Wednesday 31 October 2012

I'm Going Vegan... For November.

I'm not in the habit of posting pictures of myself, I PROMISE. It won't happen again. But this is the only decent picture I could find of the 1.2kg steak I ate in under 20 minutes. 

So I'm going vegan for November. I can't put my finger on one reason I decided to do this; it's certainly not PETA-related and I haven't started wearing hemp. P
erhaps I'm bored and wanted a new challenge? Perhaps I know I eat too much meat and drastically went the other way. Or perhaps I was bullied into it by the person doing it with me

Either way, I'm attempting it. No meat, fish, animal products (and yes Mum, that includes ham), dairy, eggs and honey for a month. 
Some have asked why not just vegetarianism, but that almost seems too easy (!). Those who know me - and most who don't - will know this will be a massive struggle. I've spent a while laying awake at night wondering what the hell I'm going to eat for breakfast. I've spent the last couple of weeks casually checking whether things are vegan or not and silently sobbing when finding out that Campari isn't. Bye bye Negronis. 

A couple of people have kindly offered to donate to charity as an incentive for me to succeed. Thanks for being wonderful - nothing motivates me more than money (I jest...). I've set up a JustGiving page for it. One caveat stands; I am potentially going abroad for 5 days mid-way through November and veganism will be impossible, in which case I'll be carrying those 5 days into December.

Wish me luck. Please send me your favourite vegan recipes. Tell me about the worst vegan product you've tried. Tell me where I can eat in London when I can't be bothered to cook for myself. HELP. 

If you fancy keeping up with day-to-day vegan meltdowns, #veganvember is the hashtag to search for. May contain swearing. 

Saturday 27 October 2012

On Complicated Cooking, & Dinner at The Square

Philip Howard, now in his 21st year at The Square, has written a cookbook and it is not to be trifled with. I was invited to dinner at the two Michelin starred restaurant, recently named 7th in the National Restaurant Awards, for the launch of this weighty little beast. I appreciate and acknowledge that I am a lucky cow. 

We were seated in the private dining room and the evening kicked off with some seaweed crisps, like huge black prawn crackers with a taramasalata-like sauce to scoop up. Mini cornetto-shaped cones filled with a foie gras mousse amused my bouche, and then we got stuck into the tasting menu proper. 

One of the main highlights for me came early on. A slow cooked quail's egg bobbed about in an 'Autumn minestrone', the broth made from Montgomery cheddar. It managed to be light yet cheesy and rich, taking on just the flavour of the cheese rather than the texture. The egg popped in the mouth like a little balloon - is there much better than slow cooked eggs? I don't think so. 

The rest of the menu was a Michelin man's tick box of dreams. A lobe of foie gras was seared at a high heat befitting it, glazed and bronzed and served with a crab apple galette. I couldn't tell you what a crab apple tastes like, but in this instance its fruity tartness played off well against the rich liver. Langoustine tails sat on an emulsified bed of potato and truffle; the latter luxury ingredient so loved at this time of year made another appearance with a perfectly cooked slab of turbot, made unusual and disarming but delightful with a bay milk puree.

I am sorry to say that grouse isn't to my taste. I keep trying it in the hope that I will change my mind - after all, I started liking bananas on the day of my last birthday - which is why I didn't ask them to swap it out of my menu. Still, I can appreciate the technical skill that had gone into this dish. Cooked to an even pink throughout, the meat was butter-soft, the turnip and celeriac tower working in those Autumnal flavours and boosted by the blackberries. (Urgh.)

The cheese course was cleverly presented as a wedge of Barkham Blue stuffed into what looked like a pain au chocolat. A cheesecake with currants was such a sharp slice I could have sworn the edge of it could poke my eye out, and just when I thought I was fit to burst, a tall plum souffle, edges well clear of its ramekin was set before me, a scoop of almond ice cream slid inside it table-side. 

There's no doubting the immense skill of Howard and his kitchen. He came to have a chat with us afterwards and told us that this cookbook was 10 years in the making, and having had a flick through I can see how that's possible. 

I've been moaning recently that all we get these days are XYZ Made Easy, or whoever's meals in 15 minutes, or some bastardisation of a cuisine to make it simple and quick. None of us have much free time (or don't want to spend it cooking, apparently) but unless you want Heston and his science, books and TV shows these days don't cater for us food nerds who like learning about in-depth techniques and the dishes, made up of many components, that go with it. Which is why I was pretty pleased when I opened Howard's Part 1: Savoury. He makes no bones about it; a lot of it would be hard to do in a domestic kitchen, or one with basic equipment. But thumbing through cook books, ooh'ing and aah'ing over the incredible effort that goes in these dishes is pleasing to me, especially if I've eaten one (above, smoked mackerel with prawns, sea water jellies, cucumber and caviar). I find it all very inspirational and I might even get round to making one of the dishes, so hats off to Mr Howard and the gargantuan effort it must've been to write it all down. 

The cookbook is on Amazon if you which to purchase.

Philip Howard has also done podcasts you can listen to here, and a film - link here.

You can see all my photos from the night if you wish, here

The Square

6 - 10 Bruton Street
London W1J 6PU 

Tel: 0207 495 7100

Square on Urbanspoon

Monday 15 October 2012

The Orange Buffalo, Shoreditch

I have an addiction to wings. Chicken wings, specifically, covered in hot sauce. That perfect ratio of meat and fat, crispy chicken skin doused and softened in sauce that gets all over your hands and face. My friend did a month of veganism last year and we celebrated the end of it (as if I'd abstained from meat too) by cooking a kilo of them and scarfing them down with only our shame and a roll of kitchen paper for company. It was glorious. Last year another friend and I contemplated starting a market stall selling wings; lack of driving licenses, money, and time put paid to that idea. So I'm glad someone else did it.

The Orange Buffalo specialise in New York style buffalo wings and on a sunny Sunday, we could barely refrain from running from Liverpool Street station to satisfy our wing lust. A truck located in the Truman Brewery, they had picnic tables set up out front. We chatted to the man in the truck he told us of his troubles of finding free-range chicken wings, but find them they did and now they offer 8 wings for £6, in either Original or Woof Woof sauce. We enquired about what the sauces were which prompted a tasting of them off the end of little straws. The original, mild in chilli heat but flavoursome and tangy was bested by the Woof Woof; scotch bonnet fruitiness that tingled on the tongue. Even better was the Paul F - I can't remember what the exact story was behind that name [ED: This was named after the man who has eaten at the truck every day, currently over 100 days. Thanks @xirfan!), but it was spiciness tempered by the sweet fruitiness of mango. There was one hotter but still not face-melting. Less interesting in flavour, we decided on the first three we tried with a side of chunky chips. 

Served with celery sticks and a blue cheese dip, each portion we ordered was sweet, messy deliciousness. The wings are deep fried first before being tossed in each of the sauces and served in a paper dish. The roll of kitchen paper was decimated as we stained our faces and fingers with orange, intermittently sucking air through our teeth to douse the flames. The chips, ordered as an afterthought turned out to be pretty amazing; crisp, fluffy inside and dusted in 'American spice' - "it's like crack, this stuff" - and topped with a
blue cheese sauce, all for £2.

We're going to be regulars here, and if that means I get fat then so be it. I'll be fat and happy. 

The Orange Buffalo
Old Truman Brewery
Ely's Yard
London E1 6QL

Opening times - Monday 12 - 3pm
Tuesday - Sunday 12 - 8pm
Check their twitter feed for early / unexpected closures too

Saturday 13 October 2012

Lemon & Earl Grey Friands

I've never been much of a baker, nor really had a sweet tooth so I was slightly taken aback after I'd pressed the 'confirm' button on Ebay, having bought a silicone friand mould. Australian in origin, I've had them before at the excellent Kaffeine, and the fancy just took me. 

Light and airy with the background flavour of almond, these are perhaps one of the easiest cakes I've made and the most tricky thing is buying the mould itself. With this as a base recipe, I'm looking forward to trying out variations of flavours. Most commonly, these seem to be topped with an icing of some sort or studded with summer berries but being rather out of season at the moment, I opted instead for a simple lemon and Earl Grey flavouring; the bergamot of the tea complemented the lemon well. They're pretty much the perfect size to snack on with a cup of coffee, while a dollop of creme fraiche, mascarpone or served warm with vanilla ice cream turns them into a more substantial dessert. 

Lemon & Earl Grey Friands

Makes 6

3 Earl Grey teabags - I like Bellevue Tea most.
4 tbsp boiling water
Zest of 1 lemon
25gr plain flour
100gr ground almonds
100gr icing sugar, plus enough to dust
3 egg whites
Zest of 1 lemon
100gr melted butter, plus enough to grease your moulds

Soak the teabags in the water for 30 minutes, and then squeeze out, reserving the liquid. 

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C. Grease your moulds with butter and dust lightly with flour. 

Sift the flour and icing sugar into a large bowl. Add the ground almonds and mix together. Make a well and then add the lemon zest, Earl Grey liquid and the butter. Mix briefly. Whisk the egg whites until frothy and floppy - not stiff. Fold the egg whites in, and then spoon the cake mix into the friand moulds. Bake for 15 - 20 minutes - a skewer should come out clean. Leave to cool for 5 minutes, then carefully turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely. Dust with icing sugar when they have cooled. 

Monday 8 October 2012

Flock & Herd, Peckham

Peckham isn't short of butchers. Rye Lane is lined with them and the chop-chop-chop of the cleavers and the ringing of metal going through bone fills the ears and makes me cringe. Most of these double up as grocers, big piles of yams and plantain partially blocking the doorway. Boiler chickens hang upside down above the counters, and the meat behind the glass is often luridly red at the ones I've visited. Most are halal and don't sell pork. They're always busy, but I'm a bit skeptical at the quality of the meat they sell; call me snobbish but I like to know the provenance of my meat.

I met Charlie a couple of years ago, when he was working as a butcher at The Ginger Pig; he made light work of a pig's head at Ben Greeno's supper club (now defunct; Ben's head chef at Momofuku's Sydney outpost, Seibo). I heard that Charlie was branching out to open Flock & Herd on Bellenden (stop it) Road so I knew it was going to be somewhere worth shopping at. His background at The Ginger Pig is a dead giveaway that the meat would be carefully sourced and well treated. 

Last Saturday was a bit of a launch day for Flock & Herd and Burger Bear Tom was out the front of the shop squishing meat patties onto a hot grill to be sandwiched by shiny brioche buns. Peppery and juicy, the burger meat came from Flock & Herd and delicious they were too. A small queue snaked out of the butcher's shop, but it moved quickly and I managed to bag myself some tasty-looking pork chops. My eye was immediately drawn to the strip of creamy white fat that lined them and they cost around £5.70 for three. Had I been less blinded by a stonking hangover that left me feeble and unable to make decisions, I'd have picked up a lot more. 

Cooked simply in a hot pan to be served on a bed of puy lentils, with a green sauce for garnish they were beautifully flavoured, lovely and porky - obviously a good piece of meat. The fat was plentiful and flavoursome and it crisped up well in the pan. I'm sure I'll be a regular at their shop. 

Flock & Herd, 155 Bellenden Road, SE15 4DH
Tel: 0207 635 7733

Website with opening hours HERE

Pork Chops, Puy Lentils and Green Sauce

Serves 2

2 pork chops
120gr puy lentils
1 onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 celery stalks, diced
1 carrot, diced
1 small glass of white wine
200ml vegetable stock
1 courgette, sliced diagonally
slow roasted cherry tomatoes, or sun-dried tomatoes in oil

For the green sauce:
A handful of mint
1 small clove of garlic
A handful of basil
2 anchovies
1 tsp sherry vinegar
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1.5 tbsp water
A pinch of sugar

Sweat the onion, garlic, celery and carrot in a little oil until the vegetables have softened. Add the white wine, bring to the boil and reduce by half. Rinse the lentils, then add to the pan with the stock. Simmer for 25 - 30 minutes, adding more water if they start to catch. 10 minutes before you serve, add the courgette to cook. Leave on warm. Add the slow roasted tomatoes or sun-dried tomatoes in oil.

Meanwhile, whizz together all the ingredients of the green sauce together until it's emulsified and creamy. 

Heat a little oil in a pan and fry the pork chops on both sides for 7 - 10 minutes each, depending on the thickness. Leave to rest on a warm plate under foil for 10 minutes. 

Ladle the lentils onto serving plates and top with a pork chop, with the juices and with a dollop of green sauce.

Tuesday 2 October 2012

Slow-Cooked Broccoli Pasta

It's long been The Thing to serve vegetables al dente, with crunch and a bit of texture. I love them that way; squeaky beans against the teeth, that sharp fresh crunch through a sugar snap pea, the juicy resistance of a steamed carrot. But similarly, I like my vegetables also cooked long and slow, so that they fall apart and melt, releasing all their flavours. 

This slow-cooked broccoli pasta sauce is just that. The broccoli florets are scorched in the pan first so that the flavours are more concentrated. A fragrant medley of dried oregano, chilli and garlic make the house smell glorious and after an hour or so, you have a thick flavoursome pasta sauce that coats a short shape like a bathrobe. Big and fluffy. 

Slow-cooked Broccoli Tortiglioni 

Serves 2

1 head of broccoli, florets separated, rinsed and dried
1/2 tsp dried oregano
3 cloves of garlic, minced
A large pinch of chilli flakes
1 small glass of white wine
1 tin of plum tomatoes
A splash of sherry vinegar
A large pinch of sugar
basil, to garnish
heaped tbsp mascarpone (optional)
4 tbsp olive oil

Add the oil to a pan and when hot, add the broccoli. Cook on a high heat until the broccoli has darkened brown spots on the florets but not burnt. Remove. Leave to cook slightly, then add more oil if needed and cook the oregano, garlic and chilli on a low heat until the garlic has softened and is fragrant. Add the white wine and reduce by half. Put the broccoli back in with the tomatoes, plus the tomato tin equivalent of water. Add the vinegar and sugar, then simmer for half an hour. Stir, then add the lid half cocked and simmer for another half hour. Make sure it doesn't catch. 

After an hour the broccoli should have broken down into the sauce. Season to taste. Toss through short shaped pasta (tortiglioni was ideal - penne or rigatone would be too) with basil for garnish and a dollop of mascarpone.