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.