Thursday, 31 January 2008

Fur Babies

We got two adorable scraps of black fur from the Kit Wilson Trust at Hadlow Down on Friday. They are both girls and have been named after the Friends characters Monica and Phoebe. Phoebe is only 3 months old but is proving very slippery and an ideal blogging companion.
Monica is 4 months old and is persian cross, but without the cross-looking squashed up face. They are very close and are like siamese twins - always running about and playing together. They chirrup and purr away to each other in the most adorable way. Our senior citizen kitties, Bubble & Squeak, are a bit grotty with each other so it's nice to have two cats that just luuurve each others company.

Wednesday, 30 January 2008

An ice cream bar from heaven

My Dear Husband and I are going to Paris again in April for his birthday for a one night stay. I ABSOLUTELY CANNOT WAIT to go back to Berthillon on the Ile St Louis. Last time we went we had eaten so much food over the holiday that I couldn't really do it justice. But this time I am going to have a great avalanche of the salted butter caramel ice cream, then have a walk round the block and have another.
Berthillon seems to have been sent to us, the bon viveurs, as a gift from Edesia. Part of its charm, to me, is that it's really difficult to find - partly due to the little forest of "Glaces Berthillon" signs which crop up all over the two islands, a trap for the unwary. You know that mecca is on the Ile St Louis. But you don't really know what you're looking for. Your husband keeps moaning because his feet hurt on the cobbles and he wants his ice cream. Like, now. "There's a sign - why can't we just get it there ?" But you, in your foodie madness, MUST GO ON. You will literally crawl on your hands and knees to experience ice cream at its best in its proper setting. Suddenly a beauteous, panelled building hoves into view and you know. You've made it. Ice Cream Heaven is just a few tottering steps away. And my goodness, does determination pay off. There is hardly anyone here, because everyone got fooled by those signs, luring them away like Sirens. You try to decide whether to eat in the salon or to take a cornet away into a private corner and make sure nobody bothers it. Then an exceptional idea takes shape. Buy two coffees, two sundaes and then get a takeway cornet each. Genius.
You can get all the seasonal flavours here, the full range of classic flavours. It's too much really, because how do you choose ? I guess you just move to Paris and work your way through all the flavours, until the medical authorities have to take off the side of your house to remove you.
Glacier Berthillon
29-31 rue saint Louis en l'ile
Wednesday - Sundays 10am - 8pm

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Cooking with Gordon

Yesterday was the first instalment of my New Year Cookery Project. The menu was
Jerusalem Artichoke Soup
Herb Crusted Lamb with Mirepoix of Vegetables
Caramelised Bananas en Papilotte with Creme Fraiche
The soup was very easy, made with a fresh vegetable nage, sauteed artichokes and finished with cream. It was supposed to be served with morel mushrooms but sadly neither availability or mid-month budget meant that this was feasible. I love jerusalem artichokes, and it was one of my favourite starters in one of the hotels I worked in - every evening, if someone ordered it, the larder chef would make a special one up for me to greedily gobble. Gordon's version was really fresh and flavoursome, with a light addition of cream. Yummy
Vegetables being naged

Artichokes being sauteed

The main course, the rack of lamb, consisted of two parts - the herb crusted lamb itself and a hollowed out tomato filled with a very fine, sauteed brunoise of courgette, aubergine, peppers and tomatoes. There was no starch aspect in the book, so I paired it with some couscous. The quantity of butter in the recipe wasn't quite enough to make a paste, so I stuck in a bit more. My husband found my french-trimming most entertaining. This dish was really delicious.

The vegetable mirepoix ready for sauteeing - a labour of love

The banana dessert worked well. The recipe calls for cloves, but I really dislike the taste of them on their own, so swapped these for allspice. I also cut the portion size - Gordon puts two bananas in a portion, but this is a rich dish and two would have been too much. I bought creme fraiche d'isigny, and we ate the whole pot in a frenzy of greed.
We had a bottle of Trimbach Riesling Reserve with the dinner which went very well with the soup and the banana, but obviously wasn't as sucessful with the lamb ! All in all, a very delicious dinner, which I would have been very happy with in a restaurant.

All 3 of the recipes score highly in taste, ease and simplicity of instruction, giving a very satisfactory result - 9 out of 10

Watch this space for the next instalment.

Thursday, 24 January 2008

Images of Japan

Keiko's beautiful pictures of Japan reminded me that I have a computer chocked full of images I shot on a recent tour of Tokyo, Kyoto and Hiroshima. Here are some of my favourites.

Cookalong With Gordon

I've not caught any of the channel 4 Big Food Fight Season (probably because I find the presence of Jamie Oliver on screen too irritating to bear) so didn't see "Cookalong Live with Gordon". I can never really make up my mind about Gordon. I love his "proper" books like "Desserts" & "Passion for Flavour" and his series "Kitchen Nightmares" - though this particular passion probably has an element of open-mouthed catering schadenfreude. I have never got on with his more "Gordon as Celebrity" programming like Hell's Kitchen. I've eaten at Petrus, which was bloody marvellous. So my jury is out on Gordon. Or maybe the verdict would be Chef Ramsay - innocent, Sweary Shouty Gordon - guilty m'lud.
When I moved in with my husband, obviously some of the cookery book collection moved in too. Cue round, saucer eyes and many comments of "just how many cookery books do you have ?". There are 82 in our marital home. He counted them and stated the figure in a voice pregnant with meaning. I replied "yeah, that's just the ones I can't live without. There's loads more at Mum and Dad's". I'm now not "allowed" to buy more cookery books. Little does he know that it's quite easy to continue my Amazon habit in secret. I get them sent to Mum and Dad's and pretend I've had them for ages. To set the record straight, I have about 170 cookery books. Not bad, but certainly not as many as some other people. And I was a pastry chef for 4 years, so those 30-odd dessert & baking books don't count because they are professional equipment...
But where does this fit in with Gordon ? One of Dear Husband's complaints is "you never cook anything out of any of the books anyway". So, dear readers, my New Year's Resolution this year is this...
I am going to cook every dish from "Chef for all Seasons"
I am going to try and source each and every ingredient exactly as stated, not fiddle with the recipes, and try some new foods. It should be a real learning curve and will take me out of my "comfort" zone of the same repetoire of dishes. I'm planning to cook a 3 course meal once a week, seasonally. I will post up pictures of the cooking and the finished dish, but won't be posting up the recipes.
. I am probably mad. And if anyone has any idea where I can source crosnes in Sussex, well, I'd be very grateful....

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Of Engagements & Peggy Porschen

My sister in law recently announced her engagement and a family party was duly thrown in their honour. My mother in law asked me to make a cake, and this gave me a perfect example to make a cake from my newly acquired Peggy Porschen "Pretty Party Cakes" book. I customised the original design, which merely has the piped flowers and linework, by adding writing in the middle of the cake. It was a real shift in style for me as I generally make sugar flowers for cakes, and had not done piped flowers since catering school. I was very pleased with the result, and I think it would make a lovely wedding cake if it was stacked up.

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Eeyore Christening Cake

This was a sponge cake made for a christening for a little girl recently. The top tier was made in chocolate victoria sponge and filled with chocolate ganache. The bottom tier was a plain sponge filled with vanilla buttercream. The little girl's aunt wanted a very girly theme in pink to include Eeyore on it, a prayer book and some baby boottees. The cubes are made out of fondant icing and are piped with her name. The board is covered in fondant with little dots made with a 1.5 nozzle. These dots are continued over the cake. The feet round the sides were made with fondant, which I cut with a wheel cutter. The toes are piped with royal icing. The crosses are run out directly onto the icing. Eeyore was modelled with white marzipan and painted with a heavy paint made from petal dusts and vodka. He is held together with cocktail sticks ! The bootees are modelled from mexican modelling paste and finished with a very fine gauge ribbon inserted into the paste.

Ding Dong Merrily on High !

I know it's getting way past Christmas now, but here's a few photos of our Christmas celebrations for you. It was a year of festive firsts - first Christmas as a Mrs, first gingerbread house, first year cooking Christmas dinner.

This gateaux was my own invention - a cinnamon biscuit joconde at the bottom, with a "pain d'epices" bavarois on the top with a centre of clementine jelly made from fresh clementine juice. The top is a dark chocolate glacage, finished with white chocolate and clementines finished with a clear nappage. There is no reasoning behind the "allegro" name, other than I had to call it something and this musical term popped into my mind.

From right to left of this picture we have butter, homemade rye bread with walnuts or raisins, roquefort biscuits, caramelised pear and apple conserve from kuidaore, a selection of cheeses brought back from our christmas trip and some fig jelly made with a special find in Tesco's reduced counter.

Both sets of parents came over on Boxing Day, so we had a full house. I made, again from right to left, tart tatin, creme de menthe jellies, the allegro gateaux, a meringue based on Ispahan, a buche de noël with praline creme au beurre and finally marshmallows.
Very proud of my flower arrangement of seasonal greenery, carnatians and pussy willow ! Most of the greenery is still alive, a month later ! It's now been demoted to living in our garden though as the dining room table has been taken over by my husband's toolbox...