Saturday 12 July 2008

There's nothing new...

....under the sun. And certainly nothing new, it seems, in people vaccuously pontificating about how everybody else should organise their kitchens and their cooking arrangements. He may not have been Scots, or called Gordon, but it looks as though Messrs Brown and Ramsay were forestalled by 150 years or so by somebody called Charles Elmé Francatelli, who was laying down the law already in 1852 in a natty little tome he'd produced called ' A Plain Cookery Book for the Working Classes'. Taking as his starting point that 'every day it would be possible to feed a thousand families on the food which is wasted in London' - and where have we heard that, more recently? - Francatelli proceeded to explain the process of producing culinary delicacies such as Bubble & Squeak and broth made from Cow's feet - ok - as well as something called 'Sheep's Pluck' (sounds nasty) and a 'Pudding made from Small Birds', which to my tin ear just sounds uncomfortably crunchy.

We have to hope that Francatelli was more practical in the kitchen than he ever was as a would-be social reformer, since he appears to have blithely ignored both the literacy levels of his intended audience, as well as the inability of their purses to stretch to purchase of either the book or the ingredients! Actually, it may be that he wasn't in fact that much more practical in the kitchen as, although he is generally heralded as the 'Chef to Queen Victoria', he was only in royal employ for less than a year. Maybe he didn't match up to Albert's teutonic standards of efficiency - or maybe they just got fed up with picking the remnants of small birds out of their teeth, and stepping in discarded pieces of Sheeps Pluck on the Aubusson?

Should we be holding our breath for a 2008 updated version from the Heathcliff of modern politics, with all the wit and culinary wisdom likely to be found within its pages? What an appalling prospect - I certainly hope not!

Tonight's Dinner:

Cold Beef Salad, in Horseradish Cream.

Irish Sausages and Pak Choi.

Sorbet of Passionfruit & Banana.

Thursday 10 July 2008

Recipe: Vanilla Ice Cream...

Two thoughts struck me in the process of contemplating vanilla ice cream.

Firstly, that so much to do with cooking is about demystifying apparently complex techniques - sometimes because of splendid insights from others, and many times because you work out for yourself that actually a lot of what is published in recipe books is complete nonsense. So it was for me with roasting, and the discovery of Mrs Kafka......and with making pasta... and Gaston Le Notre and his techniques for puff and choux pastry....and so it is with the process of effortlessly producing rich and delicious ice cream.
When I first made ice cream, it seemed to be all about complicated temperature measurements at various different points along the way, and the absolute necessity to have a custard base of exactly the right 'coating consistency' , and it all seemed rather fraught and definitely unrelaxed. These days, I don't bother with any of that, and essentially just make an enriched Creme Anglaise to which I add whatever flavouring ingredient seems appropriate, let it cool sufficiently and then bung it into the pre-chilled machine and start the paddle working. Yesterday evening was a case in point: with some apple slices which had been sauteed in butter and an equal quantity of caramelised orange segments (both leftover from making Andalusian tarts the day before), I decided to make some Vanilla Ice Cream to have with them rather than just serving them with cream on its own. It took twenty minutes to make the custard base, whch I then left to cool on the windowsill as I turned the machine on to chill; the mixture went into the machine and started to churn just as we sat to the first course, and was exactly the right serving consistency at the moment when it was required...

And the other point? Well, it seems to me that vanilla has received an unjustifiably poor press over time, such that now it has come to be synonymous with 'plain' and 'pedestrian' and 'dull'. Why is that? Vanilla is a fantastically complex flavour...sensual and luscious and sophisticated and wonderful. A true food of the Gods, it is long overdue for rehabilitation...!

My preferred Vanilla IceCream Recipe:

Serves Four.

Ingredients: 250 ml Cream; 250 ml Milk; 1 Vanilla Pod, split; 50g Sugar; 6 Egg Yolks.


1. Combine the Milk and Cream in a double boiler or Zimmertopf; scrape the contents of the Vanilla Pod into the combine Milk and Cream, and simmer gently for ten minutes or so (I generally include the ppod itself at this stage, for added flavour, and remove it before adding the flavoured Milk/Cream to the Yolks and Sugar).

2. Meanwhile, whisk together Egg Yolks and Sugar, until the mixture is pale yellow and leaves a ribbon behind the whisk.

3. Add the simmered Milk/Cream to the beaten Yolks and Sugar, stri together thoroughly, and return to the double boiler. Simmer for a further five minutes or so, until it has thickened to a good velvety consistency (don't worry if it has some slight lumps in it - the paddle in the ice cream machine will sort those out).

4. Return the thickened custard to the bowl, cover with clingfilm and leave to cool down for half an hour or so; during this period, turn on the chiller element in the ice cream machine.

5. The longer you leave the custard to cool, the more quickly it will churn. Once you're happy that it is cool enough (half an hour is probably about the minimum length of time you can leave it) then pour it into the pre-chilled machine and start the paddle going.

As soon as it is ready, serve!

Tuesday 8 July 2008

London Times....

Sunday morning, and a trip to see the Queen's botanical drawings that George III appears to have brought into the Royal Collection as the result of an ill-advised purchase at a garage sale sometime around 1762. Many of them almost psychadelic in appearance - presumably because he thought better of it as soon as he got them home, and they've spent much of the last 250 years still in their box - the display was diverse and a way....but I'm afraid I couldn't really get onto the right wavelength to do them justice. Many were the work of a dutch lady artist, who seems to have devoted her life to painting the eighteenth century fruit and insect inhabitants of Surinam in vivid day-glo colours. It takes all sorts, I suppose....I confess to having been sneakingly more interested in watching the tents being erected in the back garden of the Palace, in readiness for this week's garden parties, at which the main botanical specimens in evidence will presumably have been Umbrellicus Giganticus along with Hattae Floribundiae (drowned Rattus) .

And drawings of deformed vegetables were followed by platefuls of the real things, as we tried out a new Dim Sum restaurant in Wilton Road for lunch. No great shakes, I'm afraid - the dim sum were bland and sticky, and everything else that followed tasted of coconut milk and little else. Mind you, I defy anywhere in London to rival CCK in Wardour Street for the general excellence of their Dim Sum - let alone the overall experience of the place - so it was hardly suprising that Wilton Road got a bit of a thumbs down. Amongst many others, an enduring memory of CCK was one occasion when we took a swiss friend there, and in the middle of his chatty explanation that even Indian food was a little exotic for his swiss palate, the lid was removed from the first dim sum basket set before him, and he was confronted by a tangle of large and eminently chewable duck's feet. He was so agitated at the sight that he lost the thread of his story and proceeded to spill a large glass of wine all down his front.....

Which I suppose takes me neatly onto the subject of wastage and the latest nanny-state nonsense to be handed down from Downing Street....since apparently we're now all deemed incapable of successfuly confronting the dual challenges of food shopping, and of managing the contents of our fridges. Mr Brown is instructing us to write shopping lists, and not to buy more than we need so that we don't up end having needlessly to throw half of it away!

How mind-bogglingly patronising can you get?

Who are all these witless cretins who apparently wander the aisles of supermarkets the length and breadth of the kingdom, fecklessly taking things from shelves, only subsequently to let them rot and moulder at home before being chucked into the outgoing rubbish? They certainly aren't to be found in any supermarket round here, where people can be seen pretty much 24/7 resolutely working their way down tightly written shopping lists, with military precision.
Wastage, Gordon, generally happens where large numbers of people are being fed at one time, and not within a domestic kitchen. I know; I've done it. Catering inevitably involves throwing away quite a lot of uneaten's the sort of thing that happens in government canteens, and in preparing school dinners.....oh, and when you're knocking up an eight course banquet for a gathering of World Leaders.

How about putting your own house in order before you start telling the rest of us what to do with our's? (And what is it about pontificating Scots called Gordon, generally past their sell-by date, who have a tendency to lay down the law for everybody else.....there are rather too many of them about for comfort!)

Tonight's Dinner:

Scallop Mousseline with Watercress Sauce.

Lamb Shanks, double roast
, with Roast Celeriac.

Andalusian Tarts, with Creme Chantilly.