Friday, 14 January 2011

Monday, 1 March 2010

R.I.P. Rose Gray 28/01/1939 - 28/02/2010

Sad, sad news today that the co founder of The River Cafe has passed away at the age of 71 after a long battle with cancer. The fact that a 26 year old plasterer sits and writes this with a lump in his throat is testament to this great cooks influence on British food over the past 20 or so years. She will be sorely missed.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Carrots and Balsamic

Carrots are so important and versatile. Either added to the pot along with onion and celery (to become the classic soup and sauce base soffritto) or boiled and tossed with a knob of butter, they add a vegetal sweetness rarely matched. Forget the hideous luminous strips of your school dinner days (you know, the ones that seem to have been boiled for half a day in Radox), carrots can be a treat. My favorite way to prepare the enormous winter ones we receive in our weekly veg box is to fry them in thick slices until golden brown and tender then dressed with a few drips of syrupy aged balsamic vinegar. A match made in heaven.
Peel then slice the carrots on the diagonal, about half a centimeter. Get a deep sided saute pan hot and add a good glug of olive oil. Toss in the carrots and sizzle until you get a good all over brown on them. Season well then turn down the heat and leave to cook until just tender and toffee sweet. Remove the beauties with a slotted spoon to a warm plate and dribble over some excellent balsamic. Belazu is a good brand that can be found in most supermarkets. Enjoy!

Friday, 12 February 2010

Crispy Squid!

Squid is one of those ingredients you either love or hate. There seems to be no middle ground. Enthusiasts are only too happy to polish off vast platefuls of this slippery cephalopod, while those who are in the hate camp lambaste it as being chewy or like eating rubber bands. Well I say to those that aren't in love with squid that they simply haven't eaten them cooked properly. Chargrilled over coals and served with a chilli sauce, deep fried till crisp with a squeeze of lemon are the fast cooking methods most suited to smaller, younger squid. While a long slow bubble with tomato, garlic, herbs and wine is best for anything larger than your hand. I usually go for the smaller squids and recently decided to deep fry some.

After being opened out and cleaned, I score the inside of the squid in a criss cross fashion. This helps to both tenderise the squid and help it curl and crisp up during cooking. The squid is then sliced up in any old style and dredged with fine semolina flour, salt and pepper. Get a deep fat fryer heated to maximum and drop the squid in, being careful not to overfill the pan. A few minutes should be sufficient to achieve tender squid surrounded by  a crispy armour. Drain, season, dump on a plate and drip over some fresh lemon. Eat quickly with as much gusto as possible. And don't be squeamish about the tentacles.

Monday, 1 February 2010

Cappelletti and Company

Last Saturday I invited Mum and Dad round for a bit of a feast. No particular reason other than I was desperate to spend a day in the kitchen. And to see the parents obviously!! 
After spending an exhausting fourteen hour day as commis at Theo Randall on Park Lane and eating the finest stuffed pasta I have eaten in London, I decided to put my own spin on his amazing Veal Cappelletti. Cappelletti literally means "little hats", although I can't say I have ever seen anyone wearing a hat quite in that shape.
I started the meal with a Prosecco and champagne rhubarb cocktail and some antipasti. I roasted the rhubarb with some beautiful Sicilian blood orange juice and vanilla before blending it up with a load of sugar. The resulting intense, cerise pink puree is then just mixed up with prosecco for a lovely seasonal tipple. I made some deep fried courgette chips, which I forgot to take a picture of, and we had some Coppa and Prosciutto with olives.

Then I served the cappelletti that I had made earlier in the day. I had slow cooked some beef with wine, herbs and tomatoes and roughly chopped the mix before combining with a good grating of Parmesan. This mixture  gets loaded into fresh pasta before being boiled then tossed in melted butter with a dusting of yet more Parmigiano. Heavenly.
For a second course I simply roasted some beautiful Halibut steaks with parsley and capers and served them with slow cooked fennel. I got the fish from the fantastic local fishmonger. A real fishmonger who only sells the freshest most sublime fish. I have even seen fish so fresh it arrives still in rigor mortis!
To finish this eating marathon I dished up a cake from Nigel Slater's book, Appetite. Hazelnut, Coffee and Chocolate in the same pud is something I adore. It was a grown up, luxurious treat to finish a lovely evening with good company and one I will probably end up making again and again as it was so easy.

Monday, 25 January 2010

Beak Street Bacaro

A "bacaro" is a Venetian tapas style place. A place to enjoy a drink and some small plates of various bits and bobs. The sort of bar come restaurant that I wish I lived round the corner from. It just so happens one has opened on Soho's Beak Street. So being in the smoke for a few days I had to see what it was like.

Polpo operate a no booking system for dinner and being impatient in a queue we decided to book for lunch. A long L-shaped bar strewn with people merrily eating and drinking, greets you as you enter. We were led to our table, at the impossibly small rear of the restaurant, with elbows firmly tucked in to avoid knocking a glass of prosecco out of someones hand. After a short browse of the menu we ordered an array of dishes to get a real feel for the food. Prices range from just over a quid to around seven pounds for the bigger main course style dishes. We started with a few "Cicheti"to go with our glasses of Bellini.  Anchovy and chickpea crostini, salt cod on grilled polenta, two crunchy arancini (deep fried risotto balls filled with melting mozzarella) and a Tapenade and Tomato mini pizza. All the dishes were good but the mini pizza was excellent. 

We were advised by the friendly waiter to stop ordering any more mains after our fifth. These included pork belly with hazelnuts and radicchio, split pea and prosciutto risotto, cotechino with cabbage and mustard, slow cooked duck with tomato and olives, fritto misto of sea food and a side of spinach with garlic and chilli. It really wasn't as ridiculous amount of food as it sounds. All the dishes are served on side plates and we shared everything, although I "shared" a little bit more than my girlfriend. My favourite dish was the fritto misto, a mound of squid, anchovies and prawns deep fried in a thin batter. No two words excite me more on a menu than "fritto misto" and this example didn't disappoint. 

I finished my meal with a wedge of orange and almond cake and a double espresso. The coffee being one of the few down sides to a very good lazy lunch.

Memorable: The relaxed sharing plates concept and reasonable prices ( all that food and drink for £65!)

Forgettable: Coffee and the irritating me, me, me woman who was sat too close to ignore.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010


Polpette, or meatballs, are vastly underrated. My first experience of these savoury spheres was from a Campbell's tin. Yum! And I'm sure alot of people who have had hunger pangs whilst traipsing round the famous Scandinavian furniture stores, have eaten a plate of their Swedish meatballs. Italian Americans in New York tend to eat theirs as " spageddi n meatbawls".  They are cheap to make and the sauce you cook them in can be tossed with some pasta as a first course. This recipe will serve six if you serve pasta first.

Mix 500g each of minced beef and pork along with 100g bread crumbs, 2 eggs, handful of freshly grated parmesan, chopped parsley or sage and a good dose of salt and pepper. Make sure the mix is well combined before shaping into balls as large or small as you desire. Roll the balls in some semolina and transfer to a tray dusted with more semolina and place in the fridge to firm up while you make your sauce.
To make the sauce, fry a large red onion in a good glug of olive oil until soft in a casserole style pan. Then add one clove of garlic crushed or finely chopped. Add two tins of plum tomatoes whizzed up till smooth or some passata and bring to a steady simmer. The next thing to do is to fry your polpetti to get a nice crust before adding to your sauce. You will probably have to this in batches as overloading the pan will stop a crust from developing. When all the polpetti have been added to the sauce, turn the heat down to a low bubble and leave to slowly cook for a couple of hours covered with a lid. Before serving test the sauce for seasoning, I sometimes add a swig of red wine vinegar to sharpen the flavours. Dish up a few balls with a slick of the meaty sauce. A dusting of parmesan is optional, I don't bother!