Archive for December 2010

My top 10 dishes of 2010

December 31st, 2010 — 2:53pm

I just can’t resist a reflective round-up so here we go – the dishes which have really stuck with me, in memory and on the waistline, in 2010.

2010 was the year I perfected my steak tartare. Using lean sirloin rather than fillet gives more flavour. Thanks once again to Simon Hopkinson for that pearl of wisdom.

Freshly cooked lobster with home made mayonnaise and clarified butter. So simple and so perfect.

The frankly outrageous cheese soufflé at Le Gavroche. It’s baked in double cream. My thighs shudder at the memory. I never got around to writing about that meal but this is all you need to know really. The success of the dish lies in the absolutely spot-on seasoning; plenty of salt and white pepper balanced the richness. Stunning.

Chicken with 40 cloves of garlic. I do love an outrageous recipe (see cheese soufflé) and this follows in the same vein. The garlic mellows and perfumes the bird which has basically been poached in olive oil.

The best chicken sandwich of my life. After making the chicken with 40 cloves, I saved the chicken and garlic infused oil and used it to make mayonnaise. I mixed that with the leftover meat and spread it into a sandwich. I’ve actually woken in the middle of the night and thought about that sandwich.

Earl grey ice cream with vanilla doughnuts and lemon curd at The Harwood Arms. I won’t start going on about how much I love ice cream – I think we all know by now. The Harwood really excels at desserts and their trademark doughnuts are light as air.

Dried beef and mango salad at Mien Tay. I fell in love with this salad at first bite. I vaguely remember other people around the table liking it too but I just went on and on and on about it. Swoon.

Rhubarb crumble ice cream. Tangy rhubarb with sweet, doughy crumble pieces. Get in. I’ve got a brown bread raspberry jam ripple ice cream I can’t wait to tell you about too, but that’s for 2011.

Chipotles en adobo from Thomasina Miers’ book Mexican Food Made Simple. Holy crap, what a stunning recipe. Smoky chipotle chillies simmered long and slow into a rich, sweet and tangy sauce. Everyone should make this.

Ultimate macaroni cheese. I made this for Fiona Beckett’s ultimate mac n cheese competition and was very chuffed when I won. She sent me a lovely Emma Bridgewater baking dish as a prize. My recipe involved cooking a ham hock to use in the mac and then cooking the pasta in the ham stock before baking.

And of course, I have to share my worst dish of 2010, part of my worst meal as a whole. Really quite staggeringly bad. Cantina Loredo, you should be ashamed of serving this plate of two turds masquerading as ‘chicken mole’.

I’m amazed that a dish from The Ledbury didn’t feature here but to be honest I could write an entire list just about that place – my restaurant of the year without a doubt. My friends and I have made a pact to eat there once every few months and we’re already booked in for the next meal. Yep, it’s been a good year for eating. A very Happy New Year to you all and here’s to a delicious 2011.

12 comments » | Round-ups

Product review: Morphy Richards Premium Breadmaker

December 30th, 2010 — 12:45pm

“It looks like a hammerhead shark” said my friend. She’s right, it does. It certainly has presence that’s for sure – the thing is massive. Before I was sent the breadmaker for review, I’d briefly considered getting one. People had raved, “wake up to freshly baked bread!”  The idea sounds attractive, although the chances of my neurotic self leaving an electrical appliance on overnight are actually nil. Still, the simplicity appealed and I found it rather fascinating – chuck everything inside, select the programme and about 2 hours later you have a loaf. It certainly takes the ‘work’ out of baking, which is where I started to feel uneasy. Actually no, it was worse than that – I felt cheated.

To state the bleedin obvious, I am someone who very much enjoys cooking. I relish the hands-on creative process; mixing, shaping and nurturing to completion. The breadmaker of course does all this for you. As soon as my first loaf had popped from the tin, I found myself on Amazon buying a copy of Dan Lepard’s The Handmade Loaf; it was full of everything I’d just missed out on. In the introduction, DL describes how “the making with our own hands, is what enlivens us and makes us feel human.” I wanted to knead, shape and peek at the loaf rising, marvelling at the manipulation of gluten and yeast.

The breadmaker uses skimmed milk powder; vegetable oil and fast action dried yeast. DL of course uses fresh milk and advises seeking out fresh yeast whenever possible because the flavour and action are better. I began to call local bakeries. None of them baked on site and none of them knew where I could buy any fresh yeast. In the end I found it in a speciality food shop in East Dulwich, SMBS foods – one of those shops that sells everything. It has the added bonus of being difficult for the yummy mummys to cram their super-buggy spaceships into, making it one of the best shops in ED. Sorry, but I’ve been nipped on the Achilles tendon one too many times. If you don’t live near such a shop, try the baking section of your supermarket as they will often sell you some, under the counter.

I polished my halo and headed home to bake my first ever handmade loaf using fresh yeast. DL’s ‘quick white loaf’ seemed a logical place to start and the steps were very simple. I crumbled, mixed, shaped and left it in a warm place to rise. And it did – like a dream. I was overwhelmed with pride and satisfaction as my two loaves went into the oven but when I opened it 45 minutes later what I found was two hard, leaden lumps. Bugger. And with that the breadmaker got its own back. There is one major factor in its favour and that is consistency.

DL is an active Twitter user and so I asked him what went wrong. Apparently I let my dough rise too much in a too-hot kitchen. This only made me more determined; baking is a skill and I was focused on nailing it. The reward for perseverance was a loaf with superior flavour, texture, crumb, crust – there is literally no comparison to the somewhat synthetic and uniform breadmaker results. It may be consistent but consistency comes at the price of character.

So the breadmaker is not for me, but that doesn’t mean I can’t see how many people would love it. If you like freshly made bread and want something in between a shop bought and handmade loaf with no effort other than tipping in ingredients and pressing a few buttons then this is the product for you. Personally, I’d rather buy a handmade loaf from a bakery if I didn’t have time to make one myself. You may think I’m mad. Most people claim a breadmaker is a product they use once then leave in the spare room for the next three years as it’s just too much effort and here’s me complaining it wasn’t enough. I’m clearly off my rocker.

The Morphy Richards Premium Breadmaker product specifications and price here.

17 comments » | Products

Very quick and very easy sausage rolls

December 23rd, 2010 — 7:23am

My friends ask me for this recipe more than any other. I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to type it out here once and for all to save myself typing it out every single time someone asks. Idiot. Anyway, I make these rolls for most parties and gatherings and they always disappear rapidly.

As far as I’m concerned, there are 3 roads you can go down when making sausage rolls. The first involves the most effort and that is to go and buy sausage meat and season it entirely yourself with onion, herbs, spices, whatever (I sometimes use chunks of soaked, dried apricot). The second is to cheat and squeeze the meat from a pack of really good sausages and do nothing else except wrap it in the pastry and the third is the same but with a bit of pimping here and there according to my mood on the day.

This time I used the meat from 6 sausages and felt very strongly that the absolutely essential thing to do was to add more onion and so grated in half a small white one. You could add an extra herb if you’ve chosen quite a plain sausage – sage or thyme are both good choices. The sausage meat is obviously already seasoned so you don’t need to add any salt or pepper. Clearly you’ll need to buy your puff pastry if you want this to be quick and to be honest I’ve never been arsed to make my own anyway.

Probably a 30 minute job from start to scoff. People will love you.

Very quick and very easy sausage rolls

500g sausages (this was 6 sausages but it depends on the size of your er, sausage)
1 x 375g packet ready-rolled puff pastry
1 egg, beaten
Any pimpage your heart desires – onion, herbs, spices etc. (if you’re unsure you might want to fry off a teaspoon of the meat to test it)

Preheat the oven to 220C

Squeeze the meat out of the sausages, into a bowl. If you are using extra herbs or onion, add them now too. If adding onion, you will need to grate it, otherwise it won’t cook properly. Mix very well with your hands.

Open your pastry out onto a lightly floured surface. If it’s pre-rolled then you’ll just need to roll it a little thinner (same rectangular shape) until it is about the thickness of a 2p coin. Cut it lengthways into 4 strips. Divide your meat into 4 balls then use each of the balls to make a long sausage along each strip of pastry.

Brush one edge of each strip with the beaten egg then fold each roll over and seal it as best you can. Turn it over to make sure it is well sealed. Turn it back over and cut into 1 inch lengths. I like to snip the top of each roll with scissors but it’s not necessary. Brush each roll with more beaten egg then put them on a baking tray (you can lightly grease it but don’t panic if you forget, they won’t stick too badly) and bake for 20 minutes or until golden.

If you’re not serving them on the day you made them, reheat them in the oven for 5 minutes, otherwise they will be soft.

28 comments » | Christmas, Meat, Pastry, Snacks

Jamaican patties

December 17th, 2010 — 2:35pm

We’re two thirds into December and I’m feeling the need to vary my beer snacks. I turned to Peckham for inspiration.

Bright yellow patties stack up high in shop windows but most of them have been pre-made and frozen. They always look jaded and sad to me but I could see the potential so I had a bash myself. The primary stuffing is minced beef (fish and vegetable fillings are also common) wrapped in the easiest flaky crust, stained yellow with turmeric and curry powder.

Jamaican patties are a product of English colonialism and East Indian migration into the Caribbean: the former brought the idea of pastry while Indian slaves brought cumin. Both mix well with the Caribbean flavours: thyme, spring onion, scotch bonnet pepper and allspice.

The patties are highly savoury and perfect if you’re growing tired of snacking on mince pies, deep fried brown things and crisps, as I am. The way to eat a Jamaican patty is to pick it up and dunk it gleefully into your favourite hot sauce. Wash it down with a Red Stripe.

Jamaican Patties (makes 8-10)

For the crust

250g plain flour
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon curry powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
125g fridge cold butter, cubed
5-6 tablespoons cold water
1 egg, beaten

For the filling (I have a bee in my bonnet about doing a slow-cooked goat filling next time).

250g minced beef
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 inch piece ginger, finely chopped
1 heaped teaspoon thyme leaves
5 spring onions, finely chopped
1/2 scotch bonnet chilli, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon allspice
1/2 tin chopped tomatoes

Preheat the oven to 170C

Heat 1 tablespoon vegetable or groundnut oil in a pan and add the ginger, garlic and chilli for 30 seconds. Add the beef and cook until brown. Add the spices and stir for 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes, spring onions and thyme and let simmer for 10 minutes or so, stirring every so often, until nearly all the liquid has evaporated.

While the beef is simmering, make the crust. Sift the flour, turmeric, curry powder and salt into a bowl. Add the cubes of butter and rub it in with your fingertips until the mix resembles fine crumbs. Add 5 tablespoons of cold water (add another if it’s too stiff) until you have a stiff dough then turn it out onto a lightly oiled surface and knead until smooth. Do not over work the dough, knead it just enough until it is smooth.

Grease two large baking trays. Roll out the dough until a few millimetres thick and use a saucer to cut circles from it – as many as you can. You can re-roll the trimmings to get more circles. Lay the circles on the baking tray (they will be too hard to move once filled) and brush the edges of each with the beaten egg. Dollop some of the filling in the centre of each then fold over to form a patty. Seal the edges by crimping with a fork.

Brush the patties all over with more beaten egg and bake for 20 minutes, or until golden brown. Serve with hot sauce and beer.

The crust recipe is adapted from the Waitrose website.

12 comments » | Caribbean Food, Food From The Rye, Meat, Pastry, Peckham, Snacks

Potato cakes

December 14th, 2010 — 8:13am

I had bacon with them, naturally. And a poached egg. Oh and mushrooms. There’s no point messing about when it comes to brunch.

Somehow, I did not know about potato cakes. I think I’m in love. Their fluffy texture, almost like that of a thick pancake, sends them rocketing up the comfort food scale only pausing briefly to turn back and stick two fingers up to toast. They are perfect slabs of doughy carb, ready and willing to soak up the runny yolk from a just-poached egg. Top and bottom are burnished golden and crisp, like a bubble and squeak.

This recipe is from king of dough Dan Lepard; he adds parsley which brings a nice savoury note. I push it a little further with some finely chopped spring onion. We ate the first wedges as above. The rest I ate very shortly afterwards (about 30 seconds), straight from the pan with my hands.

They’re dead easy to make, too. You have to cook a couple of spuds but then it’s just mix your wet ingredients, mix your dry ingredients, combine them, slop into the pan and cook. I reckon it’s even do-able with a hangover.

Potato cakes with parsley and spring onion (adapted only slightly from The Handmade Loaf by Dan Lepard)

125g plain flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
1 medium egg
100ml milk, at 20C (I just heated mine briefly in a pan until it was warm and it was fine)
60g unsalted butter, at room temperature
250g potatoes, cooked and mashed
4 spring onions finely, chopped (white and green parts)
2 tablespoons parsley, finely chopped

Mix the flour, soda and salt in a large bowl. Cut the butter into small pieces and mix it into the flour with your fingers until the lumps are gone.

In a separate bowl, mix the mashed potato with the egg then beat in the milk, parsley and spring onion. Combine the egg and potato mix with the flour and butter mix and combine well into a sticky dough. Heat a large frying pan or skillet (I used the latter) then melt 1 tablespoon of dripping or vegetable oil in the pan. Make sure it coats the whole base of the pan. Scrape the dough into the pan and then do your best to spread it out a bit into a circle.

Leave to cook for 4-5 minutes, ideally with a lid on. When the base is crisp and lightly golden, loosen the edges with a spatula. Take a very well-oiled plate (that’s important, don’t be shy with the oil) and flip the cake out of the pan and on to it. You can then slide the cake back into the pan to cook the other side. This is why you need to oil the plate well – if you don’t the uncooked doughy side will stick to it. Cook for a further 4-5 minutes then either turn it out or cut wedges from the pan. I recommend bacon, mushrooms and a poached egg as accompaniments. I’m not going to get into a debate about sauce.

26 comments » | Breakfast, Brunch, Cakes

Jhal Muri Express

December 9th, 2010 — 11:42am

Last night The Florence pub in Herne Hill held a little gathering of SE London’s best street food traders. Among them, our sweet-toothed Brixton lass Chocstar, Yianni from The (legendary) Meatwagon* and the amazing Angus Denoon, with his Kolkata street food.

Just look at that van. I was like a moth to a neon light. An Aladdin’s Cave, decked out with cosy cushions and flower garlands. Bags of Indian limes hang from the doors; incense and gas stoves burn. Angus sits outside in front of his prep bench, surrounded by steaming pots and garnishes.

It was a freezing evening and nothing appealed more than a carton of warming dahl. Angus lifted the lid on one of the silver containers and portioned out the tender, spiced lentils. But this dahl is all about the garnish. He quickly and skilfully chopped ginger, shallots and coriander. The end of a cucumber was deftly criss-crossed and shaved into tiny chunks. A few thick slices of coconut and a slick of dark tamarind sauce; a squeeze of Indian lime juice. The final topping was a handful of small crunchy bits, which looked like short lengths of fried vermicelli but were actually ‘sev’,  made with chickpea (gram) flour. Angus explained that it’s similar to the stuff you get in Bombay Mix but better because it absorbs less oil.

What had started out as quite a plain dahl base was now an in your face mix of textures and bold flavours. It blew my socks off. I’d never tasted anything quite like it.

Angus spends much of his time in Kolkata and he’s made some amazing films there which get down and busy with the streets of the city and the way that food weaves right the way through them, binding communities together. I’ve only watched a few of the short films so far but my favourite is one about chai. The film opens with a shot of a man’s hands forming clay on a wheel – he is making cups, with incredible skill and precision – hundreds and hundreds of identical cups. The film moves on to the streets to see cup after cup filled with hot chai and ends with them smashing on the floor as they are discarded. A fascinating film about an everyday life-cycle in Kolkata.

Angus told me he is planning another screening of his films soon and I urge you to go and watch. You can enjoy his vegetarian street snacks at the same time. I’ve never been to India, but I hear his style is very authentic and it certainly tastes the business. Thank goodness for people like Angus, eh? Going and getting all inspired then bringing it back home to make our lives more exciting.

Visit the website here.
Follow Angus on Twitter

*Yianni soldiered on without his Meatwagon last night, because it was tea-leafed from his house in Peckham. If anyone sees this then get in touch. Free burgers for life as a reward for information leading to its recovery.

12 comments » | Curry, Street Food

Chez Bruce, Wandsworth

December 8th, 2010 — 10:32am

American Express have started a restaurant reward scheme called ‘Top Treats’ and the gist of it is that if you book through Top Table and pay with Amex, you can earn reward points and special deals at some smart restaurants. Chez Bruce is one of those restaurants. I’ve wanted to go for years despite Wandsworth being such an absolute arse to get to from Peckham. What is it with the South-East-South-West connections? Or lack of. The fastest way, no joke, is to go in to Victoria and then back out to Wandsworth. So I weaved along with the tangled web of TFL.

It’s a sweet little building really – filigrees and topiary line the front. Inside, it has a touch of the living room going on and when I arrived, it was empty but cosy. My mate was running late so they offered me a paper, which was thoughtful. It has a Michelin star, so I expected to be looked after but the gesture pleasantly surprised me. I settled in with a glass of bubbly and waited for my mate to arrive.

I started with the crab raviolo, razor clams and brown shrimps which came in an intense shellfish bisque-style sauce speckled with the allium twang of chives. A scallop was perfectly seared although without roe, which initially disappointed me until I wondered if they’d incorporated it into the sauce – in the end I didn’t feel I’d missed out on the flavour. Razor clams are so much more lovely when chopped into little pieces (I appreciate them more when I don’t have to consider their unnervingly weird shape) and brown shrimps should be used in everything where possible – end of. A brilliant little festival of shelled seafood and a really promising start to the meal.

I’m on a seafood binge at the moment so it had to be pan-fried fillet of cod with grilled (baby) squid, a piquillo pepper chutney (I suppose it was like a chutney, they probably called it something different) and salsa verde. The cod was delicious. Are we still allowed to eat cod from anywhere? Baby squid aren’t exactly encouraged either, are they? I eat both regularly because I am a bad person. Really nice though, if not hugely exciting. Everything was perfectly cooked and tasty, it just didn’t have that spark. I’d rather have sacked off the sweet piquillo pepper and had more punch from the salsa verde.

Cheese seemed like a good idea. We pounced on a fluffy and mellow goat cheese; a soft, brie-style cheese with a brilliant mushroomy rind; a classic salty crystallised Roquefort and two hard cheeses. I remember the names of none of them. Look, I’d had 2 glasses of champagne before I started and at this point was down a kir royale and a bottle of Albarino. I can tell you that they were all delicious and very well kept. What more do you want?

For dessert, a rum baba, mainly because I’d never got around to having one. It was very boozy, which pleased me,  as did a piece of sticky roasted pineapple which managed to be wintry and comforting.

The thing about Chez Bruce is that everything is really very nice – well cooked and delicious. I can see why it has a Michelin star. What I always want from my food though, is to be surprised – not necessarily challenged but, I want to have fun. It’s a real cliché now to call food ‘witty’ a la  Prue Leith on Masterchef, but to be playful with ingredients, to make guests’  hearts leap with excitement is the holy grail and I’m not just talking about fancy restaurants. Consider the excitement about street food right now. People want something personal and interactive, where they can get closer to the person behind the food. Be it watching your pimped-up burger cook whilst having a chat with the guy who’s making it, or feeling the chef’s personality come through on a Michelin-starred plate.

Chez Bruce is really a very good restaurant. No, really. It’s just a shame it didn’t give me the thrills.

The dinner menu costs £45 for 3 courses, which is excellent value.
I was a guest of Chez Bruce and Amex Top Treats

2 Bellevue Rd
SW17 7EG
Tel: 020 8672 0114

Chez Bruce on Urbanspoon

21 comments » | Restaurant Reviews

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