Thursday, 23 February 2012

Rosemary and Lemon Posset

Last weekend, at ‘The Montpelier Basement’ (the Bristol supper club I run with ‘E’), we served one of the best desserts we’ve produced so far, a lemon and rosemary posset with meringue. Not to blow our own trumpet but it really was absolutely frigging phenomenal. The dining room falling totally silent except for contented ummmms and ahhhhhs confirmed it.

We got the overall idea from a dessert we ate recently at a The Chequers pub in Bath. So massive thanks to the chef there for the inspiration.

The dessert is comprised of three elements, a nutty crumble base, creamy rosemary infused lemon posset, all topped off with browned Italian Meringue. We pinched the idea of using rosemary in the posset from Jason Atherton’s ‘Gourmet Food For a Fiver’; the herb works amazingly well with lemon. The hazelnut crumble base recipe is pilfered from ‘The British Larder’.

Rosemary & Lemon Posset – Serves 4-6

The crumble base

100g plain flour
75g unsalted butter at room temperature
25g golden syrup
Pinch of salt
50g dark brown sugar
50g Jumbo or porridge oats
20g chopped hazelnuts

Preheat the oven to 180°C and line a baking tray with parchment paper.

Place the flour, sugar, golden syrup, salt and soft butter into a mixing bowl, use your fingertips to rub the butter into the flour until the mixture forms coarse breadcrumbs.

Add the oats and chopped hazelnuts, mix and transfer the crumble mixture to the lined baking tray, even out and bake the crumble mixture for 20 minutes, stir it once during the cooking time.

Once cool – break up any extra large chunks and spoon a tablespoon or so into the bottom of each serving glass.

Rosemary infused Posset

400ml Double Cream
100g Caster Sugar
1 Rosemary Sprig, leaves picked and chopped.
Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon.

Put the cream, sugar and rosemary into a large saucepan, over a low heat, and slowly bring to the boil. Boil for 3 minutes, then take off the heat and allow to cool.
Add the lemon zest and juice. Whisk well.

Strain the mixture through a fine sieve into a jug.

Pour into the serving glasses containing the crumble, and refrigerate for 3 hours until set.

Italian Meringue

250g Caster Sugar
75ml Water
4 egg whites

In a saucepan, dissolve the sugar in the water over a low heat. Heat to 121c.

Meanwhile, as soon as the temperature reaches 115c start whisking the egg whites with an electric whisk (or in your stand mixer – if you have one) until it forms soft peaks.

Still whisking, pour the sugar syrup heated to 121c onto the egg whites in a thin stream. Continue to whisk until it’s cold. The end result should be very stiff, smooth and satiny.

To Serve

Pipe some Italian meringue on top of your now set lemon posset. Decorate with whatever fetching meringue shape you feel is appropriate. We went for a ‘freshly pinched’ turd shape in a misguided homage to white dog poo. I’m sure you can do better.

Using a blowtorch, lightly brown the meringue.

And then eat it.

I’d just like to point out two things; that Italian meringue seems to be a bit of a pain in the arse to make without a stand mixer and blowtorching as opposed to grilling meringue is muchos fun.

(Massive thanks to Andrew at ‘Tart’ for digging us out of a meringue shaped hole when we were under the cosh on Friday)

Thursday, 16 February 2012

My Favourite Kitchen Kit

In the 3 years that I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve often posted recipes, but it recently occurred to me that I’ve never once mentioned any of the equipment I use whilst doing all of the cooking. Well, oversight corrected dear reader, prepare to know more than you ever wanted to know about the contents of my kitchen drawers (ooer).

Over the years, I’ve gradually accumulated bits of kitchen kit, until right now I’m at the stage that I can honestly say I have pretty much everything I need or want…. Except, of course, a KitchenAid mixer (preferably in black, in case anyone wants to send me one), or just maybe a Thermomix. But apart from that, I’m very happy with what I’ve got.

Out of all this gear, I thought it might be interesting to pick out my absolute favourite pieces of equipment and tell you why I love these particular things. So, let’s get cracking and talk about knives.

I reckon the best investment you can possibly make in terms of kitchen equipment is a decent set of knives. Yes, they’re expensive but the pleasure of using a beautifully balanced; razor sharp blade is almost indescribable. If nothing else, you’ll feel more cheffy using them, your food will look better and you’ll generally be considered more sexy by everyone you know*. True until you get the hang of using them, you’ll probably hack and slash your fingers to bloody ribbons, but this is ultimately how you learn the hard way not to chop your digits off. I bought a set of Global knives about 8 years ago, and I’ve pretty much used them everyday and it’s the best couple of hundred quid I’ve ever spent. I probably use the 20cm G2 cook’s knife most often, followed by the snub-nosed looking GS5 Vegetable Chopper and the Bread Knife.

But, after many years of exclusive Global love, I was gifted a knife which is currently my absolute favourite. It’s a Haiku H-15 20cm fluted Chef’s Knife. It’s bloody awesome, savagely sharp and ridiculously light. It’s a real pleasure to use. I absolutely love it and if I had the cash, I’d buy some more of the range.

It almost goes without saying, but it’s not worth stumping up the moolah for all those expensive knives if you let them get as blunt as assholes. So don’t forget to buy the kit to sharpen them. You’ll need a decent steel and something like a Minosharp to keep everything uber razorish.

My next favourite piece of equipment is at the other end of the price scale. A potato ricer. I am a complete mash fiend. I absolutely love it. Always have, always will. Its generally accepted wisdom that mashed potato with lumps through it is a frigging disgrace. Which is where the potato ricer comes in. If you want silky luscious Robuchon’esque mash, squeeze your potatoes through a ricer (oh, and add a artery clogging amount of butter too). Even as you keel over, clutching your chest the satisfaction you’ll get that your mash was lump free will make it all worthwhile. Expect to pay around £15 for a decent one.

Next up, A Le Creuset Grill Pan. It’s ridiculously heavy cast-iron, but as we all know, heaviness equals quality err ness. If you want to chargrill sexy black lines in your meat, you must have one of these. Don’t be tempted by cheap ass imitators, if it isn’t sack of cement heavy, it’s a heap of shit. It’s worth the price alone for the ability to char-grill bread, which is frigging awesome stuff. Priced at around £58 to you guv.

I actually won this next bit of kit in a competition, which is handy because I’d been admiring it for some time. A Thermapen is an instant read kitchen thermometer. It has no confusing settings or buttons for stupid people like me. Just stick the metal probe into whatever you want to know the temperature of and et voila! To be honest, you don’t ‘need’ a kitchen thermometer but it’s so handy to have one. You know, when you really have to ensure that you’re not going to give your dinner party guests food poisoning by serving up half cooked chicken. I’ve found it most useful for cooking things like crème anglaise. Can I just add, the first thing I ever probed with it, was my own ear. Not to be recommended, oh and apparently I’m ‘well done’. One of these will set you back £48.

I found my moulis is a charity shop for £2. I love that it looks a bit retro with its shiny red knob (errrr). It’s battered to hell but has character. Handy for soups or anything, where you want to puree but at the same time stop any seeds, pulp or skins getting into the finished product. It’s not an essential piece of kitchen equipment by any means, but is something I particularly like.

Finally, my newest and perhaps my most coveted piece of kit, I give you a Magimix. I wanted one of these for years and years. I wanted to slice and shred veg in seconds so very much that it almost ached my very soul. Last year, I finally got one. I am now complete. Yes, it’s a pain in the arse to wash up but if you’re making red onion soup for thirty six and need to slice up seventy two red onions, it comes into it’s own. It’s so useful; I don’t know how I ever managed without it. I own the white model, which isn’t quite as sexy as chrome, but obviously realising this, Magimix slyly charge a premium for the sexier metallic version. Expect to pay around £160 for a white one.

So that’s my favourite pieces of cooking equipment. I’d be interested to hear which kitchen kit you consider indispensable? What can’t you live without? Perhaps you love a particular vegetable peeler for sentimental reasons?

* Not actually true.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Pitt Cue Co - London

The restaurant that everyone in London is seemingly raving about right now is Pitt Cue Co in Soho. Despite only being open since mid January, it’s already gained a massive following and there are regular reports of lengthy queues snaking down the road. As with the opening last year of the excellent José in Bermondsey and Ducksoup in Soho it seems that if they get it right, even very small places can generate huge interest.

Originally working out of a van located underneath Hungerford Bridge, to rave reviews, the Pitt Cue guys specialise in BBQ as only a red blooded, baseball capped American called Hank would recognise. No incinerated sausages, half cooked chicken or carbonised beef patties, which pass for BBQ in this country. This is the real deal. Think heaps of shredded pulled pork, meltingly tender beef brisket and ridiculously massive portions of sticky, smoky and unctuous ribs.

Regretfully, I never managed to eat at the van, but as soon as I heard they’d up scaled to a restaurant proper, I knew I had to get my ass down there and experience it for myself.

Allegedly seating just 30 but even this number of covers seems a little generous, from what I saw. With that many seated, it would mean eating your meal whilst sitting on a strangers lap with someone’s elbow lodged in your eye.

First off, I have to say I know pretty much sod all about proper American BBQ. I know what it consists of. I just haven’t eaten it. It pretty much doesn’t exist in this country. But over the years, I’ve listened to accounts from various individuals who have experienced the real deal in the US. Tales that have been invariably highly emotionally charged, misty eyed and awed which have left me with the distinct impression that my life is just a wasted empty husk until I’ve eaten some of it for myself.

I’d like to report, having now experienced proper BBQ at Pitt Cue, the hype is all true, my husk has been well and truly stuffed full of the meaty goodness and I’m a believer.

Sadly ‘E’ couldn’t accompany me on my ‘Road to Damascus’ proper BBQ conversion. Her Pescatarianism precludes eating all the good stuff, so she stayed at home to no doubt gnaw on some dry nuts and berries. Instead, I was accompanied by Niamh, a girl who definitely knows her way around a bit of pork and isn’t at all squeamish about gnawing on a meaty rib.

I’d heard some disconcerting reports of people queuing for over an hour to get in the door. There's a no reservation policy, and with the temperature plummeting to minus brass monkey, I planned on getting there for 5:45pm, a time I’d been assured by those in the know would almost guarantee a swift entry. Spot on – straight in through the busy upstairs bar, down the stairs to a packed but very bijou space. The smoky, meaty smells emanating from the kitchen had me drooling before I’d even looked at a menu.

Deciding that the already somewhat infamous Pickle Back would kick start the meal nicely, we quickly got stuck in. A shot of Bourbon, quickly followed up with a shot of pickling liquor. The raw alcohol burn instantly quenched with a savoury sweetness. It seems very odd to be knocking back pickling liquor, but it works amazingly well.

A couple of very decent cocktails later, (things are a little hazy on the booze front but I’m pretty sure I drank a Big Mac ‘n’ Rye and a New York Sour in quick succession), our food began to arrive.

First to arrive, the most amazing Beef Ribs, large and thick, dark and sticky. An absolute joy to eat; soft mouthfuls of meat tearing away with each effortless bite. The accompaniments of pickles, a nice sharp vinegar ‘slaw and a chunk of chargrilled bread to mop up with were spot on.

Meanwhile Niamh was demolishing a portion of St Louis pork ribs. We swapped plates half way through so we could try everything. If anything, the pork ribs were better than the beef. Even more sticky, tender and soft. Amazing.

At this point, I better mention the burnt end mash. I’m a total mash potato fiend. Whoever had the idea of covering it with the crispy off-cuts of meat and gravy deserves some kind of medal. Beautiful stuff.

A side order of smoked hot wings with pickled celery was very good, in fact they must have been pretty damn great as I’m not normally a big fan of chicken wings but I stuffed all of these in my gob in no time at all.

Deep fried crispy pickled shitake were another stupendously good side dish, beautiful crisp batter with a tangy moist mushroom inside, a great accompaniment to cut through all that meat.

We decided to share a bowl of rather fantastic sticky toffee pudding with bourbon salted caramel sauce and prune and Armagnac ice-cream, (yep, it was every bit as good as it sounds) and that was us, done.

With mains coming in at around £10 each, sides £3-£4 and cocktails £6, the bill, considering we’d both drunk three cocktails and ordered a fair bit of food came to around a very bargainous £40 each. Looking at the menu, it would be very easy to visit and easily spend less than £20 per person if you didn’t start hitting the booze hard. Considering the quality of the food, the prices are ridiculously cheap.

So, there it is. I loved Pitt Cue. There’s nowhere else serving food like this in London. Their American style BBQ is everything I’d heard it was and more. What else is there to say? Basically it’s frigging awesome. Yes the restaurant is crammed, busy and you may have to queue, but any trials encountered are well worth it to eat food like this as a reward. Go!

Pitt Cue Co

1 Newburgh Street