Monday, December 28, 2009

Chocolate Teas and Salmon Terrines

Several months ago I used up the last crumbs of Dark Chocolate Tea made by genius confectioner Lan Wong of Petits Noirs in Milton Freewater, Oregon. This was black tea blended with yellow rose petals and infused with the dark chocolate- a really delicious treat when you want a little taste of chocolate but nothing so heavy as hot chocolate.
I thought I might not find another for a long time, but just last week I stumbled upon a very good facsimile in Toppers Chocolate Teas- a blend of chocolate, coconut, almond, vanilla, rooibos and black tea. I found it in West Hampstead at the Kitchen Stores on Mill Lane, a great little gourmet food boutique that carries items ranging from recent harvest olive oils, to fine charcuterie to responsibly sourced meats.
Of course, the Petits Noirs tea is much more caffeinated but the lovely warm mug of subtle flavors wrapped in earthy chocolate flavor is still there in the Toppers tea. What better thing to curl up with midday when you're in need of a warm beverage?

Especially in your new MR Tea mug from Folksy...

Back in 2007 I first became aware of Stéphane Reynaud when a good friend gave me a spare copy of Pork & Sons, she's a food writer so always seems to have spares of amazing cookbooks sent by the publishers, lucky girl. I immediately pored over the recipes wishing I had access to a fresh whole hog so I could make my own black pudding and when I found myself at a good friend's farm a few weeks later I was able to successfully roast pork shoulder in hay with jerusalem artichokes... the pork frenzy went on for months. So it should come as no surprise that when it was hot off the presses I bought the next cookbook installation- Terrine. But the end of pregnancy and the beginning of being a parent what they are I found myself a little too busy to put my beautiful lapis Le Creuset enameled work horse to, em, work. But in the past weeks I have brought the cookbook off the shelf and given it the coveted position of window ledge of the kitchen, where only a few other books reside. Just ask me for the list, it's short.
For Christmas Eve dinner, I wanted to have something involved that we could all enjoy, but that wouldn't produce too too much food. I do have one of those very tiny refrigerators and leftovers during the holiday season have to compete to the death for storage space with the fresh, raw ingredients that have yet to be made into holiday memories.

I bought some lovely smoked salmon, fresh salmon and turbot from my fishmonger, some asparagus from our local produce stand and tore into the recipe with grand results. Some fresh grated horseradish and creme fraiche poured over the top of slices and it was the perfect meal. And the perfect snack on Boxing Day!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Christmas cookies- a recipe ready for a transatlantic move

I have to admit it, I love my copper cookie cutters.  They're heavy enough to cut through clay, shiny and perfectly formed.  But they are seasonally themed- a reindeer and a snowflake.  So I get very little opportunity to pull then out and put them to use and when they come out, I have to show off the pretty pretty cookies they make.

My favorite cookie to make this these are ginger molasses spice, but molasses is a bit tricky to find in London, black treacle's not quite the same... but the cookies turned out tasty although the tiny changes in the dough made the cookies not as sharp as my US versions.  I have a year to find a better short recipe, hopefully I'll remember my challenge to myself and find the perfect chemistry.  And what a fun task to sift through the recipes that might bring me to the perfect reindeer cookie in 2010.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

A busy summer: lots of eating, not much picture taking

As I grow more and more aware of how much time has passed since my last post, I am equally guilt ridden and proud. Guilty that I neglect my blog so much, proud that I have been having too much fun dining and cooking and enjoying life to post. Or perhaps I'm merely lazy. You be the judge.

Waaaay back in October I picked a morning that I thought I could get to Billingsgate Market to shop. They open at the crack of dawn but stay open until mid morning. There are many markets in London that do this. But I am quickly finding that if you wait until the last few hours of trade, there will be no one around. Seriously. Crickets. That was the case at Smithfield at 10:30. The market is advertised as staying open until noon, but I think that they only mean the doors are left unlocked until then. By the time we arrived not only had the trade closed but everything was hosed down and tidily put away. Like I said, crickets.

Billingsgate Market turned out to be still bustling in their final 15 minutes of open hours. About half of the traders were still selling, while they were putting things away, mind you, but they were also hawking some very good deals. I bought the last of two gorgeous varieties of clams for £10. It seemed to me that was around 3 kilos I brought home. Also, there was a gorgeous salmon which was wrapped up for me with the greatest of care in a black garbage bag (read in sarcasm), but who had crystal clear eyes and every scale intact. I believe that was £9. Wow. It was a mob scene in there at the end, so I imagine that during the peak of trade it's much like Columbia Flower Market- the only air space is overhead.

I wish that I could boast an elaborate presentation on the clams and the salmon, but no. The clams were steamed with wine, butter, garlic and herbs. The salmon was slathered in butter and green herbs for one side and olive oil, ras el hanout and paprika on the other side. All delicious.

I do plan to return to Smithfield Market during peak trade one day, which would mean some interesting tube riding at 5 am, and once I have I shall report back as soon as I can.

Other things I have eaten since my last post:
The Mad Hatter's Tea Party at Fat Duck
Bones and Offal at St John
On the bone Lamb Shank Pie at The Fox and Anchor

One day when I am feeling inspired enough to compete with much better writers I may wax on about the meal at Fat Duck. It was inspired theater combined with culinary prowess. Worthy of the high price tag indeed. In fact I would go so far as to say that it was a steal at that price!
Who can resist a picture of a well baked Dutch Baby?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

What to float on Squash Soup

Early this week I found myself thinking about the Onion Squash I had at home, plotting my return home to roast, puree and doctor it up into a nice soup. Well, I did, but I put too much salt in and true to my trade called it an opportunity rather than a failure. The addition of cream and water and a couple of cooked potatoes and the squash flavor re-emerged from hiding under the thick layer of salt. And it was scrumpy. But having this much soup to eat with not a lick of space in my freezer meant a lot of repetition.
I decided to take a page from a fashionable gal in NY who is doing what is called The Uniform Project, and to use the soup as a base for many other things I would make and float on top.
Day 1 was the original meal I had planned. A dear old friend, Anne, was coming to dinner and I needed something easy that I could assemble while I bounced the toddler on my knee (well, practically). So I slow roasted some pork belly slices in apple cider and then cooked up some kale and chard in the juices. Ramekin formed bed of greens, pork belly slices on top and soup as a moat. Voila! Impressive meal. And easy.
Day 2 A semi impromptu lunch with brand new expat Kelly. And it was conveniently on the day our fishmonger comes. One a tiny amount of chopping and a dirty mixing bowl later and we had crab cakes on top of the squash soup. The only repetition was the soup and only for me, so what did I care? I love seconds, even if they are 16 hours apart.
Day 3 A pre-planned lunch with neighbor Yuriko who is also a fish lover so I made Hot Smoked Salmon cakes abundant with herbs and did a little fine oil drizzle. This was by far the best presentation.

Who says a girl can't get clever with her soup? Truth be told, I'm glad I'm not having the soup again tonight or tomorrow or for a while. It's all been used up. But I'm terribly proud of my craftiness at making all three dishes. I may not be cooking for a living anymore, but I think I haven't yet lost my chops.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Mehlspeisen Küchen

Several years back I started reading a book called "The Fig Eater" which is set in Vienna in 1910 and under the guise of being a murder mystery is really just a means of sharing all sorts of facts about Vienna in Freud's era, there is some writing about psychoanalysis, much about forensics, some about culture, some about feminism (or it's precursors) and some about food. I of course focused in on the food aspects...
In the book there is a character who travels from house to house cooking, very much like today's personal chefs but with one great distinction. The mehlspeisen küche only bakes delicious sweets. She pulls sheets of pastry as thin as gossamer to fill and roll into strudels, she kneads sweet doughs to make into tiny cakes, fills layers with creams and custards and mixes batters to bake into warm, sweet and comforting cakes.
Of course, upon reading this I thought what a wonderful idea to recreate this old custom- to travel form house to house filling it with delicious nibbles and desserts, to warm the hearth and, well, let's be honest, fatten everyone up. We did live in health conscious Berkeley, CA at the time and I imagine I was a bit fed up with granola and raw food. So with only the Atkins Diet as an obstacle I set about organizing myself as a Mehlspeiser. (Pardon my Germlish). I put together brochures that listed pastry after pastry, all stamped up with my running bitters bottle logo and my fancy new mobile number and email address. I distributed these at the local fancy food stores, shops and such and I waited. I waited patiently to start a new trend- the traveling baker.
Well, the phone never rang. Oh, well, it did but it was to cook for a lovely family in Napa who I had the pleasure of spending many years with. They liked desserts, but they preferred barbecue and bread. They longed to be leaner, so a daily addition of sweets and cakes wasn't in their plans.
Which left me with the occasional dream of rolling and pulling and throwing out sheets of pastry, ready for a life as a strudel filled with fruits and drenched in glaze. The perfect friend to a piping hot cup of coffee.
But maybe I was in the wrong city? Maybe London needs some fattening up?

Friday, August 14, 2009

Cuisine Economique

These days I've been looking for ways to streamline my cooking. Between having a toddler and now a European sized fridge and pantry (one cabinet with three narrow shelves) I have to make the best use of my limited space and time. After years of cheffing in the sprawling kitchens of the rich and famous as well as some nice sized kitchens of my own, it's been a bit of a shock to the system. But I find myself doing more of what I'd call junk cooking or "cuisine economique" as a hat tip to one of my kitchen heroes, Jacques Pépin.

When I was a teenager aspiring to have an important first job- as a baker; so serious was I that I agreeably started my days at 4 am- I learned a lot about the economy of re-using foods that were still good but that everyone was less than charmed with on the 2rd or third round. I know this sounds horrible, like chicken becoming a tetrazzini in it's final incarnation but it's much more tasty and practical than that. It started with a cookie and a brownie and the cut ends of cake... we would chuck all of these things into the mixer with loads of spices and some oil and a bit of molasses, mixing in sugar and other things to correct the dough, roll it into logs the length of a sheet pan, bake and glaze. The final product was called a spice bar and it was always a hit. Joggers (it was the 80s) would come our way on their runs to get a few- for energy- always saying how healthful they were. Many asked for the recipe, which my boss would always retain with a wink- old family recipe, guarded for generations.

So now in honor of all who have taught me, I am making bread puddings from the endless bits of puddings that keep finding their way into our kitchen. I buy a chicken now not just with the intention of making a stock from the carcass after the bird has been roasted and consumed, but with the menu worked out for the next few and final days of that chicken's existence as anything resembling fowl. You see, my freezer is the size of a shoebox, I have no space to make and save endless bits, stocks, demi glaces or other delectables.

The toddler helps me stay honest in my cooking and grocery shopping because I have to always keep space on his buggy for toys, nappies, books and extra clothes in case the weather turns. So when I shop I can only bring home what will fit. Sometimes I'm amazed at what I can fit, but I no longer buy things in bulk and let them sit for years while I figure out how I will cook them.

An oversized batch of de Puy lentils became patties for the babe, a pilaf for us (with cumin seeds and cilantro) and was ground up to thicken a soup. I have always known how to cook like this, I just got lazy with my american sized fridge, freezer and a whole room dedicated to the saving and cataloguing of foods of every ethnic persuasion imaginable.

I have no pictures of these junk dishes I'm been making, part of the economy of preparing them is lacking the time for glamour shots, but I shall fit some in here soon. That or I'll just make up some recipes like this.

Bread Box Pudding
2 cups of stale breads, preferably with some fruit or nuts
1-2 cups milk
1/2 a homemade granola bar, 1/2 a bran muffin, odds and ends
a handful of dried fruit
2 eggs
tiniest pinch of salt
1 T sugar
1 T ground almonds
2 four ounce ramekins oiled with 1 T butter

Cut or tear the stale bread into 1/2" pieces and soak for 40 minutes in milk (you may need a little more than 1 cup).
Preheat oven to 200º C.
Gently squeeze the milk out of the bread and put into a second bowl. Add the granola bar/muffin/etc and lightly toss to incorporate the bits evenly. Measure out the milk and add a bit more to total 1 cup, beat in eggs, salt and sugar.
Put 1/2 of the bread mixture into each ramekin, sprinkle with 1/2 of the almond and then pour the milk/egg mixture over the top slowly letting it soak in.
Bake for 30 minutes in the middle rack.

Let cool for 10 minutes before eating, although this will be hard!

Past successes, perhaps future successes?

Now that we've fully settled into our thoroughly British new life I become wistful about things I have done in my 15 years of cooking for a living.

I always loved throwing a party which I attended only as a host, coordinator, go to gal... etc etc. I know that for many it defeats the whole purpose of the party. Don't misunderstand, I love throwing my own parties, drinking cocktails with my friends, losing my cocktail plate a million times and only eating once the attendees has dwindled down to w mere handful and all partake in one rollicking conversation. But relieved from the expectations of hosting as a friend- maintaining a thread in a discussion, keeping your fabulous and frivolous outfit together, making sure glasses are full, people are attended to- the minutiae of the event can be checked, rechecked and perfected. There is a large part of my personality this appeals to and it just doesn't exist outside of the vocation of event management (what a unflattering job title that is!) unless you don't mind your friends thinking of you as a bit eccentric.

When I first began cooking for a living I was in the better part of my 20s, the time when you're too broke to notice, too cheap to lavish yourself with things, too young to bother with sleep, too busy to stop socializing. I knew multitudes of people who were always ready to dash over, slice off a hunk of roasted cheap meat, scoop up some kind of cozido, tear off a claw of homemade bread, wash it all down with a cheap but solid glass of wine and then stay for hours while others filtered through my home doing the same. So I threw parties, impromptu affairs that started with calling (no texts, no email, no facebook) about 50 people, inviting all, ending up with friends of friends of friends and often well over 100 people milling around my loft in downtown LA. I hosted parties so large that there were times I met people for the first time in my own home, "guests" who had attended my parties numerous times before figuring out who I was in the crowd and coming over to say thank you. But as wonderful as my memories of these times were, there was very seldom anything that stood out about these parties, making them unique events.

As I approached 30, I had thrown many of my own parties but also hundreds of events for clients. Events that included live concerts, people being flown in, elaborate floral arrangements, changing the color of pool water, hiring ping pong tables, hiring musicians... I had become an event planner. The thrill of having strangers approach me in my own home had shaken hands and traded places with the thrill of "pulling it off". Having a laundry list of the unique needs of clients and fulfilling it...

When we moved to Berkeley, I found a group of like minded eaters and cooks who liked to gather around a roast, a paella pan, make gnocchi, share recently foraged ingredients, celebrate the harvests of stonefruits, apples, arugula, berries, nettles. From this community I grew as a cook, but I also learned to teach people how to cook, I learned to talk about food. I found all of this enriching to my menu planning for even clients with the plainest palates.

As I approached my mid 30s I missed cooking more challenging food, and my desire to widen my circle of guests beyond friends had been rekindled. It was not yet the rage when my husband consented to me taking over our entire San Francisco flat and hosting a "secret restaurant." We convened twice a month, an email went out to what began as a small list and then expanded to a large list. Twelve seats filled each night, 5 courses were served at a polite pace with very polite pours of wine. Once the amuse bouche and the first glass of wine were taken in, rooms full of strangers (a four top in our makeshift hallway dining room, an 8 top in our living room with a view out the bay window and the fire lit) became acquainted. I took breaks to get feedback, explain ingredients, cooking techniques, see how things were going, but for the most part I was hidden in the kitchen. We had dinners that focused on outdoor cooking, or just salt, or just one region of the world.

So now I wax sentimental about these times in my life- when I hosted an event people would remember. It is not the most important thing in the world to do, but it is something we do to carry us from day to day. Relax, uncoil, explore our palates, break from the every day.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Delicious things from Abel & Cole

Among the many delectable treats we have been getting from our organic produce and grocery delivery peeps is perfection in a slice of toast- 100% rye sourdough bread from Long Crichel Bakery. They hand form the loaves after a long ferment and then fire them up in a wood oven. This with a little butter and jam in the morning and I'm set for the day.

Also among the notable box items this and every week- Eccles Cakes! I swear, these British sweet treats will be the end of me. And if they can get to me, who has never had a sweet tooth even when I was 8 and trick or treating only to give the candy away at the end of the night, they can get to anyone!

Of course, the food research is the driving force behind all of this new nibbling. How can you move to a new country and not sample the foods that are the backbone of their history. And it's not all just mobray pork pies and jellied eels, my friend. No no, there's Victoria Sponge, Puds (puddings, abbreviated in a way I can't get used to), Hot Cross Buns and the list goes on.

It's a sacrifice I'm willing to make for the sake of knowledge.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Ginger & White, a delightful addition to Hampstead's Village

While out on errands today the family and I made a discovery that may be so good it's bad.
Walking down Perrins Court in search of non-food items we saw a new beautiful brown awning poking it's head out, sheltering a few trim tables and their occupants. The rain threatened to drizzle down, but no one seemed deterred. We quickly walked over to see what new cafe had sprung up overnight in our tiny berg.
Already from the outside you could see the people behind Ginger & White have excellent taste as evidenced by their teapots and china- hybrids of Heath heft and Victorian flare. Peeking inside there was a lovely cozy room at the entrance where coffee and tea were being prepared, sweet toothsome snacks were out out on display and things were bustling. To the right and nestled in was another room with beautiful modest furnishing that had obviously been painstakingly chosen to represent comfort, design and cafe style. All that and still the room felt uniquely cozy.
So even as we had satisfied bellies from our full English only a few hours prior, we thought it best to sample a little of what G&W had to offer. We had some lovely carrot cake made by a local and fresh brownies, the babe had a flapjack that I later noticed came wrapped in cellophane but was fresh and delicious as if it had been made on site. My husband had a flat white to drink and I had a perfectly prepared Silver Needle White tea. The coffee was apparently good enough to win allegiance as the new morning commute coffee even at a slightly higher price than the current choice of Gail's. High praise.
The sweets were just as I like them- full of flavor and then sugary only at the end. I was happily surprised by a very slight saltiness of the carrot cake, which stood out nicely against the flowery undertones of my white tea.
We had a lovely chat with Emma, one of the co-owners, who in spite of the crazy schedule she must have of late (opening the new cafe with her husband and a 3rd business partner AND being mommy to a 9 month old!) was charming, poised and friendly. She and her business partners have some great ideas of what Hampstead needs in a cafe- along with normal weekday hours, they are currently offering brunch from 8:30 into noon on weekends; of course they make a mean cuppa and they also seem to know how to make some great nibbles and how to source the rest. I hope that people discover their cafe and love it as we did, and from the looks of it, they already have. But as I said at the start, it may be a bad thing we found them so soon (they only opened 6 days ago!), just on the heels of a new ice cream shop opening on Flask Walk- my waistline may have regrets!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

A first stab at Ddukbokkie and other things

I discovered two great Asian markets by the Finchley Road tube stop (ergo, near our flat) which I have now visited twice in as many days. When you are a white gal with a huge buggy and extroverted baby, they remember you; so I'm sure that the next time I go in they will greet us even more heartily. One is called Natural Natural and the other is creatively named SK Mart.
Now onto the food part of things. I was inspired to cook up some new Korean dishes. It's nice to experiment on "ethnic" dishes when your audience is not ethnic, so I didn't do any of this cooking for our son's Korean nanny or our dear friend Myong while we still lived in Seattle, nor have I tried making any bebimbap or the like for the bi-coastal Kwons. I can safely experiment and get my chops on the non Asians and then open myself for criticism later.
Here's what I made, assisted by a great website with recipes and video!
Yachaejeon- Omelette with prawn and sprouted beans (all kinds, adzuki, garbos, mungs... not totally authentic, but tasty)
Ddukbokkie- Rice Cake with hot pepper paste and scallion. A spicy soup which gets the song "Chewbacca! What a wookie!" stuck in my head...
Bolgogi- broiled skirt steak with sesame and kimchee sides
and then some not Korean things:
Tofu and Seaweed Salad
Roasted Butternut Squash with miso, lime and sesame dressing
Braised Eggplant with soy sauce, ginger and rice vinegar

I made one huge blunder when I shopped. I don't speak Japanese or Korean. Don't read them either, but I went to the sake area (or so I thought) found two bottles that looked good (how I assess good when something is covered in a language I don't read is purely aesthetic. I am a former book designer, so I gravitate toward nice typesetting) and bought those and later some beer. While setting the table, down went a bottles of beer and bottles of "sake". We opened up the sake, poured and out came some very very brown liquid. Soy Sauce! Serves me right. When in doubt, ask.
So I guess now I will be making lots of soy sauce based dishes. Perhaps it will be an asian summer...

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Jellied Eels, Pickled Wild Shallots, picnicking to the sounds of brass bands and BISCOTTI

There's a dearth of pictures on this post. And to be honest, I'm writing it out of guilt. Unabashed, full tilt guilt. Haven't posted in over 7 weeks. And it's not like I haven't been eating.

I finally tried jellied eels. And to put it mildly, I love them. Gross to some, mildly interesting to others and an obsession to a small niche group in London's East End, I was really amazed at how "like nothing else" they tasted. People compare to pickled herring but I would wholeheartedly disagree. No jellied eels taste like, well, jellied eels. Lovely with some toast heavily buttered with french butter, or english jersey butter.

There's a man at the Swiss Cottage Farmer's Market who hawks all things brined, pickled and salted from the middle eastern food lexicon. Every time I pass him he spikes these three things onto a toothpick: 1) his own pickled wild shallots 2) his own oven dried tomatoes in oil with wild oregano 3) his own young smooth cream cheese consistency feta. No barrel aging here, soft, smooth and mild as can be. I always yield. I always buy some and pore over it with rye crackers until my tummy can stand no more pickle.

We joined some friends this bank holiday weekend for a picnic in the Heath just by the Golders' Hill Bandstand where a brass band set up. We sipped gorgeous champagne, lovely chardonnay and some thick, chewy bordeaux while they played through the Disney song book. Nothing could sully our fun as we gorged our way though some lovely, lovely cheeses (my favorite was Stichelton, a very old, authentic recipe for Stilton that uses unpasteurized milk to gorgeous results) and smoked fishies and other delicious goodies like semolina cake.

And this brings me all the way back around to posting a recipe.
I made the biscotti I've been making for over a decade now, almost 2 decades (wow, that makes me feel OLD). And I decided for all the times I've typed it out, I should just post it here...
So here it is:
The best damned biscotti

2 cups sugar
1 cup melted sweet cream butter
1/4 cup pastis or anisette
3 T bourbon or brandy
2 T each: fennel seeds, anise seeds
6 large eggs
2 cups pistachios (filberts or almonds are nice, too)
Combine in large mixing bowl, then add in three batches:
5 1/2 cups unbleached white flour with 1 T baking powder

ASSEMBLY: 1 egg plus 1/4 water for egg wash

Transfer dough to another bowl lined with Saran wrap, cover and let chill at least 3 hours. I usually make the dough the night before, otherwise the baking goes late into the night.

Remove dough from bowl and divide into 6-8 pieces. Roll each piece out on a lightly dusted board into a log 2" in diameter. On an ungreased baking sheet, place two logs lengthwise several inches apart. Press the tops down just a bit and brush with a little egg wash. If you haven't enough sheet pans to assemble and bake all dough at once, return the unused dough to the fridge, as it works best chilled.

Bake for 20 minutes at 375. If baking more than one sheet pan at a time, place them in the top and bottom thirds of the oven and switch after the first 10 minutes. Do not let the logs bake beyond a pale golden brown. Remove from oven and cool (baked logs can be carefully removed from sheet pan and transferred to cooling rack if the pans are needed for the rest of the dough). Reduce temperature to 275. Cut each log at a 45 degree angle into cookies. Lay them flat on sheet pans. Bake again for 30 minutes, turn over and bake 25-30 minutes again. For a much drier cookie, leave sheet pans in oven overnight with the pilot light on.

This recipe yields 6-7 dozen cookies.

I really should add some pics. I may do that soon...
Dine in, eat out, have fun.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Foraging, fishmongers and sandwich baskets

Spring has definitely sprung here in London. Along any feral pathway you'll find nettles ready to sting and borage ripe for the clipping. I plan on doing a harvest next week or on the weekend and making a bit of nettle sauce for pasta. If I'm feeling super adventurous, I may even make some Jerusalem Artichoke Gnocchi for the sauce and get a bit of Sheepdrove Farm beef for the fresh horseradish I've spotted at the green grocer in Hampstead.

One of the most amazing things about our new flat is nothing to do with the brick and mortar. It has do with someone who comes to visit weekly to pawn his wares from the back of his van. His name is Glenn and he drives down from the port of Grimsby every Tuesday right to our front door, van loaded with refrigerated, freshly caught (and some smoked!) fish. In only one try, we have the drill down: Glenn arives, rings my doorbell, I run down with cash in hand and he pulls, filets or cuts anything for me. Weighs it on his scale, wraps it up and I return home upstairs with fresh sea critters for dinner for one or two days (and even some lunch). The best part about it is he comes during Eamon's morning nap, so I can have a leisurely look and chat. I believe that as we get more familiar I'll be able to ask for special things, like oysters and urchins and cockles and things. Yesterday we got two fresh mackerel, fileted beautifully, which I seared and broiled, topped with cilantro+hot pepper+basil+lime and Maldon Sea Salt. Mmmmm. Tonight it'll be salmon. A whole guy.

Last week I discovered a gorgeous butcher shop in Maida Vale called Sheepdrove Organic Farm. Everything in their shop they raise, butcher and make into charcuterie themselves. We had lovely spicy Merguez, a brisket which I slow cooked with prune, apricot and shallot and I plan to go back for their pork roasts which are said to have wonderful cracklings. When I think of how much I love this shop I am a little bit shocked that I was ever a vegetarian. My 20 year old self would cringe!

The most wonderful opportunity is created by moving to a country that has a completely different electrical grid. It means you have to buy all new kitchen appliances. I have yet to see if I fall in love with my slices/dices/does the laundry kitchen machine by Kenwood, but no matter! I am absolutely over the moon about my Dualit toaster. Sandwich cages! What a revelation, to pop a bit of leftovers in between some bread, into the cage, cage into the toaster. Cary on with my "work" and then return to a gorgeous sandwich. Hot, no less. I am hoping the US starts to carry this model by 2012 or whenever it is we return...

One more discovery in Hamsptead has been the crepe stand that lures me in every time I "pass" by, in spite of its ridiculously long line. Shortest wait time yet was 35 minutes. Longest was 1 hour, note to self, don't go just when school lets out. Teenagers come in droves to get sugar and butter crepes. Okay, salivating just writing this. I should be embarrased that I took this picture of their trash, but you have to commend them on their quality ingredients. That is my favorite creme de marron, and they use only free range eggs, plus the flour is high grade. Now the butter... they literally use about a half stick for one savory crepe, so I wonder how the quality is on that. Still, this is England and therefore the EU and therefore a bit more consciencious about the provenance of foods.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Battenberg Cake, Sausage Rolls and Ploughman's Pickle

There have been many walks around London, some resulting in great little bites, some starving and settling on just a quick bite of my new found love, Sausage Rolls. They come in many forms, freshly made at small boutique style food shops like A. Gold near Spitalfields Market, maybe pre-packed and warmed at a kebab shop or just after a quick pop into Marks and Spencer... No matter what form, I love them!
While on a walk with a good friend covering the Southbank of the Thames we found ourselves at the Borough Market. Unfortunately it was a day that the market was not open, so instead of seeing how the market functions, loading up on fruits and veggies and gorgeous charcuterie, we saw the inner workings. The smell was lovely by the way, so I am looking forward to another visit with great anticipation.
Another place that we found, which I have coveted for so very very long was Neal's Yard Dairy. Of course, it was Sunday, so the only day of the week they are closed! Also on the walk was Gabriel's Wharf, a giant open air courtyard poised in between print shops, food shops and some small galleries. We had a mediocre crepe that was in no way french (filled with gooey cheese, bacon, egg and frankfurter!) but kind of hit the spot! The really great part about Gabriel's Wharf is the common area in between all of these shops- there are enormous carved benches and tables and strange scultpures that kids crawl all over. Some rock. Fun.

Our friends Dave and Wayne joined us recently for a simple homemade dinner and brought this gorgeous red wine. I have to start studying up on my European wines... the studying is so fun, I don't mind the task at all!.

There was another food discovery on yet another walk through Chalk Farm/Primrose Hill/Camden along the canal that takes you through these areas and to the zoo... Battenberg Cake! This one was from Melrose and Morgan, a place which is fast becoming very dear to me. Eating a Battenberg Cake is a treat but also a little slice of history, knowing that Ernest Shackleton loaded up his Antarctic expedition ship with a great stock of them. It makes you feel well fortified for walking around the mucky streets of London, which they were on this rainy day. Also on the walk was a great looking place Sean and I will have to visit called Belgo Noord, a gastropub which seems to specialize in Belgian Ale, Moules Frites, etc etc. We'll have to go soon, since the just the mention of it makes me crave what they have to offer.

Now there are two more places I would like to try. One will probably happen sooner: Everyman Theatre in Hampstead. It seems like an upscale version of The Parkway in Lake Merritt back in Oakland, California.
Last but not least, there is the crazy Chinese Restaurant, Feng Shang Princess, which I saw with our friend Wayne on the canal that leads into The London Zoo. It's a funny little floating pagoda. We'll see if it's ptomaine on water or something special.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Frijoles de Olla, Treacle Tart with Clotted Cream and Fig Balls

Easy beans.
A couple of years ago, my cousin Nesteren, who is a talented ceramist made me three beautiful earthenware pots- great for a hearty portion of dinner or lunch. I could fit in a confit duck leg on leftover lentils, a spot of pork shoulder, stew, cozidos, you name it, all in a tidy little package. About a year ago I decided to cook more beans for use during the week and these pots were the perfect piece of equipment for my technique. They are literally pint sized (14-16 oz each), and if you don't have a gifted cousin who can whip up some earthenware pots for you, an alternative is using a small bean pot, Staub or Le Creuset's smallest tight sealing casseroles.
Here's the recipe:
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Pick through 1 cup of dry beans (cannelinis, garbanzos, pintos, black turtles, christmas limas, limas... etc, just not lentils). Add to pot, throw in a fresh or dried bay leaf, cover with water to the brim and place it in the oven. After about 2 hours, check the beans for tenderness. If they have softened, add 1t kosher salt (or more if you like your beans salty) and 1T olive oil. Return pot to oven for 20-30 minutes. The beans are now ready to eat!
So, you can add in other seasonings at the start of the process: whole black peppercorns, thyme, sage, a small cinnamon stick, a piece of allspice... just no salt until the end.

Treacle Tart
After I made this tart, I read that it's a favorite of Harry Potter. Still not sure if that makes me feel excited or a little silly. On our recent visit to London, we sought out a gorgeous and very British fancy food deli called Melrose and Morgan. We had a delicious Beet and Kohlrabi Gratin as well as Sausage Rolls, Cornish Pasties and some nice Lentil Salad.
Of course I've been obsessed with their menus since we left, so today they had Treacle Tart listed, so I had to make it. I found a recipe on BBC online and after a couple of hours, mmmm, Treacle Tart.
It's ridiculously simple to make and very, very nice. At the end of making it I needed clotted cream, which also turned out to be quite simple. I imagine I'll continue to make clotted cream at home, although I'm moving to the Land of Clotted Cream.
Here's the recipe:
Cook 1 pint of heavy cream (raw is best) in a bowl over simmering water until it's reduced my half. It will thicken and form a golden crust. Cover the bowl and let stand at room temp for 2 hours, then refrigerate at least 12 hours. Stir the crust into the cream before serving. The cream will keep for up to 4 days.

Fig Balls
I have my good friend Sara to thank for my most recent obsession... Palloni di Fichi (Fig Balls).
The Cosentinan recipe is fairly simple but quite specific- Calabrian figs are slightly roasted, tossed with honey and molasses, then 20-25 are shaped into a ball, wrapped in a fig leaf, tied in straw, then roasted again. The flavors are earthy and slightly smoky. The consistency is chewy and sticky and they are an impressive companion of soft ripe cheeses, fresh pecorino, drippy gorgonzola. I bought mine from D'Italia.