15 November, 2009
I must kvell! This is my first food article (well, the first two pages of it) published in the glorious Vintage Magazine, out of New York. The editor, Ivy Sherman, is truly a visionary, and has made each writer's work stand out with production values from a bygone era. My grandmother's actual recipe cards are reproduced in card form, spots and stains intact, and my work has been edited to perfection. I'd forgotten how it felt when a piece I'd written a long time ago appears in print; I find myself thinking what a clever girl this writer is, and perhaps I could meet her! Write a fan letter. Then I remember it's me.
I'm truly thrilled. Ivy has commissioned a second piece, so I'm hard at work researching the history of women and campanology in mid-20th century England. Don't ask: it will be brilliant when it appears, I'm sure, if Ivy has anything to say about it, and she does.
Well, food has certainly been my life in the last week. I've been to "Masterchef Live: the BBC Good Food Show" at Olympia on Friday, produced (though I do say it myself) a completely fabulous grilled lamb chop dinner on Friday night and a lasagne-fest Saturday night for some of my absolute favorite guests, and last night was stir-fried sirloin with thick slices of ginger, broccoli florets, red peppers and roasted peanuts in a soy-sesame sauce. I feel I should announce some sort of fasting program. Every day I'm astonished I can still fit into my clothes. Honestly. It's been a food frenzy.
Blame it all, in the first instance, on the pure appetite-adrenalin caused by the arrival of my Edinburgh friend Charlie. How I adore him! Do you have friends who just lift the lid on your personality, who make you rejoice in the spice of life? I am more than lucky in this regard. My thoughts alight on my friend Jo, who no matter my stalled ambitions, less than stellar confidence in myself, never fails to change my mood completely. She is effervescent, squeezing my arm to underscore some important point in our nonstop conversation, doubling up laughing. She and I spent an afternoon together on Tuesday feasting on sushi at the South Kensington Kulu-kulu, and there is nothing better. Salmon fifty thousand ways, plus cold steamed spinach in sesame sauce, soft-shell crab, the best tempura shrimp. And laughter. The V&A after for some cultchuh, more hysterical laughing over a painted miniature of one Sir Crapper, who was in charge of... London's sanitary engineering. I couldn't make this stuff up.
And then there's Charlie.
Perhaps if we spent more than a few hours, or a few days together, we'd stop laughing constantly and competing for clever banter, but our friendship began over a five-day isolation course together, and we never ran out of things to laugh about then, so my hopes for a sort of forever-friendship are high. The fun of the Good Food Show is well-known to my readers, as is my addiction to the Taste of London in June. But somehow I am never quite prepared for just how much I can EAT in one afternoon. And although I'm telling you about the show too late for you to go this year, you'll be prepared for the next show on offer in London, once you've read my tales of gluttony.
Charlie and I met up in the rain outside Olympia, hugged and kissed, and immediately began the completely ridiculous endless silliness that we do enjoy so much. Added to the general euphoria is his newfound love for a certain someone the details of whose charms took up much of our conversation. New love, it is a joy to hear about, especially with the vantage I and my beloved occupy from 27 years down the road! Let me tell you that all delicious foods taste better when they're washed down with the drunken happiness of someone you hold dear. Good for him!
But about the food. My God, the variety! We began with very posh fish fingers and homemade tartare sauce from Roast, home of the fabulous chef Lawrence Keogh in Borough Market. Light, crisp, nostalgic: the perfect introduction to an increasingly challenging food experience. Because next was Launceston Place, with my secret-crush chef Tristan Welch. If he's broken into the big 3-0 I'd be surprised, so young and so energetic! He was there meeting and greeting, but I was too shy to approach him. Instead I tucked into his lobster soup with brandy and saffron cream. Now, I consider myself quite a good soup maker. Red pepper, mushroom, potato and leek, comforting chicken soups all appear regularly from my hob. Today will be jerusalem artichoke with champagne and fresh thyme. But lobster? I wouldn't know where to start. With lobster stock from the shells and head of a previous lobster feast, probably, which scares me. I've never boiled a fish head.
Charlie enjoyed the venison burger with Keens cheddar and the housemade LP sauce. We lingered for a moment over my copy of Vintage magazine which he kindly praised, and we stood there imagining our glittering food-writer careers, just on the cusp, pushing aside dreamed-of members of the intrusive press who just wanted a word or a photo, invading our lunch...
Then we were onto Min Jiang, a gorgeous Chinese restaurant offering "legendary wood-fire Beijing Duck," and delicious it was, wrapped in a pancake and offering the perfect spicy sauce to drip onto Charlie's jacket. From there, we joined the queues at the Masterchef kitchen set, produced our tickets to the cookoff between Nadia Sawalha and Thomasina Miers. I admit it was very cool to see John Torode and Gregg Wallace in person, after following the Masterchef programmes on the telly, but I did not feel tempted, as did the ladies in front of me in the audience, to scream, "There they are, oh my God!" when they appeared before the crowd. Goodness, food celebrities!
Nadia and Thomasina were given bags of mystery ingredients, three minutes in which to decide what to cook and 20 minutes to produce a dish for judging. Nadia cooked a tomatoey Moroccan stew with eggs poached in it at the last minute (too last-minute, as it turned out, because they did not finish poaching in time! the same problem I had last week with my Moroccan meatballs for Gigi and Saad). Thomasina produced puff pastry biscuits with flambeed raspberries, custard and melted white chocolate. Charlie and I felt afterward that we were aching for just such a chance to cook under pressure!
Far more wonderful than puff pastry was Thomasina's offering in the Masterchef Restaurant, our final treat. Ravioli with duck liver and hazelnuts, in a sage butter sauce: simply sublime! She is the owner of Wahaca restaurant (one located in nearby Westfield shopping center) and I'm tempted to go, even though the Mexican bent offered there will not probably include a duck liver pasta. But anyone who can cook that dish can COOK. Do you suppose it was foie gras plain and simple, or prepared duck liver pate? Just sublime, so rich and simple.
Well, we simply staggered away. Sipped a glass of champagne, then meandered around to visit the many, many food stalls with sausages (I came away with "welfare-friendly Bocaddon Farm Veal" sausages from South-East Cornwall which look amazing) my favorite chilli oil from Apulia, the pepperiest and most flavorful without simply blowing your head off. Charlie ran into a friend running the Cornish Cheese Company stall, and we sampled and bought a creamy, subtle blue that isn't merely stinky, it's really complex and tasty.
Upstairs, we tracked down my inspiring cookery teacher of last winter, the gorgeous Hannah Goodyear of The Kitchen Queen! Things have just gone from strength to strength for Hannah, who's quit her day job since I worked with her last year and is teaching and catering like crazy. I have to admit, I showed her my magazine as well and we jumped up and down together in childish glee! I've said it before: I recommend a day cooking with Hannah as just about the most fun you can have in a kitchen. There are some "teachers" in this world who go into the business, I fear, in order to stamp down their students' confidence and ambition, while shoring up their own egos. That is dreadful. Hannah is the polar opposite: she stands back to let you shine, picks up your mistakes and sets them right, and it's all backed up with a pure love of food, both cooking and eating it. I love her. A few hours with her would be an awfully nice Christmas gift for your favorite cook, I can tell you, because there is always something we can all still learn.
That was our day out at the Good Food Show. How we hated to part, in the drizzly rain, sharing ambitions and memories of all the dishes we had enjoyed. Oh, so delicious. Thanks, Charlie.
It's amazing how a day like that can inspire a person to go shopping and cook. That, plus the memories of the Ottolenghi lasagna I was fed on Halloween, spurred me on to invite my friend Annie and her lovely family to dinner on Saturday night. I must say, the experiment was pretty successful. What I was after was a rather pale, creamy lasagna, as contrasted with the very meaty, cheesey, tomatoey version I usually produce. And amazingly, because the creaminess comes from a light bechamel sauce rather than pounds of cheese, it's a very light dish. I'd like it still creamier next time, so guess what? You should come and join us.
12 sheets lasagna noodles
6 large carrots, sliced in rounds and the slices cut in half
2 tbsps olive oil
1 lb beef mince
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 shallots, minced
1 large can peeled plum tomatoes
1 tbsp Italian seasoning
4 tbsps butter
2 tbsps flour
1 pint whole milk
1 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
pinch sea salt
fresh-ground black pepper to taste
1/2 cup grated pecorino or parmesan cheese
1 large ball buffalo mozzarella
handful basil leaves, shredded
Begin by boiling the lasagna noodles till cooked, then draining them and brushing them with olive oil to keep them from sticking together.
Steam the carrots until easily pierced with a fork and set aside.
For the meat sauce, heat the olive oil in a large skillet and begin frying the mince. When it is nearly cooked through, throw in the garlic and shallots and fry until they are softened and meat completely cooked. Add the tomatoes and Italian seasoning and simmer for about 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, to make the white sauce, melt the butter and add the flour: cook together until bubbling but before it begins to brown. Whisk in the milk slowly, making sure there are no lumps. Cook until the roux begins to thicken, then add the ricotta, nutmeg, salt and pepper and stir until thoroughly mixed.
To assemble, ladle enough meat sauce into a 9x13 inch glass dish to cover the bottom. Place 4 lasagna sheets on top of the sauce. Pour over half the white sauce. Sprinkle on the steamed carrots. Lay down another layer of noodles and another layer of meat sauce. Sprinkle with the grated cheese. Finish with the last 4 lasagna sheets, the last of the meat sauce and pour over the rest of the white sauce. Sprinkle on the mozzarella and top with the basil leaves.
Bake in a slow oven (150C, 300F) for about 45 minutes-1 hour until the lasagna is bubbling and top beginning to brown.
We ate it all! Normally when I say "Serves 8" I am really generous, because no one eats as much as my family and normal people will have leftovers. But not on Saturday night. I was thrilled to see the dish completely empty, as well as the bowl of garlicky, lemony steamed green beans and the pile of toasted baguette slices. My friend Annie brought a divine dark chocolate tart, perfect for me since I don't like sweet things. If you wanted it sweeter, you could use milk chocolate.
Annie's Chocolate Tart
12-inch shortcrust or sweet pastry tart shell
11 ounces double cream
2 tbsps caster sugar (plain granulated sugar in the US)
4 ounces softened butter
1 lb best cooking chocolate
Spread greaseproof paper over the tart shell, cover it with beans or pastry beads and bake at 180C/350F for about 20 minutes or until thoroughly baked. Remove the beans and paper and cool completely.
Bring to a boil the cream, sugar and salt, then add the butter and chocolate and stir until they are melted. Annie says if the mixture separates at all, you can add a tiny bit of cold milk and whisk thoroughly.
Once the mixture has cooled slightly, pour into tart shell and cool at room temperature for at least 2 hours. Dust with icing sugar or cocoa or both, if you want it to look posh. Serve with double cream and strawberries.
This was very, very good. Creamy, simple and perfect.
Well, I think that is enough about food to keep anyone busy and chewing for some time. I'll be back later in the week with reports of... "Drake: the Musical," which reveals itself to the world on Tuesday night! And thereafter Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. By that time Avery will have disappeared completely under a layer of pancake makeup and we will all be singing the chorus about the defeat of the Spanish Armada. Watch this space.