Saturday, 25 December 2010

Twas the night before Chirstmas...

... when all through the house.
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
So to the kitchen I went, wooden spoon in hand.
To cook up a frenzy as a one-woman baking band!

Chirstmas! Food! Stuff yourself stupid until you can't move and pass out!

I always love coming home for Christmas - the fridge is full to breaking point with half the contents on Marks & Spencer and there are so many exciting cheeses, chocolates, wines and more that I could easily eat myself silly for a good month without leaving the house to refuel. So, as if there wasn't enough to consume already I decided yesterday that how better to get in the festive spirit than to bake cinnamon stars and mincemeat cheecake and then slump in front of the TV to watch Love Actually (again). So that's exactly what I did...

Now I'm not a fair-weather cinnamon-junkie, oh no for me it's a year-round obsession that can fortunately be flaunted publicly as the official 'essence of Christmas' as soon as the Starbucks red cups come out. It might have been gold, frankincense and myrrh that the three wise men brought to baby Jesus that night but really who knows what frankincense and myrrh smell like (gold is gold who cares what it smells like when it looks so pretty), I think we should update the tale and bring on cinnamon, cloves and, oh go on then, gold. Anyway before I re-write the entire story of Christmas, thankfully it's not just me that's obsessed with cinnamon: the Americans LOVE the stuff and the Germans are pretty fond of it too, bringing us our first creation:

Cinnamon Star Biscuits
(makes about 40 depending ohn the size of your stars)

300g plain flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp mixed spice
1/2 to 1 tsp cinnamon (depending on the level of obsession...)
100g softened unsalted butter
200g golden caster sugar
1 large egg, beaten

Sift the flour, baking powder, spices and a pinch of salt together. Cream together the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy, then gradually beat in the egg (left).

Add the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly, add drops of cold water as needed to bind the dough.

Press the dough into a disc and wrap (in clingfilm or a plastic bag) and pop in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

Heat the oven to 180 (160 if it's fan). Well flour your surface (don't want your stars to get stuck and deformed now do you? I totally didn't do that the first time, uhum...) and your rolling pin and roll the dough out to about the thickness of a pound coin. Stamp out your shapes (stars are the classic but go rogue and go for Christmas trees if you fancy a bigger biscuit) and keep re-balling and re-rolling and stamping until you've rinsed out your dough for all it's worth.

Lay on parchment-lined baking trays and pop in the oven for 15-20 minutes or until they are gorgeously lightly golden. Let cool (and do a taste test, of course). You could ice them to be trad but I didn't bother because that'd only dilute the cinnamon...

But my festive baking frenzy didn't stop there. I'm not a huge fan of Christmas pudding. To be honest, I think I may have never had it on Christmas Day (I may, shh, never have had it at all...). My grandmother alway used to bake the most gloriously fluffy, goo-ily meringue-y pavlova for Christmas dinner. I know, higly unconventional but how could you opt for a solid fruitcake over that glory? Everytime. Anyway my grandmother has now stopped baking so I thought it was high time I took up the alternative Day dessert mantle. I saw Nigel Slater's Mincemeat Cheesecake recipe in the OFM a few weeks back and that was it. Suitably festive and suitably tempting, he'd done it. And a new era of family Christmas dessert is born (hopefully).

Christmas Cheesecake
serves 8-10

As Nige says, you might find that your cheesecake cracks across the top as it cools (mine did - I maintain it adds to the 'homemade' look - and you can hide it with a bit of festive holly...). But if you are anti-cracks, Nige suggests you bake it in a water bath. so insted of placing on a baking tray, half-fill a roasting tin with water and lower the uncooked cheesecake into it and bake as suggested.

For the base:
65g butter
300g digestive biscuits or shortbread (it's Scottish innit so obviously went for shortbread)

For the filling:
600g full fat cream cheese
200g  golden caster sugar
4 eggs plus one extra yolk
zest of one small orange (plus some extra to garnish)
few drops vanilla extract
300g sour cream
250g mincemeat

You want a round cake tin with a removable base about 22cm in diameter and 7.5cm deep. Line it with baking parchment. To make the base first smash up your shortbread (or biscuits). Food processor would be best, but in its absence I improvised with a mashing mallet and angry thoughts.

Melt the butter in a large saucepan and mix in the shortbread crumbs. Tip the glistening crumb mix into the tin and smooth out (don't mash it down). Put in the firdge for half an hour to set.

While it's in there, set the oven to 140 and make the filling. Put the cream cheese and sugar in a bowl (or food processor) and blend for a couple of minutes until smooth. Add the eggs then the extra yolk one by one, beating thoroughly and scrapping the sides inward if needed. Add the zest and the vanilla extract and blend with the food processor or hand blender. With just a spoon or spatula, mix in the soured cream. Then fold in the mincemeat gently.


Take the base out the fridge and place it on a piece of baking parchment on a baking tray. Pour in the filling mixture. Bake in the oven for an hour. The middle will still seem uncooked and wobbly but do not fear. After the hour, turn the oven off but leave the cheesecake in the hour for another hour with the door shut. After, remove from the oven, allow to cool then set in the fridge overnight (do this, you don't want a wobbly cheesecake). In the morning (Christmas morning!), remove from the fridge and garnish with orange zest, and if you fancy, holly. Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

SW London goes global

The latest in my series of SW London restuarant mini-reviews for the lovely people at Heaver Magazine - took the ol' hood global with a whistle-stop culinery tour through Korean, Italian, Japanese, French and Argentinian (Entrée (French), Bistro Delicat (Austrian), Lola Roja (Spanish) and Doukan (Moroccan) are other notiable entries that missed out on the global stage as they'd already been reviewed).

Manson (SW6)
The owners of secret-gem gastropub The Sands End have upped their game to a fully-fledge restaurant in Manson, bringing in ex-Ramsay protégé chef Gemma Tuley to give a very un-pubby gastro French flair to their brassiere-style offering. Knowledgeable young things explain the menu peppered with ‘my favourite’ and appetite-whetting descriptions of the more inventive twists on classics sitting t alongside the untwist-ables such as oysters, terrine and lobster thermidor with truffle mash (don’t leave until you’ve tried it). But it’s the sharp presentation and interesting execution which lifts Manson head and shoulders above your average local restaurant and that will make it a classic.

676 Fulham Road
Parsons Green
020 7384 9559

Red Monkey Lounge (SW11)
Past the burly Friday-night bouncer and through the dimly-lit, packed bar isn’t where you expect to find fine sushi but find you shall, with an Asian-infused cocktail in hand. The menu is tapas-style and with a kitchen headed up by ex-Sake No Hana chef Pawal Wiktorek, these are no average bar snacks. Platters (kushiyaki, katsu or tempura) offer an easy introduction, with the grilled ‘kushiyaki’ selection including buttery belly pork, marinated just-done beef and a multitude of marinated veg. Sushi is super-fresh, while tuna katsu and spice ika (deep-fried strips of squid) are battered with the lightest of hands. Plus with three karaoke ‘pods’ downstairs, you can even sing for your supper.

Just a couple of tempting snaps (it was very dark and I, um, kept on diving in before I snapped... well I did say they were tempting - spider maki and the lightest tuna katsu)

Red Monkey Lounge
50-52 Battersea Rise
SW11 1EG
020 7924 6288

Franco Manca (SW9)
All the accolades heaped upon Brixton pizzeria Franco Manca don’t weigh heavy on their produce – the sourdough bases are feather-light, while meticulously-sourced toppings are more-ishly minimal. With only six pizzas and two wines to choose from on the menu, it won’t be long until your choice is out of the wood-fired ovens specially imported from Naples and in front of you. Only open when the market is (which roughly equates to Monday to Saturday lunchtimes) the queue is almost as famous as the food, but if you’re not one for queuing (or lunchtimes) the recently opened Chiswick addition is an authentic export with an added reservations line.

Franco Manca
4 Market Row
Electric Lane
020 7738 3021

Santa Maria del Sur (SW8) - you know how much I love this one!
Argentina is generally known for two things: Evita and steak. Focusing on the latter (sorry Madge) has seen Santa Maria’s steady rise to South London fame and a recent appearance on Gordon Ramsay’s The F Word. You don’t come here for anything but steak, starters are nothing sensational (grilled cheese, chorizo, Serrano ham), but the steaks, oh the steaks – from 8oz to a pound of fillet, sirloin, rib-eye or rump – are served plain and simple (you can order sauces but that would be defying the point). The wine list, like the beef, is born and raised Argentinean and equally juicy and delicious. Argentina will be crying that this one got away.

Santa Maria del Sur
129 Queenstown Road
020 7622 2088

Cah Chi (SW18)
Korean food might not get the top-billing of its Chinese and Japanese neighbours, but Cah Chi is no bit part. The star of the SW London Korean scene at their New Malden branch, the Earlsfield incarnation loses some of the more unusual dishes but excels in the crowd-pleasing barbecued fare. But don’t dive straight for your hot plate: glistening translucent dumplings and spicy stir-fries whet your appetite nicely before the table-top barbecue is revealed and your choice of meat sizzled then wrapped in a lettuce leaf with spring onions and Korean ‘miso’ called chang. With green-tea cheesecake and sake to round things off, plus a BYO on wine, Cah Chi is sure to come to play a regular role.

On our visit we opted for the set menu - hit me:

Our 'amuse bouche': fried soya beans, various (slightly mystery) pickled veg and a very-mash-potato-like potato salad... not a highlight, but there was plenty more to come.

Miso soup and more salad, we're getting warmer...

Now this was more like it and they were coming down thick and fast: vegetable stir fried noodles...

Delicately shiny pork dumplings...

And hot hot hot squid stir fry... yum.

But this is what it's all about: the barbeque. Over came the waitress, the middle of our table taken out, hot plate lit and we watched on tender hooks as she deftly chopsticked the sizzling pork (it was near as damnit bacon, mmm) until it was crispily perfect.

Then to add a 'healthy' element the bac...uhum.. pork was wrapped in a little lettace leaf 'pancake' with shredded spring onions and kang (miso-like) sauce... refreshingly delicious.

Now I don't normally opt for desserts in Asian restaurants a) because I'm normally so stuffed and b) I have, shall we say, a few bad experiences. But green tea cheesecake? My favourite dessert on a health kick? How could I resist. And I was pleasantly surprised... especially when washed down with sake and sticky sweet plum wine.

Cah Chi
394 Garratt Lane
SW18 4HP
020 8946 8811

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Feel the beet: Duck, beetroot and walnut warm salad

Sometimes the Boy does things I'd just never consider to do. Like buy a whole duck because it's in the reduced price section late on a Thursday night. But you know there is method to his madness. After he had hacked it to bits with a carving knife and distributed to various plastic bags... Duck legs baked with orange and other delights one night, duck stock turned into a richly meaty pumpkin and chorizo soup. And then this little discovery.

Warm salad of duck breast with beetroot and walnuts
serves 2

1 large or two small duck breasts (skin on and scored)

For the beetroot puree:
100ml sweet sherry
1 tbsp sherry vinegar
1/2 red onion, chopped
2 cooked beetroot
pinch smoked paprika
pinch brown sugar

For the beetroot dressing:
3 tbsp olive oil
1tsp Dijon mustard
pinch salt
pinch sugar

To serve:
2 handfuls watercress, spinach and rocket salad
1 handful toasted walnuts
reserved beetroot puree

Heat oven to 180. Season the duck, heat an ovenproof frying pan over a high heat, add the duck skin-side down and fry for 2-3minutes on each side until golden brown. Transfer to oven and cook for 8-10mins, until still slightly pink in the middle. Remove and set aside on a warm covered plate (reserve any juices from the pan too).

For the beetroot puree, add the sherry, vinegar, red onion and beetroot to a pan with the duck juices in it and sprinkle over that pinch of smoked paprika. Bring to the boil and then simmer for 3-4 mins until its reduced by a third. Keep a couple fo tablespoons of the mixture for the dressing and blend the rest with the brown sugar in a food processor to silky smooth.

For the dressing, whisk reserved beetroot mixture, olive oil, mustard and pinch salt and sugar, then strain and keep the juicy liquids.

To serve carve the duck into 1cm thick slices. Arrange leave in the centre of the plat , arrange duck slices on top. Drizzle over the dressing and sprinkle with wlanuts. Dot the beetroot puree around the edge of the plate. Voila. Looks pretty pretty as well as tasting damn good. Love an autumnal salad.

Blanc-ity Blanc: A taste of Le Manoir aux Quat'Saison

Sometimes my job takes me to some pretty nice places. I'm not going to go on about it, so I'll just leave you with the photos of a trip to heaven and back, to Raymond Blanc's famous Le Manoir. If I die this is where I want to go... As we swept through the gate in my old Clio, me a bit hungover clutching an empty coffee cup and ham and cheese panini wrapper from the service station (it revived me), everything else melted away. It was like we were entering a different world where everything moved just a little more leisurely, everyone was just a little more polite and everything was just a little more perfect. The grass, the house, the staff; all had that soft, understated yet exclusive cashmere finish. And as soon as I stepped blinking out of the car (mid-tweeting), was greeted, handed over my car keys and whisked straight to our room (that's right no check-in) it was like I was being wrapped up in the softest, warmest, most fragrant cashmere blanket. And I never wanted to come out of this cocoon.

A sweet introduction....

And to kick off the main event: Garden beetroot terrine, dill cream and horseradish sauce (served with Pouilly-Fuisse Clos Varambon 2007 Chateau des Rontets) Fresh, light and palette clensing to set the scene.

Risotto of wild mushrooms, mascarpone, truffle cream. I must be dreaming, Rich, flavours on amplified, smooth, this is what heaven tastes like...

Braised fillet of wild gill-netted brill, cornish assured oyster, cucumber and wasabi beurre blanc (served with Riesling 2008 Domaine Trimbach). A hint of Asia wooshed through this dish with the wasabi bringing out the fresh flavours.

Roasted breast and confit of Goosnargh duck, turnip gratin, yuzu curd; jasmine tea and ginger sauce - continuing the Asian theme. Although I have to admit that I had trouble concentrating on this dish as the man himself had joined our journo table for a chat and was sitting right next to me. Oh why, oh why had I not cribbed up on his biography first... maybe I would have asked some sensible questions then.

Coeur de Guanaja chocolate gelee, star anis and pear sorbet. I have to admit I wasn't the hugest fan of this it tasted like watered down chocolate and the flavour of the sorbet was just lost in the wash-out. Sorry Raym..

But the dessert wine (Muscat de Lunel 2007 Cuvee Vieilles Vignes, Clos Bellevue) and make you melt petit fours more than made up for it. As well as grilling the editor of Restaurant magazine on his favourite restaurants... it was (unsurprisingly after their top 100 restaurants were announced) The Ledbury. Another reason to get myself there. So I went to bed to dream of food.

Althought there was still room the next morning for more. Oh it was a breakfast-buffet lovers dream. Cheese... Meats... Breads... Fruits... all of about ten varieties with little chalked on mini slate pieces name tags. I could have stayed all morning.

But there was just enough time to walk off breakfast and the food in the almost as famous gardens. My favourite: the Japanese tea garden.

And one hell of a vegetable patch...

Goodbye Le Manoir... Goodbye Raym. Thanks for the taste of the good life.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Home on the range: The Big Birthday Blow-out

So it's kind of become traditional that birthdays = Boy cooking like he's never cooked before (and me losing him for most of the day to Borough market). So on Saturday it was that day, and I was well excited.

I had no idea what I was going to get. After a pork and silton burger at Borough I was cast loose, while he sourced his supplies. I had a kiwi smoothie, do love a kiwi smoothie, and tried to re-ignite my hunger pangs... it was 3pm by now...

Back home and the scene was set: candles, flowers, Cinematic Orchestra CD on... I was waiting. And couldn't resist a nosey:

Mmmm. I was banished, the first course was up:

Fried Scallops with saffron potatoes, asparagus and samphire (courtesy of Ottolenghi)
serves 2 as a starter

200g potatoes, peeled and cut into little cubes
pinch of saffron
1 small tomato
20g samphire
4 asparagus spears
4 medium-large fresh scallops

For the aioli:
4 garlic cloves, peeled
50ml olive oil
50ml sunflower oil
1 free-range egg yolk
 1 tsp white wine vinegar
1/8 tsp Dijon mustard
pinch of salt

Make aioli first: heat oven to 150 and roast the garlic cloves wrapped in a sheet of foil for 25-35minutes. Remove, cool and mash with a fork. Mix the olive and sunflower oil. In a seperate bowl, combine egg yolk, vinegar, mustard, garlic, salt and a good grind of pepper. whisk by hand or in a food processor while slowly drizzling the oil. The end result should be thick (like mayo) so adjust oil accordingly and season to taste.

Put the potatoes in a medium saucepan, cover with cold water, then add the saffron and a generous pinch of salt. Bring to the boil then reduce to a simmer for 6-8 minutes so the potatoes are still slightly firm. Drain and cool. While the potatoes are on, cut the tomato into 4 wedges and remove the seeds, cut each quarter into a fine dice (about 1/2cm).

Wash the samphire then throw in a pan of boiling water for just 1 minute and scoop it out and rinse in cold water. Trim the asparagusand cut each spear into 3cm pieces - drop in the pan from the samphire and simmer for 2-3minute then drain and rinse in cold water.

To serve heat 2 large frying pans with 1tbsp olive oil each. When piping hot add potatoes to one of the pans. Toss them to get some colourand then add asparagus and samphire to warm them up. Taste and season. At the same time, give scallops a good season and pop in the other pan. Sear for 30-50 second til each side is just cooked (want to keep them good and let in the mouthy). Divide warm scallops and veg between two plates ans spoon a wee dollop of aioli, garnished with the tomato and a drizzle of oil. Definitely one to impress and impress it did. Especially accompanied with champagne...

 After I went to heaven and back with the first course, out came the wine from Artisan and Vine: Birichino Malvasia Bianca. It smelt like the breeze on some exotic holiday: eldeflower, jasmine, lime. But it was just teasing you, like a woman wafting her perfume, the first sip revealed it was pleasingly bone dry. But then I was distracted by the sound of roaring flames from the kitchen.

Someone was getting a bit enthusiastic with his flambéing. Round two was up:

Chicken with tarragon sauce (courtesy of John Torode's Chicken and Other Birds), served with a roasted garlic and carrot mash and green beans
Serves 2

2 chicken breasts skin on
100ml brandy
100ml creme fraiche
handful chopped parsley
handfull torn tarragon leaves

Heat a heavy frying pan over a medium heat and add a little olive oil. Season the chicken well and pop skin-side down into the pan. Cook for a good 8 minutes, then turn and cook the same. Check it is cooked through, then remove it from the pan and keep warm.

Crank up the heat on the pan to very high (everytime I read this instruction I hear Jim Carrey in the Mask: 'Smoooooooooooooookin' It haunts me). Add the brandy and carefully (uhum) flame it to burn off the harsh alcohol taste. Shake or stir to get in the good pan juices and sticky bits on the pan. Stir in the creme fraiche then taste and season. Bring to the boil and reduce by half. Add most of the parsley and tarragon. Serve the sauce with the chicken pouring over the brown juices that come with the rested chicken. Sprinkle with the remains for the herbs and serve. Voila!

And that was were the cooking ended and we moved on to Waitrose's apricot tart, ice cream, cheese, more cheese, port... well the Boy couldn't stay in the kitchen all night after all.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Birthdays and bacon foam: Galvin at Windows

Lunchtime is under-rated. And lunchtime at top London restaurants is usually under-priced and under-booked - the creme of London's dining scene at under £30 for 3 courses? Yes please, sign me up. Unfortunately a little thing called work gets in the way of these weekday lunchtime indulgences usually but last Tuesday was my birthday. I don't do work on birthdays.

So the Pastry Mum came down from Glasgow and took me (and the bro) to Galvin at Windows. Man, I love birthdays (and I still had the Boy's extravaganza on Saturday... can it live up to?) I haven't been to that many hotel restaurants in London, and that doesn't really have much to do with not having stayed at any of the big London hotels. They are just normal so... out of reach, and yes that does often mean overpriced. They cater to a, uhum, more international cliental, ie. those who could actually afford their room rates. But they do attract some of the heavyweight chefs (Koffman, Ramsay et al) and often the stars (I mean Michelin not celebrities) to back it up. So I knew what to expect - waiters like bees to a honeypot flapping and flumping napkins and pulling chairs. What I didn't expect, although I knew they would be, was the view. Wowsers.

As we were on the lunch deal we weren't allowed near the a la carte but set menus (even Arbutus' two choicer number) never bother me... I'll eat anything.

It took me two seconds to decide - the words foie gras and cuttlefish did it for me. Oh and a rather nice bottle of Gavi (the wine list actually starts from around £18 which was refreshing).

You couldn't fault the starter, but hey a good foie gras is a safe choice, and it came with perfectly toasted, napkin wrapped bread to spread it on. Although, as usual, I ran out before the gras did... I can never get it right.

The main though was the deal clincher. And we all ordered it. I wouldn't normally go for a full house ('What!? I'm not going to even see (let alone have a sneaky taste of) the others?!') but I wasn't going to give up the cuttlefish, although it transpired my mother would - she doesn't do fish without scales. Of course it was perfectly balanced: the fresh bream, the soft cuttlefish flavour and texture, the sweet tartness of the onions, the light but richly flavoured risotto and the devilishly creamy bacon foam. Aah the foam.

The dessert is always a bit of an aftertought my family but after the all-round main we went one of each.


I won with the almond pannacotta and blackberry compote - I was scraping the glass with my little spoon in a most unladylike like manner. I would have probably tried to lick it if the waiters hadn't whipped in with:

Woo! Lest I forget it's my birthday. And there was just time for some homemade marshmallows, which tasted like I imagined clouds would if they were made of sugar - like inhaling light, flumpy morsels of sweetness (reminds me I must dig out that recipe for homemade marshmallows and give it a whirl).

Oh and a sighting of Russell Brand. But even that wasn't going to sour the experience.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Gone fishing: Smoked mackerel and bacon cakes

I'd never had fish cakes until a couple of years ago. Really. I'm not sure why or how, I guess I was more a battered fish and chips kind of child, but they are a midweek meal revelation. Meat and potatoes in one dish! You don't even need a side, it's all there self-contained in one plump little pattie. Weaning myself in on M&S ones, it was high time to graduate to making my own, step in Nigel Slater's...

Smoked mackerel and bacon cakes
Serves 4 (here I halved quanities for 2)

400g floury potatoes
150g smoked streaky bacon
3 spring onions
1tbsp olive oil
250g smoked mackerel flesh
oil for cooking
flour for dusting
lemon halves to serve

Peel and pop the potatos on to boil. While they're simmering away put the bacon and roughly chopped spring onions in the food processor and whizz until they look soft and sort of crumbly (left).

Once the potatoes are boiled, drain and mash away. Fry up the onions and bacon mix in oil until golden and tasty smelling and then tip them into the mashed potato. Flake the mackerel flesh into the mix and stir through, seasoning with a bit of salt and pepper.

Now for the fun part, flour up a backing tray and with floury hand shape your patties and leave on the tray in a cool place (I went for by an open window) for 20 minutes.

Heat a couple of tablespoons of oil in a frying pan. dust each cake with some of the flour from the tray and pop in the hot oil. Fry for a about 4 minutes on each side until they are crisp and golden, mmmm. Serve with the lemon half, some salad and, if you are feeling well crazy, some creme fraiche or tartare sauce. Yum.