Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Carbo loading Cowie for her Triathlon Debut

Cowie has been in training for months in order to take on the grueling Eton triathlon. Whilst I've been sensibly asleep she's been making waves in Balham swimming pool... doing circuits legging it around Clapham Common or cycling around Richmond Park. You won't meet many fitter people, let along girls, than Cowie.

As the weekend loomed towards the end of last week attention turned away from Dwayne Chambers and his cocktail of performance enchancing drugs and fell on Cowie's carbo loading regime. Cowie is normally fairly averse to all things carby, particularly wheat. So we decided to go for an oriental and Italian theme.

On Friday night we went to Fujiyama in Brixton. I went some time ago with Ed and Adam which made Cowie pretty vexed. For once I was early so I propped up the bar with a bottle of Tiger and a bowl of steaming hot edamame. Delicious. Who needs crisps when you can add a tonne of salt and soy sauce to your beans!

We decided to go all out and ordered gyozas, yakirori and sahsimi. The salmon and tuna sashimi were delicious. Massive hunks of fish with a good white dividing line of fat. I must confess I am far from being a sushi expert - but we enjoyed it. My only niggle was that the wasabi paste was a bit floury and didn't quite seem right. Maybe they thought we couldn't handle the good stuff.

Our gyozas and yakitori were both in a different league to what we normally wolf down in Wagamamas. Delicious.

For our main courses we decided not to hold back either. Cowie was already hinting that maybe we should order one dish and share it! Rubbish! This was all about carbo loading so we went for chile men and a beef and rice dish that turned up with some iffy miso soup. Everything but the soup was very tasty and filling - with our emphasis being on the energy rather than the quality for once.

All this slipped down with the aid of some very gentle green tea. For such a large amount of tasty food you really can't complain when the bill comes to 40 quid including a tip. It's just a shame that the real cost of the meal was over a hundred because Cowie got a parking fine! Again!

We'll be back to Fujiyama but maybe next time on a bus...

I woke up on Saturday with a smashing headache and blury vision. Either a few cups of green tea had given me a hangover or I was ill. So I went shopping in Balham for provisions for Cowie's pre race dinner.

We are spoilt in Balham to have such an impressive range of delis. The Fat Delicatessen provided me with the risotto rice and pasta that Trinity Stores couldn't muster up. But in fairness to them they did provide me with some gorgeous jarred tomatoes, wild mushrooms and aubergine. Chadwicks supplied me with 2 large free range chicken breasts with the skin and wing still attached.

My menu for Cowie was broadly Italian and again intended to get as much energy inside her body as possible. We started with a rich wild mushroom risotto and then moved onto an aubergine and chicken pasta dish that doesn't really have a name but was really tasty!

Wild Mushroom Risotto Ingredients

For the wild mushroom risotto all I did was sauted some shallots and a sweet onion in plenty of olive oil and then added some diced smoked streaky bacon. When the fat had come out of this and the onions had softened I added 2 large thinly sliced cloves of garlic which have me a sensational head rush. This sizzled away for a bit longe before I added the risotto rice which crackled and hissed like a snake with space dust in its mouth. Then I added a large glug of white wine which reduced down to nothing very quickly.

Whilst this was going on I rehydrated some dried wild mushrooms from the Fat Delicatessen and then used the mushroom stock to top the risotto up with. Half an hour later the rice was cooked and the risotto was almost ready to serve. I turned the heat down and fried some wild mushrooms in butter and olive oil and grated as much parmesan as I could find.

Wild Mushrooms

Wild Mushrooms with Thyme

I beat the parmesan into the rice and topped each plate off with a spoon full of freshly sauted wild mushrooms. All of this was seasoned liberally and wolfed down with a glass of very cold white wine. Bliss.

Wild Mushroom Risotto

Next step was to create a pasta mega dish. I sauted the chicken having seasoned it agressively in a hot pan with some onions and garlic. Once the skin was coloured I turned it over, added some white wine and reduced this down till it was sticky. In went a squeeze of lemon juice before transfering the chicken to a baking dish to sit on top of some tomatoes.

Chicken Saute

This cooked for around 20 minutes in a hot oven whilst an aubergine and some peppers turned from being inanimate watery vegetables into gorgeous, sweet flesh!

Some fresh egg pasta cooked in a pan of hot water whilst a very classy tomato and aubergine jarred sauce heated through.

Chicken Close up

Yum. I was certainly full. We ate it whilst watching the perfect film for the ocassion... GI Jane!

Needless to say Cowie did brilliantly in the triathlon the next day. She came 23rd overall out of 120 in her category. And then even more impressively came 270th out of 1120 including male and female competitors! Roll on Beijing/Blenheim!


Monday, 19 May 2008

Thomasina Miers is a Legend!

Exciting news hot off the press!

We emailed Wahaca this morning with some picures showing how our chiles are getting on to see if they could tell us what type of chiles we are growing. Loyal readers will recall that we were given some chile seeds when we ate at Wahaca which we have since planted and lovingly nurtured...

Then, to our delight an email arrived from none other than the Queen of Wahaca herself... Thomasina Miers. The legend who won Master Chef! Without going into massive detail...

"They look like jalapeno from the round, wide stem...these were seeds we were giving out before Christmas. If you planted them since them, they'll be serrano chillies which are smaller and thinner...they look like jalapenos to me but you could do the taste test. Serranos should be a little hotter and have a grassier, more citrus flavour."

Wow! This is some of the most exciting news we have ever had. Thomasina even offered us the chance to write a feature for Wahaca's next newsletter!

Thank you Thomasina! We'll be round soon for that shot of tequila you mentioned!

Friday, 16 May 2008

Brasserie James

Brasserie James is springing up like a phoenix from Tabaq's flames in Clapham South. Good luck to them! It's yet another indication that the Balham / Clapham South area is the place to be. Someone recently referred to Balham as the new Fulham. Well at least they end in the same 3 letters.

What with the recent opening of Gazette (which is ace) and the closure of Raviolo... Balham's rise to culinary utopia is well on track.

It would be nice if there was some sort of local blogger initiative like they have at Gazette to help the launch of Brasserie James.

New Favourite Sanger at EAT

This week's special sandwich at EAT is the chorizo and roased pepper baguette. I loved it. Good bread. Nice sweet peppers. And sweet spicy chorizo. Top bombing from EAT.

Kathy Brown's Edible Flowers

When I was doing my GCSEs about a decade ago Mum was busy adding flowers to all our food! I thought it completely normal and nothing really to cause a fuss. Little did I know she was about 10 years ahead of a major culinary trend!

This excitement peaked a few months ago when the contestants in the Master Chef final visited Michel Bras's restaurant in Southern France that specialises in using flowers in his cuisine. The setting, philosophy, style and no doubt taste were stunning. Mum was enthused and we can't wait to find an excuse to go there for lunch!

Then, this week, Charles Campion, who as it happens is a judge in the semi final of Master Chef who comes out with gems such as "TEK nically accomplised... dinner party ordinary" wrote an article in the Evening Standard which is shown below. Inspired by Chelsea Flower Show he talks about:

"The highlight of the horticultural calendar, the Chelsea Flower Show, will be upon us again next week — so dust off the daisies and bring on the begonias, we're all going flower power crazy. However, if smelling the roses just isn't enough for you, you can now eat them as well. London's restaurants have taken a leaf — or should we say a petal — out of the Royal Horticultural Society's book.

And we're not just talking lovely, fragrant bouquets on the tables or culinary staples that have been cleverly reinvented with a floral twist — the capital's top chefs have devised a whole new crop of florally inspired dishes, from entire menus to afternoon teas and cocktails. These run the whole gamut, from gently incorporated floral essences (an initiation for the nervous) to serving up the real thing — petals, stamens and all.

But if you're planning to attend the show at the Royal Hospital in Chelsea, don't make the mistake of eating the displays — you may find yourself unceremoniously ousted."

Whislt in this online article it concentrates on the RHS, Chelsea and some restaurants the printed article says,

"For the home cook, the seminal reference book, Kathy Brown's Edible Flowers, is republished by Anness in June."

How exciting! Charles, if you would like to come for dinner with my parents in Stevington we will show you around the garden and then feed you with flowers just let me know.

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Strada Sampling

Good old Strada. I quite like them. In fact I am warming to them more and more. Especially when they decide to do free samplings on a sunny lunch time on Baker Street. There's nothing quite like a bit of unexpected good will to make you feel good about a brand.

Oli, me and Ed tucked into mini portions of delicious prawn risotto, rich mushroom polenta, olives and then a mini piece of tiramisu. The best bit was the antipodean person running the sampling. She was fantastic. Well done Strada. Keep it coming.

Sunday, 11 May 2008

The Hinds Head, Bray

I have been cruelly teased about the fact that I have never been to The Hinds Head – Heston’s “perfect pub”. Cowie snuck off their for a friend’s birthday last year and Oli managed to orchestrate a client lunch there recently. Worse still Ed’s family are from Maidenhead, so he regards Bray as pretty much being his feudal dominion.

Cowie, being the legend she is, decided that we deserved a treat. As an alternative to refuelling at Fleet services on the M3 she managed to book us in for a late table on Bank Holiday lunch time. Given the recent rumours that Heston may be on the brink of becoming the head chef at the Little Chef it seemed very apt that we should be dropping in to the Hinds Head coaching inn to change our horses and recharge our energy levels. A glimpse of the future, present and past in gaze through the prism.

A major incident on the M4 made our journey a little less relaxed than it might have been. It resulted in Cowie declaring that all women drivers should be banned. An exclamation I wasn’t sure I should shout “Bravo” to or point out that she’d be out of a driving job!

We arrived on time smirking at how twee and immaculate Bray looked on this sunny lunch time. A very self important man was busy clipping his topiary into the shape of a Mr Whippy ice cream helter skelter. A couple, having just eaten at The Hinds Head walked off down an alley hand in hand and then started arguing ferociously. Or at least, as ferociously as is allowed in polite middle class society.

Cowie and I ducked and goosed to get under the low oak door and were welcomed by a charming man in a blue shirt. This friendliness continued throughout our experience – it was the best service I have ever had the pleasure to be on the receiving end of. Nothing was too much trouble, dishes that had been struck off the menu made a comeback just for us and we were allowed to go for a walk between our main course and desert in order for us to work up an appetite again. It just added to what was otherwise a perfect Bank Holiday pub lunch experience.

We were lead upstairs and shown to a table next to 3 large families out to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries and just being together. It set the jovial tone for the wonderful food that was to come. Our only minor gripe was that we could have done without the curtains impeding in our personal space – a tiny thing, but if you have sat at one of their upstairs tables for 2 for lunch, I am sure you will agree with.

Cowie, an expert in the Hinds Head by dint of her one previous visit, ordered us some snacks to keep us going. One of Heston’s famous scotch quail eggs each and a portion of devils on horseback per person too. Sweet Mother of God! They are amazing. How they get the yolk to be so runny whilst the outside is so crispy is beyond me. And the bacon and prune chaps were pretty special too. But we certainly didn’t need a portion each.

Cowie opted for some tea smoked salmon to start with, which came with some slightly set sour cream and brown soda bread. Very simple. But very good.

I could have had the entire menu. But it was love at first sight as soon as I saw the asparagus and hollandaise option. Rich, thick, sharp, smooth, buttery and with a hint of cayenne pepper, the hollandaise was majestic. By far the best I’ve ever had. And the asparagus was gorgeous. Beautifully cooked so that it was soft but had retained an iota of bite I could barely keep Cowie’s fork from crossing the DMZ in the middle of the table! The simplicity in terms of what you are confronted with belies the fact that some serious skill has gone into creating something so perfect.

Cowie chose the whole sea bass with fennel only to have her heart broken when she was told they had run out. Given that it was a hot day and Cowie isn’t really into seriously heavy food the alternatives of pies, steaks, chops and steak and kidney pudding were not ideal. We asked for some more time to think about things. A minute later our waitress returned saying that they had one last sea bass left! Cowie’s face beamed with delight. (What a shame the fish was sea bass rather than bream as I could have squeezed a pun in).

The bass was so well cooked it was translucent, succulent and meltingly good throughout with gloriously crispy skin. Cowie is a bit of a Philistine and isn’t much of a fan of fish skin so it was happy days for me! And the fish was so tasty it kept Cowie quiet for at least 12 minutes. For those of you who have spoken to Cowie you’ll realise that if a dish can do this to her it must be seriously good.

I fell in love again. This time with my pork chop. Normally I wouldn’t have written this in such a possessive way, but I liked it so much I can’t help myself! It was juicy, medium rare and caremilsed on the outside – classic Heston. He just loves his Maillard reaction and I love being on the receiving end of it.

My chop came plonked on top of the best mash in the world. Soft potato with mustard, capers and cornichons. The sharpness of the cornichons, saltiness of the capers, kick of the mustard and sweetness of the pork transported me into a state I can only describe as nirvana. I rambled on to Cowie, eulogising my pork chop, praising Heston’s fabulous cooking, vowing to replicate it myself. I was seriously close to doing a lap of honour!

Rather greedily we had ordered a bowl of Heston’s famous triple cooked chips. I only ate 4. Partly because I was so full. But mainly because the mash was so good it knocked the chips into a cocked hat!

At this point we both sighed, looked at each other and said nothing. We didn’t need to. We had just had the best lunch of the year. But we were also so full we needed to go or a walk. Half an hour of looking at the extortionate menus around the corner at the Fat Duck and the Waterside Inn was enough for us to muster up the courage to tackle one of Heston’s deserts. I probably made a bit of mistake railroading Cowie into sharing a treacle sponge with me. But she compromised and we had two scoops of milk and yoghurt ice cream on the side. She’s wanted to have Quaking Pudding, which is an ancient custard concoction that looked really good but sounded a bit weird. Needless to say the treacle pudding was fantastic. But the ice creams were incredible. Sheer genius.

Hats off to Heston. He’s conquered the world of molecular gastronomy, TV cooking, cookery writing and now he has perfected English pub cooking. What’s next? Little Chef perhaps?

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