Saturday 30 April 2011

School Holiday Treat: Le Deux Salons

Yet again I lag behind the twittocracy. Six months ago everyone was talking, blogging and tweeting (with varying amounts of hyperbole) about Le Deux Salon, but I only made it this month, for a little holiday treat with Jude.

Finances couldn't stretch to the a la carte menu, so I refused to even glance at it and risk temptation, but there is an extremely good value lunch, 3 courses for £15.50.

Both Jude and I had the chicken and rabbit terrine to start. Frankly I wouldn't really have minded what it tasted like, because it was just such a rare pleasure to have a slice of terrine served at the right temperature, rather than stiff with cold. As it happens, it was light, beautifully seasoned and delicious, although the thin layer of caul or whatever it was wrapped in was a bit rubbery.

For our mains, we both had pollock on chickpea and chorizo. When the lids were whisked off the sexy Staub dishes I was a bit anxious, because the pearly, translucent fish looked a bit raw. I think it must have been done in a waterbath though, because it was perfectly cooked all the way through, moist and flaky, but with no hint of colour to it at all. The underlying chickpeas were a little over-salted, but rich, tender and a very nice accompaniment to the delicate fish.

Jude had the cheese for pudding - a very nice coeur de neufchatel, and another soft cheese that I wasn't really paying attention to. I had the baked cheesecake with pineapple, thinking it sounded a bit down-market, chainstore coffee shop.

It really, really was not down- market. How they managed to get that light, curdy, just-set wobble on a baked cheesecake is absolutely beyond me. The wafer thin slices of pineapple were another bit of alchemy - my best guess is that it had been sliced on a meat slicer and then blanched momentarily to make the core as supple as silk. It was undoubtedly the best cheesecake I have ever had. Even including my own (which are very, very good).

We had wine, and gin and tonics to start, so the bill was not £15.50 a head, but it was still very good value. And Jude spotted John Sergeant, so we didn't feel that absolutely everybody had already been there and moved on.

Friday 22 April 2011

Charcuterie de canard AKA Duckapalooza

I think Raymond Blanc is my very favourite Frenchman. He comes across on TV as charming, funny and quite cuddly and adorable. I have been lucky enough to eat at his restaurant Le Manoir Aux Quat' Saisons a couple of times and the extraordinarily detailed, precise yet clean-flavoured dishes they serve do nothing to reduce my Raymond-love.

Naturally, therefore, I have been hanging on his every word in the latest season of Kitchen Secrets.

Raymond says duck ham is easy, so I make duck ham. My fridge doesn't have nifty little hanging bars, so I put the muslin-wrapped bundle on a cake rack over a plate. Very interesting tip about the fresh thyme inhibiting microbial growth.

From the ham (which turned out to be lovely and supple; perfectly flavoured), my ideas spiralled a bit out of control.

I knew I wanted to serve the ham with the spiced orange slices I made a few weeks ago (a nod to the classic duck a l'orange - and Australians know I am doing the Bundy Bear pronunciation) so that got me thinking of a duck-based charcuterie platter.

A duck liver parfait, based on Raymond's chicken liver parfait, seemed like a good idea. I used dry amontillado sherry instead of madeira and ruby port, and reduced the amount of egg and butter, because I wasn't planning to turn it out. And I just topped it with melted butter, instead of a mixture of butter and lard.

I also made a dish of duck and cognac rillettes. If I had used a bit of foresight, I would have bought a whole duck and butchered it for the ham and rillettes, but I wasn't that organised - I bought a pack of duck legs.

A freshly baked baguette and some crunchy cornichons (the only element I didn't make myself, as it happens) and we had a meal fit for royalty. Or for any French chefs who happen to be passing.

Wednesday 20 April 2011

Ryvita Crackers for Cheese

I was recently offered some of the new Ryvita Crackers for Cheese to taste (the crackers were sent to me free of charge, but with no payment or obligation to review). It was a very timely offer. The crackers we were getting don't seem to be available any more, and while I have been auditing a bunch of other varieties, I haven't really settled on one that I like enough to buy twice.

The problem is, of course, that my benchmark is very high. The best cracker in the world for eating with cheese is the cracked pepper vitaweat. They are the only Australian food product that I regularly seek out, and pay ridiculous amounts for. I love them more than vegemite. It has baffled me for the last 5 years why Britain, which makes such excellent cheese and delicious sweet biscuits, has only been offering me bland, flaky, insubstantial biscuits or hard, fragile crispbreads for my cheese.

So no pressure, Mr Ryvita Man.

Firstly, can I just say "Wow"? My tasting selection was an extremely generous hamper of two packets of the crackers (golden rye and cracked pepper), three cheeses, a jar of chutney and a nice little cheeseboard.

Pros: I like the individual portions of crackers - it helps keep them fresh and assists in a bit of portion control. I like the size of them - not a dainty, one-bite cracker but big enough to support a decent wodge of cheese. I like the texture - fairly flaky but not fragile enough to disintegrate into a shower of crumbs.

Cons: They don't taste like original ryvita: I love original ryvita and if they could get that deep flavour into a thinner, flakier biscuit I think it would be a hands-down winner. The golden rye isn't particularly rye-y and tastes a bit generic. With some of the cheeses, the cracked pepper was really intensified and reached gum-ripping strength.

My verdict? Not vitaweat-standard, but a very good vehicle for cheese (and a better vehicle for pâté, I think). And given the quality of the other offerings that I have tried, I will definitely seek these out to buy.

Saturday 16 April 2011

Asparagus season

Growing asparagus is not for the impatient. You plant a crown. Several months later a spear appears above ground. You gently break it to your husband that he can't eat it; he must wait at least another year.

The spear continues to grow. It branches into a fern.

After some avid googling, you adopt the Ohio State University asparagus-growing fact sheet as your bible. It's the one that says you CAN harvest in the second year.

In the spring of the second year, another spear emerges. After a slow start, it grows very, very quickly.

Finally, you are both home on the same night. The spear gets harvested. In order to share it fairly, it is cut into pieces.

It is sautéed in some butter, then the tiniest spritz of lemon juice is added and shaken until the sauce emulsifies.

It is the most sweet, delicate finger-food imaginable. And we have a reasonable expectation of more.

Thursday 7 April 2011

Other Bloggers' Dishes: soup, mac & cheese, sujuk

Whose food have I been cooking when I have no ideas of my own?

Syrian Foodie in London's sujuk is my go-to recipe as a spicy topping for hummus.

Girlichef's Tomato Garlic Soup with Cheese Tortellini made a delicious lunch - comforting and flavoursome.

Kat & Matt's Whisky & Smoke Macaroni Cheese redefined what macaroni cheese can be.

... and Deb's tropical oatstacks made a delicious and nutritious portable breakfast, but I'm fucked if I know what happened to the photos.

Monday 4 April 2011

Meat-Free Monday: Danish Pastry and Dancing

A few weeks ago I had the enormous privilege and pleasure of attending the ATS General Skills training with Carolena Nericcio. For American Tribal Style dancers, this is a Big Deal. Over 4 days, Carolena and her hosts/assistants Jesse, Philippa and Deana spent 20 hours cleaning up our technique, refining our understanding of the movement vocabulary and dancing the hell out of us. It was amazing and wonderful.

The only downside was the food. The caterers really let the hosts down. The lunches that were provided were vegetarian and vegan, to cater for the majority of the dancers. This shouldn't have been a problem. Vegetarian cuisine can and should be delicious and nutritious: it isn't difficult, expensive or time consuming to make amazing meals without meat. Unfortunately the caterers apparently have never heard of felafels and what they provided was at best uninteresting and not really adequate to fuel the amount of physical exercise we were doing.

This meant that I was eating enormous breakfasts of eggs and bacon, and then having egg and cheese sandwiches for lunch. After 4 days I was egged out.

When it came to the following weekend, and our cooked-breakfast blowout, I couldn't face another egg. It had to be pastry.

I followed this recipe for the laminated dough, and made the raisin swirls, just adding the zest of an orange for a bit of kick.

They were flakey, light, sweet and delicious. Just what I needed.

Saturday 2 April 2011

Forging Fromage - spiced orange slices

The keen-eyed reader will notice that this Forging Fromage post actually contains no cheese at all.

This month's mission
was to make a goat's milk cheese called Faisselle, and some preserved orange slices along side. I totally ran out of time to make the cheese, so I just did the oranges.

You know me - completely incapable of following a recipe - so I made a half quantity, using some very faintly blushed blood oranges, substituted golden syrup for the corn syrup, used golden caster sugar instead of brown (to preserve the colour) and left out the stage of poaching the fruit in the syrup. I decided that as the fruit was already tender, and it was going to be getting a water bath AND I wasn't planning on eating it straight away, I'd just pour the boiling syrup onto the warm fruit in the hot jars.

They look beautiful, and I think they are going to taste amazing with the duck ham I have curing in the fridge. I will definitely let you know.


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