Saturday, 28 June 2008

Dinner party experiments and secrets, oh and steak dinner too!!!

Tonight we thought we'd practise the starter for our dinner party in a few weeks and that's the Chilled melon soup. I feel its one of the hardest to achieve for the dinner, as its all about the depth and balance of flavours.

Stuart Gillies Head chef at Boxwood Cafe said that secret to this dish is a good rich stock , as this is the basis for this soups depth. We've cheated a bit, as we just don't have the time or the kitchen to do a 12hr stock that can be reduced and reduced all day. So we've bought an unusual rich vegetable stock called Vecon and doctored it with bashed lemon grass and torn basil. If Delia Smith endorses using bought ready made components then so can we!!!! He the mans feels there is no shame in doing this , because were not professionals and were not trying to achieve Michelin stars here , just nice well made food.

I'm writing this as we make it and the smell of the stock right now is amazing , really fragrant and reminiscent of Thailand.

If you want to try this , the quantities are not exact as were just getting a feel right now.

We've bought :

2 Cantaloupe melons , (orange flesh)
bag of fresh basil
a stalk of lemon grass
Creme fraiche
3 tspns Vecon vegetable stock - found in Holland and Barrats. They're really good for obscure and unusual ingredients.
100-200mls sunflower oil or a very very generous slug

Take a litre of water and add 3 tsp of the stock, add in a handful of basil leaves torn, and the lemon grass stick bashed

Start to boil and reduce down , this will help infuse all the herbs. It took about 10-15 mins and reduced by half. Remove from hob and decant into a jug to pop in the freezer to start the chilling process.

Whilst this is happening scoop out the flesh of the melon

Take the rest of the basil and the sunflower oil and blend together to create a runny paste. This will be used to garnish the top of the soup.

We've now blended the melon and realised that Stuart Giles probably sieves it , so were giving that a try right now! It removes all the fibrous parts and makes a much smoother liquid.

After about 20 mins remove the stock mix from the freezer and add 2 ladles of it to the melon mix, taste as you go along to make sure you get a good balance of the 2 flavours ; sweet and savoury. Add in 2 tbls of the creme fraiche and blend well with a hand whisk , to combine and froth. You should have a pale peach liquid in front of you, ours is a bit dark ,due to the colour of the stock, as its a very dark brown. I think if we were to make the stock ourselves , (if we can face it that is), we could control the colour a bit more with the ingredients we use. I may be on the hunt for another well made pre cooked version , possibly Joubere's, although it doesn't have the intensity of flavour that the Vecon one has.

Pour into the jug and return to the freezer for another 10-15 minutes to further chill.

After this time , ladle into a bowl , pour in the centre a small dollop of the basil puree and serve.

The Boxwood version serves it with some small bite size pieces of Iberico ham in the bottom before pouring it in to increase the savouriness and compensate for the melons sweetness. All adding to a better finish on the taste.

This is a deconstructed version of the classic Parma ham and melon dish.
For our own dinner tonight , were having griddled rib eye steak served with salsa Verde and sweet potato chips. One of my favourite meals , nothing quite like a lovely juicy savoury steak!! Probably not the normal combination here, but we wanted something a bit healthier than normal chips and well salsa Verde is my all time fave with anything really!!

Our Salsa Verde is made with 2 bags of parsley, 4 anchovies , juice of a lemon , 4 glugs of olive oil , tbls capers, 2 cloves of garlic, all whizzed in our little bowl blender.

The sweet potato's are just cut up with skin on , olive oil is heated in a dish in the oven as this helps the crisping process , as does sea salt on the potato's. I then add some spices. They take well to savoury and sweet seasonings like Cinnamon, garlic salt , all season and then roasted in the oven until going crispy and chewy! I also like dipping them into an M&S sour cream dip!!!!

Sometimes its just really nice to be in pj's , have fun making some nice food together and just be in our own space , with a bit of this thrown in to add to the action/relaxed juxtaposition chill vibe!!!

Wellllllllllllllll the finished article is really yum if I say so myself. I'm not normally immodest , but its delish and I'm really chuffed with our efforts tonight!!!! He the mans says its too sweet , so Ive just finished his bowl!!! Looks like our starters decided, (as long ads we can repeat it), now we have to sort the main dish and dessert. Have to keep that secret as a little bird might be watching and may spoil it for our guests!
For anyone reading my Reiki life blog , they will be familiar with the hearts that come to me everywhere . Check out the heart that turned up in the middle of that bowl!!!!! Can you believe it , how wonderful to even be in my food.

Its been a busy day and evening , signing out now to enjoy a after dinner Mojito , just served to me by he the mans!!! He the mans has just made himself his new found Caipirinha cocktail!
Enjoy x

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Saturday night desserts, are they dangerous?

I forgot to mention that instead of going to Just desserts after Taste of London , we decided to go to Brookmans. A new bar and restaurant in the centre of Brookmans Park, Hertfordshire , a small but very lovely affluent little area just outside North London.

It used to be a little traditional British affair of a hotel with 6 rooms ,called "The Brookmans Park Hotel" .

At only 6 rooms it must have been quite small and stuffy hotel, but as a contemporary light glass ,black chandelier and stone filled restaurant the space works really well. The real downside is and I'm showing my old age , the loud thumping banging music in the bar!!!!!

Despite this and a rather put out bar girl , the usual I- don't know -what -to- do- as -you've -asked for- something-we-don't-normally-do attitude, found so often in this country, we had some really lovely desserts and drinks; Creme Brulee, although a little stingy on the caramel topping, Cheese plate , with a lovely combination that was very tasty, fresh ice cream scoops of chocolate & passion fruit sorbets , all served very stylishly , although predictably with the ubiquitous raspberry coulee and chocolate twill and a 4th one of a wine glass full of trifle!
We phoned especially, earlier in the day, to make sure we could have just desserts, excuse the pun, and drinks, but when we asked about ordering them all hell broke loose! Once she recovered from her desserts in the bar fright, normal service resumed sort of!
A little more passion from staff about what they are serving also wouldn't go a miss in these new glossy places. They all look stunning and the menus certainly are appealing , but when the "front of house" , don't know what they are serving and don't really care, its a real shame for the whole concept. I asked what the ice cream flavours were when ordering and got a distinct shrug and a "I don't know" combined with whatever face! It seems such a let down , its like shiny exterior , but dodgy structure. It wont last unless its strengthened and fortified from the inside. I'm still deciding on whether to let the management know of our little altercation!! You kind of want these places to work , but only if they are nice to customers hey!!!

and why this big no no on being able to order only desserts in restaurants or bars of restaurants? I remember being summarily turned away by the Maitre De from The Rock Garden , despite there being empty tables, at 10:00 one Saturday night in Covent Garden, because I dare ask If we could have some desserts! Surely its hugely incremental for most, especially in this financial climate? Or is it that no one wants to eat desserts for fear of ruining diets on Saturday night in the UK ? Or is is it very unusual or not cool for school enough for UK younglins? Are we so programmed now into healthy food choices due to the likes of Jaimie Oliver et al , I'm not knocking him here by the way, I admire what he does immensely, that dessert only places are taboo? I don't think so , what with all the cocktails being knocked back around us!!!

So I feel there is something greatly lacking in this country and that is somewhere to go out and have desserts, after a meal at home. Being of Jewish descent , everything centres around food , everything ,even drinking and sitting noshing with drinks in a nice loungy surrounding sounds quite appealing doesn't it? Apart from central London Hotels, Ive been stumped on finding places to go do this very thing! Well apart from the odd bright quick ice cream parlour and may be Haagen daz in Leicester Sqaure?

New York has them in droves ,as written about here in a NYC publication. Desserts and pastry chefs are BIG business there. Up to the middle of 2007 there was about 6 of these dessert only places ,and I know several more have been opening . As the chocolate market is one of the main sectors of growth in the food industry , it seems fitting that they are the new stars. The 1st was ChikaLicious in 2003 , and seems to be fairing well and another, which was the 1st more progressive of this style, is a famed place called Room 4 dessert, were its all gorgeous stylish sweet creations on a plate and cocktails, how amazing is that? I was very disappointed to not get there on my trip to NYC last year , as we just had so much to cram into 4 nights. Alas it has now permanently closed ,which makes it even worse that we didn't visit before its doors shut. However the founder of Room 4 Dessert , Will Goldfarb opened another place in collaboration with a famous chocolatier Michel Cluizel at the end of last year. I haven't yet read much about it and may yet get to try his creations , if we ever get back to NYC in the near future that is! He seems to be the talk of the town and even has a virtual restaurant in the online community called Second life , see this intriguing blog here for more wacky details of our changing world!!!

Image of Sugar Mama , Will Goldfarbs Second life online dessertary ! care of Sasy Scarborough at Ramblings.
Well anyway that's across the Atlantic, for now I'm in London , so I'm yet to continue my hunt for dessert places in here, anyone care to point me in the right direction?
Tell me I'm wrong here , Im used to being humbled , but I may have a long wait as the UK are always about 6-8 yrs behind America in terms of lifestyle progressions, so may be by 2016 , we may see a Room 4 dessert in a Soho address as yet.
Soooo come on Heston , get a move on !!!!

Lebanese styleee chicken livers

After our lovely Lebanese meal in Cyprus , we thought wed try and cobble together a version of the dish we had there. Its was a caramelised, savoury and fragrant yummyness and we think we've nearly got it. We served it with a simple salad of beets, rocket, and cucumber , all dressed with a slug of olive oil , garlic salt & lemon juice.

Here's a rough idea of the recipe , its been merged from several different recipes we've found :

Half a tub of chicken livers
Finely chopped shallots
Olive Oil
tsp ground all spice
tsp ground coriander
tsp ground cumin
2-3 crushed garlic cloves
Juice of a lemon
1/2 glass red or white wine
American long grain rice serve boiled

Fry the shallots in the oil , keep the heat low and do this slow so as not to crisp or brown them. You want them soft and opaque.
Add the livers
and start to brown
add in all the spices and cook through until you can smell all the aromas warming and they are cooked through. You want a nice crust to form on the livers.
add the garlic , lemon and season.
add in the wine and start to reduce down , so as to cook off the alcohol . You want it to caramelise again and get a little stickier.


good stuff !!!!

Monday, 23 June 2008

Taste of London = Ive eaten to much!!

Mr Rhodes !
Master chef winner 2008 James Nathan @ Le Gavroche

Angela Hartnett originally heading up the Connaught, now awaiting the launch of York and Albany. A name close to my heart, so I had to be photographed with her and let her know about my little cupcake . I don't look so good in this piccy though!!

The day started off quite excitingly with me having some star struck moments. I don't normally do the autograph , photo with stars kind of thing, but to me foodie chef worship seems a bit different, dontya think?

We literally ate from 12 pm all the way through to 4pm NON STOP ! There wasn't a moment without a spoon in my mouth , well all except my awestruck chef moments! If you haven't been , there is no money exchanged , you buy a currency called crowns £1 = 2 crowns. Each restaurant then offers 3 chosen dishes and they can range from 6 crowns up to 10. I think this year many dishes definitely cost more crowns. Each stand is a mini showcase of its restaurant and many of the head chefs are there to talk with you.

We started off at Rhodes 24 with a braised beef and caramelised onion gravy. There were many versions of this kind of dish in several places, despite this it was a wonderful dish. There is nothing like a dark rich sauce and meat that falls apart when a knife goes into it. A classic lobster creamed soup followed, from Le Gavroche, which was sooo delicious I wanted another.In the bottom was the softest most flaky lobster bits to have a final seafood hit! One of the most amazing looking soups was a Beetroot velvety acrylic paint colour gazpacho from Aiden Byrne. On the top was one of my favourites , guacamole , but this was a sorbet version. Deeeeeeeeelish.

Le cercle salmon & lemon pulp

After this it was a blur of let down, great and amazing selections. A disappointing overcooked scallop was partaken from Sumosan, with a sauce too sweet and watery to enjoy, a sparky dish of salmon and lemon pulp @ le cercle, (a highly stylised offering there overall!), a bland prawns in apple balsamic dressing @ Aubaine , although their moist french bread with fig jam saved them and a notable scrummy moreish and refreshing chilled melon soup with basil oil from Boxwood cafe. This year Headchef Stuart Giles finally told me the recipe secrets for a good substantial savoury sweet version rather than , in his words a "fruit soup"! In 2006 he was rather more evasive about it when asked! Some friends may now be the guinea pigs for our experiments with this in a few weeks, so I may post our results soon, watch this space.

A dessert highlight was a chocolate layered creation from L' Atelier De Joel Robuchon.

It was true heaven in a cup!!! We tended to go around sharing most things , but with this he the mans said, "get your own, I'm having this all"!!!!! Although I don't recommend beetroot soup to follow , unless you want to be ill and leave green. You eat things a weird way round at these shows!

I am very lucky to have been able to eat in several of the restaurants showcasing , mainly the far eastern and Indian ones for some reason.I feel this show must have really helped the restaurant industry bringing a notched up buzz to London, British chefs and food in general. Its exciting times food wise. It was also interesting to see some different restaurants there that I hadn't seen before. We have a new list of places to try in the next few months. Our philosophy on this is we would rather not eat out in local chain restaurants, stay in more cooking or instead, so as not to be ridiculously extravagant, go somewhere special every few months.

Its quite an immense sized show and I find it hard to really enjoy it all in the 4hr allotted time slots. I always find at the end that I would have liked another hour to wander around all the food stalls in the middle rather than just the restaurant pavilions.

Having Taste of china area was a good addition, but using 10crowns for 2 slices of duck and pancakes seemed a bit of waste considering you can have it anywhere and especially when there was restaurants like La Gavroche offering lobster bisque for the same. I did however buy a beautiful glass tea pot and minin double walled glass tea cup and a new tea to try made from Chrysanthemums, which is great for me as its for a calming, great for a pre bed time hot drink and has no caffeine in.
I also had a free consultation on the state of my body and emotions with the ancient Chinese practise of reading your pulse and viewing your tongue. I was informed I need more chi energy , due to exhausting my liver and kidneys from thinking and stressing too much, according to the practitioner and of course there was a tonic on hand for this very affliction. Id say hes pretty spot on with the emotions and the organs. To this end I have bought one bottle to try as I'm not yet sure what my opinions are on ingesting unusual herb decoctions to salve ones mind and body ! I'm also not sure if they are classified a food product rather than a medicine? I will report back soon, especially if I go purple or something odder!
anyway , get thee to the show next year , you taste buds wont forgive you otherwise!!

Saturday, 21 June 2008

A nosh day out today

Later this morning myself and he the mans are off to Taste Of London at Regents Park, this is the 3rd year we've gone. We leave the kiddlies at home for this one , as its a long day and well sometimes its nice to be a grown up , have some time with he the mans enjoying his favourite past time and not have that palaver of buggies, nappies and toilet runs for the day! Although cupcake is excited as Grandma is coming with a lovely surprise yummy lunch for them (and no doubt some norty nosh also). Grandma is a very good cook , I suppose he the mans had to get his skills from somewhere hey!

Taste of London video 2007

I was hoping for a nice warm sunny day , but have awoken to a wet deck in the garden, so its thrown my attire planned for the day (summer dress and open sandals) , as last year the whole of Regents Park was a huge mud slick and we ended up soaked to the bone for the day!!! Me thinks the wellies might have to come out, which is a shame.

Never mind hey with all the glorious food to come , its a real gluttons fest! What I will say though , is as its the 3rd year I hope the restauranteurs have made some changes ,otherwise its going to get pretty repetitive ,as last year there were some of the same dishes available as the 1st year. He the mans has informed me that this year there is to be a Taste of China there today , so that will be a good change of direction.

The highlight for me is always Benares, as I love strong unusual flavours, especially Indian and Moroccan and Atul Kochars Tandori Pasliyan lamb chops marinated in fennel & papaya, amongst other things, is amazing. We've tried it at home , but its just not the same without a tandoor hey! I'm thinking of purchasing this book of his to try some other recipes at home.

After a long hard day eating , we thought it would be nice , rather than eating a whole meal out again , to go somewhere that's like an old fashioned ice cream parlour/lounge. So we're out tonight with my littlest sister to a place called Just desserts. I will follow up with a few words tomorrow if I can about what we think. The web site doesnt show much as weve been told its being built right now.

I'm quite looking forward to today , well except for my waistline , as I havent been eating like this for months ,what with all that holiday food and now this weekend!!!

Friday, 20 June 2008

Hotel food V home food !

Id like to say our Cyprus trip was a gourmet fest , but alas it was a bit hotel homogeneous and well just OK on the whole , with a few gems thrown in. I'm thinking it may be down to eating far to much buffet breakfasts and room service club sandwiches!

Due to the Euro everything cost at least 20% more than eating in London, it could also be due to the Hotel we stayed in though from what Ive heard. We tried various ways to keep everything better value , one by eating out the hotel more and also when in the hotel, sharing mains and ordering extras.

We also only had 2 meze's the whole holiday and I forgot to take pictures ,shame really as the one in the hotel at Vieux Village was quite lovely, but with 2 little busy girls in tow , I didn't get much of a chance to click! Oh and there was a 3rd that was Lebanese called Mandaloun which was quite tasty and has inspired some future experimentation this week with chicken livers and spices , but also consisted of lamb balls (I'm not as adventurous as Id like to be, say no more!!!!!!!!!!!!!). We had an amazing fish meal , again at one of the Hotels restaurants called Enalia,
with the most amazing spicy sweet Thai prawn coconut soup Ive ever eaten. We joked and said we needed to phone the bank manager to pay for one portion of fresh whole grilled fish , at £60 for one red snapper !!!!! I managed to get my fave sushi Ikura though at the Hotels Japanese restaurant Kojima!

Kojima at night

The pickle just would not eat properly away though and existed on cereal , bread and chips only and would refuse point blank anything better. I despaired for 10 days and had to look away! Its strange as cupcake was the same 3yrs ago in Cyprus also, so I wonder if its quite common for kids away from home? To this end we've been cooking non stop the last 48hr on our return, so that the girls would be able to eat some good home food.

Bread, bread and more bread

I was overjoyed this evening at her hearty scoffing of vegetables in my just made chicken soup. Two huge pots we made , no less!!! I think I may have linked to the traditional recipe somewhere in my previous posts. Ive just finished a HUGE bowl myself for dinner yum yum yum.

We also made our famed traditional Italian meat ragu yesterday. I cannot take any credit for its recipe , but Delia can here !!! Although I tend not to use the pancetta , or the pork or the liver and sub them for celery , carrots and if possible veal mince. In fact its almost doctored beyond the original! I also add in about 4 slugs of Agave syrup to balance the tomato acidity.

All I know is all my family both in this house and my parents, namely my little sister and her friends come flocking when they know its on offer! It has a deep unctuousness that makes you dip the spoon in the pot over and over , naughty naughty!!

Saturday, 7 June 2008


Im off in a few hours for my holiday with my girls .

Hope to report back in 2 weeks with lots of great foody pictures.

It will be meze , meze and more meze , which is one of my favourite ways to eat ; bits and peices.

see you soon

Sunday, 1 June 2008

wellll the chench has come out !!!

Tonight is garlic night, as our friends couldn't make it for dinner, (hey guys hope we can show
off see you soon), we thought we'd make our nice dinner anyway!!

So on tonight's menu is :

Braised Garlic chicken pg 130 (a la Ken Hom Hot Wok) , We've had this book since before we were engaged (and it looks as old as we do) and many a meal has been made from its pages! This is Chench at its finest! For those unaware ,"Chench" is a phrase coined one funny night, by a friend, meaning Chinese influenced by French style !

Its a great dish and so savoury and moreish , you want to just keep eating the sauce and mushiness that it creates , it has to be sucked off the bones too! In Japan they call that extra special savouriness, unami and this has it in droves. It combines 2lbs of chicken breasts with 15 cloves of garlic and lots of lovely Chinese flavourings ! Tonight he the mans added some more in the shape of 2 whole fresh just picked garlic bulbs, stalks and all , which made the dish much sweeter than normal.

Its not the prettiest dish , but that doesn't matter when its enjoyable to eat hey! He the mans served alongside it, a sort of potato pie experiment thing , that tasted quite nice and consisted of sliced potato , packed tight and baked in a stock with herbs in the oven. He wasn't happy with its outcome , so alas I have no images.

Dessert was followed by :

Homemade Green Apple sorbet , which to me is just gorge , as I LOVE stewed apples and this all pureed and frozen is amazing!!

Taken from book ~ Ice cream & Frozen desserts by Peggy Fallon pg 82


Homemade Dark chocolate Gelato , which is rich dark and very naughty !!

Taken from book ~ Italian Ice Cream by Carla Bardi Pg 18