19 May, 2007

new food in Marylebone, and in my kitchen



















At least my hopes are high. I have had only one visit to the new Natural Kitchen in the Marylebone High Street, and that one accompanied (not to say hampered) by my 10-year-old daughter whose interest in food shopping is, say, one tenth of her interest in book shopping. But I had cleverly fitted in a book trip right before we came upon the new food shop, so I think I got the most out of her that could be got. In any case... Natural Kitchen is the new "it" shop in Marylebone. And only half of it is open so far. Let me tell you more.

It takes up a huge amount of square footage in the block beginning at Devonshire Street, on three floors. Surprisingly, I can find almost nothing about it on the internet except vague suggestions that Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is involved in some way, he of the River Cottage restaurant fame. I've also read rumours that the people behind Natural Kitchen plan an assault on the Whole Foods domination of central London organic food sources. The Kensington High Street store is slated to open June 6, and they've already taken over "Fresh and Wild," but if Natural Kitchen has its way, the dominance will be two-headed.

In any case, the place is hugely impressive as a piece of real estate, to begin with. Gorgeous renovation with high ceilings, lovely displays, very energetic staff. I don't know if they had opened just the day before (a so-called "soft opening"?), but there was a definite feel of a work in progress. The lower floor was not yet open and the shelves were somewhat sparsely filled, but the bakery section alone is enough to make you go in. A beautiful baguette came home with us, and the baker was giving away samples of patisserie goods that Avery said "are as good as anything I've had in London, but not as good as Paris." Fair enough. A very appealing produce section, and a dairy case boasting many fancy yogurts and creams. But the butcher counter? I thought I was beyond sticker shock, living here, but some numbers get me even now. Suffice to say I will not be purchasing any of the fillet of beef for, get ready for it, 54 pounds a kilo! Yes, $50 a pound. For something to EAT. Not in our house. I do think the prices are absolutely outrageous and can't imagine that even with friendly staff and a lovely atmosphere of cleanliness and cheer, the neighborhood clientele will be ready to support them. I can see popping in for, say, mint, if Waitrose is out. Or a baguette on the way to school. But general shopping, no.

That being said, they do stock all the Windsor Farm Shop items, from luxurious rosemary and parmesan biscuits to specialty oils and pastas, and they looked wonderful. And fruit and veg from Sunnyfields, so I chose a huge handful of broad beans in the pod and ended up with... about a tablespoon of beans. Clearly I did not reckon on the packaging taking up most of the room, in a broad bean. Next time I'll know. And I'll have to try the prepared foods (salads and relishes) from taste matters (don't you love companies that shun all capital letters, like little commercial food-purveying e.e. cummingses). I just went on their website and it is quite stunningly precious about itself, in an earnest and defensible organic way, not so much twee as just... taking itself really, really seriously. "Taste, balance and seasonality are central to our beliefs about what constitutes healthy convenience food." Wow. I didn't know people HELD beliefs about convenience food (except that one should shun it). And in all the little categories of the website the print gets smaller and smaller as you go down, like an eye exam. Why am I mocking these people? No good reason.

Last night I slaved away cooking two items from the Gladys Taber Stillmeadow Kitchen cookbook, as befits the girl who's slated to re-issue the cookbook at some point. Gladys's granddaughter Anne, our beloved neighbor across the road in Connecticut, is going to announce the re-issue project next month, which makes it frighteningly real. I've got to buckle down. The first line of inquiry is to test these recipes. Of course, rootling around in the back (and sometimes front) of my mind is the commentary, the history, the stories around the re-issue, but I have to confront the fact that the recipes must be cooked. So last night was "Broiled Young Chicken" and "Scalloped Corn." I present them for your delight. No convenience foods, and no really strong beliefs either, but darn good food. I'm going to give you the recipes verbatim, and you can see what you think of Glady's expositional style. She assumes a fair expertise, I have to say. I warn you that with the chicken, the butter will splatter you, so beware. And I'm not sure what a "moderate" broiler means: mine has only one setting, and it cooked fast, but in the end I think these directions are fair.

Broiled Young Chicken
(serves four generously, with great bones for stock)

Split a plump young chicken down the back with a sharp knife. Lay it skin side up on a flat surface and flatten it out by pressing firmly on it. You may cut out the backbone if you wish. This makes it easier to handle at the table. Wipe dry. Brush both sides with melted butter and sprinkle with salt and pepper, put skin side down in a shallow pan and place it 4 inches under a moderate broiler. After 20 minutes turn it over and continue to cook until well browned and tender, about 25 minutes. Baste several times with the drippings or with melted butter. Pour the drippings over the chicken before serving.

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Now, I have to say that the drippings are SINFULLY rich, brown and succulent, and I resisted the temptation actually to pour them on the chicken. But the skin was beyond crisp, like nothing I've ever tasted before. It was messy to do, and a bit smokey, but a mind-bending improvement on a roasted chicken. So there you are. With it I served:

Scalloped Corn
(serves four generously)

Cut 2 cups of raw corn [about six ears] from the ear and add two beaten eggs, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and a tablespoon of diced or chopped green pepper, or both. Place 1/2 this mixture in a baking dish or casserole, cover with bread crumbs, dot with butter and pour in the rest of the mixture. Pour on 1/2 cup top milk or thin cream, then top with bread crumbs and butter. Bake in a moderate oven for 30 minutes.

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There are two things that tickle me about this recipe: one being the green pepper suggestion (so old-fashioned in these days obsessed with red pepper, especially roasted), and the reference to "top milk." This must be the top of the milk bottle (what my unrepentant mother reports drinking straight from the bottle as a little girl), or in fact cream. I still love to buy raw milk, whole milk, from the farmer's market and see the thick stuff at the top, unless you shake it.

So there you have it. I certainly welcome comments on these recipes, since they are the maiden voyage of Gladys Taber's work on this blog. I didn't change a thing, and I wouldn't. There are other recipes with which I could regale you in which this could hardly be possible: anything that calls for combining two cans of prepared soup, for example, or my all-time favorite, "Boiled Tongue With Raisin Sauce." Enough said.

I'm off to dinner with my friend Amy while Avery and her father have their favorite dinner, "noodles and butter." This is second only to "butter and noodles" in their lexicon of gourmet cooking. She deserves it: she just jumped her highest jump ever (bless that barn, what greaet people), on precious Amber: over two feet high. Show Jumping at Olympia cannot be far behind.