Friday, 27 June 2008

would you like chocolate with that?

Chocolate. And then some. Many people’s idea of a Very Good Thing.

I confess to a slightly weird relationship with chocolate. I rarely eat the stuff in its pure form, and never have, not even as a kid. But if you mention ‘chocolate’ together with ‘cake’ or ‘pudding’, then you’ll have my immediate attention.

So when the nice people of Gü asked if I’d like to try out their chocolate trifle and their black forest trifle, I had to think about it for only 0.004 seconds* before agreeing. Don’t pretend you wouldn’t do the same.

*roughly, give or take the odd .001

Gu trifles 1

And, given that I don’t have a functioning kitchen, and therefore can’t make my own desserts, the timing couldn’t have been much better.

So. Trifle. According to my (Oxford) dictionary, ‘trifle’ means ‘a confection of sponge cake with custard, jelly, fruit, cream, etc.’ On the packaging, Gü’s chocolate trifle is billed as comprising chocolate ganache, chocolate sponge, cream, and ‘chocolatey’ mousse. So not much custard, jelly, or fruit there, then.

But really, who cares? If you’ve bought something called ‘chocolate trifle’, I think it’s reasonable to assume that fruit isn’t going to be your first priority. And mousse instead of jelly or custard? Seems like a fair swap to me.

So – chocolate is what you get. A great big hit of it. The ganache at the bottom of the trifle is 53% cocoa, which is just how I like it – dark and wicked. The mousse, too, is an intense chocolatey mouthful. The sponge is firm – not a mushy mess, as in so many trifles – and light, and in between it all is a layer of delectable whipped cream. I mean, what’s not to like? If you’re in need of an indulgent chocolate fix, then it’s all right here in a cute little pot for you.

As a child of the 70s and early 80s, I was particularly interested to see what the black forest trifles would be like. For many, like me, black forest gateau (BFG) represented the height of sophistication (can you imagine?? Heady days...). But it fell victim to its own success, and pale imitations – made with poor quality chocolate, disgusting artificial cream, and over-kirsched, sickly cherries – flooded the market, making it an altogether less desirable gastronomic treat.

But like so many things from that era, it’s enjoyed a mini-revival of late. Even Heston Blumenthal came up with a reconstructed version. So what could Gü do with it, I wondered.

Gu trifles 2

Yes, the black forest trifle is on the right. With less cream. Tough choice.

The answer is: they make another very good ‘trifle’. (Note, they get the fruit in this time, which arguably makes it more of a trifle, for the pedants amongst you.) If you were ever put off BFGs because of over-kirsched cherries or yucky cream, then this is the version of BFG for you.

Again, the chocolate mousse is rich and dark (53% cocoa), and the chocolate sponge is as good as in the other trifle. But it’s the cherry compote which arguably steals it – making up 26% of the overall dessert, I think Gü have got the balance with the other components pretty spot-on. It would be easy for the compote either to be dominated, or to completely overwhelm everything else – but it doesn’t. It adds just the right amount of fruitiness, cutting through the chocolate and taking the edge off the chocolatey richness. A well-judged effort all around, then, and a BFG for our times.

One note of 'warning', though - the pots might look small, but they pack a punch. All that chocolate takes some eating. Really. For me, personally, about ¾ of a pot would have been enough.

But you’re made of much sterner stuff, I’m sure.

Thursday, 19 June 2008

a short interlude...

Off today for a 4-day break in Luxembourg. I know, it's not the most obvious place for a holiday, but it's a long story involving a friend from the US, some funding, a student trip, and probably half a dozen other things as well.

And yes, I know Lux has billions of Michelin starred-establishments per square inch, but we won't be going to any of them. Flat broke. (More on that later.)

But I will take my camera, and I will take pictures of anything of foodie interest. Just for you.

Back soon!

Thursday, 12 June 2008

today, we're going to make sushi...

Oh yes, we are.

As you know, I still don't have a kitchen, so there was only thing for it. Take over someone else's. And learn how to make sushi at the same time. Why not?


No, I mean at So. A jolly good Japanese resto close to Piccadilly Circus in London. I've eaten there a few times, and the food has always been outstanding. And that's even compared with what I've eaten in Japan.

Learn how to make sushi? Yeah, why not. It seemed like a good idea at the time I booked. I love sushi and can eat bucketloads of the stuff. By the time of the class, though, it was about 25C, and the prospect of standing over whiffy* fish didn't seem quite so enticing. Fortunately, the cost of the class included a free glass of wine - at which point, learning to make sushi suddenly became irresistible again.

* it wasn't, actually. But it might have been.

OK, so we (3 of us) were going learn how to make California rolls and nigiri sushi. A prospect which seemed altogether easier after a few gulpfuls of vino.

First, find a willing chef, and get him to demonstrate. Something like this:

sushi 1

You see? You lay out your nori (roasted seaweed), and then press the sushi rice out evenly, right up to the edges. Use the base of your palm to help, like so:

sushi 2

Well, it worked beautifully when he did it. When we tried, the rice just stuck to our hands and everywhere else within arm's reach. Still, he's been making sushi for 20 years. Us, barely 20 seconds at that stage. Some slack, people, please.

If you haven't got enough rice on your hands at this point, now cover them with roe as well. Alternatively, you can scatter-spread it over the rice:

sushi 3

Or, in my case, like this:

sushi 5

No, I don't think it'll win any awards, either.

Then you place a piece of avocado in the centre, along with a smattering of lovely crab meat, and carefully roll up your nori/rice square, like this....

sushi 4

... and, if you're a Japanese master sushi chef, the result will look immaculate. If you're a ham-fisted doofus, it'll look slightly less than perfect. But, you know, you've just made your first California roll, ok? Not bad for a doofus.

Have a celebratory slurp of wine. But don't take too long, because Chef wants you to make another roll. Oh, and now he's onto the art of making nigiri sushi. Strewth. I've barely swallowed my wine.

OK, so nigiri sushi. Should be simple. It's just a piece of fish slapped onto a ball of rice, right?

Ah, apparently not.

In your right hand, pick up and shape your 13g ball of rice. Yes, really. 13g. That's what it says here.

With the tip of your index finger on the same hand (and without dropping the rice), scoop up some wasabi. With your other hand, pick up a piece of fish (which, as you will know, should be 15g). You'll now look something like this:

sushi 6

Which is a good look on a sushi chef, but isn't the kind of thing you want to do out on the streets of London.

Then you do some mysterious sushi-origami.

And I quote:

'Whilst gently pinching the rice between the thumb and the middle finger of the right had, make a slight indent in the rice ball using the left thumb... Turn over in hand and lay across fingers on the left hand. Using the right thumb and forefinger, stroke the edges of the fish over the rice and pinch at the sides. Use the left thumb to again stroke the fish end over the rice and gently apply pressure. Turn the nigiri in your hand 180 degrees and repeat the previous step at the other end. Whilst gently gripping the sushi between palm and finger, apply pressure to the top of the fish with the right forefinger. Repeat the stages until you have the desired shape.'

Watching the chef doesn't necessarily help much, either...

sushi 7

sushi 9

... after which, you'll have (along with your incredibly impressive California rolls) something like this:

sushi 8

OK, so not so impressive. But if you neck the rest of your wine, knit your eyebrows together and invoke the sushi gods, you'll suddenly find that in no time at all - master sushi chef that you now are - you'll soon have a plate of your handiwork that looks like this....

sushi 10

... which, once all boxed up, looks like a darned fine box of sushi, if you ask me:

sushi 11

That'll be £8.90 to you, pal.

All we have to do now is to learn how to cut the California rolls. Because, despite the fact that I could happily eat mine in log form, I'm told it would be a bit rude to do so.

For this, you need a sharp knife and a bowl of water. Dip the tip of the knife in the water, invert it (the knife, not the water) and wait until the water has run down the length of the blade and is dripping off the other end. No, I don't know why, either. Best just to do as you're told and ask questions later. Chef has a very sharp knife. You don't.

Then cut the roll.

And, if you behave, do what Chef says, and smile sweetly, you end up with your very own plate of sushi made with your own fair hand:

sushi 13

Whooooo-hoooooo! Sushi-tastic!

Which, of course, calls for another glass of wine... And yes, I did eat it all, thank you.


Good. Your turn now.

Thursday, 5 June 2008

Coming right back at ya!

hand and fork

Oh yes, siree.

Today is when it all happens. I face my demons. I look 'em straight in the eye and I SHOW. NO. FEAR.

All those tags for memes - they stop right here, people. No doubt several of you have already realised this, given my lack of response to past tags - but here (as my friend Manggy of No Special Effects would say) is where memes come to diiiiieeeeeeeeee.

Confessions first.

I don't know what it is about memes, but they just don't do it for me. I look at them, and my brain goes phuuuut. ('Phuuuuut' for those of you who don't know, is a sound equivalent to a kitten letting out a gentle fart.)

And so, in all the times I've been tagged, I haven't responded to a single one. To all those who have tagged me - what can I say? I'm sorry, ok? Really, I am. It's nothing personal. It's me, not you.

But I've just received another couple of tags - from Peanut Butter Boy and Browners - and, given that I can't cook (nope, still no kitchen), and I haven't been out anywhere special to eat this past week or so, now seems as good a time as any to face the proverbial elephant in the room and tell it to park its butt elsewhere.

So it's going to be on my terms. I'll do 5 random things 'about me', and then probably some other rubbish, too. Ready?

Let's go.

1. My freaky 'career' means that I'm qualified to lecture you, massage you, and sue you. (Masochists, please take note - this is not an invitation, ok?)

2. I live in the same 3-mile radius as Gordon Ramsay, John Torode, Sarah Beeny and Piers Morgan - and in which Ainsley Harriott and Naomi Campbell were born and grew up. The White Stripes also filmed their video for Dead Leaves here. No, I don't know why any of this matters, either.

3. I could arguably have been a professional tennis player, but I chose to stick at school and go to university instead. I have since slapped my younger, doofus self many times. Very hard.

4. I have a friend who's just turned 100. She totally rocks and is one of the most amazing, energetic, and spirited people I know. She stopped driving only late last year, having never had an accident in her life.

5. I am in awe of all you other food bloggers out there. Really. I read as many blogs as I can, as often as I can. Everybody inspires me in some way. You are an amazing bunch. And I have a few questions for some of you.

Heather (Voodoolily) and Michelle (TNS) - why are you guys not doing stand-up, preferably as a double act?

Peter (Kalofagas) - do you ever sleep? HOW do you get to blog so much? Your output scares me.

White on Rice Couple - you need your own TV show, like yesterday. If you need me to have a quiet word in Anthony Bourdain's shell-like, just let me know.

Jen (Use Real Butter) - where do you find the will or the energy? You inspire. Ditto all you others out there who are dealing with serious illness (like Bri) while still taking the trouble to entertain the rest of us with your blogs. And those who are raising awareness of major health issues, such as Susan over at Food Blogga. Great stuff.

Wendy (A Wee Bit of Cooking) - can I have joint custody of your new puppy?

Finally, to all of you who have tagged me in the past, or have conferred upon me all manner of awards - thank you so much. Just because I haven't added them to my blog, or mentioned them, doesn't mean they're not appreciated. They are. I'm just too lazy to do anything about them. Like I say, it's me, not you.

And for anyone who hasn't been tagged for a meme - no, I'm not going to start doing that now. If you're wanting to play the game, then please go ahead, be my guest, and consider yourself tagged.

Just please don't tag me back. This is strictly where tags fear to tread.