Sunday, 21 August 2016

Barbecued short ribs


Shortribs rubbed with salt and pepper
The weather yesterday was pretty crumby. Which would normally be counter-intuitive for wanting to barbecue, but was actually perfect for what we had in mind. A long, slow cook, indirect and covered, with lots of smoke. Periods of rain are no barrier to that sort of barbecuing.
Two hours into the smoking
Paul had spotted some cheap but very meaty beef short ribs at the supermarket, and bought every pack on the shelf (there were only three), so I simply rubbed them with salt and pepper before we put them in the barbecue on indirect heat. We added smoking chips every half hour for 4 hours.

Then we wrapped them. We couldn't decide what seasonings to add, so we ended up doing each one individually. One we basted heavily in some Germantown Commissary Barbecue Sauce that a friend had brought over when she visited from Memphis. One we just added a bit of chicken stock to (would have used beef stock if I'd had any). The last had a good slug of red wine and several whole cloves of garlic. Then they went back in the barbecue for another 2 1/2 hours before resting for half an hour.

L-R Memphis BBQ, chicken stock, red wine and garlic
The meat had a deep bark and was beautifully succulent, slipping straight off the bone. The one with the chicken stock was the most moist, while the one in barbecue sauce had the best flavour. I was anticipating that the barbecue sauce would be a bit sweet, but it was deliciously piquant. The red wine and garlic one suffered a bit, because we managed to poke a hole in the foil, so it didn't retain moisture the way it should. It was still excellent, but the ratio of bark to tender meat was a bit off.

I think the next time we do short ribs, we'll add a bit of stock AND baste in the barbecue sauce. And make sure someone goes to Memphis to get us some more.

It's very rich meat - you really only need a green salad with it and maybe some pickles.

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Forty Dean Street


Prosecco
Very much to my surprise my ninth blogoversary has come and gone without acknowledgment. And two months have slipped by since I last posted. I just haven't been feeling it. I have spent much of the last couple of months raging over the Brexit referendum and ensuing economic uncertainty and rise of racial and religious-based hate crimes and, well, none of that has added up to me wanting to cook much or write about food. Food is joy and love and caring and inclusion, which all feels a bit pre-Brexit.
Prawns with cherry tomatoes and crostini, and antipasto platter
Which means that this meal, at Forty Dean Street has felt like a wondrous time gone by. It was utterly joy-filled as well as being completely unexpected.

There can be a certain predictability about blogger dinners. They are on a Tuesday, of the 15-20 people there I maybe know a couple and PRs are scattered through to keep everyone happy. Everyone's on their best behaviour, determined to enjoy themselves and the networking-inclined hand out business cards. Very pleasant they tend to be, if not always memorable.
Linguine with seafood, spaghetti with fresh lobster
Dinner at Forty Dean Street was on a Thursday. There were only six of us - three PRs, three bloggers. And it ended up being less a dinner than a dance party with food. The description of the restaurant - affordable, family-run, seventeen years in business - had me anticipating something a bit staid, while "favourite with our regulars, the media crowd and tourists alike" didn't make me feel particularly confident. So maybe my utter pleasure in the food and atmosphere was born of low expectations, but I do think it was genuinely good.
Lamb chops
Mention had been made of the owner coming to tell us about the restaurant and talk us through the food, but he was far too busy joyously DJing an impeccably selected soundtrack for a 40th birthday in the corner, and dancing with anyone who would stand up with him.  The food didn't need any introduction though. More than two months later I am thinking about how richly flavoured the spaghetti with lobster was and how perfectly tender the lamb chops with mustard crushed potatoes were. Beautifully prepared and utterly delicious.

The selection of desserts wasn't quite as good as the savoury dishes - the tiramisu was almost as good as mine, the pannacotta wobbled delectably and the cheesecake was a fair example but... I dunno. I think I'd just eaten enough and was enjoying dancing at the table because none of it wowed me particularly.

The bottom line is that it isn't somewhere I would take a first date, or have a work lunch where I was discussing redundancies, but for very nice food at an extremely reasonable price with a jolly party atmosphere... it's just what you want. And god knows the more support we give the independents in Soho the better, otherwise soon it'll be acceptable but dull franchises as far as the eye can see. Which would be such a shame.

Thursday, 2 June 2016

A barbecue or two


video
It turns out that this week's festival-for-raising-awareness-of-things-we-already-knew-about is National Barbecue Week. It's the 20th anniversary of it, in fact.

Apparently the average British family now barbecues nine times a summer. Since we barbecue about three times a week from April to October, that doesn't leave a lot of barbecuing for anyone else, but there you go. Of course, most of our barbecues are simple, after work affairs, grilling some sausages or some veg and minimising the amount of washing up that will need to be done. But on a weekend if the weather forecast is OK, we'll plan something that takes a bit more effort and is a bit more extravagant.
Brisket point
Project Brisket was such a success, and we still had the point half in the freezer, so we decided to have another go. With the added complication that we weren't going to eat it at our house. So we rubbed and we smoked, then wrapped it tightly in foil and towels and took it over to friends, where it finished cooking in their barbecue.

It wasn't as successful as the first one. I think we didn't give it long enough in the second half of the cook. It was delicious, but not as meltingly tender. You actually needed a butter knife to cut it. Paul was disappointed in himself.
Good bark, nice smoke ring
But honestly, if you hadn't tried the previous attempt you wouldn't have felt there was anything lacking.

We took a good portion of leftovers home, which made a fantastic salad (cold salad vegetables, warmed-through meat, tangy Thai-ish chilli and fish sauce dressing), with some sweet potato wedges.

Having scratched his brisket itch, Paul decided that ribs were to be the next target. According to Neil Rankin's excellent book Low and Slow: How to Cook Meat, American pork ribs have a lot more meat left on them, whereas pork belly is so profitable for butchers here that they trim really close to the bone. He does talk about the conversation you need to have with your butcher to get really meaty ribs, but that wasn't something I felt up for, so I just bought a couple of scrawny racks from the supermarket.
We rubbed them with salt, pepper, garlic powder and paprika and smoked the living daylights out of them in a cool, humid barbecue, then poured on a tamarind glaze, wrapped them in foil and finished the cooking. Then, while they rested, I deep fried some okra and made a salad. The ribs were perfection. Just meaty enough, with excellent flavour, and tender enough to slip easily off the bones.
Jalapeno & cheddar cornbread to go with pulled pork
Having conquered brisket and ribs, Paul decided that pork butt was his next ambition. I removed the rind (it was going to cook too long, slow and humid for crackling) and put it in the freezer for some day in the future when I fancy making chicharrón. I scored the fat and rubbed the whole thing with a mixture of salt, pepper, fennel seeds and garlic powder (5g each salt, fennel and garlic, 10g peppercorns - made more rub than I needed).

Then the usual routine of long, slow smoking (apple wood, this time), then wrapping for the rest of the cooking time.

I couldn't be bothered making a sauce for it, so after we broke it up into chunks we just sprinkled it with a little Tabasco. We had it with cornbread, and an olive and orange salad. Some of the leftovers went into a sort of Chinese chilli sauce with aubergine and made a very satisfying meal the following day. I think we've held our end up for British barbecue.

Sunday, 29 May 2016

A. Wong

Last autumn we went to a cookbook festival. Cookbook Confidential had a bunch of talks, demonstrations and panel discussions, and it was brilliant. Diana Henry and Kay Plunkett-Hogge talked about how to write a cookbook, in such an inspiring way we immediately went home and pre-ordered Kay's book Heat (which has now been released and is wonderful. Diana didn't have a new book out). And Richard Turner, Dan Doherty and Andrew Wong talked about their food heroes.

Paul fell a little bit in love with Andrew Wong. Something about the way he talked about his approach to food really captured Paul's imagination, and he's been keen to get to A. Wong ever since, but somehow dinner in Victoria has never quite been the right thing. But on Friday night we did it.
Harbin
I started with a Harbin cocktail, which was a take on a margarita - absolutely divine. I ended up having two, because the bottle of Gewurztraminer Paul ordered was so nice he didn't want to share...

We couldn't be bothered with menu reading or decision making, so we ordered the ten course "Tastes of China" menu. Which was, I think, an absolutely brilliant idea.
smoked halibut
Before the ten courses began, we were served a couple of snacks. A little bite of something crisp, with smoked halibut and crunchy jellyfish, and a prawn cracker. It's the first time I've had a prawn cracker that actually tasted of prawn.
Not your average prawn cracker.
Chilli sauces
We were also given a pair of chilli sauces - one made with fermented bean curd, one made with shrimps - but the prawn crackers had so much flavour we only tasted these out of curiosity.

Then the menu proper began. The (completely charming and lovely) waiter introduced each course explaining where the original dish came from and some information about that region of China. Tastiest geography lesson ever.
點心
Dim sum duo.
Dim sum duo
The menu began in Hong Kong, with an incredibly delicate har gau and delicious siu mai. I am not generally a fan of foams, but the light citrus foam on the har gau was a very good friend to the sweet, bouncy prawns. The siu mai was firm and very porky. Neither one bore a lot of resemblance to the dim sum we buy frozen in Asian supermarkets.

The second course was listed as 茶叶蛋 63 degree ‘tea egg’ with shredded filo and satay powder but we were told that Andrew wasn't happy with his eggs and so something else would be served. I'm always absolutely delighted to be told that - even if it is something I am looking forward to, and to be honest, this was the course I had my doubts about because of Paul's known soft egg aversion - it just shows that the chef really cares about the quality of what they are sending out.

Instead, we were served 成都豆腐花 - Chengdu street tofu, soy chilli, peanuts, preserved vegetables. 
Chengdu street tofu
The waiter told us how when he was growing up, little old ladies would travel through the streets with a yoke over their shoulders: fresh soft tofu on one side and a variety of tasty toppings on the other. This was so delicious. This was the dish that tofu naysayers should be offered to cure them of their heresy. The tofu was a light, soft curd, the preserved vegetables gave a toothsome crunch and deep savour, and the peanuts added another level of crunch, fat and flavour. I committed my first crime against table manners for the evening and drank the remaining juice from the little bowl. It was so good I almost wept. I did actually comment to the waitress who cleared our plates that I didn't see how the meal could get any better after a dish like that. It did.

上海小籠包 
Shanghai steamed dumplings, ginger infused vinegar. 
Shanghai soup dumplings

I have never had a xiao long bao like these. Never made quite as much mess with one either. The "caviar" on top was a spherification of something delicious, I think. Ginger maybe? And in picking mine up I ruptured the silky fine skin and ended up having to drink the broth off my plate. I like to think that the staff viewed it as an appreciation of their skill and not me being a complete pig.

红烧臭鳜鱼, 蝦醬什菜 
Anhui province red braised fermented fish belly with mixed vegetables and dried shrimps
Apparently the thing in Anhui province is fermenting fish for days. Which sounds a bit like Surströmming - so I wasn't at all disappointed when the waiter told us that this was an interpretation of the dish, with the fermented flavour present in the sauce, to be dabbed on the shatteringly crisp fish skin and delicate braised flesh. It was very good, but the best thing about the dish was the accompanying vegetables, cooked with dried shrimp butter. I want to eat those vegetables again and again and again.

What the dish really needed was a bit of bread so we could fare la scarpetta - the sauces were so good and it was sad seeing so much go back to the kitchen. Even a spoon would have helped.

白灵菇扒鲍片
Braised abalone, shitake mushroom, sea cucumber and abalone butter
Braised abalone
I like to think I am a pretty open-minded sort of eater, but  sea cucumber... When I was a child, we had a holiday in the Cook Islands and I am still traumatised by standing on sea cucumbers in the sea around Rarotonga. I was not a bit sure about this dish! But everything else had been so delicious, and the story of how abalone is prized in China for its resemblance to old Chinese gold coins lulled me into taking a bite. And it was very nice. I think the small brown squares were the sea cucumber, but I couldn't really tell. They certainly weren't horrifying. The slices of braised abalone and the slices of shiitake mushroom were very well matched for flavour and texture - tender with a subtle chewiness - the crisp shreds of deep fried greenery added a lovely extra dimension, and the buttery abalone juice was just wonderful. You don't tend to taste much butter in Western Chinese restaurant food, but it's a very nice addition.
肉夹馍
Shaanxi pulled lamb ‘burger’ with Xinjiang pomegranate salad
The Muslim population of Shaanxi have contributed lamb dishes, fragrant with cumin, to the cuisine. I've tried it in a couple of different forms: as tender slices of fillet, crusted with cumin; as a murky hotpot with firey sauce and luscious chunks of meat to be sucked from the bones. 

This version - pulled lamb in a rich sauce, with lots of lovely accompaniments, to be stuffed into little buns - was the nicest take on the pulled meat trend that is swamping London restaurants, and a really enticing interpretation of the flavours.
薄荷牛肉卷
Yunnan seared beef with mint, chilli and lemongrass served with a pulled noodle cracker and truffle
Technology came to the party for this course. Our waiter had an ipad and showed us a short clip of Andrew pulling the noodles for these crackers. Mesmerising. Mine lacked structural integrity (or Paul had a knack that I lacked) and crumbled all over the table and my face, but the flavours and the crunchy noodles topped with soft mushrooms were excellent. If the Yunnan black truffles on top were not augmented with truffle oil, they are the most intensely flavoured truffles I've ever had, I think.
The seared beef with mint, chilli and lemongrass was a tribute to Yunnan's proximity to Vietnam, and the exchange of flavours along that border. It tasted very much like a combination of Chinese and Vietnamese food, with a sweet-ish but not gloopy chilli sauce and the freshness of mint (both raw and fried to crisps) and cucumber.

四川香辣手撕茄子, 宫保雞丁
 Sichuanese aubergine with Gong Bao chicken, roasted peanuts and ‘hot pot’ essence
Gong Bao chicken
I'd lost track of the number of courses we'd had at this point, but as soon as I saw the bowl of rice I knew that this was the last of the savoury dishes. We were instructed to eat the Gong Bao chicken (and told that it was very definitely not Kung Pao or Hong Bao) first, with our fingers, and then the aubergine. Which was most certainly the right way around. The aubergine, perfectly silky and luscious, had so much of the málà numbing fire sensation that I wouldn't have been able to taste the chicken. The plain rice was very welcome as a bit of a palate cleanser before the desserts.

北京 酸奶, 菠蘿
Chilli barbequed pineapple with Beijing street yoghurt

Apparently the reputation that China has for not using dairy products isn't entirely accurate - in Beijing, yoghurt is a very popular street food. This was a very nice one. Tangy but not too sour, a little gingery syrup and a chunk of warm, sweet, spicy pineapple.

雪圓子, 荔枝, 檸檬雪酪
Poached meringue, lychee granite, mango puree and orange sorbet

The final dessert was a cheffy play on the idea that the Chinese finish a banquet with a fruit platter. An orange made from two hemispheres of poached meringue, filled with a blood orange sorbet and coated in a crisp sugar shell. A fresh, perfumed mango mousse, a crunchy lychee granita (definitely to my taste - the aroma of the lychee without the excessive sweetness or slimy eyeball resemblance) and a red envelope of sugared lotus root crisps. We were told that when lotus roots are pulled up they are very long and keep coming and coming, so they are seen as a symbol of longevity. And as oranges are seen as symbolic of wealth, it was a wish for us to be long-lived and prosperous. Which is just about the nicest thing a waiter has ever said to me.
Sugared lotus root crisps
There was one more little treat in store though. A white chocolate mah jong tile, filled with strawberry ice cream. So pretty and just the right touch to end a very memorable meal. 


Friday, 20 May 2016

Curtis Stone's asparagus & taleggio omelette

 This week I Heart Cooking Clubs are celebrating "the most important meal of the day" with Curtis Stone recipes. I have to admit that at the moment for me breakfast is most likely to be two very large cups of coffee and possibly a banana, but I do love a really extravagant breakfast or brunch.

On the weekend we generally have two meals a day - a substantial, late breakfast and then an evening meal - and pretty much Paul's favourite thing for the substantial late breakfast is a very cheesy omelette. Curtis Stone's Lazy Asparagus Omelette is just the thing really!

I've written in the past about my favourite frying pan, and how it makes the best omelettes in the world. It really does.

Paul doesn't like a baveuse omelette, so this technique of putting the pan under the grill to finish, which leaves you with something half way between a French omelette and a frittata, is the one I tend to use anyway. My delicious new season British asparagus were really skinny, so  I just sauteed them raw in the butter before adding the eggs. I also reduced the number of eggs, because 12 is too big for that pan and way too much food, really.

The taleggio melted into delicious runny pools, the eggs were just set, and the asparagus brought its wonderful fresh flavour to the party. It's one of those really simple dishes where everything has to be just right, and the combination of butter, eggs, asparagus and cheese was just perfect.


Monday, 16 May 2016

Meat-free Monday: Veg platter

This is really just an excuse to show off my new plates. We really wanted something not-white (partly because of over-exposing food pics) and I've been looking for the right thing. These are Mikasa, really cheap on ebay. And very pretty!

I wasn't planning a meat-free meal this evening, but as I walked home the weather was so nice that it seemed like a shame not to light the grill, and my mental inventory of the fridge contained barbecuable veg but not meat. Lovely.

The aubergine I scored, drizzled in the cracks with olive oil and seasoned with salt & pepper, the asparagus I just washed and cut off the woody ends. I made a little tomato salad, with garlic and sherry vinegar, and toasted a few pine nuts. I also mixed a spoonful of fat free Greek yoghurt with some minced garlic and the rind of a preserved lemon.

When the aubergine and asparagus were cooked, a put a splodge of the yoghurt on each plate, put the aubergine on that with the asparagus alongside, and added the tomato salad, some crumbled feta and the toasted pine nuts. Very pretty, very tasty. I really like my new plates!  

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Alphonso Mango Bellinis

Alphonso mangoes
When I saw that Ocado were stocking Alphonso mangoes I bought some, and figured I'd make a decision about what to do with them later. I know people go completely nuts for them when they are in season, but to be honest I've not been that impressed. I've just found them very sweet and very fibrous. Not a patch on the Queensland and Northern Territory mangoes I know best! But there must be a reason they are so popular, so I keep trying to see why.
Gloriously coloured flesh
Since I Heart Cooking Clubs are cooking along with Australian chef Curtis Stone, and mangoes are such a quintessential Australian ingredient, I thought I'd check his recipes and their themes for inspiration. And very conveniently came upon a Mango Bellini, just in time for the Wet Your Whistle round.

Now, a Bellini is usually white peach puree and prosecco, and this version very simply uses fresh mango puree and champagne.

Straining the puree is an important step because the mangoes are so fibrous, so even though my natural inclination is towards laziness I did go to that bit of effort.

Unfortunately I then tried to cut a corner and make the Bellini straight into the glass.

Which makes a heck of a mess and even when the bubbles subside leaves a messy froth of mango pulp around the rim.

So for the second round I followed the recipe properly and mixed it in a jug before pouring it into the glass. But whether messy or tidy, it was absolutely delicious. The dry champagne cuts through the sweetness of the mango, letting the fragrance show through. Just lovely.


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