" They were 3, 5, 5 and 7. The first minors to dine at the NRR but I hope not the last.

Yes, there were a few challenges to chef's eardrums: the not at all annoying electronic-65th-birthday-cake-singing-candle (cheers Grandfather!) being removed from a highly indignant fist, was the most memorable. But I also got to enjoy the heat of high praise. I am, apparently, THE best chef in THE world. That's not all. My raspberry pavlova is THE best thing that guest had EVER eaten. The fact he was five years old is immaterial. It was a valid opinion.

They look happy don't they? They do.
Of course choice of food is an issue with children. I detest the notion of children's menu. Yes, detest. All part of the chicken-nuggetisation of our world. Not a phrase I bet you thought you'd read today. I'm a fan of taking kids to eat out. Forget dinner, too late and too expensive and peopled with young lovers, diners who have a notoriously low threshold for the all too audible broccoli protest. Talking of which, I have found, ahem, that one way to get your kids to try a new vegetable is to present them with a Michelin starred version of it. Not an everyday option I know but the parents get to have a nice meal too and there's the possibility of getting a bit tipsy in the early afternoon. But no, do lunch. Often it's a set price and set much lower than evening fare.

OR... just to tout for business for a mo: home restaurants are an ideal way to take young children out to eat. There are no other diners to worry about. They can play away from the table, and best of all, we have our own naughty step!

The best food in the whole world! No really.
This is Sarah, wot booked the gig.
And this is her Mum. Happy Birthday.
Birfday Pavlova being lit