Archive for April 2009

Alcoholic Architecture with Bompas and Parr

April 30th, 2009 — 2:06pm

Ever since I met Bompas and Parr back in January, I’ve been a truly devoted fan. I mean, who can fail to like people who make jelly for a living? And when they offered to whip me up some jellies for an upcoming bloggers dinner party (a ‘pork belly summit’ – a celebration of well, pork belly), I liked them even more. I nearly bit Sam’s arm off graciously accepted, a jelly exchange took place and after some brief unmoulding instructions via telephone – ta da! They were resplendent on the plate, wobbling and sliding around like nobody’s business.

The jellies were based on the shape of cogs and flavoured with Prosecco and fruit. My favourite was this rather glam version with gold leaf in the centre.

As three of the other bloggers were cooking a pork belly dish for the summit, I decided to make something different – another little homage to B & P in fact, something they served up at their Monnow Valley Drive Thru event – the magnificently named ‘Luther Burger’ (below). It is exactly what you think it is by the way – a Krispy Kreme with bacon in the middle. Now before you recoil in horror, think about it – sweet stuff works with bacon – take maple syrup for example. Don’t get me wrong, I found the idea slightly daunting to begin with but I was pleasantly surprised to find it does actually work (although as Sam himself admits – it is a seriously guilty pleasure).

If you think the Luther Burger is wacky, let me tell you that previous B & P events have included a ‘scratch ‘n’ sniff cinema‘, ‘flavour tripping‘ and these past two weekends, ‘alcoholic architecture’ – a walk in, breathable cocktail of (Hendrick’s) gin and (Fever Tree) tonic.

I arrived for my intoxicating mist fix at 8pm to find the charming Sam (Bompas) working the door (top photo), while simultaneously being interviewed, filmed and politely informing curious passers-by that the event was all sold out.

I was becoming increasingly over-excited at the prospect of entering as people started to emerge – slightly sticky and giggling – from the previous session. Before my time arrived however, Sam asked me if I would mind doing him a little favour by ‘doing the door’ while he nipped off somewhere for ten minutes. A few brief instructions, a clipboard thrust into my hands and he was gone. Adapting quickly to my role I placed a hand firmly on the shoulder of a punter slipping past, unaware of the queue. When she turned around I was pleased to see the smiling face of Ms Marmite Lover – chef and patron of the Underground Restaurant and now my partner in boozy crime.

When Sam returned to relieve me of the clipboard I realised that door duty had the added bonus of leaving us firmly at the front of the queue, first to be handed boiler suits and ushered in to the sounds of Spandau Ballet or something similar.

We ducked through to find ourselves in the changing rooms where we donned our oh so flattering boiler suits before twitpiccing ourselves for the amusement of others and moving through to the bar for preliminary refreshments (double gin and tonics).

I even managed to get a sneaky shot into the boys changing rooms (above) – all perfectly clean fun thank you very much – the suits go on over your clothes – although Sam did report that he had to stop a few people from actually stripping off lest all be revealed when the suit starts to get damp in the mist.

Here we paused to arse about taking photos for a bit before following the sign downstairs…

A spooky red lightbulb hung above the entrance door…

And we’re in…and it’s misty and, and…it tastes like gin and tonic! At first, all we do is laugh and tweet and take pictures and laugh some more. I’m amazed I actually have enough signal to receive a phone call halfway through the session, ‘I’m in a breathable cocktail!’ ‘A what?!’

The foggy room was actually very small, there were perhaps just twenty of us in there, all suited and giggling and er, sniffing because breathable gin and tonic makes your nose run…

To create the mist, B & P used the same technnology as the brilliant ‘Blind Light’ installation by Anthony Gormley at the Hayward Gallery back in 2007. Anthony’s mist however, was much denser – you literally couldn’t see your hand in front of your face. I mentioned this to Sam and he explained that, aside from the tehnicalities of vapourising alcohol, health and safety blah blah blah, the Blind Light installation cost a mere 40p per litre to vapourise – gin and tonic costs more in the region of £40.

We emerged after 40 minutes feeling sticky, slightly giddy and smelling faintly of booze. It’s definitely the strangest evening out I’ve enjoyed since some late night shenanigans at Bestival in 2007, which started with me crawling through the back of a sofa and ended with a fortune teller. I wouldn’t be hugely surprised if I heard that Bompas and Parr were behind it.

Keep an eye on the Bompas and Parr website for details of future events.

11 comments » | Drinks, Far Out Crazy, Lovely Food Producing People

Steak Tasting at Hawksmoor

April 26th, 2009 — 9:44am

Hawksmoor restaurant is a firm favourite among us bloggers. For me, they do the best steaks in London, hands down. Then, they managed to come up with what I consider the best burger too. Now, they are introducing a different guest breed each month in addition to their established Longhorns, so customers have the opportunity to compare them and, as Hawksmoor put it ‘savour the difference’.

So, all in the name of research, they asked if a group of us would like to come over and sample numerous different breeds and cuts of steak. Are you kidding? You would have to be certifiably mad (or vegetarian, no link intended), to turn that one down. That evening then, we worked our way through 17 – yes 17 different steaks. It was basically what I imagine being in heaven must be like.

Hawksmoor are also famous for making excellent drinks and on arrival we took refreshment in the form of this glorious tropical punch – perfect for the sunny weather. I cast aside any memories of lethal, tongue stripping student concoctions as the tangy mix of lemons, passion fruits, pineapples and subtle coconut blended perfectly.

Before the meat fest got underway, we jumped at the chance to get a sneak preview of the kitchen which is actually surprisingly small, with most of the space taken up by this massive charcoal grill. This is where the magic happens. Let the charring commence.

Our charming hosts for the evening, Will Beckett and Huw Gott were on hand to tell us everything we could possibly want to know about steak and I learned a lot – such as the difference between wet and dry ageing of beef. Wet is basically vacuum packed in plastic while dry aged beef is ‘hung’ and, although it may be loosely covered with muslin, it is not sealed in any way. Dry ageing is preferable as it gives a more deep, beefy flavour and soft texture but it also means that the beef shrinks, making it an unpopular method with the profit hungry. Hawksmoor of course, use only dry aged beef.

Now tantalisingly close to steak o’clock, we were provided with handy tasting sheets, which turned out to be absolutely essential as things started to get a little confusing after steak 9 or 10.

And then it started to arrive…and just kept on coming. We sampled 5 sirloins, 10 rib eyes, 1 rump chop and a flatiron. Almost all the steaks were cooked medium rare and, although I usually eat my steak rare, I think this was absolutely right for the tasting. The variation in colour between the steaks was extensive as was the difference in textures and flavours. Among my flavour tasting notes I have scribbled down words such as, ‘almost livery, deep, buttery, rich’ and for texture, ‘toothsome, tender, looser, soft, silky and smoky.’

We eventually tried to narrow it down to a top three – here are mine. At number three, the Ginger Pig Longhorn sirloin cut, which had an almost gamey flavour and was nearly up there with my number two, the Wild Beef South Devon sirloin – very deep and beefy in flavour with a hugely satisfying bite. I have written underneath, ‘SO BEEFY!’ – I was clearly excited. The number one for me and I think many of us though was the Ginger Pig Longhorn rib eye. This had a really silky texture, was rich and moist and had lots of lovely fat running through it which our corner of the table agreed was actually cheesy – Stilton-like in flavour. Amazing.

Along with all that meat we also devoured numerous bowls of salad, triple cooked chips and the most incredibly buttery béarnaise. Ooof.

After that truly epic meal, I must admit even my stomach of steel was beginning to feel a little fatigued. Thankfully I had remembered to wear a loose fitting top to go some way towards concealing the bloating. Despite our gorging however, my friend and I even managed to round off the meal with a Bompas and Parr designed pyramid jelly (even if we did spend more time wibbling it around than eating it) – now that is dedication. A massive thanks to Hawksmoor for such a fantastic evening – I honestly think I stumbled out on some sort of red meat high and it was totally worth the four days (porky visit to Szechuan restaurant aside) of vegetarianism afterwards.

As you can probably imagine, I have lots more pictures of steak – view them here.

157 Commercial Street
London E1 6BJ
Tel: 020 7247 7392

16 comments » | Meat, Restaurant Reviews

Saddle of Lamb Stuffed with Dates, Aubergines and Pistachios

April 19th, 2009 — 6:02pm

When I made this BBQ lamb recipe for my birthday meal last weekend, I deliberately didn’t take a photo of it so I had an excuse to make it again today. I could just feel the love for the recipe even before I tasted the final result. I used the date and aubergine stuffing recipe here but I did away with the pine nuts, adding pistachios instead which worked a treat.

I cannot take the credit for the brilliant idea of laying the lamb out all resplendent on the big bread (top photo), which is perfect for a bit of messy sharing with your mates. The kudos for that must go to Sally Butcher, who runs this shop and wrote this book from which I made this ice cream for the same birthday meal. Sally didn’t have the same gargantuan flat bread in stock that we bought last week (I don’t know the name) so instead we used naan, warmed through on the BBQ while the meat was resting.

I dolloped some garlicky, minty yoghurt on top for a bit of contrast and it lifted everything nicely, while also providing a sauce for the inevitable sandwich making. I cannot eat anything with bread without making some kind of sammich. Ever. You tear off a hunk of the naan, stuff it with the lamb and a few salad leaves plus yoghurt sauce and you’ve got yourself a piece of smoky BBQ heaven. The lamb was charred without, tender and blushing within and the stuffing sweet with Iranian dates (so deep they are almost chocolately) and scented ever so faintly with cinnamon.

I didn’t have any problems cooking the saddle on the BBQ by the way – a saddle being the bit that Barnsley chops are cut from – the saddle has then been boned to allow for stuffing. I have a kettle style BBQ and after some research I discovered that the way to cook something slowly is to light the coals in the middle of the BBQ, in a kind of volcano shape, then when the flames have all gone and you are left with coals which have a light grey ash coating, you move them into the sides. This gets the indirect heat circulating nicely around the kettle when you put the lid on. Not too much peeking either, as that obviously lets the heat out. I would say the saddle was about 5 inches long and took 50 minutes (ish) to cook.

Saddle of Lamb Stuffed with Dates, Aubergines and Pistachios

Like I said, the stuffing recipe is here but I swapped the pine nuts for pistachios and used a saddle of lamb instead of a leg. I removed the string that comes on the meat, opened it out, packed the stuffing into the middle and re-trussed it with fresh string. It is worth making sure that the string is covering the ends of the saddle too, to stop the stuffing falling out during cooking. Then I browned the lamb in a skillet to render some of the fat down before putting it on the BBQ.

27 comments » | Barbecue, Main Dishes, Meat, Sandwiches

Sake Tasting at Tsuru

April 13th, 2009 — 1:11pm

Before this recent tasting at Tsuru Sushi, I knew nothing about sake except that I like it. For this reason then, I tried to pay close attention to our very knowledgeable and experienced teacher, Ngaire Takano and I’ll try now to make the most of the barely legible notes I scribbled down at the time.

The evening kicked off with a minor meeting point fail, after which myself and two mates hurried down from London Bridge to the restaurant, which is tucked away behind the Tate Modern. We sunk a couple of cheeky Asahi beers and nibbled on edamame for refreshment, before getting down to to the main event – four different sakes.

The first was a Daiginjo-Shu sake, made using rice which has been ‘polished’ to 50% of its original weight – apparently a very fine sake. It tasted surprisingly soft and sugary with a light, peachy fruityness – not at all harsh like the (obviously poor quality) sake I have tasted many times before.

We were also served some food throughout the evening (although not to be strictly matched with the sake) and with the first drink arrived these light gyoza along with really good, seriously sticky teryaki chicken. I was pretty hungry what with it being dinner time and I could easily have demolished a whole pile of both.

Sake number two was also Daiginjo-Shu. This was crisper with a more intense flavour than the first sake – it also has more alcohol added to it. Apparently some sakes such as these need to be watched for 72 hours straight to ensure that the quality of the drink is maintained. During this time it is constantly tasted to make certain that the delicate balance of ingredients is just right. That’s some serious dedication. I can’t say I wouldn’t nod off. In fact, just how do they stay awake?

Us ladies weren’t allowed the ‘privilege’ of watching sake brew for 72 hours back in the day however. In fact, we weren’t even allowed near it as it was thought that our higher body temperatures would make the sake turn sour. At this point Ngaire took great pleasure in telling us that female sake makers today are actually producing a superior quality drink. Maybe it’s all that extra heat coming off us.

Our third sake was a Ginjo-Umeshu, made by preserving plums in ginjo sake (from what I remember ginjo has a little distilled alcohol added to it, to increase the aroma). This was a gorgeous brown colour from the fruit and was very sweet – almost like a dessert wine. Smooth and subtle. Between this and our last drink, we enjoyed some generous veggie and non-veggie sushi plates. A highlight for me was surprisingly the inarizushi (below) – sweet, delicious and partly responsible for my recent acceptance of tofu. We also enjoyed the rolls which my friend and I were delighted to find contained pickles. We really heart pickles.

Our fourth and final sake was a change to the advertised line-up – a Genmai aged brown rice sake, which we tried with a piece of chocolate brownie – a bit of a surprise combination to all of us but it worked well. The brownie was good, squidgy and chocolately and although the sake was a little heavy on its own, with the brownie it took on a more syrupy quality, again like a dessert wine or sherry.

Sake is a drink with an interesting history but is very labour intensive to produce and is generally shrinking in popularity due to the influx of wine and beer. There are a few sake lovers out there championing the cause however and we learned how some of these people are even starting to play around with flavours, infusing the sake with ginger, garlic or lemongrass for example. I assume this is intended for use in cooking. Glass of garlic sake anyone? No, didn’t think so.

I shall definitely be making an effort to drink more sake from now on, as I was pleasantly surprised by just how different the various types tasted. I found the evening very informative and the credit should definitely go to Ngaire Takano for this – her informal and fun style is backed up by fact that she really knows her stuff. Our tasting on this occasion was complementary, although I must add that was a complete surprise – I was there under the assumption I would be paying £18 for the evening and I won’t hesistate to recommend that you do the same.

4 Canvey Street
0207 928 2228

Tsuru on Urbanspoon

10 comments » | Drinks, Restaurant Reviews

Earl Grey Ice Cream with Chickpea Sweets

April 12th, 2009 — 1:48pm

Yesterday was my birthday and to celebrate, the man and I originally intended to visit Roka. At the last minute though, we decided to face up to the fact – we really can’t afford to fork out £150 for a meal right now. Of course, we could have done it ‘on the cheap’ but then I’m an all or nothing kind of woman so I decided – we would feast, but we would feast at home. I would cook my own birthday meal. Some people might despair at the thought of spending part of their birthday in the kitchen but, in case you hadn’t noticed, I like to cook.

I decided to go with an Iranian theme to the meal. Persia in Peckham is my favourite cook book at the moment and its author, Sally Butcher runs the shop – Persepolis, just down the road. When I reviewed the shop last year, she e-mailed me and invited me down for some tea and a chat. I needed some ingredients so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to take her up on the offer.

Sally is just as friendly and funny as she comes across in her book (which she kindly signed for me). She also enthusiastically answered my questions about her recipes and gave me a few tips on getting the best from the exotic ingredients. I’ve decided to tell you about the dessert first as it was just so incredibly delicious and I’m really not even a dessert person.

I must admit I actually stuffed it up the first time. In the recipe, Sally warns that if you let the eggy creamy mixture get too hot while thickening, it will scramble. She is absolutely right. I suggest not wandering off with a glass of wine for a chat at this point. Also, because this method doesn’t use an ice cream maker, I was left with a few ice crystals but it was great nonetheless. You could try taking it out of the freezer and whisking it up more often and then re-freezing if you can be bothered.

You may all be earl grey ice cream veterans but I’m pretty sure this was my first time. I drink it, I’ve smoked duck with it but I’ve never ice creamed it. Loved it. I also cannot imagine any better accompaniment than these chickpea sweets. Sally does provide a recipe for them in the book but I had to draw the line somewhere and just bought them from her shop instead (they are widely available in Iranian shops apparently). Like most Iranian sweets, they are fairly dry but this works perfectly with the ice cream. Made from Iranian chickpea flour (using roasted chickpeas, not raw ones as with gram flour), they are delicately scented with saffron, pistachio and cardamom and just melt in the mouth. I think I may be addicted.

A sprinkle of chopped pistachios on top and it was a refreshing yet indulgent way to end the meal. I’ll write about the stuffed, barbecued lamb soon. For now I shall just tell you that after the meal (ourselves stuffed and contented), we curled up on the sofa – astounded to find the film Persepolis was on the telly. A fitting end to a truly gluttonous birthday, it really was like my own little Persia in Peckham.

P.S – anyone mentions anything about the absence of rounded corners on the pictures and there will be trouble…you know who you are. I’m just over it, k?! Alright, and I can’t be bothered any more. Oh yes, and Food Stories is getting a new look – I’ve had the painters and decorators in and the brand spanking new site will be up at the beginning of May – sans rounded corners and cowboy html. Times, they are a changin…

Earl Grey Ice Cream with Chickpea Shortbread/Sweets (from Persia in Peckham by Sally Butcher)

Ice Cream
150ml strong earl grey tea (I used 2 teabags)
150ml each full fat milk and single cream
1 strip lemon peel
3 egg yolks
110g caster sugar
150ml whipping cream

– put the tea, single cream and milk into a pan with the lemon peel and bring to a simmer.
– whisk the egg yolks and sugar together until they thicken and pale.
– remove the milk mixture from the heat (discard the lemon peel), then whisk it into the egg mix.
– put the whole lot back onto a gentle heat until it thickens. On no account should you let this boil, otherwise the eggs with scramble. Set it aside to cool with a dampened circle of greaseproof paper on the top, to stop a skin forming.
– when cool, pour into a freezer-proof container – cover it and freeze until half frozen. At this point, scoop it into a bowl, then whisk up the whipping cream and fold it into the ice cream. Put it back into the freezer until it is of ice cream consistency.

Chickpea Shortbread/Sweets
(this recipe doesn’t have the saffron like the shop bought ones – I’m guessing the main difference will be the colour).
50g caster sugar
110g Iranian chickpea flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
50g unsalted butter
Crushed nibbed pistachios

– Sift the dry ingredients together on a flat, clean surface, then work in the butter with the tips of your fingers.
– When the mixture starts holding together, roll it into little chickpea shapes (or make into whatever shape you fancy) and put them on a sheet of grease-proof paper on a baking tray. Bake for about 10 minutes at gas 2/150C and allow to cool. Sprinkle with the crushed pistachio.

27 comments » | Biscuits, Desserts, Ice Cream, Peckham, Sweets

Eating Eurovision

April 9th, 2009 — 11:52am

Without doubt the most enjoyable aspect of London life for me is the diversity. I think I’m right in saying that London is the most multicultural city in the world, so imagine what that means in terms of food. I’ve been exploring the capital’s various cuisines since arriving here 2 and a half years ago and I’ve really only touched the tip of the iceberg.

So here’s an event which gives a good excuse to go out there, meet new people and learn about what food means to them – the basic challenge being this:

“Can 25 food bloggers eat the cuisine of the 25 Eurovision finalists in 25 hours all within the M25?”

The idea (fresh from the brain of food journalist Andrew Webb), is that bloggers (or groups of bloggers), will each draw a Eurovison finalist and then get out in the city and track down a cafe, shop, restaurant, whatever that is frequented by the people from that country. We want you to talk to them, explore their cuisine and of course, eat it – then report back in the form of a blog post. In short, it’s a challenge about going out there and getting involved.

Think you’re up to it? Important details about how to take part can be found on the brand spanking new Eating Eurovison Blog and you can sign up for the event at our Ning group.

6 comments » | Blogging Events

Gnocchi with Wild Garlic, Anchovies and Chilli.

April 6th, 2009 — 7:14pm

I have such a great recipe idea for this wild garlic. Unfortunately the butcher is not open on a Monday and I have the flu anyway so I’m basically just sitting around feeling sorry for myself. This weekend though, I shall be recovered (hopefully), on holiday (double bank holidays rock) and cooking up a storm (on the BBQ).

For now then, this current batch of wild garlic has gone into a plate of comfort gnocchi, along with anchovies, plenty of butter and chilli. Not made by me I hasten to add – I am languishing on the sofa while my very kind other half has rustled it up in well under ten minutes. It tastes like no less than heaven.

25 comments » | Gnocchi, Main Dishes

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