Thursday, 29 November 2007

Gazetteer - Neal's Yard Dairy

I have to confess that I'm not much of a cheese lover, although there are times when I do enjoy having really great cheese at home, especially for after a dinner party - or as a lunch or evening supper with good bread and a leaf salad. My best friend in Paris, Xavier has tried hard to convert me with French cheeses, and has even disclosed one of his most guarded secrets which happens to be one of Paris's best cheese shops (I will include this shop and it's cheeses in a later post). There are several great cheese shops in London, my favourites being La Fromagerie, and Neal's Yard Dairy. Ben, my fellow finalist on Masterchef also has a rather fine Cheese shop in Cheltenham called The Cheese Works - well worth a visit if you live in the South West.
As I was in Borough shopping for the Thanksgiving dinner, I figured that a cheese course was in order, complete with figs and luscious black grapes. The Dairy has been going since 1979, and sells some of the best cheeses from across the UK and Ireland.
Being the cheese novice that I am, I not going to rattle on about cheese, but instead say that of the cheeses we had, they were all delicious and quite remarkable in flavour and texture. The cheeses we had were an Irish Crozier Blue, an intense Ogleshield,a Burland Green cow's milk cheese and a wonderfully grassy, tangy Kirkham's Lancashire. The staff are great at helping taste your way through various cheeses, helping you choose from such a wide variety of such wonderful artisan produce. They also stock butter, yoghurt and milk, as well as savoury biscuits and an eclectic range of chutneys and pickles.

Neals Yard Dairy

6 Park Street, Borough Market,
London SE1 9AB
Tel+44 (0)20 7645 3554
Mon-Fri 9am to 6pm
Sat 8am to 5pm

The Cheeseworks, Cheltenham

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Noella's Pumpkin Pie (recipe supplied by Dr.Nicole..) with a Hazelnut honey and Maple Semifreddo

No Thanksgiving dinner is complete without Pumpkin Pie. This pie is in fact a tart (I am going on the assumption that a pie by definition has a pastry lid), with a sweet filling of pumpkin and various spices. As I had busied myself with the bird, Noel made this rather gorgeous pie that was the perfect Thanksgiving pudding.
To compliment the pie's velvety richness, I made a semifreddo (an Italian frozen cream that is half set - hence semifreddo), with hazelnuts steeped in honey, maple syrup & candied clementines.

some of the trimmimgs...

A good festive bird always needs plenty of trimmings. However, rather than opting on too many, I decided to focus on a few key ones, which meant (shock horror!) not serving potatoes. I admit that a good roast is never the same without crispy roast potatoes (especially fabulous when cooked in goose fat), but I figured as there is a whole dinner to contend with, the potatoes would do good to be left off the menu to allow precious room for other courses. As this was a festive feast, I decided to cook a pot of red cabbage with juniper berries and port - all dark and aromatic, steamed carrots with tarragon butter, and for the starch lovers among us, roasted parsnips finished off with a drizzle of Italian chestnut honey. Another key component was cranberry sauce - made with fresh cranberries and cooked with the zest and juice of half an orange to add some extra tang.

For the Braised Red Cabbage:
1 large Red Cabbage
12/15 Juniper berries
1 Banana Shallot
500ml Chicken Stock
250 ml Port
15ml aged Balsamic Vinegar

Sweat the shallot in a little olive oil until translucent, adding the crushed juniper berries after 15 minutes or so. Allow them to release their flavour for a few minutes then added the shredded cabbage. Stir the cabbage until it is well coated then add the chicken stock, season well. Place the lid on the pan and allow to cook down on a simmer for 20 mins, until the cabbage starts to soften. At this point, turn up the heat then add the port. Allow the most of the alcohol to burn off, then replace the lid and simmer gently for 45 minutes, stirring occaissionally. Once the red cabbage is soft and silky, reduce its cooking liquor and add the balsamic vinegar, cooking until it is deep and aromatic. This is fabulous with game birds, and also rather good with the additions of apple, chilli flakes and orange zest and juice...

Table Tchotschke

The word 'tchotschke' is definately in my word hall of fame. As I have an utter fondness for crap, in particular silly objects (that happen to litter most of my home) that I collect from markets or mad places from around the world - so, as you can imagine I was thrilled to find out that this 'stuff' has a proper name. As it also happens to be one of those words that sounds funny even if you don't know what it means, I was instantly inspired to drop it into conversation whenever I could. So, our table tchotschke for this Thanksgiving was going to be on the theme of black and white. I know, not the most novel, and a bit 1980's - but nonetheless a theme very close to my heart. The candles were black and white, as were the flowers (well sort of..) - and at each place setting were black(ish) beetroots, and pale butternut squash, each skewered with a rather stunning porcupine quill, with name place cards from Smythson. I wouldn't go as far as having black and white food, but it's certainly worth having a play to make the table look a million. Here's our attempt..

Thanksgiving Turkey Lurkey

Well as promised (and by popular demand..) here are my posts on last weekend's Thanksgiving dinner. I have gained a tradition of co-hosting Thanksgiving dinners with my friend Noel, which started with a lavish affair in her apartment in Athens. This year was a smaller gathering of close friends, and being the quality freaks we both are, we both pulled out all the stops to make this Thanksgiving one to remember.
Firstly there was the bird; not just any old fowl here, but an organic free range beauty that got some rather special treatment. This was supplied by my butcher, Paul at Wyndham House who prides himself on the fantastic meat and game that he sells, all free range and organically reared.
Having got the bird home, my first job was to set about making a chicken stock that would not only be the base for the gravy, but also becomes a wonderful soup base to make Asian inspired broths (where you can use up left over Turkey..) complete with lime juice, ginger, spring onions, chillies, shredded cabbage greens, coriander and a healthy splosh of nam plah. Once I had the stock, I next got to work on the stuffing - two kinds here (one to fill the neck of the bird, the second cooked seperately in a dish), the first being composed of sourdough bread crumbs, dried cranberries, a finely chopped and caramalised bulb of fennel and two banana shallots, the zest and juice of an orange, tarragon and a good pinch of saffron. I added some good olive oil to these ingredients and plenty of seasoning, then mixed this into a firm, sticky mass with my hands. The second stuffing was much more traditional in flavour and theme and included sausagemeat, caramalised apple and shallots, chopped chesnuts, fresh thyme and sage leaves and a good grating of nutmeg. With this done, the bird was ready to be stuffed and adorned with various aromatics. Rather than following tradition, I decided to jazz things up a bit and create a festive scented bird with the help of quince, cinnamon, star anise and bay leaves. These would infuse a gentle flavour rather than overpower the bird, and as the bird is sat upon slices of quince and the aromatics - these then become aromatic, soft and sticky with juices, the prefect compliment to the rich turkey meat, particularly the dark meat of the thighs and legs. The cavity was part filled with a few quince slices, slices of orange, as well as bay, parsley and thyme sprigs loosely bundled into a bouquet garni. The final anointing came in the form of liquid (which helps the bird to steam cook, and creates luscious, moist flesh) which was 100ml of chicken stock and 50ml of Noilly Prat or Vermouth. The bird was the covered in foil and cooked (initially breast side down for for the best part of two hours, then turned back up for a further hour - we had a 5 Kilo bird to contend with), with the last 45 minutes reserved for burnishing the skin by removing the foil and basting constantly. Once cooked, the bird was allowed to rest (covered in a foil jacket) for 30 minutes before carving.

Thursday, 22 November 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

I just want to wish those of you who celebrate Thanksgiving, a very happy Thanksgiving!
My best friend Noel and me are hosting our own Thanksgiving dinner on Saturday evening, which will be a great prelude to Christmas and all of it's shenanigans. As Noel is American, we will have all of the trimmings and table tchotsche that one would expect of an authentic Thanksgiving dinner. I will of course cook the bird, Noel is making a pumpkin pie and our guests will just come to eat and drink. Photos and musings to follow - wishing you a great holiday! Steven.

To speak gratitude is courteous and pleasant, to enact gratitude is generous and noble, but to live gratitude is to touch Heaven.
Johannes A. Gaertner

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Purple reign...

I couldn't help but notice this weekend the abundance of colour, in particular purple. It's one of the colours in food I can't help but get drawn to, along with red - (which like birds they are more acutely sensitive to the purples and reds of berries and fruits in the wild). It's not just blanket colour too - purple is featuring as streaks, patterns and mottling on a whole host of seasonal vegetables. My favourites are pictured, as they are so vivid and interesting. Part of me wants to paint a still life and admire them for their intensely hued beauty, the other part wants to cook them and layer those colours with flavours and textures.

The tale of 'Imbianchimento' and the curious Spider Treviso

This weekend involved a trip to Borough with a good friend, where along with bumping into the brilliant chef Peter Gordon (one of my chef heros), I came across this rather magnificent specimen, the Spider Treviso. Of Italian origin, it is of the Radicchio family with it's winey red, bitter leaves.
First cultivated by the ancient Egyptians and then Italian monks in the 1400s who had to vary their sparse vegetarian diets, this curious plant has gone through quite a transformation over the years. The Belgian agronomist Francesco Van den Borre, already famous for applying techniques to endive to whiten the leaves, set to work on these radicchio that grew in the Treviso region.
The Imbianchimento process involves a lot of work, with the plants harvested in the autumn, trimmed, and packed into wire baskets. These are then placed in darkened sheds for a few days, with their roots bathed in circulating springwater. This bathing process and light deprivation makes the leaves take on the deep purple pigment, which when deeper in colour means the more bitter the taste, which makes these leaves so prized as a leaf by gourmets around the world.
With my history lesson in mind, I figured these would make the most delicious winter salad with one of my other favourite ingredients, pear.
This makes a fabulous starter or an end to a meal where a cheese course would take precedence. The beautiful leaves are made glossy with walnut oil, and combined with the pear (that I poached in a mulled wine - orange peel, caraway seeds, cloves, cinnamon and cardomon until soft and juicy), which once mulled adds additional purple to the dish. Over this crumble some delicious Scottish blue cheese (mine was from Neal's Yard Diary) and roughly chopped walnuts. This was finished with a quick vinagrette of 3 parts walnut oil to 1 part of the cooled mulled wine, salt, pepper and a final grating of orange zest to lift all of the flavours.

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Win a dinner cooked by me! Stella Magazine, The Sunday Telegraph

I am currently being offered up as a prize on the Stella loves page in this Sunday's Stella Magazine in The Sunday Telegraph. I have offered to cook the winner a dinner in their home, for themselves and three guests. The competition closes on the 24th November. Please see the magazine or link for further details...

Lunch at Petersham Nurseries

Yesterday my friend Beth and me decided to visit one of my favourite restaurants in London, Petersham Nurseries. Nestled in Petersham (near Richmond) in Surrey, this fantastic venue is such an antidote to the London hustle and bustle, with it's cafe and restaurant housed in sheds and old glass houses. All around are plants and objet d'art for sale too, but the biggest attraction for me is the exquisite cooking of Skye Gyngell - the head chef at Petersham Nurseries. Her palette is remarkable, as is all of the food that is cooked there. The produce is the very best, and has a integrity of flavour that requires little fussing or over complicating - Skye's method is to tease and combine flavours together that simply and very elegantly, work.
Well we were certainly wowed by our dishes; to start Crispy duck with bak choi, tamari soy and ginger and a dish of sourdough toast with juicy clams, prawns and chilli rouille - each dish was delicious and left us wanting more or their richly balanced flavours.
For a main course we chose gratinee of endive, which was heavy going, but comforting and deeply satisfying. The star of the show however was a dish of pickled pumpkin with roasted tomatoes and mozzarella, with drizzles of an aged balsamic and a scattering of gremolata. It's most definately a dish that will remain in my memory for some time to come as the flavours and textures were so surprising and utterly delicious.
If ever there has been a cooking inspiration, this is it - flavoursome, exquisite food cooked with the most incredible consideration to balance of flavours, colours and textures. Skye's food is well worth crossing London for - anyday of the week!

Thursday, 15 November 2007

The final flourish - Lavender & Strawberry Pavlova with White Chocolate shards

I decided to finish the meal with a bit of a spectacular flourish - and felt that only one dessert is possibly big and blousey enough to carry it off in true diva fashion is of course the Pavlova. Created (so they say) for a Russian Prima Ballerina and diva (by the sounds of things), the Pavlova is more of a fashion statement than food. To be honest I love the combination of meringue, cream and berries, it is definately decadent in the most ostentatious way. With ostentation in mind, I set about making this a true queen of pavs - so infused the meringue with lavender flowers, and made a lavender syrup that then I folded into the cream (I prefer to use creme fraiche mixed with double cream as the subtle sourness works well with the sweet meringue) that sandwiched the two pieces together. I chose to decorate it with red berries, with redcurrants draped about it like Bulgari jewels. The final flourish came with ultra thin slithers of white chocolate that had been infused with green peppercorns, projecting from the roof of this pudding at uncomfortable angles, much like a Zaha Hadid building, well at least in my imagination it did.

Tiger tomato, Radish & Cress Salad with a Horseradish Vinaigrette

I know this salad hardly warrants a mention as this really is a case of throwing a few very good ingredients together, however I am going to ramble on about it as in its simplicity lies its magic. Because beef was the star of the show, it required an accompaniment worthy enough to stand up to its big, rich flavours. Enter the tiger tomato, painted with stripes of green with a deep, tart acidity. Next radish, peppery hot, crisp and crunchy, palate cleansing stuff. Lastly a vinaigrette with horseradish grated in, to add that intense fieriness and a little sweetness from a drizzle of thyme honey to accentuate the tomatoes. Finally, a scattering of mustard cress, again adding heat but on a different level, and pretty too into the bargain.

Fillet of Beef with Wild herbs, Roasted Shallots with Thyme

Laden with so much fresh bounty from the market, I had decided whilst at the market what to cook for the planned dinner party. Having bought a delicious looking piece of beef fillet I decided to utilise the bundles of different herbs that I purchased.
The beef was served with shallots that I roasted whole in their skins with thyme, their soft innards easily got at by squishing with a the back of a fork. I love to cook fillet of beef rare, or even blue. The added crust of herbs adds a contrasting flavour, and works well served with a homemade aioli, flavoured with smoked garlic or saffron.

Fillet of beef rolled in wild herbs:
Serves 6

1kg of Beef Fillet (expensive but definately worth it)
Large bunch of mixed fresh herbs:
25 ml Olive Oil

Firstly chop the bundles of herbs finely, without bruising them too much. Roll the beef in olive oil to coat, then roll in the chopped herbs until the meat has a wonderful green coating. Season well and sear the fillet in a hot baking tray on all sides, taking care not to burn the herbs. Once seared on all sides, transfer to a hot oven (220c) and cook for 20 mins. Take the meat out of the oven and let it rest for a further ten minutes. Serve with the roasted shallots and homemade aioli.

Apple Pie at Winkel Cafe

After the sensual feast that was the Noordmarket, it seemed fitting to complete a busy morning's shopping and browsing with some coffee and the best apple cake the city has to offer. Winkel Cafe is a bit of an institution, despite the comedy name, and is a great place to sit and people watch, as it seems to be quite a cool hangout and free from marauding tourists. The apple pie by the way is fabulous, and definately memorable - however I could have done without the squirty cream or at least could have traded it for something thicker and far more luscious.

More from the Noordmarkt

Other things that got my attention at the market were Ijs Kruid or Ice Plant, a very curious leafy succulent that was studded with what looked like ice droplets all over its leaves. It has a intruiging flavour, a cross between watermelon, fennel and celery, and had a interesting natural saltyness that lingered on the palatte. Next were was a stall totally devoted to herbs - where alongside bundles of conventional herbs were also chamomile, lavender and roses, for use in salads or for use as infusions. Also they were clever bundles of herbs for soups, fish or salads that had a bit of everything in them, even spring onions which were tied in upside down, showing off their beautiful roots. I hadn't seen herbs look so artistic until now, or so creatively presented.

Also in the market there were stalls stacked high with balls of Gouda, and other continental cheeses - there were two that caught my attention, a hard cows milk cheese that had caraway seeds, and another that was coated in raisins that had been soaked in a curious liquor. Lastly, there were plenty of wild mushrooms on sale, arrange in kitsch little hand baskets, as if Goldilocks herself had picked them and dropped them off on her way to visit the three bears. There was most definately an air of bohemian celebration and pride in all the produce that was sold, and deservedly so I do think it's one of the best food markets I have seen in Europe, with some of the freshest produce any cook or chef would desire.

Noordermarkt - Amsterdam

The Noordmarkt in Amsterdam has to be one of the best food markets I have possibly even been to. After weaving around many streets in the Jordaan quarter
you get to a square nestled between the Westerstraat and Prinsengracht. The first part of the market is actually antiques, bric-a-brac, vintage clothes, records, plants and other curios. To be honest I would have been content with that, as along with food markets, my other passion is fleamarkets - I just can't get enough of them..., not to be confused with car-boot sales, or market stalls selling old tat or grey goods, these are stalls selling unique and authentic vintage items, antiques, and other objet. So, past all of these stalls lies the food market - and wow, what a market!!!!

The produce as you would expect would look good, but for some incredible reason it all looked amazing, as if it had all been airbrushed. The colours of the produce were so deep and pure, and everything had an aroma, an aura of freshness, smell of the earth, rain, woodlands, all the smells of what you imagine a vegetable garden would smell like. And indeed what a vegetable garden it was; Peruvian Black Truffle potatoes, lengths of ruby rhubarb, the freshest herbs, white asparagus, all many of fruit and vegetable in every shade under the sun.

How to get there
Walking: 10 minutes from the Westerkerk and Anne Frank House
Tram: tram 3 & 10, stop Marnixbad.