When bribery and confection is the answer…
With a twinkle in their eye (one can only assume as the conversation was via telephone) the brief for my job in Gascony went like this…
With a twinkle in their eye (one can only assume as the conversation was via telephone) the brief for my job in Gascony went like this…
Season greetings to you all, I hope you had a very Merry Christmas!
Defra and the City of London Pollution control team, are currently analysing some mysterious anomalies in their data for the end of November. With readings off the charts and new territories reached on the Decibel scale I hear they are truly puzzled.
Well… I will fess up. It was us!
Thanksgiving celebrations, west London area, a bajillion children and a lot of excited American ex pats celebrating their grand federal holiday. It was my first one and I loved it!
For those of you who have never celebrated thanksgiving think levels of Christmas preparation, planning and excitement just without the carols and presents.
From an early age much of my time has been spent on and off stage so I’m well aware of what it takes to make a production run smoothly. All going well on the face of it we see the actors entering and exiting at the appropriate moments, impressively and seamlessly remembering their lines (we hope) and brilliantly drawing us into their world. What we tend to forget as an audience member however is how much work has to go on backstage to achieve all this.
People have been working tirelessly on costumes, props and scenery. Directors, musicians , techies and other crew have all shed blood, sweat and probably tears to get the show on the road and not to mention the gentle cajoling , ego massaging, support and camaraderie that has gone on to hold it all together by everyone.
What has all this got to do with venison sausage rolls I hear you ask?! And how can she possibly link this thespian theme to her latest job cooking for a Highland partridge shoot? Well…
Up on the Cawdor estate near Inverness, it’s hard not to get drawn into a dramtic mood, not least because it is the home of the Scottish Play (or Macbeth for those of you who are less superstitious). Add 42,000 acres of extraordinary Highland landscape, endlessly changing light, some of the best field sport in the country and boundless amounts of fresh air and you can understand how one can easily become theatrical.
I felt like a real party pooper as I sat soberly on the plane heading from Edinburgh to Ibiza. It was around midday and the rest of passengers were clearly well on their way to tipsy land. Amusingly as soon as the seatbelt sign went off the entire plane (minus me and a chap who had already passed out) got up to use the ‘facilities’ then once that kerfuffle was over the drinks trolley became like a moving god down the isle . Ibiza is of course known for its excellent clubbing scene and fun nightlife however for those who have discovered it there is also an island of great beauty, food, secluded alcoves and paradise like beaches.
When most families pack a car and set off on their holidays it is not unusual for them to go through last minute panic checks:
“Did you turn off the lights”!?
“Did you lock the back door”?!
“Did I pack my new bikini”?!
“Did we remember all the kids?”?
So it was much to my amusement when we set off, car full of kids, bags, flippers and beach balls that client A exclaims:
“Stop the car! Did you remember to load the Olive oil?!”
It’s going to be my kind of trip I thought as client B assures client A that yes all 17 litres of the stuff is on board and safety packed. Ready to roll we made the journey from Athens onto the ferry that would sail us to Paros. Getting a car ferry to the Greek islands was one of the most confusing and seemingly pot luck travel adventures I’ve ever been a part of and one day can have a post all to itself… when I’ve figured out how it actually all worked out.
The recent weeks have involved cooking for a Shabbat in West London, a whisky tasting lunch and photographic exhibition in a Soho car park, a wine tasting at the fabulous Whirly Wines down in Tooting Bec, working on an brilliant Dorset book project and a trip to Nice and Monaco.
Despite the mass splattering of red decorations sputtered over every street in Singapore in readiness for Chinese New Year my focus for the week was on preparing a party feast for Russian New Year, all be it a late one.
With various Christmas parties to cook for in West London last week I was racing around town to some of my favourite food shops hunting and gathering the various delicious seasonal offerings currently available.
In Holland Park, besides the landmark butchers Lidgates and the impressive wine merchant and deli Jeroboams there is an excellent old school fruit and veg shop called Michanicou. Not only is their produce top notch but so to is the service. Outside and inside the shop there are towers of boxes and crates stuffed with beautiful ingredients. The routine is you go in, stand in the middle and spiel out your order, the numerous staff then leap round the shop selecting it for you whilst engaging in shop keeper banter – this time it was mostly at my expense as we all tried to decipher my shopping list.
“5 x orang-utans” they chuckled …”3 x ridiculous lettuces ,1 x spaceship, why yes miss, of course, coming right up”!
On the spare inch of wall without actual produce I noticed a sign that announced they could source white truffles upon request. “Mmmmmm”, I thought.
Having asked a few questions as to how the season was going (a little late this year) , how much I would need to order one in advance they proudly told me how they sometimes store them overnight in their elevenses biscuit tin. From various taste tests they informed me that although truffle infused shortbread is delicious, Garibaldis were frankly just weird (good to know).
White Truffles, known affectionately as diamonds of the kitchen are highly prized. They are generally available between October and December/January.
As cultivation is generally not successful the wild treasure has to be foraged. Sometimes done with female pigs (the scent apparently similar to the male pigs pheromone) but more often with well-trained dogs as they cause less destruction to the habitat, are less likely to scoff the truffle and of course are easier to pop in the back of the car. The hunters go out in dark and secretive early hours of the morning, often taking elaborate routes so as not to be followed.
When I got a thumbs up from my client that white truffle should indeed be on the menu I was on the other side of town so decided to pay Tartufaia in Borough Market a visit. I love buying food (and shoes) from the Italians. Unlike the French whom as much as I love and respect can make you feel like you really don’t know anything, the Italians are more than happy to indulge in answering all your questions.
We opened the jars and sniffed , we chatted and went through what I wanted to do with my truffle, we debated and discussed what I should and shouldn’t add and both nearly had watery eyes of joy as we discussed just how special these fruiting bodies of subterranean tuber fungus are.
Points of note I learnt were:
Never store in rice as it will dry them out (store lightly wrapped in kitchen paper in the fridge.
They will last up to two weeks from being dug out of the earth – but the sooner eaten the better.
Clean with a slightly dampened (new) toothbrush.
Although most famously the white ones are from Alba in the Piedmont area of Northern Italy they can also be sniffed out in other places like Emilia Romagna, Tuscany , Croatia and Slovenia.
Once we had finished our natter over the truffle (and had I paid) I excitedly headed back to West London to start the preparations for that night’s party. The menu read as follows
It was a great joy to serve steaming bowls of hot pasta with lashings of white truffle shavings on top and to see the delight of guests as they were bought to the table.
The next day the house was reset and ready to welcome 20 ladies for lunch and then it was time to pack my bags, don my country coat and head West.
Clementine: Mince Pie ratio 3:1
Every home should have: a mandolin
I’m loving : London’s Christmas Lights
White Truffle bought: 64g
I’m traveling: by Underground
I am delighted to contribute to the wonderful Yapp Brothers wine merchants a Christmas food and wine matching piece.
30g white truffle
300g fresh egg taglierini pasta
100g freshly grated Parmesan
100g truffle butter
This is not so much of a recipe as an instruction.
If serving truffle as a starter you want about 5 g each, make sure you have a truffle slicer or mandolin ( I had to visit 3 cook shops in W11 before I could find somewhere where they hadn’t sold out) to get the perfect thin slices.
Do not use truffle oil to enhance the flavour but you can use truffle butter like I did.
Don’t be tempted to add parsley to the dish. Just don’t.
Prep the truffle by brushing any dirt of with a slightly damp new toothbrush.
Cook the fresh egg pasta in a large pan of salted boiling water then drain (reserving some of the water).
Whisk a splash of hot pasta water with the yolk then add the Paremsan, toss through the butter and pasta.
Pile onto a warm serving bowl or share between warm starter plates then immediately shave over the truffle in very thin slices.
Here in the UK we are using the week to pay homage to that wonderful sweet sticky substance that is made by bees from the nectar of flowers. Yes, National Honey Week is here and it’s time you too got stuck in.
Besides from keeping the peas on your knife (only joking Mr Debrett, I know that’s what ketchup is for) honey has many culinary uses. It can add an amazing new level to dishes and having been more liberal with it than usual this past week I can confidently say it’s incredibly versatile. All the food dishes photographed in this postcard recipe have honey in them, well apart from one but I liked the photo so I wanted to include it.
A few years back I remember a phase where practically every client had me out looking for mānuka honey, produced by bees in New Zealand and said to have particularly good medicinal properties. A friend of mine bought some, handing over £30 for the jar with high expectations of it containing the elixir of life. A few spoonfuls and days in to the jar they decided that although delicious, they would have been just as happy in life and wellbeing with a jar produced by local bees and at least £20 better off.
Depending on what the bees forage on the honey produced will vary greatly. For instance heather honey in comparison to chestnut honey couldn’t be more different. This week as I was cooking lots of game I decided to use mostly Scottish heather honey, which naturally pairs well with that “of the hill” herby flavour of the wild meat. I noted that as we kept the jar by the salt, pepper and olive oil, ingredients that are constantly used, the honey became almost a 4th staple seasoning. As it is thought that over heating honey destroys some of its benefits I generally try and add it at the end of cooking or raw on top. Though this view does make me wonder why honey, lemon and a wee dram of hot whisky makes such a good medicinal drink…
When buying honey it is really worth checking out the label and answering these questions. Is it from the UK? Is it a blend? Has it been pasteurised or is it raw? All of these factors will not only affect taste but also the benefits it can give you. There is this great company ‘Hive & Keeper’ (hiveandkeeper.com) which I just love the concept of. It is set up to sell unique jars of honey from different beekeepers dotted around the UK (sadly the majority of honey currently sold here is a blend and a lot of it imported). So you have the choice and can buy jars of honey made in Clapham Common in London or maybe a jar produced in North Lincolnshire (a perfect idea for Christmas prezzies). With bees foraging within a 3 mile radius of their hive every batch will be unique.
The garden at home has 3 hives and earlier in the spring I thought it would be a wonderful idea to plant a wild flower meadow around the apiary along with rows of lavender. Secretly thinking I was the next Gertrude Jekyll I ignored the sceptics and enthusiastically scattered seeds into the rocks and stones around the hives convinced that when I returned in a few months there would be a flourish of life and colour. The below…
Is not what I returned to and instead there was an impressive jungle of weeds.
Apparently in a good year bees can produce 2 – 3 times more honey than needed to keep them going through the winter. Even though many gardens may have looked a perfect bees playground many bee keepers have found the 2015 harvest has been very poor with a wet, windy and cool summer to blame.
Despite the rest of the garden putting on a magnificent display our little darlings did not make enough honey for us to take any, I’m not really cross but if they don’t buck up there ideas for next year I am considering swapping them all for a llama.
For more information on bees and what you can do to support them visit the British Bee Keepers Association ( bbka.org.uk )
For this weeks postcard I want to share with you my Honey, lime and yogurt sorbet recipe. I served it with a tart lemon tart with orange and vanilla pastry but it would be perfectly happy starring on its own.
Bad week: for those with melissophobia
Good week: for apiarists
Dishes made incorporating honey: 23
Honey coated spoons licked once finished with : 100%
Lb’s of honey used: 3 ½
I’m loving: the project Hive & Keeper, unique jars of honey from pockets of the UK.
Makes 1 ½ litre (approx 16 scoops)
3 tbs honey (preferably local to you)
3 limes – zest and juice
2 egg whites
1 tsp cater sugar
Mix the honey, lime zest and juice together (if the honey is hard gently heat it until runny enough to mix).
Stir the honey mix into the yogurt.
Churn in an ice cream maker till almost frozen then spoon into a large bowl.
Whisk the egg whites and sugar until soft peak stage then fold through the frozen yogurt.
Freeze completely (this will take at least 3 hours).
To get good balls of the frozen yogurt dip your ice cream scoop into hot water between every serving.