Saturday 31 May 2014

Kalia and company (and some cauliflower) badly photographed

I don't use the word 'charming' often but this group was. The menu creation had proved a little challenging including, as it did, meat eaters, wheat free people, vegetarians and the diary averse but the final combinations weren't that kitchen tricky. Mains was the spring rack of lamb for some and charred (new season) asparagus with a celeriac mustard remoulade for others.

I've never seen people fall on my cauliflower with such enthusiasm. Some were even spotted smearing the last molecules from the serving dishes with scraps of Yorkshire pudding. It gladdened my heart. I've blogged the recipe before but I'll include it again for convenience. It comes from Tom Kitchn (was ever a chef better named?).

Cauliflower pureé
Enough for dinner for several people.

The pureé is made by gently sautéing a finely chopped onion in butter until tender - no colour, then adding a whole chopped cauliflower (white only) and covering with milk. Add four whole garlic cloves and boil for fifteen minutes then drain (reserve the milk). Puree with some more butter (naturally) and a little of the reserved milk. Seaon with salt and white pepper to keep the purity of colour. It's a wonderfully textured thing. Velvety.

Look, I'm sorry chaps but my camera work is still pants. The group shot above is OK but the rest below should all be rejected really. It's partly the low light, partly the arrangement. I'd have to shove people out of the way to get better angles. Excuses, excuses. But I've decided I can live with a little motion blur if the picture epitomises the mood.

Friday 30 May 2014

Elderflower fail (but a nice walk, nonetheless)

It smells of elderflower. It tastes of no elderflower. It tastes of sugar that was once, maybe, left close to an elderflower tree for a few minutes. I don't understand.

Elderflowers in the wild. The flower of the Elder apparently.
Elderflowers. Tamed. Look at how they
all sit there nicely, not making a fuss.
I was all set to make elderflower syrup, and thereafter, cordial, jelly, granita. Following a recent trip to Wilks Restaurant in Bristol, I was going to make a spiced orange jelly with apple and pears and a dressing of elderflower ice. I imagined serried, stoppered bottles of pale golden loveliness in my utility room - yielding forgotten summer sunshine in the autumn months. It is not to be. I have failed.

A few weeks ago, I appealed to the good burghers of LYDS for the locations of good elderflower trees (thank you Anna and Roger). So last bank holiday Monday, Fabian (eldest son) and I toured EN2 and then the Woodcraft Wild Space in Winchmore Hill (where Fabian does volunteer conservation work) with bags and scissors. We only took a few from each tree and only from plants far away from roads. We came back with quite a haul. It was, of course, only on our return that I noticed... at the back of our garden... far away from any road... yup!

This is Fabian's 'I know you have a new telephoto lens Dad but please don't take any more photos of me' look. 
You'll also notice he's not running with those scissors. Safety first!
I'd read many recipes; all very simple: water, sugar, elderflower, lemon. Some mentioned adding citric acid powder but that seemed to be only as a preservative so I eschewed that. I made a simple syrup of sugar and water, adding lemon zest for, well, zestiness and lemon juice for acidity. I let this cool to blood heat. I added at least 50 full heads of elderflower. This was left to steep for two days.

Before adding elderflower. That yellow stuff is lemon peel not elderflower. Elderflowers look more like flowers.

After adding elderflower. You see all those things that look like flowers. That's elderflower that it.
Nothing. Nada. Zlich. Niente. 

Perhaps that citric acid has some other function? Do I need some other solvent aid. Was there too much sugar and I buggered up the osmotic gradient? I've now read that you should pick your flowers on a warm, bright day. Makes sense. You shouldn't pick them on an overcast, damp day. We gathered ours on an English bank holiday. Take a wild guess.

I'm not giving up though. I'm going to wait for a warm, bright day and pick more flowers, then use those in my faintly tasting sweet water. I'll report more then.

Fabian's elderflower vodka however (quick recipe: take vodka, add elderflowers) DOES taste of elderflower. Perhaps I'll take some solace there.

And this is an entirely irrelevant picture of a zested orange. I just think it looks cool.
Did I mention I have a new lens for my camera?

Sunday 25 May 2014

Pain d'epices (spiced fruit loaf)

I based this on Philip Howard's recipe in the sweet volume of the Square cookbook although I'm also going to try this recipe from the estimable David Lebovitz. I think Phil's book is the one I'm taking to my desert island. My dessert island, if you will. (I thank you!) This is an enriched fruit loaf but minus any actual fruit. If cut when warm, there's a wonderful, heady aroma of citrus and spices. It has an orange crumb that almost glows. The French traditionally use it as we would a malt loaf, thickly buttered. They also grill very thin slices and serve it under foie gras. 

Butter and flour a 1Kg loaf tin.

Mix together 125g strong white bread flour, 125g plain flour, 50g caster sugar, the seeds of one vanilla pod, 20g baking powder (yes 20g, that's not a typo),  a teaspoon of grated nutmeg and one each of finely crushed cinnamon and star anise and the grated zest of one orange and one lemon.

Phil also adds 30g candied peel. I didn't. Don't confuse sweet candied peel for candid peel which is a piece of lemon zest that tells you exactly where you can get off!

Now add 50ml of milk, 250g honey and three eggs. Beat for five minutes to develop the gluten in the bread flour. You'll need either a free standing mixer or the forearms of Zeus.

Finely ground spices. I have a new macro lens for my camera. Can you tell? What fun.
There will be many, many shots like this until I grow bored of it.

Interestingly, Phil Howard now asks you to knead the 'dough'. Only, it wasn't a dough. It was wetter than an otter's pocket. Only if you reinvented physics could you have kneaded this. David Lebovitz and everyone else I checked with tells you to pour the 'batter'. This I did.

Temperatures vary too. Phil says 150°C which seems very low for a cake and fabulously low for bread. David says 180°C. I went with 170°C. Bake for about 45 minutes or until a wooden skewer comes out clean.

Sunday 11 May 2014

Emma Rigby (Love Your DoorStep) and sweet Yorkshire Puddings

Julie, Natalie, Anna, Emma C, Emma R, Saffee and (front) Kalia.

Emma is well known around these parts. She was appalled at the 2011 riots in Enfield (and elsewhere) and as a response she formed a project called Love Your Doorstep, intended to engender a sense of community cohesion, by allowing locals to swap info about events, services and facilities. LYDS has won plaudits and awards and expanded fast. Emma now employs an ever growing team... some of whom came with her tonight. I am now a paid up member of LYDS. I think it's an excellent idea, in theory and practise.

LYDS ladies giving it large. Emma R, Emma C, Natalie. Sorry for cutting you in half Julie.
On a personal level, Emma was an early and enthusiastic guest and has come back again and again. She's been brilliant at promoting New River Restaurant. Thank you Emma. x

So to the Saturday night. It was always going to be a... how do I phrase this... robust evening; full of chat and laughter and dance and the LYDS ladies didn't disappoint.

I am slightly deaf this morning though.

Anna and Saffee (and half a Julie, again). 
Emma's usually ready with a study for camera (see below), so it's nice to surprise her sometimes.
Thank you. That's quite enough of that.
(A whole) Julie LYDS.
Have shoes... will dance...
And dance some more...

Natalie took this pic
We kicked off with some complementary kiwi martinis (Emma's from New Zealand). The amuse bouche wasn't my usual mushroom velouté. It's spring now and I want something more seasonal. Tomato crisps and basil oil did the job. Simply tomatoes, finely cut and seasoned and dried in the oven at 70°C for about five hours (just leave them overnight).

Starters was a new one: ham hock and asparagus terrine. Tasted good but looked dreadful. Some technical error on my part. I didn't press the binding jelly into the meat and veg hard enough. The first slice looked good but then everything crumbled. Porcine pebble-dashing. Gutted! I served it with a lemon verbena (from the garden) mayo and peashoots and watercress with a wholegrain mustard dressing. I should have just called in a ham hock salad I suppose.

It all went wrong after this.

Mains was herbed rack of lamb with crushed peas and broad beans.

Dessert was another first. I've been toying with the idea of sweet Yorkshires for a while. It's exactly the same recipe, omitting the mustard  powder of course and adding three tablespoons of castor sugar and some vanilla paste/extract. They stay crisper than, say, choux pastry. The taste and texture is reminiscent of Spanish churros, or maybe Belgian waffles.

I served it with a bitter orange sauce, dashes of blackberry sauce, some vanilla cream and a round of problematic chocolate marquise. A problem because, like the terrine, my log kept crumbling. Eventually, at the suggestion of Etien, I blowtorched the knife between slices. Well done Et.

I'd served the puddings first on the Friday night to Fiona but the presentation was all wrong. I'm happier with this but it's still a dessert in progress. It reminds me of a painting but I can't think what. Not Matisse. Not Kandinsky (yuk). Maybe Miro? Anyone?

Wednesday 7 May 2014

Pineapple and lime ice

All you need. Other brands of sugar are available.

So now there's some danger of a warm evening I thought you'd like to know how to make my pineapple and lime ice. I serve this as a palate cleanser in a shot glass with a wedge of lime. There is no way of saying that without sounding effete, so I won't try. Guests squeeze the wedge onto the ice. The ice isn't poncey at all though. It's grown up Slush Puppy, and not very grown up at that. I add a lime sourness to balance the pineapple's natural and abundant sweetness. It's fantastically refreshing. Many guests tell me it was their favourite part of the meal. Better even than the lamb rack, the slow roast pork belly or the lovingly prepared beef shin. And no, that doesn't wound at all.

To make pineapple and lime ice you need: a pineapple, a lime and some sugar. Tah-Dah! Really that's it. You do need a juicer though but we'll get to that.

First, catch your pineapple (pref Fairtrade) Make sure it's ripe by tugging at the leaves. If they come out easily it's ready but if they grip like a banker to his bonus... walk away.

Using your juicer, juice your fruit. No juicer? Then mash fresh pinapple and squeeze hard in a clean tea towel. Can't be arsed? Then use a litre of not-from-concentrate*. This does taste different to freshly squeezed as they pasteurise the juice. You can, I suppose, use from-concentrate but then why not just buy a Solero and stamp on it?

For each pineapple/half carton of juice you need one lime. We're going to use that to make a lime syrup. First zest the lime using a zester or grater. Do this over a pan to catch the oils. Now squeeze the lime for juice and add to the zest. Finally, add a tablespoon of sugar per lime, to the pan. Heat gently until the sugar is dissolved. Allow to cool. I tend to make this in three litre batches because making syrup from one lime is tricky and because it's no more work to make three litres as it is one.

To add depth and interest, as I hope I do, steep some spices in the syrup. I use lemon grass, pink peppercorns and cloves. 

After a good steep, sieve your syrup, to remove the zest and spices, add to the pineapple juice and taste. Maybe a little more raw lime juice? Maybe some plain sugar syrup (equal amounts of sugar and water boiled)? Depends how sweet or sour you want it. Remember when trying to judge that chilling reduces our perception of sweetness.

Pour the mix into a plastic tub, ideally with a snap lock lid, and freeze for a few hours. When the mix is starting to freeze give the tub a good shake (unless your lid isn't snap lock, in which case, stir) and return to the freezer. Do this every few hours until your ice is nicely granular. That's it. Done. It will store for weeks in the freezer.

It won't though.

Adding a dash of tequila, rum or vodka over the ice won't kill you either. Nor will a shot of gin or Cachaca. Or Pisco. Have I laboured the point enough?

*When Etien, my youngest son, was about 5, I found him peering at a carton of juice in a supermarket. "Dad? Where is Concentrate and why does no one want stuff from there?" Wonderful. (Sorry Et).

Sunday 4 May 2014

A guest peed on our sofa!

Dad and daughter. Go on, say 'Aaaah'.

She did. But it wasn't a disaster; Etien was in there pretty sharpish with the J-cloth and it was only a spot; a wardrobe malfunction. And she was only two years old. Mum (and host) Christina was mortified. You needn't be Chris, it doesn't show. Those sofas have seen worse.

One of the advantages of a home restaurant is that young kids have a little more... latitude. You don't have to worry so much about boisterous rebellions or a display of pique when there's only your family around you. There are no po faced guests to offend; nodding with irritation at waiters. I think it's important to take children to restaurants and it's important that restaurants make provision. (I'm repeating myself here.) Britain has a most uptight attitude. Compare us with Ireland, Italy, France or Spain. We hang on to this notion, this desire for formality more than other countries. I think it reflects, in part, our troubled relationship with restaurants where we confuse polite behaviour with inhibition and reserve.

Christina at the front.
I was feeling a little inhibited myself that day. It's not often I've had to cook Italian food for (Anglo) Italians. But here were ten of them, focussing on my focaccia and tucking into truffled polenta. Italy is where I found (and left) my culinary heart. Theirs is the most confident European cuisine, both simple and sophisticated. Italy allows produce to sing, solo if need be. The French, maybe mute it too often with sauce. Woefully, I've not tried enough Spanish to form a meaningful opinion.
Griddled focaccia

This was probably the busiest but least formal of all my evenings. The youngest of the boys liked neither pork belly nor bass and a plate of spaghetti carbonara had been requested (no pressure!). Food was consumed as it hit the table. Conversation veered between Italian and English. It felt like being part of their family. 

I often start the meal with an amuse bouche of mushroom and truffle soup but as I was serving truffled polenta with mushrooms and a port reduction as a starter I needed something else. So here is the debut of my smoked tomato soup with sour cream and crisp basil. You smoke the toms rather than the soup, naturally. And no, the colours aren't accidental.

But despite my concerns the plates kept coming back clean and I received several thumbs up from father/grandfather Salvatore. He had asked for sea bass while the rest of the family requested pork belly, so I was gratified to see him tucking into a little crackling too. Salvatore had arrived seeming ever so slightly suspicious; looking around my back room with a tentative expression. At the end of the meal he gifted me with a shoulder chuck and a bottle of wine so I think he enjoyed New River Restaurant.

And Chris... thanks for the custard. We ate it with some of Etien's home made chocolate cake the next day. x