Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Sheen Suppers

A couple of Fridays ago, I found myself wandering aimlessly around the city of London like a lost soul. I had finished work early and was going out later in the evening. I had booked a table at an underground supper club in East Sheen you see. For four people, Mr and Mrs Food Urchin along with Essex Eating Dan and his girlfriend. I had about two hours to kill and I knew I had to steer clear of pubs. I also had to find an internet cafe to get address details for the venue from my email. Yet looking for one was like looking for the holy grail. There was once a time when you couldn't move for dodgy, badly lit units on the high street that had hastily been fitted out with banks of computers and partitioning, charging ten pounds a minute. It seems that these days though, they have all but disappeared. However I couldn't let the guys down, especially Dan and his good lady who hadn't experienced guerrilla dining before so I persevered and finally tracked down a ramshackle mobile phone shop on Whitechapel High Street, which had a couple of monitors linked up and for hire. Yes, bloody Whitechapel, which from where I work in Barbican is like 50 miles or something. Still I went in, logged on and diligently tapped in the address into my Nokia and went onto meet everyone at our designated meeting point on time, even managing to get a sneaky pint on the way.

Getting there was pretty easy, a 20 minute train journey from Waterloo and it was nice to sit and chat having left the scrum on the underground behind. I must admit though that all that walking had left me a little weary and unable to concentrate fully on Dan's exploits from the previous night. Apparently he had been to a launch for a new pop-up book, very popular by all accounts, something to do with David Hasselhoff and a pig trotter? I don't know I wasn't really listening but it sounded like fun. Once at our destination we found The Pig and Whistle, a proper locals pub and had a refresher which perked me up no end and then quickly made our way to ensure we made the 7:30 opening promptly. Leading ahead (I had the details remember) I marched down the road with the others running after me and after negotiating a sharp left, soon found the secret place. I knocked on the door and waited. There was no sign of life so I knocked again. After a pause, a small shuffling from way beyond the door took place and a light came on. Eventually the door opened and an old lady peered out. "Who is it? What do you want?" she asked leaving me somewhat confused. Confused because I felt that she should be expecting us and welcoming us in with open arms. Not only that but I've met Lara, the cook and proprietor of Sheen Suppers before for a WMPC exchange. "Bloody hell, she's aged" I thought.

Of course, it soon became apparent that I had been knocking on the wrong door. The house we wanted was in fact two doors down. Not only had I fudged the address after all that effort but I also succeeded in terrorising a pensioner. With the others behind me, uneasily shuffling their feet, I must admit the phrase "you plonker Rodney" did spring to mind. Luckily a couple turned up in cab and it was obvious where they were going, so our party followed them. Feeling slightly embarrassed, I apologised, bowed slightly and then scurried back down the street into the correct house where this time I was warmly greeted in the hallway by a friendly chap called Iain. Lara also popped out of the kitchen to say hello and have a quick chat. Despite the fact that she had 16 covers, looked quite cool, calm and collected and not very old at all. If I ever have a go at this secret dining malarky (and I have thought about it) should I be cooking for as many people, expect to see me in my pants, dripping in sweat, with blood, tears and booze running down my face as I crawl out of the kitchen to stand and greet you.

Without further ado, Iain ushered us into a charming living room, softly lit with candlelight with jazz music playing in the background and sat us at our table. Slowly but surely other diners entered and as I surveyed our surroundings, a chord struck inside that the whole set up did seem, well quite romantic really. Making me wonder to myself whether I should have invited the others along after all and just kept it as a twosome. I mean, this would have been the perfect opportunity to woo Dan. But then again do we really want a sequel to Bumcrack Fountain? And besides there is only one Essex cowboy out there who is flirting with homoeroticism these days and his name is Jamie Oliver. These were just a few of the random thoughts that entered my mind as I perused the menu, which looked very enticing indeed. Iain was soon back on the scene with some olives and a tasting of the chardonnay that he had matched with the first course. He obviously knew quite a bit about wine but was far from stuffy, delivering little tidbits of information about the wine and the food throughout the evening with a great sense of humour. He also didn't bat an eyelid at the fact that we had also brought two bottles of our own, bringing us a bucket with ice to keep the Chapel Down cool. All in all the atmosphere was very convivial and relaxed.

Le Menu

After a short period of chatting amongst ourselves, the starter came out which was a Celeriac and Potato Soup with Smoked Salmon, Fried Quails Egg and Soda Bread. It looked and smelt pretty impressive but first things first, there had to be the obligatory snapping away with our cameras. Of course, due to the low light levels and the fact that I don't really know how to use my Lumix, my initial shots consisted of bleached out tablecloth and little else. As a consequence I decided to use the tactic of raising the camera aloft in the air above my head as far as I could stretch and take aerial pictures of the table instead. So apologies for the poor quality of the photos! Anyway back to the soup, which was delicious. The combination of creamy root vegetable base with the salmon and the egg worked really well and the soda bread was extremely fresh and moorish. And the wine, namely "Pulenta Estate Chardonnay, Mendoza, 2007" gave fine compliment to the dish with a slight buttery flavour. Having wolfed my soup down in a matter of seconds, I made a mental note to myself to take it easy with the main course as I didn't want my fellow dining companions to think that I was greedy so and so.

But unfortunately, next up was Braised Belly of Pork with Crackling with Black Pudding Faggots, Roast Potato and Autumn Root Vegetable Puree and so any thought of self restraint was thrown out of the window. I love pork belly you see and if you confessed that to me that you don't like this cut then I would simply say you were an idiot, kick you up the arse and send you on your way. So Lara was onto an immediate winner with this and her simple braising approach hit all the right buttons. Soft, tender, melt in the mouth stuff with some fine crackling. Scoffed in seconds. Plus the potato was crunchy on the outside, fluffy on the inside and the puree delivered a lovely sweetness combined with cumin spice. Alas there was one component missing from the plate which was the black pudding faggots. Iain had confessed that there had been a "masterchef moment" in the kitchen and that the faggots were deemed not good enough to be served up. Which is fair play. Although I was really really really really looking forward to them, Lara proved that she was commited to executing her dishes to a high standard and wasn't going to be letting any old crap hit the table. The wine, this time was Te Mania, Nelson Pinot Noir 2008. Again, very quaffable, fruity and heavy with berries.

The cheese course consisted of a smoked wensleydale, stilton and a goat's cheese delivered to us by so far, an unsung hero of the evening who was Kim who had been helping in the kitchen (aha so you weren't all alone in there where you Lara). All three fromages were very good with the goat being the favourite and were washed down with some fine Taylors LBV port. By this point I suspect that early signs of rosacea were starting to show on my face as we had also been nipping at the bottles of booze that we'd brought with us. But luckily it was dark and everyone else in the room were now starting to raise the noise levels so I didn't attract too much attention to the fact that I was fairly fish-paste by this point.

For dessert, we finished up with a gorgeous Banana Caramel Pudding with Chocolate and Rum Sauce, Cream and a Banana Wafer. On paper, it did read as quite a sickly sweet ending to the evening but all the ingredients were nicely balanced and rounded up the proceedings beautifully. It's funny, I wouldn't say that each plate came loaded with food but still I ended up feeling absolutely stuffed by the end of the night barely having room to drink my coffee. Testimony again to Lara's cooking concerning portion control and getting the food out of the kitchen, timing wise. So hats off to her, along with Iain and Kim, they all did a great job.

Right at the end of the evening, I wondered into the kitchen which looked like the proverbial bomb had hit it, for a bit of post match analysis and it was funny to hear about the scenes that belied the calm exterior. The extreme profanity, the burnt faggots, the Transvision Vamp soundtrack that kept everything pumping along and the six pints of Old Whallop that Iain had consumed before the guests arrived for the evening. But what impressed me most was that fact that Lara and co were simply focused on providing a reasonable, understated yet alternative dining experience with an eye on quality. No bells or whistles needed here, just good food and great hospitality. At £25 a head for four courses with matched wine, I can't recommend it highly enough. And going out with Dan and his missus wasn't that bad either, although I might just suggest that just the two of us go next time.
To book a table at Sheen Suppers, email: sheensuppers@googlemail.com

I can't bloody see what I'm doing with this camera

Love is in the air

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Take This Bottle (And Just Walk Away)

There are many reasons for drinking sparkling wine at 9 o'clock this morning son. Mostly poor ones but I'm going to stick by them. I've left things to the last minute you see. I need daylight for optimum photographising conditions and I have to test out this recipe that I've been formulating in my head for the past two weeks, by tomorrow. Deadlines, son. The malaise of modern life, you'll soon learn about them. Don't look at me that way, with your head cocked to one side and frown on your face. It makes me feel bad. Anyway, this is research. Honestly, Daddy doesn't have a problem. If you think I do, don't blame me. Blame this Irish lady I know, it's her fault.

And thus, these were some of the thoughts running through my head when conducting a comparative tasting session in my kitchen early this morning. It's one thing to drink alcohol at such an hour, taking a pause to consider what you are doing before lifting the glass to your lips. However, when your little boy stares up at you whilst clutching his teddy in one hand and a Farley's rusk in the other, the guilt increases ten-fold. But then I thought "what the hell, we never ever do this normally and besides, Mummy seems to be enjoying herself. I better call her later though, to see if she's left the kids at Sainsburys or put an empty bottle in the cot."

Perhaps I should clarify here. Along with the normal bustle in the kitchen at breakfast, I decided this morning to finally try out a recipe I had in mind for a food and prosecco matching competition that is being run by Niamh of Eatlikeagirl. There's nowt better than a challenge and with the offer of a meal at Trinity as a prize, this seemed to be too good an opportunity to miss. Of course, there is the crux of the matter. What dish would go best with prosecco, namely Bisol Jeio Prosecco? I have been racking my brains for the last couple of weeks and even though I've tried some before from Niamh's stall at Covent Garden Market, having walked away thinking "hmm that's nice", I still found it hard to consider what kind of food it would go with. If I were to be honest, I would suggest everything and anything but thankfully my wife's taste buds are slightly more sophisticated than mine. With her help, I was able narrow options down, coming up with this dish, namely a Warm Winter Salad with Pheasant, Pear, Pomegranate and Walnut. Unfortunately, when shopping for ingredients yesterday, I was unable to get my hands on a bottle of the proper stuff but after making some enquiries, I was reliably informed by Dan of Bibendum Wines (who are chief merchants for Bisol in the UK) that I could buy a similar match from a certain supermarket's 'finest' range. So I bombed over to my local one late last night. I hope he hasn't led me astray, still at least I know where he works. Anyway, here is the recipe:

Warm Winter Salad with Pheasant, Pear, Pomegranate and Walnut
serves 2

2 pheasant legs

2 gloves of garlic

1 tsp fresh thyme leaves

red chard, small bunch


rocket, small bunch

1 conference pear, peeled and cubed

10 walnuts, toasted and roughly chopped

pomegranate seeds, handful

salt and pepper

1 tbs olive oil

dressing

2 tbs rapeseed oil

half tbs white wine vinegar

tiny drizzle of honey

salt and pepper

method

Heat the oil in a frying pan over a medium heat, season the pheasant legs with salt and pepper and and place with garlic and thyme into the pan. Cook for 12-15 minutes, depending on size, turning once. Remove and leave in a warm place. Mix and assemble the salad leaves into the centre of plate, arranging the pear chunks and walnuts on top. Scatter the pomegranate over the salad and around the outside of the pile. Take the pheasant legs which should have cooled slightly and shred the meat from the bone with a fork, taking care to remove smaller bones. Place meat on top of the leaves. Mix the dressing together, seasoning very lightly and drizzle sparingly over the salad and around the plate. Serve immediately.


So how did it fare? Well, considering that I kind of went arse about face with the whole process ie I wrote the recipe first and didn't run any tasting sessions at home with Mrs FU, I was pretty pleased with the end result. There were fairly contrasting flavours and textures with the ingredients used but they blended together well and in my mind at least, complimented the dry fruitiness of the prosecco, particularly the pomegranate. I must say that initially for the salad, I wanted to use dandelion leaves but they would have been too bitter for this dish and plus I would have run the risk of bed wetting tonight (hell, there's always that risk!). I was also very happy with the vibrancy of the dish, having used Farrington Mellow Yellow cold pressed rapeseed oil in the dressing which stood out nicely against the reds and greens. And if you can spot a blatant plug in that last sentence then you would be right. Having received a free bottle of the stuff months ago, I've been trying to work out how to fit it in a post. So there you go, hands up, full disclosure!

As usual, I am digressing in my analysis so its probably best that I stop there and leave this recipe in the hands of the powers that be to decide whether it is worthy or not. With one day to go, the entries are starting to flood in and the others so far have been of excellent quality so may the best man or woman win.

Cheers!


Cor, look at the legs on that game bird

Warm Winter Salad with Pheasant, Pear, Pomegranate and Walnut

Daddy ish fine shon *hic* thish ish all in the name of researchsh

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Two Soups

Earlier this week, I took out from the cupboard one of my old favourites, the first Moro cookbook, so that I could crank out a couple of my old favourite soups. Its strange but I never ever imagined before that I could get all whimsical about a stained, battered, dog-eared book. Still when I dug it out, it really was like visiting an old friend as I leafed through the pages, looking at all the recipes. In fact I became quite nostalgic sitting at my kitchen table reading it and remembering all the meals cooked, the highs and the lows. Like making my first paella for instance for my parents and in-laws, just a simple affair with pork, chorizo and spinach but still it was a real hit and a great pick me up after a very sad period for our family. I won't mention the effing chocolate and apricot tart with its effing pastry shell that, well effing crumbled. There was lots of effing in the kitchen that day. And of course I have to thank Mr and Mrs Clark for inspiring me to create my own sourdough starter which I named Veronica and has become like a daughter to me. A smelly, rebellious and somewhat explosive daughter and she's only six months old, god help me when we get to the teenage years. So yes, Moro cookbook, we've had some good times together. If I could I'd take you out for a pint but then I would probably get drunk and emotional and say something like "I facking love you" which would be embarrassing and unbearable for the pair of us. So I won't. It also may be for the best that I stop personifying inanimate objects (which I am doing far too much of lately) before the men in white coats arrive so I shall proceed to talk about the soups, namely Chestnut and Chorizo and Beetroot with Black Cumin.

In my opinion these two soups are seasonal smashers, perfect for coming home and making on cold, autumnal, grey days. Thick, warm and comforting, a bowl with a hunk of bread easily provides enough for an evening meal to enjoy in front of a roaring fire or 2-bar electric heater. The chestnut and chorizo has always been a particular favourite not just for it's spiciness but also because the recipe instructs you to mash everything up by hand with a potato masher. The resulting texture of the soup is immensely satisfying as you bite into small soft chunks of cured paprika sausage and velvety chestnut pieces. Although I must admit, this time around the beetroot soup was even more of a revelation. I had made this last year using beets grown on the allotment which were rather large and as a consequence gave the soup quite a prominent earthy flavour. The beetroots I used this time were small and still quite sweet and gave far better results, letting the nutty element from the cumin seed come through. I also included garlic yoghurt and chopped parsley as instructed this time around (which I left out when I made it last) and again this added a lovely middle-eastern touch that is Moro's signature. I've been adding garlic yoghurt to a lot of dishes lately, I bloody love it. Whether it goes well with muesli remains to be seen but I might just try it. And on that tangent, I give you the recipes:

Sopa de castañas (chestut and chorizo soup)
serves 4

4 tbs olive oil

1 large spanish onion, diced (I used a couple of small english ones)

1 medium carrot, diced

1 celery stick, thinly sliced

120g mild cooking chorizo, cut into 1cm cubes

2 garlic gloves, thinly sliced

1 tsp ground cumin

1 and half tsp finely chopped fresh thyme leaves

2 small dried red chillies, crushed

2 tomatoes, fresh and tinned, roughly chopped

500g cooked peeled chestnuts (fresh or vacuum-packed), roughly chopped

20 saffron threads, infused in 3-4 tbs boiling water

1 ltr water

sea salt and black pepper

method

In a large saucepan heat the oil over a medium heat. Add the onion, carrot, celery, chorizo and a pinch of salt and fry for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until everything caramelises and turns brown. Add the garlic, cumin, thyme and chilli and cook for 1 more minute, followed by the tomato and chestnuts. Give everything a stir and then add the saffron-infused liquid, the water and simmer for about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and mash by hand until almost smooth but still with a bit of texture. Season with salt and pepper.

Beetroot soup with black cumin
serves 4

4 tbs olive oil

half a large onion, sliced

2 garlic gloves, thinly sliced

1 rounded tsp black cumin or normal cumin seeds

750g raw beetroot, peeled and finely diced

1 large potato, finely diced

1.25 ltrs of cold water

3 tbs of red wine vinegar

1 small bunch fresh parsley, roughly chopped

100g Greek yoghurt, thinned with milk and seasoned with crushed garlic

sea salt and black pepper

method

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat. Add the onion and a pinch of salt. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onion begins to colour. Now add the garlic and cumin and cook for 2 more minutes to release their flavour, followed by the beetroot and potato. Pour in the water, bring to a gentle simmer and cook until soft, about 15 minutes. Place the vegetables and cooking liquid in a blender or food processor and blend until just smooth. You may need to do this in two stages. Return to the pan, add the vinegar, half the parsley and salt and pepper to taste. You may need more salt than you think to balance the acidity of the vinegar. Serve with a little yoghurt on top, the rest of the parsley and an extra drizzle of olive oil.


Key ingredients

Saffron infusin'

Veg, chestnuts and chorizo caramelizin'
Beetroot peelin'

Beetroot and spud choppin'

Sopa de castañas (chestut and chorizo soup)

Beetroot soup with black cumin

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Goodbye Betty

It is with great sadness and heartache to have to inform you today that Betty is no longer with us. As you can imagine, we are fairly devastated as Betty had been with us for nigh on 4 years now and we really felt that she was starting to become part of the family. OK, she was fiery and temperamental at first but slowly and over time I learnt how to control her ways. For instance, I found out that it was always best to leave Betty well alone after feeding her. She would need to calm down completely before you approached her again. If she got too hot and excitable, then a quick spritz of water from a spray bottle would do the trick. If she became lethargic and needed picking up, then some vigorous flapping with a piece of cardboard or frantic waving of a dustpan would soon get her all frisky again. Ah what happy memories of playing in the sun!

I knew something was up when I took Betty for a walk to the bottom of the garden. She set off fine but after taking a few steps forward, she started to shake violently, making a strange whining sound before leaning listlessly to one side and finally collapsing to the ground. I tried to pick her up but it was no good, her leg had gone. It was then that I noticed the dreaded rusty coloured rash all over her body and I felt this horrible sick feeling in my stomach. How come I hadn't seen this before? Further inspection confirmed the worst. There was a massive hole in Betty's bottom. I sank to my knees and held her for a while before looking back up to the sky with a tear rolling down my cheek. It was then that I knew she had gone. The worst part was knowing I had to go back into the house and tell my wife the dreaded news.

"The barbecue is fucked, we'll have to get a new one next year"

I am sure with time, we shall get over the loss but to help us through the grieving process I would like to dedicate this post to Betty. And by way of fitting tribute, I would like to show some pictures of her last endeavour of the summer when I experimented with some Mexican flavours and pork belly, gratis from Able and Cole.

Goodbye Betty.

Chipotle Chile and Tamarind (soaked and blended together)

Recado de Achiote

Marinate overnight

Braise in low oven for 3 hours (Recado de Achiote mix to the left, Chipotle and Tamarind mix to the right)

Whack the pork belly on Betty

Tender, spicy, sexy pork, dribble.......
"Betty" 2005 -2009