Thursday, October 05, 2006

Cooking Lessons

I've never been to a cooking lesson before (whether this is because I am too arrogant to think I can learn from them, or because I am too embarrassed to make a complete fool of myself in public, I'm not sure), but last night I went to a lesson at Eat Drink Talk in Clerkenwell. The class I went to was called Creative Cooking for Men, and was aimed at teaching not too difficult but impressive food, with something of an emphasis on 'manly' food - lots of spices and protein.

The atmosphere on arrival was friendly and not at all formal - everyone was sitting around a large table, chatting and drinking a cocktail (an Orange & Cardamom Mojito). The instructor started of by explaining what we would be cooking; Moroccan spiced squid with fennel salad scallops with chili jam, and stuffed sea bass.

As the chili jam takes some time to cool, we started with that first. The instructor carefully explained the procedure, and also discussed the more unusual ingredients (including where to buy them). Everyone then took a turn pounding the mixture in a mortar and pestle, which was a great way to relieve any tension!

The most difficult thing that we did was the sea bass. This needed to have the backbone removed, but left as a reasonable whole fish, so that we could stuff it.

The final part of the evening was a sort of chocolate workshop. First we tasted 3 chocolates, all about 70% cocoa, Green & Black's, Valrhona and Amedei. I had always thought that Green & Black's was quite nice, but in comparison with the other two it was very harsh tasting. Finally we had an oak smoked sea salt caramel from Paul Young. This was absolutely amazing, tasting of richly buttery caramel, with the sweetness moderated with salt.

Finally, we rolled some chocolate and pistachio truffles (made with the Amedei chocolate that we had tasted earlier). These were perfectly complemented with some wonderful honey and saffron ice cream.

At the end, we could take away a binder of all the recipes we had learned (and we were offered truffles - which I had to decline for fear of making a pig of myself on the way home).

Overall, I had a really fun evening. I have learned a couple of new recipes (I will certainly be making the chili jam again soon), the atmosphere was really friendly and relaxed, with all the students (and instructor) obviously enjoying themselves. The quality of the cooking was superb, and I especially enjoyed finding out about new ingredients (like sea purslane). I would really recommend this, whether you are a confident cook who would like to spend an evening chatting to like-minded people, or a complete novice who would like to learn how to cook a few dishes for a dinner party to impress your friends.

Monday, October 02, 2006


Well, I haven't posted for quite a while, but there are quite a few things I want to mention. First of all is the cassoulet that I made a for some friends, a couple of weeks ago (which Howard was kind enough to mention in his blog), the recipe (although I have adapted it slightly) is originally from The Cooking of Southwest France by Paula Wolfert, but was reprinted in the Guardian, my adaptations to this were to decrease the quantity of beans, to just 500g, and to decrease the quantity of stock to about 1.4l. This resulted in a much lighter dish - although still the filling meal that one would expect from a cassoulet.

I was really pleased with how well this turned out, and the home made confit that was left over from this dish was really useful - I just quickly fried it in some of its fat, took the confit out of the pan, added some boiled new potatoes, to soak up all the really flavourful goose fat, and mixed it all together. So quick, (could only have taken 15 minutes to cook) but a really delicious (if slightly unhealthy) meal.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Sunday Lunch

Went to the White Horse in Parson's Green for lunch with Iain, Alex and Mike yesterday. To start, I had some lovely flavourful mussels, cooked with Pernod, which really brought out the flavour. For a main course I had a delicious, if rather small, piece of monkfish cooked in bacon. The monkfish was served on top of a mount of a Puy lentil salad, in which walnuts cleverly brought out the nuttiness of the lentils. The others all went for roast pork, which looked to be a sizeable portion of good meat (with plenty of fat to keep the meat moist as it cooked). All this was washed down with a couple of pints of Tripel Karmeliet from the Bosteels Brewery in Belgium. The beer was a great example of a triple, well balanced, not too sweet, and suprisingly easy to drink for an 8%abv beer.

We went back to Alex's flat for some wine, the highlight for me being a lovely Puilly-Fussé (of which I will post more later)

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

An exotic fry-up

Last Saturday, I bought some venison kidneys at Borough Market, and have been wondering what to do with them. Tonight I decided to have a fry up, also with duck eggs, and some wonderful dry cure bacon made from free range Gloucester Old Spot pigs.

When I opened the vacuum pack containing the kidneys, I was initially disapointed by how much they smelled like lamb's kidneys. As I took them out of the pack, I was struck by how much firmer they are than lamb's kidneys. They also have a much darker colour, with just a hint of brown (I don't know if this is a result of the long hanging that the deer carcass would have received).

Upon cutting into the kidney, the core is much smaller than a lambs kidney (although the kidney as a whole is a similar size- slightly longer, but a bit thinner)

I briefly fried the kidneys in hot butter, exactly in the way I would a lambs kidney.

Once on the plate, I was quite suprised by how much blood came out of the kidneys (although it did taste delicous, and mix well with the slightly gamey flavour of the duck egg yolks) - I do like kidneys very rare though. Flavour wise, the strongest flavour was 'kidney', but they was just enough venison flavour to be aware that you are not eating a lambs kidney.

A Trip to the Brothel

Just got back from an Italian restaurant in Wapping called Il Bordello. Not too bad - quite good if there is a group of you, although more as a fun place to have drinks with friends rather than a wonderful gastronomic experience.
To start with, I had bresaola - thin slices of air dried beef. The bresaola was perfectly OK, and was served with an enormous rocket salad. There wasn't a huge quantity of beef though, and the £8.25 charged for this seemed to be a touch on the expensive side.
For main course I had a tagliata con rucola, a sirloin steak cut into strips, and marinated with garlic. Although not the tastiest steak in the world, it was cooked exactly how I had asked for (very rare), and the portion size was extremely genourous. A good selection of garnishes came with the main course (another enourmous portion of rocket, chargrilled vegetables and baked potatoes). At around £15 pounds, the main course represented very good value.
For dessert, I had fairly ordinary piece of tiramisu. I suppose there isn't very much you can say about such a run of the mill tiramisu, other than that it was reasonably priced at £5.

Overall, this restaurant is a good place to go for a filling, reasonable value meal, but I would skip the rather overpriced starters.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Salsa Puttanesca

Last night, I felt the need t something really intensely flavoured, but didn't really feel like going out to shop, so I made a simple pasta sauce of store cupboard ingredients. I'm sure to call it salsa Puttanesca is horribly wrong, as it's probably an utterly inauthentic recipe, but it does taste very nice. Here is the recipe (enough for 2 very large portions, probably more like 3 normal portions):

Chop 2 largeish onions, and put in a saute pan with a good amount of fairly strong flavoured of oil, over a very gently heat.

Add quite a lot of crushed or finely sliced garlic (I used a whole head, but then I really like garlic)

Stir reasonably frequently, or the garlic will sink to the bottom, then overcook and go bitter.

After about 20 minutes, add a chopped up jar of anchovies (and pour in the oil that they are preserved in, for a bit more flavour).

After another 10 minutes, stir in a good splodge of tomato puree.

After another 10 minutes, add a can of tinned tomatoes (chop the tomatoes into good size chunks, and add all the juice from the can). This makes a thick sauce - if you prefer a thinner sauce, maybe you could add passata at this stage.

Stir occasionally until it starts to look like a sauce, then stir in a good handful of capers (I like the once preserved in salt, but be sure to wash off all the salt).

Cook for a little longer, then add plenty of black olives.

Serve with pasta (I prefer wholemeal with this dish, as it seems to suit the slightly rough and ready character of this sauce), and a fairly full bodied red wine. I wouldn't use Parmesan here, as all the other flavours are so strong it would just be wasted.

Monday, September 04, 2006

I find that bread and cheese, possibly with a piece of really ripe fruit, makes a wonderful lunch, and today I treated myself to two cheeses that I bought from Neal's Yard Dairy at Borough Market on Saturday. The white coloured, wedge shaped piece is Wigmore, an unpasteurised ewe's milk cheese from Berkshire. The slice I had today was slightly firm and had a sweet, nutty flavour, but was less runny and had slightly less depth of flavour than the piece I tried in the shop, so I will leave it a couple of days to see if it will improve with a little more ripening.

The large, grey cheese is piece of Tymsboro - another raw milk cheese, although this one is made from goat's milk. The rind is covered with ash and white mould, which gives it the grey colour. Under the rind is a thin layer of absolutely delicious pungent creamy cheese, with none of the soapiness or ammonia flavours you sometimes get next to the rind of a Brie or Camembert. The centre is firmer, with the slightly dry texture of a young goats cheese, with a pleasant fresh, fruity (maybe even slightly citrusy) flavour.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Well, I've decided to take the plunge and start writing a blog. As I seem to spend far too much of my time making, shopping for or discussing food, I think that is going to be the main subject here.

To get started, these photos show a delicious slice of brawn (also known as fromage de tĂȘte) that I had last night. The brawn comes from the Ginger Pig at Borough Market, and the bread is a multi-seed loaf from Flour Power City, also at Borough Market.

The brawn was lovely - really meaty, with a slightly soft andgelatinouss consistency that was really satisfying. The only thing I didn't quite like were the cornichons (the little green bits you can see in the photos), which I thought were just a touch too vinagery, and weren't quiet as crisp as I would have liked.