(or making bread and cheese). Take a look.
Vlad is a friend of mine. He has worked in the kitchens of some amazing starred restaurants and is, of course, a hugely talented chef. Vlad and his wife came to my first supper club and he was so impressed he decided to start his own (at least that’s what he tells me). For his most recent feast he asked me to come and help him prepare some of the dishes and perhaps to add in something of my own. I seized the opportunity – I’d be learning some great techniques, I’d get to taste some of Vlad’s great food, I’d be able to show him how great I was and perhaps it could lead to greater things.
We had a few chats before and from that I somehow ended up ‘on pastry’. Not my first choice of kitchen tasks (as you’ll probably be able to tell from my recipes on this blog) but I was up for the challenge (I thought). I suggested my whisky and raspberry tart. There were some downsides to this: raspberries aren’t in season, but perhaps more crucially I’d only ever made it once before, about four years ago. Still, it’d be fine.
We were prepping in Vlad’s kitchen, although the dinner would take place in the pub across the road. Once I got there we had a look through the menu and I was very impressed, if a little daunted. I didn’t note everything but as I recall it:
celeriac velouté with truffle oil and parmesan tuile
quinoa salad-stuffed Jerusalem artichoke with cannellini bean purée
2-day slow cooked octopus with tomato and parmesan risotto croquet
milk fed pigeon with shallot purée, duxelle-stuffed chicken ballotine, ham hock and pea bric, broadbeans and carrots and chicken consommé
raspberry and whisky tart
(forgive me if I’ve forgotten something Vlad).
We worked our way through the tasks of the day. With Vlad’s occasional guidance I prepared the artichokes, shallot purée and the velouté, stirred (and tested) the octopus (ever so important and very delicious) and boned out the chicken legs. And then onto the tart. I have provided the recipe, so you can see what’s involved. It’s not horrendously tricky but a reasonable amount of pastry skill and experience are useful (possibly more than I had before attempting this). I managed to get the pastry rolled, into two cases and blind baked. The pastry was very delicious by itself but appeared to have stuck to the tin. I decided to try and get it out before adding the filling. This worked. However, on baking with the filling, the sides of one of the cases started to collapse under the strain. Vlad’s experience showed through here. He quickly directed me in some restorative and reconstructive pastry fixes. These worked well and the tarts came out of the oven just about in one piece. Vlad would decorate with raspberries for the supper club the next day and I was enormously relieved that I hadn’t left him, or his diners, without a dessert. In fact they had a very delicious dessert.
And a very enjoyable evening by all accounts; and I had a very enjoyable day. I hope I get the chance to work with Vlad again soon.
Before I launch headlong into putting new recipes up I wanted to put down some links to a couple of my more memorable experiences from this summer.
First up, back at the beginning of August I ran a ‘Master Your Meat’ burgers and ribs class at Central Street Cookery School, for various journalists and media bods to mark the release of American Dad Volume 8. All very surreal but great fun and I seem to have done a good job as the following articles will attest:
Then in early September I had a beautiful weekend in Bridport in Dorset. All I really need to say about this is go to Bridport, stay at Number 27 and order kidneys for breakfast. Amazing!
Oh, and a walk across the fields to the beach at West Bay is also very worthwhile.
Delicious flavours of charcoal grilled vegetables and seafood still, just about, hanging on, I wanted to write about a recent short holiday in Spain. There won’t be any recipes, but, hopefully tantalising, descriptions of the meals, as everything was cooked in the best way – making the most of what’s on offer.
My wife and I stayed in a beautiful straw hut, known as a choza, in Caños de Meca, near Cadiz. The site was a gorgeous little plot called Casas Karen. In spite of its somewhat incendiary appearance suggesting the contrary, the choza came with a gas stove and barbecue. We intended to put these to good use, and we thoroughly succeeded.
Our first night ended in limited culinary success, finding a bar offering a decent burger and those lovely Spanish chips – poached first in olive oil before being crisped up in the deep fryer. But it wasn’t exactly singing about local ingredients. I had, however, discovered that the next day a farmer would be visiting our site, for a mini farmers’ market. I like farmers’ markets. I was very excited.
I wasn’t disappointed. We came away well stocked with veg, some pasta, rice, honey, dried oregano and sweet paprika, and left behind a couple of happy farmers. After a quick trip to a small, local supermarket I also had some chorizo, a bottle of zesty white, a bottle of very cheap unlabelled tempranillo (€2.80) and a bottle of manzanilla. So equipped, dinner on day one was barbecued chorizo, red pepper, courgette and asparagus (thin and wispy, not like English, but sweet and crispy over coals) with sauteed paprika potatoes and onions, and chilled manzanilla.
Our second successful tip-off revealed the existence of an extensive fish market in the neighbouring town of Barbate. (Some minor advance research would have revealed this to be a major global tuna port, so not surprising it had a market, but I hadn’t had time for research.) Bluefin tuna from the place where most of it is caught and I had a barbecue to cook it on. The temptation was irresistible. (I did have an ethical dilemma over this, but I permitted myself the indulgence – it was, after all, local [I’m also aware that by that logic eating panda in a Chinese bamboo forest would be permissible].)
The tuna would be perfect with chargrilled artichoke (from the farmer). And so it was (and also went very well with the tempranillo).
We had also acquired seis gambas, dos salmonetes y un calamar (my Spanish improved as the shopping continued – not that much). These all appeared on the coals and on our plates in various guises with vegetables and an appropriate glass (squid and manzanilla – always) over the remaining nights. We packed up lunches for the beach of any leftover grilled vegetables, salads from the farmer and eggs or salchichon. Breakfasts were fruit or toast and amazing wildflower honey.
Thank you very much to Casas Karen. We had an outstanding trip thanks to your wonderful location, accommodation, on-site farmers’ market and proximity to amazing seafood – and not being afraid to mix straw and fire.
Cold and dark outside, and local, fresh ingredients probably at their hardest to find. So I decided to run another supper club, to add a bit of cheer. Taking place on Valentine’s Day but not intended as a romantic celebration, it was just a good reason for some strangers to come together and enjoy some good food. As ever, I sourced mainly from Islington Farmers’ Market and threw in an exotic blood orange and rose water sorbet as a closing, invigorating dessert. The menu is shown below and I’ve linked to where there are recipes on this blog.
Home baked sourdough breads with olive oil and butter
Pumpkin stuffed flatbreads with carrot and orange salad (v)
Razor clams with toasted hazelnuts, parsley, lemon and garlic and chopped roast tomatoes
Beetroot ravioli stuffed with labneh, thyme and walnuts with roast leek and butter bean salad (v)
Chargrilled sprouting broccoli with garlic and lemon juice (v)
Pear and sloe gin crumble cake with homemade vanilla ice cream and sour plum sauce
Blood orange and rose water sorbet with cardamom shortbreads
I have managed to get on with a reasonable amount of foraging this year and have made some always interesting and, usually tasty dishes from my finds. As the
winter draws in it of course begins to get harder (but not impossible) to find free fruits and veg. However, form a collection in the early autumn I have just made something that, provided it’s not eaten too quickly, should see me well through the festive season and into the new year – medlar paste.
I have access to a couple of well-fruiting trees that no one else seems to pay any attention to. They fruit well and for the last two years I have been able to collect about 20 fruits, when they were fully grown but still rock hard in early October. They then sit at home on my kitchen cupboards, bletting away. After, cooking, pounding and mixing with sugar they can then be formed into pastes or cheeses and I’ve put up a recipe. The medlar paste will last for ages and is a lovely accompaniment to hard cheeses and game.
Mainly for personal record, I’ve also put below a small gallery of some of my finds from the rest of the year.
Whenever I buy meat I like to use as much of it as I can. This weekend I got hold of a fallow venison shoulder from South Downs Venison & Game, from their stall on Islington farmer’s market. I reckon this was pretty excellent value at £7.40 (the owner tried to get me to buy two for £12.50 but I really only needed one so stuck to that).
To cook it I used the same approach as I would for a shoulder of lamb and went for a long slow cook, to keep the meat moist and tender, over cider and various aromatics. I had also collected some small ornamental quinces from a front garden so was determined to use these in the roasting liquor. Slow cooking does reduce volume, however, so I wasn’t sure how much meat I’d yield after cooking. The joint felt meaty but it also had a very large bone running through. As venison is somewhat leaner than lamb I covered it with butter and bacon to keep it well larded.
I wasn’t disappointed. My wife and I had a plentiful portion for a Sunday dinner of slow roast venison with creamed leeks and there was enough left over to go into a week evening meal of a spiced venison stew with bulgur pilav and yoghurt. For the stew I sawed through the substantial bone running through the joint and spooned out the lovely rich bone marrow.