Saturday 20 January 2007

The Case for Pastry....

Making Pastry was one of the first things I learned to do in the kitchen, and it has always remained for me one of the most satisfyingly tactile processes in cooking. I regret the fact that these days I very rarely do it. As part of the strategy for maintaining a respectable distance between my age and my waistline, I have been converted to the use of Phyllo pastry for almost all recipes where previously I would have used Pate Brisee - and for the most part it's a translation that works extremely well. For high days and holidays, however, I still allow myself the occasional lapse......

Puff pastry has never become a item in my repertoire, partly for the 'life's too short' reason, and partly because the method I've developed over the years for shortcrust produces such a light result that it's halfway to Puff pastry all on its own. Julia Child does have a quick method for rough Puff pastry in, I think, 'Julia & Company', but even that I could never really be bothered with. On the rare occasions when Puff pastry has been an absolute sine qua non, then I've either resorted to the supermarket variety (Waitrose used to have one that was made with butter - not sure whether they still do; if it isn't made with butter, it tends to have no character) or else I would brave the 'Gels' in Baker & Spice to get some of their freshly produced Puff pastry, which is pretty good. Having been through a peripatetic phase, Baker & Spice now appears to have come to rest in Elisabeth Street, just a few doors down from the Chocolate Society shop.

For Choux Pastry, I follow the method described by Mr Le Notre, which is infallible.

For shortcrust, I have developed the following process. It works.

For enough pastry for two 8" tart shells, use 8 oz butter, 10 oz plain flour, pinch salt, pinch sugar, water to mix.

Being fundamentally a luddite, I rejected the idea of making pastry in a food processor for years, and would resolutely and laboriously cut the fat into the dried ingredients by hand. Thank heavens I finally recognised the value of technological progress! It certainly produces better results.

The technique is simple:
1. Freeze the butter in the freezer until it is rock hard. This is imperative.
2. Grate the butter straight from the freezer using the grater disc on the food processor; add the remaining dry ingredients to the processor bowl and process using the blade until it has resolved itself into large flakes.
3. Add water in very small increments through the top opening, whilst the processor is running. Be very careful not to add too much.
4. As soon as enough water has been added, the mixture will form itself into one large solid lump and will adhere to the blade as it goes round. Stop the processor at this point.
5. Remove the pastry from the bowl and perform the fraisage - using just the heel of your palm, push the mixture six inches or so across the work surface in half a dozen or so bite-sized pieces, then gather them back together into a ball and wrap in cling film. Only do the fraisage once - the success of good pastry lies in limiting contact with your hands to a bare minimum, as otherwise the heat from your hands will cause the butter to melt within the pastry, and it will lose its shape as it cooks.
6. Preferably leave the pastry to rest in the fridge for 24 hours before rolling it out for use - again, this allows it to relax, and reduces the risk of it sliding out of shape or shrinking as it cooks.

That's it. Oh, and if you make enough pastry for two shells but only want to use one of them initially, you can always roll out the second one and freeze it as an uncooked shell; it will blind-bake perfectly directly from the freezer.

Today's out of my hands, since we are dining out. However, I have given below the recipe for last night's Beef in Soy and Honey.

Recipe: Flash-fried Beef, in Honey & Dark Soy Sauce

For four:
Ingredients: 1 lb piece of Beef Skirt (I believe that's what's called Flank Steak in the States); 3 tbs Dark Soy Sauce; 3 tbs clear, runny Honey; a handful of chopped Fresh Coriander; 3 minced cloves Garlic; Ground Pepper.

1. Mix together all ingredients - apart from the Beef - in a broad, shallow dish. Place the piece of Beef in the dish, and turn it several times to ensure it is thoroughly coated in the marinade. Cover with cling-film and leave for six to eight hours, turning the meat over once or twice during that time.

2. Pre-heat the oven to 80 degrees C (no higher!)

3. Heat a non-stick grill pan over a high heat, and when really hot, flash fry the beef approximately one minute on each side. Return the beef to the marinade, and place the dish in the pre-heated oven for at least ten minutes to heat through. It can be left in the oven for as much as forty minutes or so, which is very practical if you're entertaining.

4. Slice thinly to serve in strips, with the vegetable of your choice. (NB. Always remember to slice across the grain, or you risk the slices appearing tough.)

Friday 19 January 2007

Bruno Loubet - An Unsung Hero.....

When I first began to cook, my references were Julia Child ('Mastering the Art...') and subsequently Marcella Hazan ('Classic Italian Cooking'). I would still recommend these today to anybody who wants a basic grounding in techniques, and who would benefit from exposure to as broad a range as possible of established dishes in these two rich food traditions. Thereafter, I start to flounder. Pomiane, of course remains a classic with a well-earned place on the shelf - but I have difficulties with a lot of the newer arrivals. Raymond Blanc has much merit, and the occasional gem has fallen from the pages of Marco Pierre White - but from what I've seen of people like Ramsay and Rhodes and Oliver, there's nothing new or interesting in most of what they write, and for the most part it's just the same old tried-and-trusteds re-packaged and photographed ever more theatrically for optimal coffee table presentation.

For me, however, the most Unsung Hero of cooking in modern times is Bruno Loubet. Over the past twenty years he seems intermittently to have flirted with the idea of celebrity chefdom, before disappearing once more into obscurity. I remember eating both at Odeon and, much later, at Isola, when he was cooking at both places, and the food was sublime; possibly also I tasted his cooking when he was at The Four Seasons or even when he started out, at Le Manoir, but I didn't know of him at the time. Having disappeared from view once more, I see he has now re-surfaced in Brisbane.....which is good news for Oz, but, sadly, I doubt I'll be trecking down-under merely for dinner!

Loubet has an ability to think up new and unexpected combinations of flavours and textures which is unerringly successful, and the results are just simply wonderful. If I had to name the single recipe book from which more recipes have entered my repertoire over the years than any other, then it would have to be Loubet's 'Cuisine Courante'. My battered and stained copy has pride of place on the shelf, and never actually stays there for long. I can't recommend it highly enough. His second book, when he was at L'Odeon, also has many good things in it, but somehow lacks the edge and sparkling originality of Cuisine Courante - still worth having, but the earlier work slightly pips it at the post.

Today's Menu:

Asparagus with Hollandaise.

Beef skirt, marinated in Soy, Honey, Garlic, and Coriander, flash-fried, and served with a puree of Broccoli and Parmesan.

Iced White Chocolate and Gingerbread Parfait. A conversation-stopper from Bruno Loubet; relatively complicated, and you need to plan in advance how many mixing bowls you need at various stages in the process- but, my God, this one is worth the effort! For the full recipe, see below.

Recipe: Iced White Chocolate & Gingerbread Parfait

For Twelve:
Ingredients: 800 ml Double Cream; 300g White Chocolate; 50g unsalted Butter; 200g Pain d'Epices (or McVities Ginger Cake, possibly preferable); 450g Sugar; 12 Egg Yolks; 3.5 tablespoons Dark Rum; 2 tablespoons Dark Treacle; 300g Prunes; 1 tablespoon Cinnamon; 1 bottle Red Wine.

1. Using 150g sugar along with Red Wine and Cinnamon, poach prunes according to the method given elsewhere (Recipe: Marsala Posset)

2. Melt White Chocolate and Butter along with 100 ml Cream in a double boiler. When melted, pour into bowl and chill until good and firm, stirring from time to time. When firm enough, use a piping bag to pipe the mixture into 4-6 'sausage' shapes, each the length of a loaf tin. Pipe the 'sausages' onto greaseproof paper on a tray, and place this in the freezer for them to firm up.

3. Combine Pain d'Epices in a blender with 200 ml Cream, warmed slightly. Blend thoroughly, then refrigerate to cool.

4. Make sugar syrup with remaining Sugar and 8 fl oz Water. Boil until it reaches 108 degrees C, then cool, off heat, for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Whisk egg yolks in a bowl, then add syrup to beaten yolks, and continue whisking until cool.

5. Whisk remaining Cream, then fold in both Pain d'Epices mixture, and egg yolk/syrup mixture.Mix in Dark Rum & Treacle. Chill in the fridge.

6. Grease loaf tin, and line base with greaseproof paper (probably for this quantity you will need to make two parfaits, and thus need to prepare two tins - you won't regret having a second parfait to consume at a later date). Pour a third of the mixture into the prepared tin, and freeze twenty minutes or so, to firm up. Place one or two White Chocolate 'sausages' on the firmed mixture, pour in more parfait mixture, and again freeze to firm it up. Top this with the remaining 'sausages that you want to use, and finish with the remainder of the parfait mixture. Freeze for at least eight hours.

Serve slices of the parfait along with a spoonful of poached prunes in their syrup.

Thursday 18 January 2007

Apricots in winter......

A new discovery. Dried Apricot paste from Syria. I'd not come across this before, but a new arrival on the bookshelves at Christmas was the first Moro Cookbook - the result of a dinner at Moro several weeks before, where an interesting sauce for roast lamb prompted subsequent purchase of the book. Perusal of its pages identified a number of previously unknown ingredients, of which one was Amar Paste, which - as with many ingredients which have been phonetically imported from their language of origin - appears to have a variety of names in English. In Moro, they refer to it as Amradeen, but this must be quite an unusual variation, as it produces only limited resonance on Google.

From memory, the paste is generally melted in hot water before being used - the book is sitting in Italy, and I won't be able to check the details until the next bi-monthly trip, next week. In appearance, the paste is a gelatinous sheet, slightly orange in colour, and the flavour is subtle - one can certainly imagine it working well with meat dishes, without introducing that rather unfortunate jammy quality that is so often the result when fruit is used in conjunction with red or white meats.

In the meantime, it was decided to give it a try here as the basis for a new after-dinner chocolate. Triangles of Amar paste cut out and then enrobed in tempered Felchlin Grand Cru. Fantastic! The result is like a distant and very sophisticated cousin to both an After Eight mint and a Jaffa Cake - wafer thin chocolates, with a subtly fruity interior. Highly recommended!

I got my Amar Paste from 'Archie's' in Moscow Road, W2. A fairly industrial quantity costs about a pound. And as for the tempering, I freely confess that I do not do it by hand - I researched that several years ago, and concluded that life was far too short - but instead use a small computer-controlled device called a Chocolatier Electronique, which is both quick, entirely reliable, and idiot-proof.

Today's Menu:

Poached Egg on Ratatouille (I love the combination of the egg yolk with the tomato and pepper in the ratatouille. For the latter, I use Julia Child's method, where the Aubergine and Zucchini are cooked separately and only added in at the end, to preserve the identity of the separate flavours within the finished dish.)

Fillets of Bream, with Basil & Tomato: For recipe, see below.

Cherry Tarts - fresh, stoned cherries on a base of sugar and flour, piled into phyllo shells and baked at 200 degree C for twenty minutes, or until the cherries have entirely collapsed and their liquid has mostly run out, to be absorbed by the flour & sugar mixture.

Recipe: Sea Bream with Tomato & Basil

Ingredients: 2 fillets of Sea Bream; 1 tbs Milk; 2 tbs Olive Oil; 1 Salad Onion; 1 Beef Tomato; 1 tbs Rosemary; 2 tbs Basil; Half a Lemon.

1. Moisten fillets with milk, dredge on both sides with flour, add seasoning, and then fry approximately three minutes on each side. Remove to heated plates.

2. Add to pan: 1 chopped salad onion, 1 beef tomato (peeled, seeded and roughly chopped), 1 tablespoon rosemary, 2 tablespoons chopped basil, juice of half a lemon, seasoning.

3. Cook through briskly for three minutes, and serve over/alongside the fillets.

Wednesday 17 January 2007

Risotto: Getting it right.....

The Rice: There was a period when recipe books in the UK would blithely specify either Arborio or Vialone as the rice of choice for making risotto - and I've never been able to understand why. Amongst the varieties readily available, by far the best choice for risotto is Carnaroli - it has a much higher starch content, and the texture of the finished product is infinitely superior to the result you get from using either of the others. Carnaroli costs more than the others, but we're not talking a king's ransom here, and the difference in the result is worth the extra pennies. Of course, absolutely the best rice to use is none of the above, but Japanese rice, which is of a quality vastly superior - you can tell just by looking at the grains, where there is no unevenness in colour, and none of the gritty-looking speckles you normally see in other rice. The starch content in Japanese rice is very high, giving a wonderfully 'gluey' quality to risotto, and for some reason - I've never bothered to fathom why - it cooks more quickly than other rice, taking around twenty minutes for a risotto rather than the more usual half-an-hour. In years gone by, I travelled regularly to Tokyo on business, and habitually loaded myself with a five kilo bag of rice which I got from the department store next to Shibuya station - but rather closer to home, you can get much the same thing in the supermarket at Oriental City in Colindale (if doing that, make sure you get the real Japanese Rice, and not the stuff grown in California, which isn't the same thing at all!)

The Sofritto: Most recipes specify onion for the sofritto, and I would generally agree - sometimes adding in other things as well, as appropriate, for example finely diced celery if making a Celery Risotto, or sauteing zucchini slices at the sofritto stage if that's your flavour of choice. When making a seafood risotto of any kind, I replace onion with finely chopped leek instead - works particularly well with e.g. Squid Ink Risotto.

The Liquid: Invariably, just after the rice has had its tostato, I start with a hefty slug of dry white vermouth, before beginning with the other liquids or stock. In a risotto ai funghi porcini I would then add the mushroom soaking liquid (appropriately filtered), and then get on with using stock. If adding a more gently flavoured liquid - such as lemon juice in a Lemon & Sage Risotto - then I tend to add that closer to the end of the cooking process.
Interestingly, I tried a recipe recently from Artusi for something he called 'Rice & Peas', which was a risotto in all but name, where he used water throughout rather than stock. The result was delicious, making me realise that the base flavour in risotto almost entirely comes from the sofritto, and that worrying about the quality of the stock is probably rather over-done!

The Mantecare Stage: This is the point where you add whatever things you intend to use to give the risotto a kick, in terms either of unctuousness (cream, or butter) or flavour (grated parmesan, or e.g. white truffle oil, or chopped herbs or celery or fennel tops). There are supposedly some rules about what you can and can't add depending upon the main flavour of the risotto - never adding cheese to a seafood risotto, for example - but hey, it's your risotto, so I think the choice comes down entirely to personal preference.

Technique: Couldn't be simpler. Cook the sofritto until it collapses; add rice (a third of a cup per person - it seems a small amount, but you'll find that in practice it is perfect), and stir it for half a minute to absorb the sofritto and slightly 'toast'. Add vermouth, and let the rice absorb it, then proceed with the remaining hot stock. Adjust the heat so the liquid in with the rice is just barely bubbling - you aren't trying to cook the rice in the liquid, but encouraging a process of fusion, whereby the liquid is gently absorbed into the rice. Let the liquid almost disappear each time, before adding more. When the rice is done, turn off the heat, add your mantecare elements, check seasoning, and stir.
Signora Agnelli has a method for par-cooking risotto in advance, which works very well if you have guests, and don't want to be chained to the stove instead of entertaining them: cook the risotto for about twenty minutes, leaving it definitely underdone. Turn off the heat and cover the pan. The risotto carries on cooking in its own heat, and when the time comes to finish it, add a ladleful of hot stock, and stir into the risotto as you heat it through gently. Best not done much in advance, but this method works well if you time your twenty minute par-cooking to finish just as the guests are arriving. Personally, I prefer to drag a guest or two into the kitchen - along with a decent glass of whatever we all happen to be drinking - in order to combine conversation with stirring!

Today's menu:

Risotto ai Funghi Porcini (use reconstituted porcini for this - it isn't a recipe that does fresh porcini any justice)

Cod and Basil, wrapped in Parma Ham, seared and then baked. Served with skinned capsicums, gently braised with garlic and rosemary, and a dressing of balsamic.

Marsala flavoured Posset (baked cream) over prunes poached in red wine and cinammon. For recipe, see below.

Recipe: Marsala Posset with Prunes.

For two:
Ingredients: 60g Sugar (or equivalent volume sweetener); 250g Double Cream; 50 ml Marsala; 1 packet Prunes; 1 bottle Red Wine; 2 teaspoons Ground Cinnamon; additional 60g Sugar.

1. Poach prunes 30 minutes in red wine, 60g sugar (preferably not sweetener, as the viscosity of the poaching syrup will be compromised if you do), and cinnamon. Leave to cool in the poaching syrup. (You only need eight of the prunes for this recipe, but the rest will keep in the fridge for several months, for future use - both for this dish and for more general use)

2. Place 60g sugar in a milk saucepan, along with cream. Bring just to the boil, and immediately turn heat down and simmer for three or four minutes.

3. Add Marsala to this mixture, and stir in.

4. Place four prunes each, along with a spoonful or so of syrup in the base of two individual ramekins. Fill each ramekin right to the top with the marsala/cream mixture. Leave to set in a cool place, and then chill in the fridge for an hour or so.

NB: If you can't easily get Marsala, Harveys Bristol Cream is an appropriate alternative.

Tuesday 16 January 2007

In Praise of the Humble Banger.....

When this blog was first mooted, a cry of dismay went up from within the household that dinner menus would now have to be too 'grand' to include the humble sausage. Not so - when properly made, the humble banger is true food for the soul, and I'm sure would meet all of Doctor Pomiane's criteria for good living. Combined with a decent Bordeaux and congenial company, what more could you possibly want?

In London, the commercial brand of choice is Porkinsons. In Italy, the choice is more varied, all made by hand by Maurizio the local butcher: the simplest form of life is a basic pork sausage, squat and speckled, and bursting with flavour; slightly more elegant, and significantly more expensive, are his salsiccie lunghe with a creaminess to the texture which veers more in the direction of a boudin blanc; and finally, best of all, are his sausages made of cinta senese, a particularly rare kind of pork, now available slightly more often than in the past, but still infrequent in their appearance. Cinta Senese - apparently - owes its wonderful flavour to a higher percentage of oleic fat than in other breeds of pig, but it ends up being expensive as the animals are effectively reared free-range, and have to be nurtured for twice as long as the others. Whatever the process, the result is amazing!

Today's menu:

Portobello Mushrooms, stuffed with Walnuts and Herbs. See below, for recipe.

Grilled Sausages (Porkinsons, see above), with cubed aubergine cooked with parsley and garlic.

Compote of pears and dark plums, poached in port, with a hint of vanilla, and then chilled - before adding a handful of raspberries, at the end. Served with Creme Chantilly.

Recipe: Portobello Mushrooms stuffed with Walnuts and Herbs

For two:
Ingredients: 4 large Portobello Mushrooms; 4 tablespoons grated Parmesan; 90g dried Porcini; 12 sprigs Tarragon; 10 sprigs Chervil (if available); 7 sprigs Thyme; 100g Walnut pieces, chopped in food processor; 3 cloves Garlic; juice of Half a Lemon; seasoning.

1. Reconstitute dried porcini in hot water for at least 30 minutes; drain and rinse to remove any grit.

2. Chop porcini, along with portobello stems and garlic.

3. Chop herbs. Mix 1/4 of them with the parmesan.

4. Saute mushroom/garlic mix in a little olive oil, then add lemon juice and seasoning. Cook 3-5 minutes until liquid evaporates, then add cream and cook 1-2 minutes more until thickened. Stir in chopped walnuts and reserved herbs.

5. Use mixture to stuff mushroom caps, and top with parmesan and herb mixture.

6. Bake 20 minutes in an oven pre-heated to 180 degrees C.

Monday 15 January 2007

The Demise of London Butchers.......

One of the more depressing aspects of cooking in London over the past few years has been the disappearance - remorseless and almost total - of independent local butchers. Twenty years ago, every local high street was well supplied, and these days they've almost all gone. For the most part, the quality of meat available in supermarkets is dismal - Waitrose being the occasional exception - and opportunities to shop elsewhere are few and far between. Even the meat department in Harrods - which has for years been the one remaining beacon of quality as the rest of the shop has gone to hell in a handbasket - finally shows signs of going the way of the rest of the place, with the vitrines increasingly full of rather tired and listless offerings. If you want to take out a second mortgage, then there's always Lidgates in Notting Hill, I suppose. I was much encouraged recently when Jack O'Shea's opened up where the Irish Linen Shop used to be, just down from Montpelier Square - but it appears that they get a weekly delivery on Thursdays, and if you want something as simple as Beef Skirt by Monday morning (which I just did), then you're out of luck! I suppose there's always the depressing option of becoming a mid-week vegetarian........

Stop-Press: Re yesterday's Chocolate Souffle: possibly because I used the remains of a block of one kind of chocolate, plus a handful of callettes from a new bag of superior quality (Felchlin Grand Cru, I think), the souffles had not done their stuff at the end of eight minutes as specified. I zapped them up to 200 degrees C for about another six minutes - didn't time it, but took them out as the first delicious whiff of cooked chocolate snaked its way from the oven - and the result was perfect. Splendidly crisp top, with an unctuous inside that was just firm enough to hold its own on a fork.

Today's menu:

Smoked Salmon Tiede. (Sautee finely diced onion in butter until it collapses, add some cream and heat to thicken; place on plates, before topping with fresh basil that has been momentarily added to the pan from the onion mixture. Top with a couple of slices of smoked salmon, then put on top of that a spoonful of finely diced cucumber, salad onion and red chili which has been lightly sauteed in butter. Season with salt at each stage along the way and grind pepper generously over the top. NB, Crumbled dried chili can be used instead, but go carefully with it, if you don't want to remove the tops of people's mouths!)

Paupiette of Pork. Slices of pork fillet, beaten flat, and then folded in on themselves, over a small piece of anchovy and basil leaf. Egg and bread-crumbed, and then gently fried for a couple of minutes on each side. You can include some grated parmesan in with the breadcrumbs, but I don't see the point, given the 'edgy'flavour you've aready got from the anchovy and basil. My preferred brand of breadcrumbs is Leimar - very fine in texture, so you don't get an industrial level of coating.

Tartes aux Pommes: There's a particular pink-blush apple I prefer for this - the name of which unhelpfully escapes me, as I normally just pick it out on sight - as it doesn't cook to a mush, but largely keeps its shape even as it cooks through, so the puree has some texture to it. For full recipe, see below.

Recipe: Tartes aux Pommes

For two:
Ingredients: 2 sheets Phyllo Pastry, each approx 12"x6"; melted Butter; 4 Apples (blush variety, by preference); additional 60g Butter; 2 tablespoons Rum or Brandy; 60z Sugar or equivalent volume sweetener; 2 large tablespoons Apricot/Fig/Raspberry jam, whichever flavour you prefer; 1 teaspoon ground Cinnamon; juice & rind of 1 Lemon.

1. Brush phyllo with melted butter, cut each sheet in half and use to line two individual false-bottomed flan tins - make two layers of pastry in each tin.

2. Peel, core and dice three of the apples. Heat in covered saucepan twenty minutes or so over moderate heat, until they have given up their juice, and are quite soft. Add all the remaining ingredients, raise heat and cook, stirring constantly, for another ten minutes, until the puree has become quite thick.

3. Divide puree between the phyllo pastry cases, and then top each one with half an apple, peeled and cored and sliced very thinly before being put back together again and arranged on top of the puree. Brush with melted butter.

4. Bake half an hour or so in an oven pre-heated to 200 degree C, until the pastry is dark brown and the tips of the apple slices are coloured.

Sunday 14 January 2007

What's for dinner?

And so........for today's menu:

To start with, crisp Phyllo pastry shells, with duck livers and mushroom. Simple preparation: bake the shells separately until richly dark brown; saute sliced duck livers and mushrooms in butter in two separate pans, and then add half a wine glass of marsala to the pan with the livers in it, along with half a teaspoon of ground ginger. Let the marsala bubble slightly, then pour in some double cream and stir. Add the mushrooms to the mixture, correct seasoning, and pile into the cooked pastry shells. Top with a sprinkling of chopped parsley to serve.

This is always better using mushrooms found growing wild - but conditions aren't right for that at the moment, so this evening it will be the ordinary cultivated variety instead.


Boned chicken, roast with a poultice of butter, minced shallot, coriander and chopped rosemary - half of it pushed between the skin and the flesh, and the rest pressed over the surface of the boned beast. Use the ribcage to make stock for future use. Prepare the chicken several hours in advance, and then roast for approximately forty minutes at 200 degrees C. The combined fat and melted butter that collects in the bottom of the pan is fantastic for future sauteeing of vegetables, and will keep for weeks in the fridge.
This is a variaton on a recipe that I've been doing for many years, originally - I think - seen done by Paul Bocuse on the Food Channel in the States . It works equally as well with duck, when some bitter orange zest included in the poultice is excellent. Not only does this method make slicing the bird extremely easy, but you get a lot more for your money, as none of the meat gets left behind in the process of carving.

And to finish:
Egg-white chocolate souffle. The fridge in this household generates its own egg-white mountain on a very regular basis, and so egg-white only dishes are much in demand. This one is as follows, for two: 50 g melted dark chocolate, 4 egg whites, one tablespoon sugar, 1 tbs strong coffee. Melt the chocolate, stir in sugar and coffee, and then fold into stiffly beaten egg whites; pour into greased ramekins and bake eight minutes in a bain marie in a pre-heated 175 degree C oven.

I always use Felchin chocolate - better by far than any alternatives, even the much hailed Valhrona. Difficult to find, but worth the search. Felchlin is an old family run swiss business, and from the first mouthful you'll find yourself saying 'THIS is what chocolate used to taste like!'. It's imported in the UK by Dohler, but after that heaven only knows what happens to it. You can sometimes get it through Vin Sullivan, I think. For the past couple of years I've been sourcing mine through Felchlin's distributor in Italy.

Fyi, when I mention sugar, it will nearly always in fact be equivalent-volume Splenda that I use - it works just as well as sugar for anything which is baked or where the finished product doesn't require the silky texture that only sugar can produce. It's no good for ice creams,or sorbets, for example, and is hopeless for meringues. Otherwise, it's an important element in ensuring that eating well isn't entirely inconsistent with having a waistline!

Equipment note: for melting chocolate or making sauces, I use an integrated bain-marie of german design called a zimmertopf. I'm not sure how widely known they are, but they are excellent for this kind of job, where you want heat, but with no danger of anything boiling. Excellent for jobs like Hollandaise, or Creme Patissiere.

Starting off........

The choice of name is in homage to Edouard de Pomiane, whose writing on food and cooking the best part of a hundred years ago continues even now to exemplify the part that good food and drink and convivial company play as a celebration of good living.

Without a very clear agenda, this blog is intended to be a meander through daily-ish experiences related to food, wine and cooking in England and Italy. In all probability, it will develop a life of its own over time, thus impossible to predict with any accuracy. Let's see........