Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Historic dining out and wines from Bath

I hate writing short posts. I hardly ever do it, but if I haven't yet visited a restaurant what do I have to write aside from a short list of expectations embellished by anticipations. But as I write this post and commit to posting it, I lock myself into trying these places.

A few days back I discovered a little blog that I liked and am sad to say, seems to be left fallow even more than mine. Still the 3 posts that it has are noteworthy and now I am very excited to try out Kettner's in Soho. I am looking forward to trying their brasserie, love dining in an historic (opened in 1867 by Napoleon III's chef, Kettner) and yet still gorgeously lush (the champagne bar seems to have a lovely speakeasy feel) setting and am tickled that I have a partner in crime who would like to ditch the kids one day and have tea at The Pudding Bar. How could you not adore that name?

And a little more down market, but probably just as thrilling is a place that may very well satisfy my craving for bahn mi, pho and the like. I just read here and there and here about Bahn Mi Bay in Bloomsbury. Sure, I'll have to make it a day trip, rather than the little pop round the corner I had in San Francisco, but for good pho and good bahn mi, I'll manage. Plus I can pop in and carry it all over to Coram's Fields and happily munch while the munchkin plays. I can already tasted the pate, feel the crunch of the crusty bread and pickled whatnots inside. Maggi sauce awaits!

Alright, that's two restaurant visits I have to make good on, onwards into the wine...
Since moving to London in early 2009, I have been very disloyal to every wine shop I encounter. I've dabbled. I brought home bottles jammed in the bottom of the buggy from Kew, sat on the bus for an hour just to bring home a little this and that from The Winery and even nurtured a relationship with our local wine expert at Nicholas (sadly he seems to have moved back to France). The other big names, Jeroboams, Odd Bins, Majestic have seen me pop in from time to time, often making use of their delivery offers. But the latest long arm reach for wine has been so successful I may abandon most of my London wine shops for good (I will go back on this, I know I will, of course I will) as I have been delighted by the February Case selection from Great Western Wine in Bath. I discovered them very much by accident back in January while searching the google maps for the guest house that accommodated us for a mini break while my folks were in town. Bland name recalling long uncomfortable journeys on National Rail, sneaking someone's reserved seat since we were last minute and they never showed, GWW is nothing like their name. The palate of the wine buyers there is distinct. I am far from a wine snob and the longer I live in the EU, the more ignorant I feel, but there you are- an unassuming wine shop that will make every bottle seem a treat to this food pairer. Loads of good tasting notes. New world, old world. Heavy hitters, gulpers and a couple of subtle reds from France in the last batch. Friday I will be enjoying the first of my two cases I just ordered- Bin Ends and the March selection. Let's hope it's a long relationship.

Friday, March 4, 2011

It's that Tea Cakes time of year, again.

I've been a little extra enamored of my Tartine Cookbook this winter. The chill in the air coupled with a somewhat unreliable boiler (it was touch and go around Christmas) has turned me into someone who has the oven on constantly. Yet I'm a perfect candidate for an Aga... Who am I kidding though? I've always been that girl.

It all started with an overstocked of treacle (so Steamed Gingerbread Pudding) then moved on to a stockpile of bananas so ripe they went black. Perfect company for the dates we brought back from Marrakech which were in need of a dish to fill out (and so Banana Date Teacake). Poppyseeds in need of a home went into the very short lived Lemon Poppyseed Teacake (which sadly may prove itself much longer lived as chunk on my midrif). I feel that Tartine's authors, Elisabeth Prueitt and Chad Robertson, are a rarity in the current world of celebrity cooks.  They are very capable chefs who run a successful franchise while managing to publish cohesive, reliable and delicious recipes. I hope there will be more cookbooks and their careers will be long. What this Londoner wouldn't give for a quick stop in for their gougeres, to be devoured in Dolores Park in the afternoon sun (yes it's San Francisco so the sun is as rare as the Prueitt/Robertsons of the world, but there you go... my fantasy, my way).

Not until I accepted that the fragrant quince-pear puree I had lovingly simmered was not going to magically transform into membrillo unless I got on the ball did my baking spree depart from the Tartine book (with a little shortbread cameo from my other desert island book- the Baker's Dozen cookbook). I searched and searched for the recipe that would hit all of the things I wanted in my tea cake- to use up all my puree, to have nice crumb aided by my backstock of semolina and yield deep earthy undertones by using olive oil. On my hunt, I found some nice things to try in the future- Egyptian Basbousa, American Applesauce Cake, Italian Olive Oil Cake, etc etc... Then I just decided to wing it. I mean I used to be a professional baker, right?
Luckily the gods were smiling at me on the first try. I like the cake recipe I came up, although I may try to add a little more acid in the form of yogurt to give it more levity on the next go. But sitting here with a slice and cup of, looking out my window at London at large, this will do.


2 cups hard winter or bread flour
1 cup semolina
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon chunky sea salt (e.g., Maldon)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 cup raisins
1/2 cup + 2 T olive oil
2 1/2 cups quince puree*

Into a mixing bowl, sift together the dry ingredients. Add raisins, oil and quince puree. Beat until well blended. Pour batter into greased and sugared 11" x 7"  loaf pan. Bake at 190ÂșC/ 375°F for 55 minutes. Check cake's moisture before removing from oven. I use a fan assisted oven, so if yours is strictly conventional, your time may be longer by around 10 minutes.

*To make Quince puree:
Core and quarter one large quince and 6 small bosc pears. Place in a saucepan with 1/2 cup sugar. Drop in an optional 2" piece of fresh ginger, smashed slightly. Cover with water and simmer until the quince is quite soft, about 2 hours. Allow to cool so easier to handle and then run the solids through a food mill, retaining the liquid and adding this back to the mashed solids. Alternately, I used a potato ricer and then carefully pressed the mash through a medium sieve to remove any pips or bits of skin. This recipe should yield around 3 cups. (p.s. If you have extra it mixes nicely with gin and ice for a shaken cocktail)