Wednesday, 29 April 2009
- that you only flour underneath
- you can use 'guides' to maintain a similar thickness of rolling
- you roll from the middle away from you
- you turn the pastry in quarter turns
Tuesday, 28 April 2009
St George's Day Cheese and Wine tasting at La Fromagerie, London. St George is the patron saint of England, although he originated from Syria. He is one of the most popular saints in the world, famed for defeating a dragon. St George embraced openness and thoughtfulness. He supported the poor, the rich, farmers and soldiers, especially in times of war.
This evening was themed around cheese and drinks from countries with which St.George had connections or had visited. The cheeses are all early Spring, light, fresh and tangy.
We started with Sussex champagne: Limney Sparkling wine 2000 (Rotherfield)made from Pinot noir and Auxerois grapes. It’s not cheap at £23.85 a bottle. The programme says it has notes of lemongrass. They aren’t kidding. I yearned for the addition of crème de cassis of which I do possess a miniature handbag sized bottle. Patricia Michelson, the owner of La Fromagerie declared that many vineyard owners from the Alsace-Lorraine area of France are buying up parts of Sussex, so impressed are they with British wines.
This was accompanied by tiny gougéres, light and creamy, using Emmental and Comté, and Poilane bread triangles topped with mushrooms, lemon and parsley. Of course it would have been more appropriate to use St Georges, one of the first maturing edible mushrooms of the year, in late April, but they were not yet ready.
British cheeses have less of a reputation than French cheeses, wrongly, it turns out, for many famous French cheeses are actually based on British techniques. But at present British consumption of cheese is only a third of the French.
On a cheese tasting or cheese plate in a restaurant, you always work from 12 o clock clockwise, in order of strength, from mild to strong.
The first cheese was from Berkshire, 'Wigmore' the rine hand-rubbed in water so that it is not too thick. A ewe milk cheese, it has a silky, earthy, glycerine richness that works well with beer.
The second, a Wensleydale Cheshire cheese ‘Richard III’ ( the area that this king was born) is the oldest British cheese. It was originally made by French monks from Roquefort who had come over during the Norman Conquest. The French Cantal is very similar to Cheshire; the same technique is used; prodding the cheese with needles to expel the water. I loved all the historical references in this tasting; it made me feel as if I were chomping my way through the crusades.
Thirdly we had a Lincolnshire cheese ‘Poacher’ (the name comes from the unofficial county anthem) that looked like a cheddar but came from The Fens. They cut the curd, the cheese is pressed and therefore nutty. It is very British in style; with our mild weather, we like a tangy bitter cheese. This area of Lincolnshire has very dry summers, for that reason all the cheese are made before June. This is the most aged cheese before the season slows down, one of the best in England. Again this matches well with the hoppiness of beer.
Then we moved across the water, to Ireland, Ardrahan. This part of Ireland likes to brine-wash the rinds. The cheese is affected by the sea breezes, the lush grass, the soft rain. Roasted almonds marry well with this cheese.
This first course was matched by a Chateau Sancrit 2005, Bordeaux (Saint-Andre-de-Cubzac) and a Carmelite beer, Tripel Karmeliet, Buggenhout, from Belgium. Bordeaux is a particularly British part of France; the UK are the largest consumers of Bordeaux in the world. We ruled the region for 300 years (1154 to 1453), most famously during the era of Eleanor of Aquitaine.
A second plate of dairy travels started with Limburger cow's milk cheese, Zurwies, from Germany. Patricia Michelson has just discovered real German cheeses.
"Most of them are awful, industralised, produced in massive quantities" she says candidly. But there remain little pockets in Germany still where they are making cheese by hand. This cheese is not heavy or strong and matches well with rye and caraway biscuits.
Moving further south, a lovely ewes cheese, Garrotxa, Borreda, from a tiny farm in Catalonia, near El Bulli. The cheese looks like an old stone; the milk is heated, and the cheese grows a dark suede-like mould, then it is brought into a cooler humid fridge. After six months it is ready. The cheese loses a great deal of weight and is therefore full of protein. This cheese represents a region that has struggled to maintain it’s identity through war and dictators. The Catalan people are reclaiming their countryside, St. George would have approved. I absolutely adored this cheese but then I love goat and sheep.
Returning to Germany, we taste a tangy Adelegger Urberger, a gruyère style cow's milk cheese from Bavaria. A hard cheese like this can work with white wine.
We accompanied this plate with a gros manseng wine from South West France, Domaine du Tariquet, Cotes de Gascogne, which almost tasted German. (As an aside Patricia Michelson said that it matched well with asparagus which is notoriously difficult to match).
Moving onto blue cheese, again from Bavaria, Bad Oberdorf, Allgau.
"This is actually what a cambozola aspires to be…rich buttery…fantastic for sauces" says Patricia. "A great recipe is to mix it with butter and herbs, roll it up, freeze it and cut off little rounds as and when. This cow cheese is great on a burger."
The second blue, made from ewe's milk, is from the Pays Basque ‘Zelu Koloria’ (Basque for 'colour of the sky') The season for this cheese is 7 to 8 months from February until the end of the year at which point it is very strong. On St Georges Day it is still quite mild.
The last is a Colston Basset Stilton from Nottinghamshire. A fabulous cow's cheese, made with a different style of rennet. Rennet separates the curds from the whey and is a vital element for the cheese maker. Nowadays so many cheeses are made with vegetarian rennet but Patricia Michelson prefers the traditional method. With this cheese you have the full flavour of the white and the blue. The mould marbles through the entire cheese, giving the look of an earth-like stone.
These cheeses are accompanied by a dense treacly Calabrian black fig “made in the toe of Italy” a lovely image that suggests tangerines in the toe of your Christmas stocking.
We end this St George's day tasting in Portugal, a country that also has St. George as their patron saint, with port, Quinta de la Rosa, the perfect match for blue cheese.
The origin of the St George's Cross came from the plain white tunics worn by the early crusaders. It became the national flag of England in 1277. The England football team still wear it today (although beaten by Portugal at the last world cup in a battle between nations protected by St George).
I highly recommend a visit to this shop, an enchanted cheese kingdom. Patricia Michelson's book The Cheese Room is a fantastic journey through Europe, a guide to cheese and recipes. I am constantly dipping into it. She is working on a new book. I can't wait. All in all, a fascinating evening, where you are led by the hand by an expert, through history and cheese tasting. My only complaint was that the portions weren't large enough for me. At the end I was still hungry and had to go to the chippie!
For my money the best breakfast on the planet. This is desert island food. I'm a Marmite baby, my whole family was brought up eating Marmite. My brother would consume an entire loaf of bread, butter and Marmite when he got in from school.
Sunday, 26 April 2009
From the sublime to the ridiculous...this week I used two new pieces of equipment:
- A kitchenaid mixer which costs between £300-£350.
- An icecream maker I bought at a car boot sale for £1.
- Make a syrup of 100g sugar and 125ml water. Strain the juice of 10 passionfruits, discard the seeds. Add 400ml of creme fraiche to the syrup (I put 600ml). Add the juice. Then scoop out the pulp from another 10 passionfruits into the mix, so you have some seeds but not too many.
1 1/2 cups sugar
100g unsalted butter
3 large eggs
Zest of 2 lemons
1 cup whole almonds, toasted, coarsely chopped almonds (I did some roasted, then added some raw)
Friday, 24 April 2009
"Do you feel drunk?" I ask one woman.
"Yeah, but that's because I've been drinking" she slurs, drink in hand.
Wednesday, 22 April 2009
When I was a trendy young photographer in the 80s there was a face you'd see on the cover of all the hip magazines (ID, The Face), who ran nightclubs, worked with artist Andrew Logan of the Alternative Miss World show and was generally a fashion icon.
I took a famous portrait of Scarlett Canon one day in the studio(above).
Recently, looking for people with local allotments who could provide The Underground Restaurant with fresh organic vegetables, I was recommended this blog: http://heavenlyhealer.blogspot.com/
Imagine my surprise when I realised that this reiki practitioner and gardener was Scarlett! Plus she lives in Kilburn!
She has an allotment in Hampstead (how cool is that?) and has a consultancy for those who want to grow vegetables in their garden. For £100 she will come, walk around your garden, measure, tell you what you can grow and when, and give you a written and drawn plan. Scarlett incorporates companion planting and permaculture into her gardening. Then, if you wish, she can oversee the work with her team.
I took another portrait of her; she looks as fabulous as ever...
Tuesday, 21 April 2009
Courtesy of the Food Urchin. Advice on Twitter from Hollowlegs and Eatlikeagirl is to use the leaves and the flowers in pasta.
I used to hang out quite a bit at the London Action Resource Centre or LARC on Fieldgate Street in Whitechapel. The building was bought by a trustafarian activist as a place to host anarchist events and meetings. F.I.T (Police Forward Intelligence Team) were always outside filming us, tracking 'dangerous' activists.
Sunday, 19 April 2009
A full house and then, why did I do it? I let TV people in. All too much with simultaneously trying to cook dinner for 29 people. The intended "half hour and we'll be out of your hair" and a "quick chat" ended up as a Paxman-style grilling from investigative reporter Johnny Maitland
"Do you think it's just a novelty?" he hammered the guests "Is this a response to the credit crunch?"
"Do you cook?" I ask.
"Never. My boyfriend would be shocked if he saw me doing this" she replied.
"The food was very interesting" said one of them "a Londoner's view of Thai food. You could tell all the ingredients were very fresh, nothing shop-bought."Her friend chipped in
"I really like the dumplings. Biting into them and getting butternut squash was such a surprise"At the same table was a man who used to work with Keith Flint's dad. This information emerged because I mentioned that the previous night I had been to see Prodigy at Wembley Arena. Horrible venue but the band were great. Keith Flint may not be the 'talented' one but he has charisma in spades. You can't take your eyes off him. Keith Flint's dad owned a vineyard. So the firestarter is a nice middle-class boy after all.