Wednesday 15 February 2017

A little necessary British acidity

"It's Rupert!" called Belinda from the bottom of the stairs. Door slightly ajar, I pulled a face at her. I don't know any Ruperts. "It's about your vinegar order." She added walking upstairs and handing me the phone. So I stood, dripping wet in the bathroom, ex-shower, phone in my clammy hand, experiencing some fantastic customer service.

Rupert (Parsons) of Womersley Foods in the Cotswolds had seen the order I'd made the night before, clocked that I'm a supper club and called to inform me that I was due a discount. But as stopping and replacing my initial order was a faff, would it be OK if he just bundled in a few free bottles?

It was OK. 

If you want one question to establish if someone is a foodie or not (a predicament we've all found ourselves in surely?), it's probably "how excited are you by vinegar?" My answer would be: enough to stand naked in a freezing February bathroom, dripping wet.

Apologies for that image btw. Here's George Clooney.

All cleansed? Good.

Au revoir les Français
I've been looking to reduce my L'Olivier fruit vinegar reliance recently. They are fantastic vinegars but it's increasingly difficult to source the whole range. Also the bottles are small at 200ml so I can easily go through one in a month. Fruit vinegars are now critical in my kitchen; I rarely make a dressing without one.

After much web frustration with nasty, cheap 'flavoured' products, I found Wormersley nestled in a clutch of testimonials from chefs I respect. These are fruit vinegars worthy of the name. Unlike L'Olivier, they filter off the pulp resulting in a clear liquid but with no less flavour. In fact... maybe more. They come in 250ml bottles and are better value. They also do larger trade sizes for restaurants. 

You'll notice the bottles in the top picture all have torn seals. That's because I stood with my family, spoons in hand, tasting each one straight out of the packing foam. And they are very, very good. A deliciously different quality of acidity to the French but no less usable. The fruit flavours are clean, intense, distinct and very natural. The Raspberry and chilli, Blackberry and Orange & Mace are set to become go-to bottles, I'm sure. My only issue is where to keep them. I have at least 30 existing bottles of vinegar. My well used ones are pictured below.

Why do I care so much about about acidity? Because it's been my great discovery since starting the supper club. It's the child who sat in the corner, head down, uninterested; who suddenly lifted up her chin, opened her mouth and filled the room with a high, perfect soprano. Acid makes your dishes sing.

Or as I read recently (but have lost the link - probably Serious Eats): that 'something' your food is missing is probably lemon juice - or a fruit vinegar.

Tuesday 14 February 2017

New born, new wave, old lamb

Not OLD lamb. Let's kick that rumour into touch straight off. Given the season, any lamb now comes from animals approaching one year old, so technically hogget; the flavour becomes more like mutton and the portion size grows. Some of the lamb shanks I served this weekend were mah-hoo-sive. As ever the lamb was Romney Salt Marsh, supplied by 
F. Normans in Oakwood. Who have a rather nifty new web site I notice.

I've never written down my shank technique (that means something very different in my part of Norf London) but it began life as a Jamie Oliver recipe. I used to individually wrap the French trimmed joints in foil along with some aromatics and alcohol, and bake for about three hours. Trouble is you lose much of the valuable roasting juices when removing meat from foil. It's also a severe faff double bagging ten shanks. Now I place them all together in a tent of foil with rosemary, onions, carrots, celery and red wine. I push a clove of garlic into the top of each shank too so the juices will run down and through the meat during cooking.  Maybe three hours at 140°C (depends on size) and then tear off the foil tent (and retain) and another twenty minutes at 180°C to colour. When they're done, cover with the foil and a towel/blanket and they will keep perfectly for an hour awaiting eating. Juices then strained and turned into a gravy to which I often add a dab of Madeira and some sweeting redcurrant jelly.

We serve ours with minted, crushed peas and beans, served simply with just a spritz of lemon juice; sweet & sour red cabbage; roast carrot puree and (of course) my slow roasted dauphinoise potatoes.

Friday was Sonia, celebrating Lorraine's birthday. A little dancing was had. Music from the 80s (New Wave see). Lorraine is a vegetable gardner and has promised me some golden beetroot. You did Lorraine. I'm holding you to it.

Saturday... and Nathan, our youngest ever guest, as part of Lynsey's party. I say guest, he didn't consume anything I prepared but he was fed in the room. Nothing but admiration for a parent who eats out with a three week old baby. Start as you mean to go on.

Belinda and I once managed to forget Fabian who had been asleep for hours one afternoon. We were a happy hundred yards down the street before we did a comedy realisation and both yelled 'Baby!' and ran back to the house.

Lynsey and friends

Camille and Nathan

Friday 10 February 2017

Bleeding heart tarts (Lupercalia cakes!)

Like Christmas, Easter and Halloween, St Valentine's day is another occasion where the church piggybacked an existing pagan festival. In this case the very ancient Lupercalia. Young men would 'whip' willing young women with the pelts of recently sacricfed goats and dogs - to aid their fertility, naturally - before everyone drew lots to secure a night with not Mr Right but Mr Random, presumably to test said fertility. Sounds much more entertaining than staring vacantly at your betrothed over a Nando's doesn't it? Bring it all back I say. Apart from the dog slaughtering. Don't all shout at me at once.

But mainly through the efforts of American greeting card giant Hallmark this fun festival descended into a day where we can make manifest our adoration with the purchase of pre-sloganised cards, pre packaged chocolates or plastic wrapped petrol pump roses. Nothing says "I love you" like commerce does it? I know. Colour me cynical. If you must indulge, at least make an effort; something that isn't delivered on a supermarket pallet. Love is action, as they say. At least, as I say.

My mate Brian wanted these for an alternative valentine's party; French almond friand cakes made soppy by shape. I normally make blueberry, lemon or chocolate orange but these are raspberry and vanilla. In fact they are frozen raspberry. I think you get a better result with frozen fruit (which is handy). Fresh fruit turn to mush. Being frozen, you can also break the fruit up into small pieces and make patterns if that turns you on. It doesn't me, hence the abstracts above.

Melt 100g of unsalted butter in a small pan. Once melted, continue to heat until the butter turns a golden brown. You'll know it's close to ready because it stops fizzing as all the moisture is burnt off. 
It will also smells fantastic. Trust your nose. Cool the pan, to prevent the butter from burning, by placing it in cold water. This is beurre noisette and it adds a wonderful flavour. Allow the butter to cool.

Whisk three large egg whites to a floppy foam. We're not making meringues but you do want some air fixed in the mix as this is the only leavening agent. 

Sift 25g plain flour with 125g icing sugar and 85g ground almonds and a teaspoon of vanilla paste/extract

Fold this into the egg whites, making as few folds as possible. Keep the mixture aerated. Gently stir in the butter. 

You should now have a light, floppy batter. Divide this up into eight well buttered moulds. About halfway up the sides. Moulds? I have these silicon things which I bought years ago. Amazon do something similar. But usually I use a friand tin. You can use a cupcake or mini-muffin tin. Just keep an eye on the timing. You might need a minute more or less, depending on the size. 

Push some fruit into the top of each cake. Not more than five or the cakes will be too moist and fall apart. Bake for 18 minutes at 180°C until just golden and gently firm to the touch. Leave to cool before turning them out. These are delicate creatures. Best eaten when just warm with a sprinkle of icing sugar, for the eye.

I was in a bad mood when I wrote this. Does it show? I'm sure I'll be cheerful in March.

In the more traditional shape