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 


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

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 

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. 

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Soup Society Part II

After lugging home 10kg of veggies to make the stock with and 5kg of Puy lentils ready for this weekends Secret Supper extravaganza, I was gutted to find that I didn't really have anything in the flat for myself to eat. All that was in the fridge was a bit of butter, some feta cheese and a lettuce which had been in the fridge untouched for a few days and was starting feel a bit sorry for it self.
So in a tempt to delude myself that I was been healthy and if I'm been honest, to try and cancel out the two Orange Club Biscuits and a piece of birthday cake that I'd snarfed earlier in the day. I made some Lettuce and Pea soup. Its green soup, its got to healthy, right ?

Lettuce and Pea Soup 


1 x Lettuce (English Flat or a couple of Little Gem's), Outer layers removed, washed and sliced
1 x Brown Onion, roughly chopped
3 handfuls of Pea's 
Veg or Chicken Stock
Maldon and Black Pepper
Feta Cheese

1. Melt butter in the pan, add onion and sweat gently for 10 mins.

2. Add peas, stir and then add enough stock to cover the peas.

3. Add the sliced lettuce and season.

4. Cover and let lettuce wilt down for a few minutes.

5. Once lettuce has wilted down and braised in the stock, remove from heat and place in a bender and blitz until smooth.

6. Check and season to taste.

7. Serve with Feta cheese crumbled on top if you wish.

By the time I'd finished a bowl of it I was almost feeling virtuous for a change. I have seen a number of Lettuce Soup recipe's in some of the books I ve got, and I ve always wondered what it tasted like. I was pleasantly surprised  how good it tasted to be honest. Taste of summer in a bowl really and perfect for a rainy June evening sat on the sofa in your pj's watching a rubbish film waiting for pans of stock to finish doing their magic.

Monday, 7 June 2010

A Weekend Off ....

This weekend I had one of the first weekends off from cooking I've had in a long time. It was a perfect weekend of drinking, eating, seeing friends who I haven't seen for a long time, going to birthday afternoon tea's, walks in the sunshine along the canal, visiting my new flat, and going to lectures at Stoke Newington Literary Festival. In fact generally having an amazing great relaxing weekend with no cooking for a change.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Asparagus, Pea and Mint Salad

At the day job we are part of the Riverford fruit box for work scheme, each week we are delivered a big box of fruit that is supposedly meant to last a week inevitably it never does. In each box which is delivered there is always a recipe card included in the box as well. I always tend to be late each morning for the day job, even though I only live a fifteen minute walk fro work. Nevertheless I always make sure that I'm there early or at the best on time when the box of fruit gets delivered on a Monday morning.The sole reason to get there on time is to nab the recipe card which is in the box, I've even nicked a ring binder out of the stationary cupboard at work to start putting them in.
Jane Baxter and Guy Watson's approach to their products and how to cook and use them is second to none. A philosophy of producing food themselves from start to finish - from the field to the table, following the seasons and the produce which appears with the weather changes of the year.This is the same philosophy which I grew up with, both my dad and paternal grandad were Market Gardener's growing Vegetables and Salad products on a small holding with a fruit and veg shop attached to the side of our home. Well until the invention of the big out of town superstores, which appeared in the nineties and more or less single handily wiped out all independent shops in the area which we grew up.

As a family we always ate seasonal food, well before it became the "in" and ethical thing to do. It was second nature to follow the seasons and whatever glut of amazing produce appeared.During winter we ate root veggies, brassica's, wholesome vegetable soups with pulses, endless casseroles, stews and roast joints of meat, whilst the summer months meals would consist of amazing fresh salads (which me and my sister always went to pick from the fields and greenhouses for tea), quiches and cold meats.
So to celebrate the fantastic weather which we have been having recently, the wonder of light nights once again and the influence once again of the Riverford Recipe Cards, I decided to prepare a starter salad of Asparagus, Pea and Mint Salad for guests at the last secret supper we had last week. A light salad combining the last of the seasons, British Asparagus, new season peas, combined with mint and a lemon dressing, topped with crumbled feta cheese bought from the deli counter at the local Turkish supermarket.

Asparagus, Pea and Mint Salad

Serves 4

1-2 bunches of asparagus, woody ends trimmed
4-5 handfuls of peas
1 handful of roughly chopped mint
150g of crumbled feta, could use Goats curd or Goats cheese
2 tbsp good olive oil
2 tbsp lemon juice
Maldon Salt and black pepper

1. Take off the asparagus tips with about an inch of the stem and put to one side.
2. Finely slice the rest of the Asparagus stems and then steam until just tender, then refresh in cold water and drain.
3. Cook and refresh the asparagus tips in the same way.
4. Cook the peas in a lidded pan with only a few tablespoons of water for a couple of minutes. The peas should be tender and bright green. Refresh the same as the asparagus tips and stems.
5. Mix together all the dressing ingredients and taste - it should taste lemony and well seasoned.
6. Mix peas, asparagus stalks and the mint with most of the dressing and then place in the bowl.
7. Dress the tips of asparagus separately and scatter over the salad.
8. Crumble the feta cheese over the top of the salad.
Great light salad for the summer, tastes light and fresh and some what restorative at the same time, as it helped to get rid of a lingering hangover

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Bank Holiday Supperclub Fun

The supperclub's that we held this past weekend, were some of my most favourite to date. The sense of panic that desended over me after the boy wonder moved to Sweden earlier this year, seems to have finally disappeared somewhat. No longer am I sending emails to Sweden, asking for advice and reassurance in  the run up to each Supperclub. Through the patience, reassure and constently been told to "get a bloody grip and get on with it ". I feel as if I have finally found my cooking legs once again. So much so, we tried a two night run for the first time since the Boy Wonder left.

We had already planned a secret Lunch for the Sunday, but decided to hold a secret supper on the Saturday night for 12 people (half the ammount that we places we normally do ) at the last moment. I must admit during the first 30 minutes I had serious doubts about 12 strangers sat around one large table striking up conversation with other strangers. Even though we do seat strangers on tables with other strangers, the table sizes are either between 4 and 8 and most people come with other friends, ther was still a serious nagging doubt in the back of my mind that maybe this would be somewhat of a so called social experiment that could go  disasterly horribly wrong at any moment. I needn't have worried, I popped my head out of the kitchen door to hear the conversation flowing easily between each of the strangers and the conversation carried on until the small hours. 

Sunday's Secret Lunch was a similar affair a room full of strangers with happy faces, enjoying food, drink, conversation and laughter with each other for a fair few hours. So much so that nearly every plate that came back into the kitchen was clean and only the smallest amount of the vegetarian pie  came back into the kitchen. This was given to Olu the newest helper at the Supper Club.  The poor boy had missed out on the veggie pie the night before and had to suffice with oven chips and beans for his staff meal, as there was only leftover meat pie for helpers dinner on Saturday night !

Bless them they even applauded me and Lucy for providing lunch, with both of us having  very slow burning excessive hangovers from the previous evening's shenanigans. Guests even stayed after lunch, where the conversation  soon turned fits of laughter thanks to the hilariously funny Mysti Vine , a returning guest at our supperclub. I actually think I laughed so much and laughed so hard at her banter and quips that the remnants of my hangover thankfully disappeared before the guests left and I disappeared for Supper at a friends house (a true luxury after cooking for over 30 people all weekend, mind you I did eat supper and then promptly fell asleep on their sofa for a couple of hours! )

For me this past Bank Holiday, confirmed to me why I do this. I don't do it because I want lots of recognition or create a media persona for myself. I do this because I enjoy cooking and feeding people, hearing the clatter of cutlery and the scrapping of knives on empty plates. I find nothing more satisfying hearing people communicating and laughing with each other over a table of food and drink. This weekend's events and the guests who came, has given me more faith  and more confidence in what I'm doing and why I'm doing the Supperclubs.  
It may have been a typical Bank Holiday in terms of the poor weather but was a great Bank Holiday in terms of food, drink, company and laughs. 

(Photos. D Medrano)