Monday, 30 January 2012

The Secret Food Larchin Supper Club


"So, itsa like a dis. I do dis, dis great-a big thing. I come into your house. I cook. I cook-a-da wid you. We.......you.....me....we cook-a-da stupendio feast, fantastico. Just-a like a Mama used to. Itsa like a....a great meeting of minds. We... we are men-a and we wanna show-a da world waas it all abaht-a. We wanna show our.......passion. Our.....skill of makin' da food taste... so beautiful. I wanna show our love makin' behind-a da stove. An' I don' mean no trutti frutti, hide-a da salami. No, that would put-a da people off their risotto. No, I jus' wanna cook wid fantastico ingredients, primo, 100% natural and no like that stupid Dolmio telly ad off da telly. And make sure da people, they have a good-a time eh. So-ah, whaddoyou think eh? Eh? Itsa great-a idea no? Itsa an offer you can no refuse eh?"

"Danny, what the hell are you talking about?"

"Well James, I just er, wondered if we should make it an Italian themed night, that's all"

And that, believe it or not, was how it all began. I had been egging a young James Ramsden, food writer and purveyor of The Secret Larder about running a joint supper club for some time now and we finally got to meet up a couple of weeks ago to thrash out the details over a pint of London Pride and a diet coke (James was on the diet coke - gaffaw).

Having entered into a couple of these collaborations now, the process of putting a menu together is quite interesting, especially when you consider the 'blokey' dynamic of talking food. Sat at table, in a City pub full of suits, once we got the 'What you been up to then, bicycle sniffer?' small talk and baldy jibes out the way, there was a palpable disquiet. Trying to think of something impressive that we could present to our dinner guests, I threw down the suggestion of a Bollito Misto, that festival of gorgeous, poached meat. James picked up the gauntlet straight away, saying that if we were going down the Italian road then florentines with coffee would be the order of the day. Oh and zabaglione would be good for dessert. I didn't have the foggiest what a 'zabaglione' was but in true male fashion made out that I knew exactly what it was and countered that it should contain some poached rhubarb. James' eyes twitched momentarily but then, bam we were on canapes and starters. Pizzette was ruminated for about a second with James stating that "getting the dough right was a bugger but hell, we can't really go wrong with homemade pizza." And then came the idea of artichoke hearts. Deep Fried? Great. Mayo? Yep, with garlic. And maybe chilli? Yes chilli. All responses delivered in crisp, staccato notes, never hovering over the two syllable limit. And bang we were done, we were then able to get on with the business of slagging each other off before supping up and departing into cold, dark night.

After coming home from the pub, be it with work colleages or close mates, my wife will often ask me, "So what did you talk about?" And more often or not, I'll answer with "Oh you know, stuff." The minutiae of conversation never really registers but believe me, great things are done, great things are talked about. This menu is a prime example I'd say.

Deep fried artichoke hearts with chilli and garlic mayo

Pizzette

Bollito Misto

Rhubarb Zabaglione

Florentines

If you are interested in coming along to the The Secret Food Larchin Supper Club which is to be held on March 8th 2012, please email me at foodurchin@yahoo.co.uk

There are currently 16 spaces left at a suggested donation of £30.00 a head.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Som Tam: Salad of Joy and Pain

Two words, that's all it took and straight away I could tell she was impressed. She may been taken aback at first. I think I may have even flustered the young lady but then she flashed me a wicked white smile, framed by hot, red, pouting lips. She probably didn't get my kind of proposal that often. I mean working night after night, serving up the same old fare to the same old punters, well it must be dull and tedious. Don't get me wrong, the food in Sukhothai is of a high standard and quite delicious but out in the provinces of 'Ornchurch, I doubt very much that anyone ventures beyond the safety net of a green curry or a pad thai. Except for me of course. Because when I saw the new addition to the menu and asked for it as my starter, she was definitely excited.

"You want to try the Som Tam?!"

"Yeah, go on then"

"You try it before?"

"Of course" (I hadn't)

"You....you like it spicy then?!"

"Yeah, I do"

"How hot?! Two chilli hot? Three chilli hot?!"

"Yeah, go on, three chilli hot" I replied, slouching back on my chair, holding up three stubby digits, speech slow, languid and seductive.

And off she went, beaming all the way to the kitchen, glancing back over her shoulder oh so quickly before walking through the swinging doors. 'Was that a wink?' I thought, grinning to myself. Yeah, probably.

Almost immediately after that exchange, I felt a ferocious, sharp shard of pain shoot through my shin bone and up my leg, which jolted me out of my stupor. Opposite me sat Mrs FU with a face framed at first by disapprobation and ire, before melting back into calmness, all batting eye-lashes and sweetness and light.

"Now that you have quite finished flirting with the waitress, would you mind pouring me and Craig some wine?"

I looked to my dear old friend for support but I could tell by the arch of his eyebrow that I wasn't going to get any. I shouldn't have been surprised, Craig professed to me his preference for boys years ago. So there was no getting away with it. I had been caught, busted, St Strabismus had looked down upon me at the wrong moment and for the next five minutes I was made to suffer in silence, the ignominy of wandering eyes.

But then suddenly, she appeared again at our table, my Thai princess - sorry waitress - and placed the plate down in front of me triumphantly and all was well again. Although this time I had to suppress any signs of coquetry. As she stood there waiting, it took me a while to wonder why she hadn't cleared off but of course, she wanted to see how I got on. So with a large fluid action, holding my fork, I scooped up a healthy mouthful of glistening shredded papaya and chomped down with great enthusiasm. And nodded with a smile and a thumbs up. And then I glanced back at my wife and her gay compadre, you know to make sure that I hadn't overstepped the line. Again.

Satisfied, she left us in peace to get on with the business of eating. Mrs FU had her Tom Kha Gai, Craig had his Thai fishcakes and I had my Som Tam. Gorgeous it was too, with lovely sour and sweet flavours, fruity, crunchy textures, the tang of lime and fish sauce and an underlying heat that seemed to build and build with each mouthful. And build and build. And build and build. And..............oh my God, the heat. The searing, overwhelming heat which threatened to engulf my entire person and if it hadn't been for the sweat and the snot that began to cascade from my pores, I am sure my head would have surely burst into flames. I dropped my fork onto the plate and clutching the side of the table, began to smother my face with my napkin to mop up the mess and the ooze.

After an ablution of sorts, I looked up and spied the young waitress peering through a crack in the swinging door with half a dozen older ladies, complete with blue hairnets, giggling. Still thinking I was in the game, I plunged another forkful into my mouth and shakily raised my thumb, chewing like a wide mouth frog with tears dripping from my cheeks. The door shut to raucous laughter. Gently, Mrs FU placed her hand over my trembling thumb and lowered it, cooing "Take it easy now Dan. I think, as usual, you've impressed her enough for one night." To which I dropped my fork in submission and proceeded to drink a whole jug of tap water.

That was the first time I tried Som Tam and I have eaten it a couple of times since, with more or less the same reaction. It truly is a salad of joy and pain and perversely, I can't get enough of it. Yesterday, I tried for the first time to make it at home, following this recipe by Meemalee's Kitchen. However, the papaya I bought in Chinatown, which incidently was £4.50, was too ripe and was therefore useless. So I ended up going to the supermarket to buy some unripe mangoes, which incidently cost me a futher £4.00.

This has been the most painful Som Tam episode yet.

Som Tam

Garlic and "Two" Bird's Eye Chillis

Sour pounding

Giant ripe papaya

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Baking For The New Boyfriend

Persimmon

During the early stages of romance, as things begin to flourish and blossom, there are many possible perils and pitfalls that seek to beset us along the way. But once we get through those initial episodes of nervous drunkenness, coughed up popcorn and inopportune farts at the restaurant table and plunge headfirst into a sordid world of heavy petting and seat wetting (you know, as people do when they are getting to know and really like each other), the next real test of any burgeoning relationship is the first introduction to family and friends. Because I think once you've done that, that is the sign that things are getting serious. Although I do know of people who have left it for years before introducing their partners to parents. Sometimes even on the night before their wedding.

And so with that in mind, when my little sister announced before Christmas that she was bringing her new beau around to our house to meet up for the first time, I quickly realised that as an older brother, I had to deal with the situation with maturity and sensitivity. Unfortunately Mrs FU vetoed most of my suggestions for the night which included my dressing up as a butcher, complete with cleaver and smothering myself in blood. She also said I should leave the car engine totally alone and not even consider bringing it into the house and that any kind of physical joshing was absolutely out of the question. I wasn't even allowed to ask the new boyfriend for an arm wrestle. However, I was desperate to show some kind of masculine authority, some kind of upper hand. She was my little sister after all and I wasn't going to let any kind of plonker waltz along and whisk her off into the sunset. And my God, there's been some plonkers in the past. No, I was going to show this guy who was boss, I was going to bake him a tart tatin.

This was to be no ordinary tart tatin though. This was going to be a persimmon tart tatin to serve up as the finale of a sumptuous three course meal. In one fell swoop, I was going to show off my skillz as a chef and get to use these strange orange-red fruit that had been hanging around in our Nigella Lawson porcelain bowl (exclusive to Debenhams) on the kitchen side. A misguided tasting of one earlier in the week produced a cat's bum pursing of the lips such was it's astringency. But after a further period of waiting, the persimmon had finally begun to soften becoming juicy and sweet as candy. Just the thing to put into an upside-down, caramelized, spicy, boozy, tarty type affair and just the thing to bamboozle the new fella who probably hadn't even heard of a persimmon before, let alone see one.

Imagine my surprise on the night.

Me: So Russ, enjoy that meal did you? (dabs mouth with tea towel, leaning back on chair)

Russ: Yes, it was lovely thank you.

Me: Bet you've never had pheasant before, eh?

Russ: Oh I have, but yours was great.

Me: Yeah but that lamb was pretty special, eh? Slow roasted that was. 5 hours.

Russ: Yeah, I love slow roasting, it really works well with pork belly too doesn't it.

Me: Yeah right...... but what about the tart?

Russ: Brilliant.

Me: What did you make of the weirdo-mondo fruit tucked inside? Strange, eh? (motions with fingers)

Russ: The persimmon? Oh I love persimmon.

Me: You do?

Russ: Yeah, shame you don't see them more often. You've got to make sure they're ripe though, don't try eating them at all when they're hard, persimmon will suck your mouth dry in seconds. But you know what's really great about them? They're packed with vitamin C, really good for you. Where did these ones come from Dan? Spain?

Mrs FU: Do you know where they come from Dan?

Me: Eh?

Russ: Yeah, bet they were from Spain.

Me: Do you want an arm wrestle Russ?

Russ: Pardon?

Mrs FU: No Dan, Russ doesn't want an arm wrestle...

Me: Course he does, big man like you Russ ain't scared of a bit of arm wrestling..

Tori: Dan, leave it.

Me: Yeah, come on Russ, big man like you, knowing everything there frigging is to know about persimmons, come on, yeah that's it, come on, here we go.....................

(pause)

Mrs FU: Dan? Are you alright?

Me: Yep

Tori: Why are you holding your hand like that?

Mrs FU: Where are you going Dan? What's wrong with your eye?

Me: (quietly) I've just remembered something..............we've run out of milk.........need to get.... milk.......for the kids..........in the morning.

(Door slams)

(pause)

Mrs FU: How tall are you Russ?

Russ: 6'4

Persimmon Tart Tatin - serves 6 (this is a variation of Gordon Ramsay's Pear Tart Tatin)

Ingredients

4 very ripe, juicy persimmon, trimmed of leaves and fibrous core cut out and then cut in halves.

100gms unsalted butter

100gms golden caster sugar

2 star anise

1 cinnamon stick

4 cloves

1 tbs of brandy

500gm pack of ready made all butter puff pastry (OK not so chef skillz)

Method

Take a 20cm wide frying pan and over a medium to high heat melt the butter and sugar, adding the spices and stir occasionally until everything begins to bubble. Then add the persimmon to the pan, flesh side down and cook in sauce for 10-12 minutes, shaking the pan from time to time until the persimmon are nicely caramelised.

Add the brandy and tilt the pan so that the alcohol catches and bursts into life with flames (I really should have done this part later in the evening when the new boyfriend first arrived). Flambé and when the flames dies out, turn off heat and put to one side to cool. Once cool, rearrange the persimmon flesh side up in the pan.

Pre-heat the oven to 200C/180C fan and roll out the puff pastry to thickness of a pound coin. Using a plate roughly the size of the frying pan, cut out a circle and place over the persimmon, tucking the pastry under the fruit.

Place in the oven and bake for 15 minutes. Take back out and carefully pour off any excess juice (if any). Lower the oven temperature to 180C/160C and place back in for a further 15 minutes until pastry is light and golden.

Cool to room temperature and serve with cream


Arranging

Caramelising

Flambé-ing

Erm more arranging


Persimmon Tart Tatin