Wednesday, 31 December 2008
Well, wherever it went, I'm certainly looking forward to the next one. 2008 hasn't seen a great deal of kitchen action from me (having it rebuilt for half of the year didn't exactly help, while family and personal illness occupied far too much of the rest of the year), so I'm ready and raring to go in 2009. Whether I can get myself sufficiently organised to take pictures at the same time remains to be seen. You never know.
I will read more, write more, and eat more. I will try not to drink more unless it's non-alcoholic. Which seems unlikely.
And what else can I promise you?
Ah, yes. There will be a lot more of this:
Chocolate is the new wine. Yes, really. Just you wait. And then remember where you heard it first.
So there you are. That's me.
And you? Well, whatever you're doing, and whatever your hopes, dreams and resolutions for 2009, I hope you have a wonderful, all-star, food- and fun-filled time.
HAPPY NEW YEAR!
Monday, 22 December 2008
So sorry for not having blogged recently - I've been struck down with the horrible winter vomiting virus (the norovirus), and am only now beginning to feel half-human again. On the upside, I'm a few pounds lighter, so have more room to pack away a hearty Christmas feast if I can face food again by then...
Anyway, enough of that. As well as being frustrated at not being able to post anything here recently, I've missed you all, and have missed being able to read your wonderfully entertaining and engaging blogs. I look forward to doing much better in 2009!
So, until then - a very merry Christmas, and a fantastic New Year to everyone!
Saturday, 6 December 2008
Saturday, 15 November 2008
Tuesday, 11 November 2008
I seem to be perpetually buried under a pile of papers, emerging from time to time only to take the cat for emergency visits to the vet (he's not been a well chappie), or for other incredibly exciting domestic tasks such as shopping, going to the bank, etc.
And this week is no exception, not least because I'll be off and away for 2 weeks from Friday. Wa-hey! But in the meantime, I've got stacks of work to send out and bill, holiday stuff to sort out, etc, etc, etc. Bleurgh.
But. A couple of weekends ago I had a quick go at making some muffins, the recipe for which had rather grabbed me. It said chocolate. It said peanut butter. It said muffins. You get my drift?
Let me make one thing clear. I am not much of a muffin fan. I love English (savoury) muffins, but US-style muffins - well, I just don't see the point. Give me a good old-fashioned slice of cake, preferably crammed with a buttercream filling and slathered with more of the same on top, anytime.
But I don't want to be excused of closing my mind to things. No, not me. I am bold, bloody, and resolute. So here, possibly for the first and last time, I bring you muffins, US-stylee.
Were they any good?
Well, yes, actually. Plenty of peanut flavour and plenty of chocolate (always a good thing, obviously). And moist. So, as muffins go, a definite thumbs-up.
And here, so that you can share the love, is the recipe I used, taken from Baking Bites:
Peanut Butter and Milk Chocolate Chip Muffins
2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2/3 cup brown sugar
6 tbsp butter, melted and cooled
1/2 cup crunchy peanut butter (or smooth)
2 large eggs
1 cup milk (low fat or skim is fine)
3/4 cup milk chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 375F. Line a a standard 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners.
In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt and brown sugar.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the melted butter, peanut butter, eggs and milk until smooth. Pour into flour mixture and stir until just combined. Stir in chocolate chips.
Divide batter into your paper-lined muffin tin. Each cup should be filled to the top, not just half way up, to ensure you get a nice dome on the muffin.
Bake for 17-20 minutes, until a tester comes out clean and the top of the muffin springs back when lightly pressed.
Cool on a wire rack.
I'll confess to having used buttermilk instead of ordinary milk, and dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate chips. The buttermilk worked (giving the muffins more of a scone look on top), but I think milk chocolate would have been marginally preferable to dark chocolate. Whatevah. Do your own thing.
Next time (if there is a next time), I'll add bananas, too. Because I can. I know no bounds.
Tuesday, 28 October 2008
First, the shop. What a beautiful place. Located on gorgeous Motcomb Street in poshest London (Belgravia, for the uninitiated), and opposite another fabulous foodie destination, Ottolenghi, Rococo is an oasis of all things chocolate and... well, Rococo. It was warm, inviting, visually appealing in every way, and wonderfully spacious. A real browser’s delight.
And it doesn’t just sell chocolates. It sells a range of teas, coffees, and hot chocolate (well, of course) – all with the option of truffles in accompaniment. Mmmmm.....
The workshop itself was divided in half: one half devoted to actually making the ganache, and the other half an introduction to chocolate and a tutored tasting by Chantal Coady, the woman who started Rococo back in the eighties, straight out of art school. Talk about having vision.
I opted to start in the group making the ganache – a fortunate decision, as it turned out, as we overran... So we got the benefit of even more time with the chocolatier, the lovely Laurent, than planned.
Not a moment of that time was wasted. Laurent was an excellent tutor – engaging, amusing, but absolutely dedicated to the process of making perfect chocolates. This wasn’t just a ‘play’ session – this was for real. Gulp.
We learnt about the chemistry of making the perfect ganache, and then learnt how to look for the signs of it all going right or wrong at every stage. And it requires a fine and experienced eye. The tiniest amount of graininess (imperceptible to all of us except for beady-eyed Laurent) to the chocolate/cream/butter mixture indicates trouble – with the patience of a saint on a very generous retainer, Laurent showed us how to use a hand blender and the microwave to rescue it.
Finally, after much beating and cajoling, the mixture turns from being slick and shiny to something more ‘fulsome’, for want of a better word, and with more of a sheen than a shine. And this is the perfect ganache – not a stodgy mix of the ingredients, like the truffles I’ve made before using a Nigel Slater ‘recipe’, but a smoother-than-smooth liquid emulsion. A perfect blend of fat and water. Genuine magic. Alchemy, even.
We each then poured our glossy ganaches into plastic cartons for chilling in the fridge (so that the ganache could firm up) before going back upstairs to the shop for the second part of the afternoon.
in that there container is a minor fortune's worth of ganache. The couverture alone that went into it was about seven quids' worth. And yes, I am going to eat it all. And no, I don't need any help.
And then, the tasting. For Chantal, it’s all about ‘character’. Invariably, she said, she thinks of different types of bars as having their own distinct personality, and this is how she remembers them. The case in point here was Rococo’s Manjari bar, a feisty, lively ‘lady in red’ (her words, not mine) head-turning bar – the Penelope Cruz of chocolate bars. And so it was. We tried about 4 others in addition, including a typical English ‘gent’ bar (I wish I could remember which that was – her point was that it was quite traditional in taste, like a good claret, but without a particular punch or spiciness), as well as the GCC’s own bar – a delicious, very ‘pure’ tasting bar.
And then she proved to us that darker isn't always better – something that many people believe, apparently – by having us taste an 85% cocoa dark chocolate. Perhaps we would have believed anything she said, being in the presence of someone so knowledgeable and impressive, but I don’t think so. The chocolate lacked ‘roundness’: it was very blunt in its taste, and the taste didn’t really develop in the mouth on melting. At the same time, the texture was less smooth than others we tried, being almost muddy.
And finally, a shock. She gave us one more chocolate bar to taste, and asked us what we thought it tasted of. For me, it tasted just like a bar (the producer of which shall remain nameless) I'd tasted a couple of weeks ago or so – mouldy. And that’s what it was. Apparently, lesser producers are will use even mouldy cocoa beans in their production, and then hope to mask the taste with cranking up the proportion of other ingredients such as vanilla, or worse, vanillin. This tasting – and the one I did earlier - was proof that it’s a strategy that doesn’t work. One mouldy bean, said Chantal, wrecks the whole batch of chocolate, and should never be allowed to past muster. Evidently, not all chocolatiers are as scrupulous as she is.
The day finished with a go at making truffles from our ganache – by scooping them out with a melon baller (harder than it looks - the scooping is fine, but it's the getting them off the baller that's the tricky part) and then rolling them in cocoa or tiny flakes of chocolate.
my truffles. Which sadly didn't survive the journey home too well.
the best chocolate bars in town
But now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off for a mouthful of Penelope Cruz...
Saturday, 18 October 2008
I think we're going to be too busy to take photos, but I promise I'll tell you all about it.
Oh, and for the avoidance of doubt, I didn't sign up for this course because of the champagne at the end. At all. Not me. Definitely not.
Sunday, 5 October 2008
... which looks like this.
back in Cork. Old and new - St Finbar's cathedral behind the River Lee, and Jury's Hotel
Saturday, 27 September 2008
OK, first up, how about some porridge? With whiskey-soaked sultanas? And brown sugar? And lashings of fresh-as-a-daisy cream for that added cardiac-inducing effect? And more cream on the side? OK. You got it:
And precisely because I was on holiday, it seemed pointless to stop at the porridge. Surely I could manage a mere 'scrambled eggs with lovage on toasted sourdough with roasted tomato and potato hash'? I mean, I'd be a wimp to turn it down, right?
(*This might be a slight exaggeration. Then again, it might not.)
Still, remembering my duty to you all, I was undaunted. Undaunted, I tell you.
Those scrambled eggs were amongst the most delicious I've ever tasted. Just golden, rich-yolked eggs, butter, and a smattering of lovage leaves. The lovage - think of a taste somewhere between sage, celery, and parsley - was inspired. It cut through the richness of the egg with an earthy, faintly peppery and gently savoury note. Fabulous. If you've never had scrambled eggs with lovage before, make them this way FROM. NOW. ON.
Not that The Other Diner was missing a trick, either. No, this is what was being swiftly devoured and oohed and aahed over across the other side of the table...
The great thing about these breakfasts is that you really don't need to eat anything more until the evening. Except you do, because this is Ireland. But more of that in another post.
I have to say, I was a little less gung-ho the next morning. Instead of the full-blown breakfast, I managed a few oatcakes, Knockalara cheese, gooseberry chutney and rocket and tomato salad. I don't know why I didn't photograph them for you, because it was just the most gorgeous, zingy plate of yummy stuff. I think it's something to do with being mesmerised by The Other Diner's considerably more valiant effort at demolishing this:
... 'poached eggs with spinach on toasted sourdough* with warm cherry tomato and avocado salsa' (*opted for in place of the poppyseed bagel. We absolutely fell in love with the sourdough over there).
Those eggs? Yep, perfectly cooked, thanks:
But like I say, this is Ireland. Small portions simply don't exist. What are you - a wimp or something?
Wednesday, 24 September 2008
Sunday, 21 September 2008
But anyway, as I was saying. Iwas out for dinner last night at my favourite local, The Fat Delicatessen.
And who else was there?
None other than Jason Atherton, he of Maze and Maze Grill, with his wife and daughter. So that's where chefs go on their days off. Apparently he's in there about once a week - and is the model customer, no attitude, no drama, no 'don't you know who I am?'. Which is, of course, a huge compliment to the guys at The Fat Deli, and says more about their food than I ever can.
Tuesday, 9 September 2008
Much is expected... But will it deliver?
Ooooh, the tension, the tension....
I'll let you know. Back on Monday.
Tuesday, 2 September 2008
Sadly, things are still not that great. A couple of close family members are pretty sick, and one of my cats has been very poorly for the last month or so. And on top of that, I'm really busy with work stuff - in a good way, but on top of everything else that's been going on this year, I'm just mentally and physically cream-crackered.
So I decided to put the blog on hold.
But then... Then I went and had a meal at Angela Hartnett's long-awaited new restaurant, Murano. And I couldn't resist taking my camera. And then I thought I might as well share the photos. So here they are. (Apologies for the overall standard - the lighting wasn't that great for a point-and-shoot, plus I took the photos in a bit of a hurry, because it really wasn't the kind of place to be taking snaps, and I didn't want to incur the wrath of fellow diners.)
If you want the words, I suggest you read a review here. It says everything I would have said. I'm actually wondering if the reviewer stole my brain.
I hope that gives you something to be going on with. I'll try to be back soon, but I can't promise anything, ok? Be good in the meantime, and take care of yourselves.