Thursday, 29 July 2010

Feast your eyes 1

Above: Vanilla biscuits with cinnamon and brown sugar

Sometimes there just aren't enough hours in the day to write this blog. What with trying to leave the house on time in the morning suitably attired, somehow bluffing my way through another day at the office talking into phones and writing stuff (I'm amazed I haven't been found out yet) and not offending anybody with inappropriate jokes - some days I find it astonishing that I can keep it together appearing as a responsible adult. And then I must cook! But I can't, I'm afraid, write as much as I'd like to about each and every recipe. So here are some photos instead - wouldn't it be nice if the computer screen had active Smell-o-vision?

Mexican breakfast - fried eggs, tomatoes with chipotle and guacamole:

Lemon and thyme cake with Greek yoghurt (Nigel Slater's recipe):

My husband N making pasta:

The result - Ottolenghi's goats' cheese ravioli:

Peach, raspberry and frangipane tart, adapted from a recipe by Thomasina Miers:

Hummingbird cake, from the Hummingbird Bakery cookbook:

I might do a few more posts like this, as feels pretty good to set my photos free!

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Get your fruit from the man on the street

The fruit you can buy from small market stalls peppering London's pavements might not be organic, or always sourced from UK farms, but I think it tastes so much better than what you can buy in the supermarket. These stalls aren’t flashy or posh – they’re just geezers selling fruit out of cartons at the roadside. But the difference in quality compared to a supermarket is amazing – when I buy a nectarine or apricot from a supermarket, three times out of five they are bullet hard and either go mouldy upon ripening, or don't taste of anything much at all.

I would like to say a big 'hurrah' for my regular 'Fruit Man' whose stall is near House of Fraser on Victoria Street in central London. Recently I have bought nectarines from him that are properly ripe upon purchase or that ripen to perfection in the fruit bowl, and taste so perfumed that you believe that they have fallen off the tree in Italy into your lap. The same goes for his fantastic white peaches – the curiously shaped flat variety – they taste so good! Until recently I had banned myself from buying apricots in the supermarket, because they are so disappointing, but you can ripen up the ones from his fruit stall until they almost taste of summer in the South of France...

Fruit Man of Victoria Street is there every week day, transistor radio blaring out classical music, and he always stocks the more interesting varieties. For example, I had never encountered a flat white peach before seeing them here, and he always has interesting seasonal UK produce, such as the best of the strawberries, raspberries and greengage plums. You can smell the heady aroma of the berries when you pick the cartons up, wafting out of the punnets like an intoxicating drug!

Fruit Man always adds the personal touch – he can tell you how long to leave something to ripen up, or what’s tasting particularly good that day. He is proud of the fact that he gets his fruit fresh from Covent Garden market every day. “I don’t eat rubbish,” he says. Quite right. He adds lovely signs written in old fashioned handwriting, with messages such as ‘Please don’t squeeze me until I’m yours’ and is excited about the figs and grapes that will soon be flooding in. Sometimes he pops a free avocado into my bag.

Here is some of his produce lovingly installed in my tiny kitchen...

Yellow nectarines and flat white peaches (note the smaller, more insipid nectarines on the far left that come from Sainsbury's), and apricots in the paper bag:

White nectarines and greengage plums:

Why would I buy my fruit anywhere else? You don’t get this service in the bleak over-refrigerated atmosphere of a Tesco. By buying your fruit from small stalls, you're supporting small independent businesses and not doing all your food shopping through the supermarket monopoly. Spending a few less quid per week in the supermarket won't hurt the fatcats one little bit, but it will make a huge difference to the fruit man on the street. Right on - and peachy!

Got a favourite market street stall you can recommend? I want to hear about it...

Perfect mayo, plus herby potato salad

For years I hated mayonnaise. Well, let me rephrase that. I actually do hate all mayonnaise that comes in a jar. It makes me heave, tasting claggy and processed, leaving a margarine-like taste in the mouth. But about a year ago this old cookbook of my mum's changed everything, after I learned how to make the Roux brothers' mayonnaise. Now I always make my own and it literally takes ten minutes of your time. It tastes like heaven, really fresh, not too eggy, and then you have the perfect foil for making a rocking potato salad.

This is the book where I got the mayo recipe, below. You can still buy it secondhand on Amazon. It's a classic - it has properly retro French dishes in it, as well as some very Eighties ones, and my mum used to make their legendary Tarte Tatin almost every week when I was a teenager:

Don't the brothers look cheerful! Nothing to do with the vin on the photoshoot, I'm sure.

Anyway, here's their recipe which is absolutely classic:

Mayonnaise, from 'At Home with the Roux Brothers'

A classic mayonnaise can be so quickly and easily made nowadays that there is no reason to buy the commercial product. And of course, if you make your own mayonnaise it can be tailored to your own taste. Firstly, you can choose the type of oil you use. For example, a groundnut oil will give a light, clear flavour, an ideal base when other flavours are to be added, as in aioli (flavoured with garlic), sauce tartare (gherkins, capers, tarragon), or sauce remoulade (similar, with the addition of anchovies). Olive oil will give a rich, robust flavour, something of an acquired taste, and mayonnaise made with olive oil is best served plain. As it is expensive to use olive oil in the quantities required for mayonnaise, try using half vegetable oil (for example groundnut, sunflower or safflower oil - not corn oil) with half olive oil, for the best of both worlds.

Again, when you make your own mayonnaise, flavourings can be as varied and as strong as you choose.

To guard against mayonnaise separating, start with everything at room temperature (especially the eggs). If it is a cold day, rinse the bowl and the whisk in hot water just before using. If at all possible, avoid storing the made mayonnaise in the refrigerator; simply keep it, covered, in a cool place. But should refrigerator storage be absolutely necessary, remove the mayonnaise about three hours before you intend to use it and leave it without stirring until it comes up to room temperature; it will then usually survive.

Mayonnaise gets very thick in the final stage, and using a wire whisk can be hard work! You may need to resort to an electric hand whisker.

Note: to prevent discolouration, never allow mayonnaise to come into contact with any metal except stainless steel.

Makes 650ml

3 egg yolks
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground white pepper
600ml oil, of your choice
Juice of 1/2 lemon or 2 teaspoons white wine vinegar


In a bowl, combine the egg yolks, mustard, salt and a little freshly ground white pepper. Position the bowl on a tea-towel to hold it steady as you work. Have the oil ready in a measuring jug. Start by whisking together the ingredients in the bowl. Then add the oil, a drop at a time, whisking it into the mixture. This is the critical stage: if the mayonnaise is to curdle it usually does now, so take things very slowly until about 2 tablespoons have been added. The mayonnaise will now be getting very thick and the oil can be added about 1 tablespoon at a time. When about half the oil has been added, whisk in 1 teaspoon of the lemon juice or vinegar, then continue whisking in the oil in a steady stream. When all the oil has been added, stir in the remaining lemon juice or vinegar and any flavourings, if used. Taste and season with additional salt and freshly ground white pepper, if necessary. The finished mayonnaise will be thick, wobbling mass. For a thinner sauce, stir in boiling water 1 tablespoon at a time until you reach the required consistency. Or you can stir in a tablespoon of double cream to soften the flavour.

If the mixture curdles during making or on standing, try beating in a tablespoon of boiling water. If this has no effect, simply put a fresh egg yolk in a separate bowl and gradually (just as slowly as before - or even more slowly) whisk in the curdled mix, a drop at a time.

Quite right, brothers Roux!

A few notes: I have made successful mayo of the type above using eggs cold from the fridge. I usually use grapeseed, groundnut or sunflower oil; I find that using olive oil is too bitter and rich. I have varied the types of vinegar - red wine or cider vinegar is just as good as white, and I don't even know where to buy freshly ground white pepper. I just use the pre-ground stuff from Natco. And a balloon hand whisk is the best thing to use - an electric whisk would be overkill, I think, and with a hand whisk you have total control. Not once has the recipe ever curdled, how amazing is that?!

So now you have the perfect mayonnaise recipe, you can now make a great potato salad. My version this time...

Herby potato salad

To feed a hungry horde of about 10 at a barbecue

1 x 650ml quantity of mayo, as above. Please use the freshest organic eggs you can buy!
2 kg new potatoes / Charlotte salad potatoes - no need to peel
1 jar capers in vinegar, rinsed and roughly chopped
1 handful of cornichons/gherkins in vinegar, roughly chopped
6 generous handfuls of chopped mixed fresh herbs: basil, parsley, tarragon, coriander
Juice of half a lemon (optional)

Boil your potatoes until tender. Leave aside to cool, then when they are cool enough to touch, chop them into large cubes. Let them cool down completely.

Take a big bowl, put your mayonnaise in, add your herbs, capers, cornichons and seasoning (if needed) and gently mix together. Then mix in the cold potato cubes. Taste, and if it needs a bit more sharpness, add the juice of half a lemon.


Friday, 16 July 2010

Angus and his Indian snacks

Who is this man? And what is he doing? If you happened to be at a music festival in Norfolk last weekend, you may have caught sight of this intriguing gentleman popping up next to the Birdcage Stage serving delicious Indian street snacks. His name is Angus Denoon: man of mystery and very good hats.

Angus makes and sells his version of the street food he tasted when travelling around India. Last weekend, he served Bhel Puri, a delicious combination of boiled potato, fresh coriander, onion and tomatoes, mixed with puffed rice and chickpea flour sev (crunchy vermicelli), drizzled with tamarind dressing, chutney and a medley of spices. I'm sure I've missed out some of the crucial ingredients, but this humble snack served up in a twist of paper is one of the nicest things to eat at an outdoor festival - it's simultaneously soft and crunchy with sweet, sour and chilli heat all marrying together in a very satisfying way. I would eat this every day if it was sold as street food here!

Ingredients for the Bhel Puri - peanuts, ginger, coriander...

Puffed rice, tamarind chutney in a bottle and a wooden lime juice press:

The finished article:

Angus really knows his stuff - he filmed a documentary on Indian street food which was shown at this year's Brighton Film Festival. He arrives at each festival venue in style - his van is decked out with all kinds of beautiful Bollywood-style kitsch - garlands, fake flowers, Indian signs and fabrics. He has put up painted wooden shelves holding large glass jars of spices on the insides of the van doors. It's a like a travelling Aladdin's cave - here he is enjoying a pint in his van:

Every other year or so, I’ve hung out with Angus at random parties and festivals – he’s one of those people that I won’t see for a long time but will bump into by accident, and he's always very mellow and easy to get along with. He carries has an air of mystery about him; I asked him what his plans were for the rest of the summer, and he was charmingly elusive, mentioning some possible Cornish beach appearances and 'keeping a low profile'. I know for a fact that he is an amazing cook beyond making snacks at festivals - he catered for my good friends' wedding with gorgeous Spanish-inspired food. He calls his catering company 'Mongo Denoon and the OK Catering Success'. Awesome!

Keep your eyes peeled for Angus on a Cornish beach this may be lucky enough to spot him...

Monday, 12 July 2010

Lumen Cafe

Note: Lumen cafe is no more. Well, it's not run by Charlotte Jarman any longer - she and the cafe parted ways two weeks ago, because the charity that managed the cafe were a bunch of awkward buggers who made her life hell. It's their loss - Charlotte can now be found cooking part time at the superb Clerkenwell Kitchen. Hurrah for her!

My friend Charlotte Jarman (the best cook I know) and her friend Kate de Syllas have opened a wondrous cafe just a stone's throw from King's Cross. In what seems to be a desert of good places to eat, they are serving exciting food that is a mix of Middle Eastern, Mediterranean and British flavours, all impeccably and ethically sourced. Charlotte has worked as the Greener Food project manager at London Food Link (part of Sustain), and knows a thing or two about how to run a restaurant that sources its food locally, using meat, dairy and fish that has been responsibly farmed and fished, and above all, selecting ingredients that taste gorgeous.

Everything you will eat at Lumen Cafe tastes as though sunshine is bursting out of it - fresh, interesting ingredients that are all from great British farms. Fear not, though, you don't get its ethics rammed down your throat - the cafe's sourcing policies are discreetly written up on chalk boards, should you so wish to get a bit more info.

I popped in for lunch recently and blissed out on the following...

Sweetcorn bhaji with mixed leaves and raita: very sexy flavours. I even liked the raw onions, because Kate had done something magical to them by steeping them in lime juice and adding mustard seeds, annihilating the oniony aftertaste:

Tortilla with garlic aioli: I had an OMG moment with the aioli, and requested an extra bowl with bread to dip in it. The tortilla was very satisfying too, and did its best to soak up my hangover.

Vanilla sponge cake topped with whipped cream and Chegworth Valley strawberries: worth walking barefoot across crushed glass for...just dreamy!

I would have liked to have lingered there all afternoon, eating dish after dish. I know that the brownies served here are exemplary - I use Charlotte's recipe again and again, it's the best one I know. Lumen Cafe's prices are extremely reasonable, especially when you consider the high calibre of the ingredients. You'll average about £6 for a good sit-down meal. Even the sandwiches are something to be celebrated: Charlotte and Kate insist on good bread from Born & Bread, stuffing it with delectable fillings such as roast chicken and herb yoghurt, or homemade egg mayonnaise. Yum!

Get over there and prepare to undo at least one button on your jeans in honour of the feast. Oh, and hurrah for their glowing review in Time Out...they well deserve it!

Lumen Cafe
88 Tavistock Place
London WC1H 9RT