Thursday, 11 November 2010

Drink more Gin




Its no secret, I love drinking Gin in every form. From the simple and classic Gin and Tonic with ice and  a slice to high grade martini's in some of the best cocktail bars in the capital, my current favorite bar been 69 Colebrooke Row in Islington. I love the stuff, the refreshing botanical flavors that hit you in a thirst quenching moment, the decadence of a Gin cocktail in a great bar that transports you back to the roaring twenties or understated fifties  and of course the ceremony of making a great G n T.

A month ago or so I became kind of obsessed by making Sloe Gin and sent out a plea on the best way to make your own Sloe Gin to the Twitter Ether. The flurry and amount of tweets I got in return was astounding. Sagely advice on the topic ranged from don't do anything yet as its to early in the year to start making Sloe Gin as there hasn't been any frosts yet , don't bother pricking them all with a pin just bash them with a rolling pin. Thankfully, the best tweet of the day was from a dear friend in Dorset.

 "Don't worry there are shedloads down here, I will pick them and send them up to you"

True to his word, within three days a courier dropped off a small box with a kilo and half of the beautiful deep dark berries carefully wrapped up in bubble wrap for me. I must admit when I opened the box, I squealed with delight like a small child discovering a new toy.



 Apparently the key to a good Sloe Gin is to put the Sloe berries in the freezer, as this simulates the berries  been left out until the first frost, something that is apparently key to making Sloe gin according to English folklore. So as soon as they arrived I popped them in the freezer for a day or two, until I was ready to make the Gin


Sloe Gin
Makes 2 1/2 litres roughly 


Ingredients & Equipment

3 sterilized bottles or jars
2 litres of Gin - there is no point buying really expensive gin for this recipe as it s a waste of money
1 Kg of Sloe Berries
600g of Caster Sugar

Method

First of all I took the Sloe berries out of the freezer and let them slightly defrost for a hour and a bit

Normal advice is when making Sloe Gin is that every berry should be pricked with a pin or needle, and after reading about the process some folklore says that the berries should be pricked with a thorn off the very same bush the berries were picked from. Now those that know me will know, I neither have the patience or the time for any of this malarkey. So on the advice of @lickedspoon , I bashed the hell out of them with a rolling pin.

Fill the jars a third full of the berries and then add about 200g of Caster Sugar to each of the bottles. The sugar draws out the juice from the berries and thus in turn color the gin.

Then fill the bottles/Jars up with Gin, don't make the fatal mistake that I did and not buy enough Gin  - i had to do a mad dash to the local off license for another litre bottle of Gin (the shopkeeper, bless him asked me if  i was alright after buying my second litre bottle of the evening from him an hour after buying the first one).


Once filled with gin, the hard part comes. Place the bottles in a dark cupboard somewhere and then remember to shake or turn the bottles once a day for a week and then shake once a week there after for at least two months. Two months seems like a long time, bit the key is to wait for even longer so that the gin takes on more of the flavor of the berries. I know some one who has had theirs proving for four years !!!
So I'll let you know how it tastes in a couple of months time, thats if I can last that long !

Friday, 5 November 2010

Black Pudding Delight



Cooking for large number's of people sometimes has it's benefits. It normally mean's that there are plenty of leftovers after cooking at events, whether it be actual leftovers or surplus ingredients, there is always something left over. The struggle is sometimes what to do with the leftovers. So after a hectic week of secret suppers at The Nursery Festival and with a lovely group of women containing a soon to be bride, I was left with a load of Black Pudding and Salsa Verde. Rather than adding to the ever growing food waste mountain, it only seemed right to try and conjure up a magnificent meal from the leftovers of others.
Now I love a bit of black pudding every now and again, but find that I mainly use it for weekend lazy breakfasts, especially my favourite, Breakfast of champions. After rediscovering Andrew Pern's book Black Pudding and Foie Gras in a recent clean up, I thought it was time to be a bit more adventurous with the black pudding and use it in a Monday night Supper for me and the flatmate.

Black Pudding and Chilli Pasta 
Serves 2

Brown onion finely diced
3 cloves of garlic finely diced 
1 red chilli 
Half a ring of Black pudding thickly sliced
About 5 good tablespoons of Salsa Verde 
200-250g of Spaghetti  (depends how hungry you are feeling, and to be honest I never weigh pasta out I just do it by judgement)
Maldon Sea Salt
Freshly Ground Pepper
Olive oil


1. First start by heating up some olive oil in a heavy based saucepan, once hot add onions and then garlic and let them soften slowly
2. Put another pan on full of salted water and bring to the boil for the pasta 
3. Add finely diced Chilli to the onions and garlic and sweat for a few moments.
4. Place spaghetti into the pan of boiling salted water and cook as directed on the packet, preferably until al dente
5. Once Spaghetti is pan of simmering water, crumble the black pudding in to the onion, garlic and chilli mix and gently fry, until the pasta is cooked .
6. Drain the cooked pasta and return to the pan.
7. Add the pasta to the  black pudding and onion mix  and then combine together.
8. Then spoon in the salsa verde into the pasta, mix thoroughly once again and serve

It was a joy to discover that the dish contain the right balance of heat from the chilli, herby goodness from the Salsa Verde and earthiness from the Black Pudding. We enjoyed the pasta with a bottle of young Portuguese Vino Verde which proved to be the perfect accompaniment for this unusual offally pasta dish


Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Illicit luxury lone dining



So apparently we are in a double dip recession, to be honest I have no idea what this means. I just know that most people are pretty skint and graphs showing the country's descent into an even deeper economic downturn looks like a reversed sign for a humped back bridge. Dining out and eating fancy foods have been somewhat curbed recently due to moving into a new ex council flat near Broadway Market in Hackney. My life's been a bit hectic in the past months what with the move, deposits, flaky landlords and of course the first weekend of Hidden Dining at Shacklewell Nights, so a treat of the culinary nature was defiantly order of the day.



Once moved into the new flat the first thing I unpacked was my collection of cookbooks (I have already filled up one bookcase with them all in), while I was unpacking them I found a copy of Trina Hahnemann 's Scandinavian Cookbook that had been sent to me by the lovely people at Quadrille Publishing before the move out of the old flat. Since the boy wonder disappeared to Sweden six months ago, I have become somewhat intrigued about Scandinavian cooking. Tales of the best tasting  fish and kelp's that taste of the sea and tins of exploding fermented herrings in the dry store, have fuelled me to learn more about the Scandinavian cuisine.

Finding my copy of the Hahnemann's Scandinavian Cookbook, got me thinking about  and craving one of my most favourite foods - Gravalax. Gravalax is Salmon cured in a mixture of sugar, salt and dill, and is left for a few days (if you can bear the wait) for the fish to take on the cure. The Swedish use to and probably still do, bury the salmon in the ground for the curing process, as the word gravalax in Swedish means buried salmon.
The recipe is adapted from a number of sources, mainly my lovely Swedish work mate who first turned me on to the wonders of gravalax and of curing your own salmon at home and  Hugh Fernly Whittingstall through a programme of his that I had seen a few years ago.





Beetroot Gravalax
Ingredients

a whole salmon halved, with skin
2 bunches of fresh dill
6 raw beetroot's grated
200g sea salt
200g caster sugar, sometimes I use a half and half mixture of caster sugar and soft dark brown sugar for a more stronger tasting cure
tsp peppercorns, crushed
4 tbsp vodka




Pick out any small bones left in the salmon with tweezers. Wash, dry and roughly chop the dill. Peel and grate the raw beetroot

Mix the dill, beetroot, sea salt, sugar, pepper and vodka in a bowl  thoroughly.

Place a length of cling film on a chopping board and place on side of the salmon skin down on the length of cling film
Place  the curing mixture one one top of the salmon,  then place the other side of the salmon on top of the cure mixture with the skin side facing upwards.



Wrap the whole of the salmon with clingfilm (you will probably need more clingfilm to wrap the salmon  and refrigerate for 24 hours, turn the salmon over  and refrigerate for a further 12 to 24 hours.

Remove the fish, rinse most of the excess cure and pat dry. Finely slice and serve.

The best accompaniment  for the Gravalax is a mustard dressing made from mustard, sugar, salt, white wine vinegar and dill and a good rye crisp bread. I can thoroughly recommend Peters Yard's Swedish crispbreads, which come in big disc's perfect for sharing or if like me perfect for indulging in some indulgent illicit luxury lone dining.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Autumn Days at Shacklewell Nights












With a definite change in the season's Shacklewell Nights presented an autumnal menu of


Roast Parsnip Soup with Colton Basset and Roasted Walnuts


Confit of Rabbit Leg with Butterbeans, Rocket and Red Onion


Discovery Apple Jelly with Spiced Mascapone Cream 


Neal Yards Cheese Plate, Biscuits and Hackney Chutney



The next weekend of Shacklewell Nights will be on the 19th and 20th November 2010. For further details and booking 


info@shacklewellnights.com
www.shacklewellnights.com
@Shacklewel1
 
Many thanks to all who were involved, attended and supported us  A special thanks  to Miguel from Casa Leal, Nick from The Drapers Arms, Henry from Leon,  Auchentoshan, and Paddy from Neal Yard’s Dairy.

Images used by permission from www.snapshotlondon.co.uk

The House Made of Tin



I feel slightly guilty, its been an age since I updated the blog with my adventures of cooking and eating. I know that its no excuse but it seems that my summer of fun came slightly later than everyone else's this year. After the success of the first Shacklewell Nights at the end of July, its been a whirlwind of cooking for other people in weird and wonderful locations for the past couple of months. I have also moved into a new flat, which unfortunately doesn't have enough room to hold a supper club and if truth been known, I have been slightly put off cooking due to the acrid color of the walls in the kitchen. The mustardy yellow color is not the most beneficial color to be productive, whether your feeling slightly fuzzy headed or not.

There have been a number if highlights since I fully got into the swing of summer in mid August, but the main highlight was running a pop up bed and breakfast of sorts for friends who were staying  in a converted tin tabernacle in the Isle of Wight in the run up to Bestival at the beginning of September.





Our stay in the converted former 19th Century Mission Hall was a delight from  start to finish. It was easy to forget that  I was in fact there to provide a service for people who were staying at the converted chapel. The beautiful tin structure held even more surprises inside, Vintage Vacations had decorated and styled the interior as a homage to all things vintage and kitsch. The kitchen itself was kitted out in a fully restored 1950's  'English Rose' kitchen. I was in my element, it felt as if you had just been transported straight in to a scene of Mad Men, just without Don Draper being there unfortunately.






Staying at the Mission really was a  week full of  communal breakfasts of Granola, yogurt and Stewed apples from the apple tree in the garden of the Mission or slow roasted tomato's on sourdough, perfect preparation for a hard day's work at the festival site. Once guests returned from the site, there were big pans of chilli, stews and plenty of home baked cakes, waiting for them to recharge their batteries. It was a hectic week of people wandering round with phones glued to their ears. The kitchen table turned into a hub of communication, at one point sitting 10 people their laptops and shouting down their phones, but thankfully once they left to go onto site I had the chance to soak up the atmosphere of the tin house on my own, reading books,listening to Radio 4,drinking tea, baking cakes and day dreaming of Don Draper to my hearts content. 



Images used from www.vintagevacations.co.uk

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Feastival





For all those that are off to one of the last festivals of the year  - Bestival on the Isle of Wight.


Keep your ears open and your radio's tuned at 87.7 FM, as Green Onions will be currating Feastival, two radio shows  on Bestival Radio  on Saturday and Sunday afternoon at 1pm.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Hidden Dining


























 








So we did it, our first evening of Hidden Dining at Shacklewell Nights. We couldn't of wished for anything better. Many thanks to all who were involved, attended and supported us in our new endeavours.

info@shacklewellnights.com

www.shacklewellnights.com

@Shacklewel1

Images used by permission from Betty Bhandari


Monday, 16 August 2010

Hobo Supper III

 

After the recent rounds of  friends sofa's and spare rooms  for the past week, I have thankfully got a whole house to my self for a week. I was lucky enough to have a house lent to me for a week whilst some friends took their kids on holiday. Their house is one of those houses which I would love to own when I grow up (even though I think I am actually grown up, but more than likely will never own a house, never mind one as amazing as my friends), a beautiful family home in the midst of Hackney full of gorgeous handcrafted objects and decorated internally in a homely yet modern fashion. The main delight of the house though is the large expansive garden out the back, which my friends have turned into a large veggie plot, providing them with all the fresh veg, fruit and herbs that anyone could dream of. 
When I moved in there was a note on the table telling me where the freshly washed sheets were and to make myself at home, but to make sure that I watered the garden every day. In return for watering the garden I could eat any of their produce which was ready to eat - I literally skipped out in to the garden and went to see what was ready and what I could cook and eat for supper that evening. After an initial look around there seemed to be nothing available, but after a closer inspection I spotted a lone courgette peaking out from underneath some leaves. One courgette was enough to produce a plate of supper of some kind surely, having doubts I then remembered a dish that me and a  dinner companion ate a few weeks earlier at St John Bread and Wine , I quickley sprang into action. Well not so much sprang into action, but a slow amble to the local shop to get some more ingredients to go with the courgette.

Courgette, White Bean and Goats Curd
1 x Courgette sliced
1 x Brown Onion finely diced
1 x Clove of garlic
1 x tin of Cannelloni Beans (can use any white beans for this dish including butter beans and haricot beans)
Goats Curd or Soft Goats Cheese  
Veg stock
Fresh Thyme 
Fresh Parsley 
Maldon and Black Pepper

1. Sweat  brown onion and garlic in a pan with a knob of butter and olive oil.
2. Add chopped leaves off a few stalks of Thyme
3. Add sliced courgette and sweat off for a few more moments 
4. Add the rinsed Cannelloni beans, stir and season
5. Add a drop of veg stock to braise the veg and the beans for a few more minutes
6. Once courgettes and beans have braised for about five minutes add some chopped parsley
7. Place the bean and courgette mix onto a plate and then top with Goats Curd or Soft Goats cheese (which more readily available).





Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Hobo Suppers II


I had a pretty full on week last week. The stress of moving, sofa surfing around the leafy streets of Hackney and of the day job, had pretty much left me an emotional wreck by the time 6pm came round on Friday afternoon. Normally I'm bouncing out of the door, eager for the weekend to properly start. This week was a different story, I just wanted a quiet night in watching a movie and eating good home cooked food. Thankfully a quick phone call to the Brummie, whose house I have been staying at recently, I discovered he was feeling pretty much the same about spending the evening eating, drinking beer and watching a rubbish film to forget the arduous week. I must admit that I had been itching to get back into a kitchen and actually cook a full meal from scratch. Its all well and good eating out or having dinner at friends houses, but I do miss the cathartic and soothing process of the preparation of ingredients and cooking the dishes.
On the train back to  the leafy salubrious surroundings of Cannonbury (far grander than the dizzy heights of Upper Clapton, that's for sure, no burnt out cars for a start !), in a bid to cheer both me and Brummie up I decided that Mexican food and beer would be the only thing that would save the last remnants of what had been somewhat of a 'carcrash' week for both of us.
Most Mexican food I find when you go out to eat are full of melted cheese and covered in tomato salsa and sour cream. I have found that the only place that serves good fresh flavoured food is Thomasina Miers's Wahaca
it serves the best quesadilla's filled with Broad Beans and Feta. I was desperate to try and recreate these, but my copy of Miers book Mexican Food Made Simple is packed away in a box which is stored some where in Hackney. So I free styled the evening, but I have a nagging feeling that I may have spied this on someone else's blog and can't really remember where.

Cucumber, Mango and Mint Salsa 

Serves 2 - 3 

Ingredients

1 x Cucumber. seeded and finely diced
1 x Mango, finely diced
1/2 x Red Onion, finely diced
8 x Mint Leaves, chopped
Freshly ground black pepper
Olive Oil
 
1. Mix cucumber, mango and red onion in a dish 
2, Mix well and season with mint, black pepper and olive oil
3. Leave for around 15 minutes at room temperature and then serve

I found it best to leave the salsa to sit for a few minutes so that the flavours started to combine, but could be served straight away. I also felt that using salt wouldn't really benefit the dish as it would draw water out of the cucumber and not compliment the mango, where as the pepper did.
This salsa was a refreshing alternative to the normal tomato variety. With the abundance of cucumbers and mint at the moment, it was great to combine them to make this side accompaniment which cooled the heat of the fresh chillis in the quesadilla's.





Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Hobo Suppers


So I moved out of the first flat  I have ever lived in on my own, after 15 months. Its been a pretty eventful 15 months full of adventure, discovery and learning in every way imaginable. When I moved in to the flat last year, I didn't expect that I would have been cooking for over a thousand people eating in my front room. I also didn't expect to rediscover a passion for cooking, eating and providing great environments for people to partake in these joyous activities. So moving out Saturday I did feel slightly down hearted, but armed with lessons learnt, a new confidence and a belief in the future and for all the new opportunities that the future will bring, I strided off to a Toots and the Maytels gig with a smile on my face once the moving was over.


I now find myself, some what semi homeless at the moment and seem to be doing the sofa surfing rounds in 'Ackney. Sofa surfing isn't as bad as what it was when I was in my twenties. Most of my friends now have all the mod cons - great kitchens, spare bedrooms and most of all, eat good food. Thankfully no takeaways, no sleeping amongst beer cans and fag butts and of course no sleeping on air mattresses in corners of  friends bedrooms.


The up shot of all this sofa surfing is that I have had my first commute in nearly five years ( I may live and work in London , but haven't had to take public transport to work as have lived with in a twenty minute walk to walk). The commute home was made a whole lot enjoyable, as I was able to stop off at my favourite fruit and veg shop  and a new Italian trattoria and deli in Newington Green where I picked up some provisions.


After a hard weekend and tiring Monday at work, I found myself alone at a friends flat and preparing dinner for myself and looking forward to reading the new Observer Food Monthly.


Insalata Newington Green
Serves 1 - 2


Ingredients
Mixture of ripe tomato's
1 Ball of Buffala Mozzarella
3 slices of Parma Ham 
15 Basil leaves
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Black Pepper

1. Slice tomato's thinly
2. Slice Mozzarella
3. Tear Parma ham over the tomato's and Mozzarella
4. Arrange on plate
5. Season with black pepper, torn Basil leaves and olive oil.


Obviously I felt a bit weird making this and then sitting down to find Nigel Slater's recipe for Insalata Caprese in the Food Monthly. Its true what God like Mr Slater said in his article, this dish is truly at it best when the ingredients are at their best and most ripest. The whole dish is about the fresh tasting tomato's and cheese and the olive oil shouldn't hamper the fresh taste of tomato's and cheese, whilst the flavour of the pepper and basil do the offsetting instead of the oil. The inclusion of the Parma Ham gives a nice salty undertone which complements the salad as well. All in all a refreshing, comforting summer dish which somewhat revived a very tired and emotional homeless lady on a Monday night.



An Ode.....


I never thought you had it in you
You'd seen the best years of your life before i met you 
 Your spark had left and dial numbers had vanished
But you stood firm and took one final beating
Like a faithful compainion, you kept the fires burning
It is you, I owe all the success and kind words to
You never faltered once, in feeding 1000 mouths
But now the time has come to say goodbye and part
I have not a tear in my eye
 But whole hearted admiration in my heart for you
You were the oven that never failed
Thank you





Saturday, 3 July 2010

Super Smashing Summer Greatness


After a week of trials, tribulations and teeth, the last thing I want to do today was anything hectic. All I wanted was to stay  at home, relax and potter around on my own .
After a quick detour to Stoke Newington Farmer's Market and the Newington Green Fruit and Veg shop after a visit to work, I managed to come home with a bag of fresh food goodies and the paper. It quickly became apparent that nothing on my very long to do list was actually going to get done. The sofa in my garden was calling loudly, along with the paper and new Jane Grigson book I had bought the day before. There was just the small matter of lunch to be sorted out and that would be done and dusted for today.

I quickly decided on using the Broad Beans and Pea's, which I had picked up from the Farmers Markets, along with the Sourdough Bread that I had also picked up from Syd's stall.

Smashed Peas and Beans on Sourdough Toast
Serves 1

Ingredients
Good handful of podded pea's
Good handful of podded Broad Beans
2 stalks of mint, leaves removed
Extra Virgin Oil
Maldon and Black Pepper
Parmesan Cheese
2 slices of Sourdough Bread

1. Place pea's in a bowl and season with some Maldon salt.

2. Bash the hell out of peas with a full jar of homemade marmalade (or a pestle and mortar if you have one - I don't, since I smashed mine the other week).

3. Add beans, a few at a time and the mint and keep on smashing the hell out of them, until you have broken them down to a pulp consistency. (or like me when you have had enough of smashing them, I like them to have a bit of a bite to them anyway ).

4. Add a splash of olive oil, so mixture combines together well.

5. Season with black pepper.

6. Grate Parmesan cheese into mixture and mix together well.

7. Toast slices of sourdough.

8. Once toasted, serve pea and bean mix on top of the sourdough and grated some Parmesan cheese over the top of each slice.

Perfect accompaniment for afters to a summer afternoon spent on the sofa in the garden, reading, enjoying your own company. Also enjoyed some great cherries and flat peaches from the Newington Green Fruit and Veg shop  for afters

Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Breakfast of Champions



Okay,  I admit that I stupidly decided that I wasn't going to go to Glastonbury this year. Deciding that I wouldn't peruse an opportunity to work or even to buy a ticket to go to the festival, was quite a big step. Deciding I was finally to old to be kicking around and causing mischief at festivals. I was happy, in fact proud, that my summers didn't consist of traveling the summer months in a trannie van with a group of boys selling goods to festival goers. The reality is, I am absolutely gutted that I didn't pull my finger out and get a ticket of some kind to the greatest festival on the earth.

We use to leave London half way through June and wouldn't return until mid September, apart from a couple of days here and there. To say that we ate well whilst gallivanting around the countryside, is a massive lie. On a good day, our diets consisted of service station sandwiches, crisps, bacon butties, cups of strong builders tea and not much else. Breakfasts were unheard of in those days, and if by some strange incident we were awake at that hour the breakfast of choice was usually a warm can of larger and a rollie. Later to be named by the motley crew as a 'Breakfast of Champions'.

To combat the misery of not going to Glastonbury I went out on Friday night and drank a copious amount of gin and woke up on Saturday morning feeling a little worse for wear. There was only one thing for it and that was to make a breakfast fit for a proper champion.

The other week I was lucky enough to be given a free ticket for Taste of London in Regents Park . I got there quite late after a busy day at work and by the time I got there I was Hank Marvin. I met up with some fellow foodie friends to have a wander  around and taste some wonderful food cooked by some of the country's finest chef's and meet some suppliers. After consuming too much gin at Sipsmith 's stall, I was steered in the direction of clonakilty blackpudding   exhibition and forceably had a pack containing both their fabulous white and black puddings handed to me. I completely forgot that had this pack left in my fridge and couldn't contain my excitement, once the gin haze had disappeared on Saturday morning when I remembered. For that mornings 'Breakfast of Champions' wasn't going exist of warm larger and a rollie,oh no - only the best Irish Black pudding would do that morning.



 



Breakfast of Champions
Serves one 

Ingredients

6 thick slices of Black Pudding 
1/2 White Onion peeled and diced 
1 Potato peeled and diced 
1 Egg 
Oil 
Maldon and black pepper


1. Place diced potato in to a pan with water and par boil for 8 minutes.
2.Heat the oil in a frying pan and add the potato gently fry off to reach a golden colour.
3. After a few minutes add the onion and black pudding and fry gently for a further 4 minutes.
4. Season with Maldon and black pepper
5. Transfer the onion,potato and black pudding to a plate and keep warm under the grill.
6. Fry the egg in oil, once done place on top of the onion, potato and black pudding mix and eat straight away.

Defiantly a 'Breakfast of Champions', so much so it 'll put hairs on your chest !

clonakilty blackpudding was some of the best black pudding I've ever tasted. It reminded me a lot of the black pudding I tasted in San Sebastian in the Basque region of Spain. Mainly because of the texture, I think  this is because Clonakilty use pin head oats in their puddings - a good choice in my opinion. Needless to say though, I will be attending the next Glastonbury Festival. I have decided that your never to old to enjoy a bit of what you fancy every now and again.




Photo of Glastonbury festival used courtesy from the offical Glastonbury festival website.




Saturday, 26 June 2010

Soup Society - Part III



A few weeks ago I arranged to go to Hix on Brewer Street to meet a friend to finally taste some of Mark Hix's food. Obviously been pretty broke most of the time, we arranged to meet early and go eat off the pre theatre menu  as it's  3 courses for £19.95 each.

As I sneaked out of work early to get into town, a torrential downpour started in Hackney and there was no sign of it stopping as I walked out of the tube station at Oxford Circus. By the time I'd walked to Brewer Street I was drenched from head to foot, even my shoes were soaked right through. As I pushed the heavy door open and poked my head around it, the receptionists gasped with horror at the extent of my drenching, and quickly surrounded me helping me get my coat off and offering me a towel to dry my hair. 

I sat down, looking like a cross between a drowned rat and a fish out of water. I asked for a glass of house red and started to look around the restaurant taking in the amazing Damien Hirst mobiles hanging above the bar. I must of been staring into space for a while as the waitress coughed after standing with a glass of wine for me for a couple of moments to long. As I turned to answer her, I saw over her shoulder Mr Hix was sat at the next table looking and smirking at me and my prolonged wonder of the dining room. This all proved to be a bit much for me I must admit and I suddenly reverted to a old childhood mannerism of mine, which I use to adopt when I use to get shy as a child (which was quite often)- sitting on my hands and  looking down at my shoes.

Thankfully my lovely friend, turned up looking as glamorous and well turned out as always and thankfully diverted all attention away from me. We quickly ordered to meet the 6.30pm curfew on the pre theatre menu. This proved quite easy as there were only two choices for each course so we obviously we ordered the opposite of each other so that we could taste everything that was available. After ordering we became lost in the usual conversations of life, love and future endeavors, and were interrupted with the arrival of our starters.

I had ordered deviled chicken livers on Sourdough and minted pea soup for my friend. To be honest, even though there were only two choices on the menu, I chose the livers as my friend has decided to stop eating meat again and it meant that I could eat all of the dish and still try hers at the same time! The chicken livers were moist and velvety like they should be, with a good kick from the cayenne pepper, but the revelation of the evening was my friends minted pea soup. The soup not only hot, bringing warmth back to our bodies wrapped in soggy clothes but fresh, delicate and smooth. My eyes lit up with enjoyment as I drank for the stolen spoon full, and went to steal another spoonful. A spoon fight quickly developed as my friend tried to guard her soup with no holds barred "Back off, this is mine its too good to share. Gutted,  I retreated straight away in fear of been wrapped on the knuckles with the back of her spoon.

I can't really remember much of the rest of the meal to be honest, not because of copious amounts to drink, in fact I only had glass of wine to drink. Its because the minted pea soup was a dish to be hold and played on my mind for days on end. I know that minted pea soup isn't hard to make in fact its quite easy I guess, but the consistency and texture of what I tasted in Hix was something else. So much so I was determined to recreate the very same soup not only for my self but for the last run of Secret suppers.






Minted Pea Soup 
Serves roughly 4 - 6 people
Ingredients

2 leek, roughly chopped and washed
2 onion, peeled and roughly chopped
50g butter
about a litre and a half of Veg stock
500g frozen peas - easier than podding loads of pods. (I did include some fresh peas as I want the pods for the stock )
5 stalks of mint  - half finely chopped rest left on stems
Creme Fraiche
Maldon and freshly ground black pepper

For Veg stock 
1 Leek 
1 onion
1 Carrot 
2 stalks of celery 
A load of empty pea pods
Parsley stems 
About 3 litres of water 

1. Wash leek, cut length ways and place in pan of water with peeled onion chopped in half, carrot chopped in half length ways, parsley stalks and pea pods. Place on heat and let it work its magic on a gently roll for a couple of hours. 
2. Once its worked its magic over a couple of hours, remove from heat and  pass through a sieve, to remove veggies.
3. In a separate pan, cook the onions and leeks in the butter until soft. 
4. Add the stock and season with Maldon and pepper and simmer for around 20 minutes.
5. Add peas and the stalks of mint with the leaves on and simmer for a further 6 to 7 minutes.
6. Remove from heat and then liquidize in a blender.
7. Sieve through a fine mesh sieve into another pan or bowl. 
8. Add a tablespoon of Creme Fraiche and the rest of the mint and stir through.Add more seasoning if needed.

This soup can be served either cold or hot, normally served if hot with a small spoon full of Creme fraiche.





Thursday, 17 June 2010

There are some things that you can rely on all the time



The phone call from an old dear friend came on Thursday night telling me that he would be arriving the next day, staying in London for a couple of days and then disappearing once again to yet another country for the next six months. I was gutted, as the realization of not been able to see him, due a weekend of Supperclubs quickly sunk in, but as I explained that I was going to be busy all weekend cooking for over sixty people. He explained that this was one of the reason's why he came back for a few days - to come and eat at  the Green Onion Supperclub before we closed the doors at our present location and relocate to a new space in East London and would it be possible to squeeze him in on the Sunday. I was delighted to say the least.

Normally when he's back in London, we go to posh fancy restaurants for dinner as a treat, well a treat for me to be more precise . Each time we go out I try to bully him out of his eating comfort zone. The sight of him slightly freaking out over a massive bowl of langoustines and mayo at St John's, with the realization that if he wanted one, he would have to peel it himself, left me with a small smirk on my face for days after. 

I was looking forward to seeing my friend on Sunday and the thought of been able to give him a proper home cooked meal was both unbearable and satisfying at the same time. The poor sod survives mainly on Room Service, meals in restaurants or takeaways when he's away traveling with work, which I would find absolutely soul destroying. The thought of not even been able to  prepare a simple cheese sandwich fills me full of horror and dread. In fact  it would actually keep me up with nightmares each night, if I thought about it a bit too long. 

Late on Saturday evening I received a phone call from him saying that plans for Sunday were scuppered due to a trapped nerve in his neck after bounding out of bed that morning in a bid to seize the day. I was quickly told not to fear as the trapped nerve meant that he had to stay in London for a few more days before he would be ready for traveling again and that dinner on Monday would be a great time to catch up and hopefully catch up with some other friends as well.

By the time Monday came I really couldn't muster the energy to go in to town and eat in a restaurant and  invited everyone for dinner to mine instead. So with a quick trip to the Italian deli, Parioli  on Lower Clapton Road and the Turkish Supermarket I head off  home with a few bags of groceries to prepare some easy eating, sharing food for everyone to enjoy. Which would go well with the 10 litres of Italian red wine that a lovely guest had left the day before, as he had enjoyed his meal at the Supper Club so much.

Laying out the cold meats, cheese and anti pasta for everyone to share, I decided to quickly throw together some Patatas Bravos and Garbanzos con espinacas (Spanish Spinach and Chickpeas) to go with the cold food to add a bit of substance to the meal and to remind us all of a holiday that we had shared in Spain last year (which finally allowed me to go back to visit my adoptive Spanish family who I use to live with in Barcelona in my early twenties, but thats a whole other blogpost). Garbanzos con espinacas is a quick easy dish that can be out together in minutes perfect for last minute entertaining.


Garbanzos con espinacas (Spanish Spinach and Chickpeas)
Serves 4 

Ingredients
1 Large tin of Chickpeas  - rinsed and drained 
1 Large bag of baby spinach
1 brown Onion - chopped 
2 cloves of Garlic - finely chopped 
Vegetable stock or a splash of white wine if feeling decadent
250g of bread crumbs made from day oldish bread
Large teaspoon of Ground Cumin 
Large teaspoon of Pimentón - Spanish Paprika 
Maldon and Black Pepper.
Olive Oil

1.In a heavy based pan, fry off the bread crumbs in a little oil, once slightly browned remove from pan in to a bowl.

2. Add a drop more oil and add onion first and sweat them for a few minutes.

3. Once onions have sweated for a few moments add the garlic and sweat for a further 10 minutes.

4. Add the rinsed chickpeas to the pan and add the Cumin and Pimenton to the chickpeas and onions.

5. Once chickpeas and onions are coated in the spice mix, add enough veg stock to slightly cover the mix and reduce the stock down for a few moments.

6. Add spinach to pan and then place lid over the pan and wait for spinach to wilt down.

7. Once the spinach has wilted down, season with the Maldon and black pepper and add the breadcrumbs back to the pan.

Serve immediately with other small sharing plates or can be eaten on its own with some bread or salad if you feel the need. The dish went down well  - really well in fact as there was none left when we had finished eating, must have been the home cooking that did it I guess !

I love this dish, it reminds me of days spent traveling around Spain with friends, teaching small children in Barcelona how to speak Yorkshire Spanglish for a living and throughly enjoying myself in the sunshine without a care in the world. Most of all though it reminds me of sharing food, wine and laughter with friends over a dinner table, whether it be in Spain or in Hackney, that's a good memory to keep hold of.