Monday 26 July 2010

Cheddar, Leek and Mushroom Tart.

The first cookbook I ever bought was in 1999, believe it or not, it was 'New British Classics' by the ridiculously coiffured chef, Gary Rhodes.
Naff haircuts aside it's still one of the best recipe books I own, and trust me; I own a lot. It's just so comprehensive, a real celebration of British Food. Everything is covered in there, from 'rack on black' to 'spotted dick'. If you don't own it, I suggest you pick it up - and if like me, you're a bargain hunting frequenter of charity shop bookshelves, there's a good chance you'll come across it at some point, so snap it up!

I still cook from it often, and one of the best recipes is a cheddar, leek and mushroom tart (Errr, but in the book it may be Gruyere, and it may be described as a flan or quiche - my copy is currently languishing among many identical boxes of unpacked cookbooks after my recent move to Bristol). In any case, it's a cracking recipe and I made it again just the other day. I found this more or less identical version of the recipe online here - and have amended it with the substitution of cheddar cheese and addition of cayenne pepper.

Cheddar, Leek and Mushroom Tart.

You'll need: -

25g butter
4 leeks , washed and sliced
250g pack chestnut mushrooms , sliced
2 eggs
284ml double cream
140g Strong Cheddar Cheese, coarsely grated
Large pinch Cayenne Pepper

280g plain flour
140g cold butter, cut into pieces

First make the pastry, tip the flour and butter into a bowl, then rub together with your fingertips until completely mixed and crumbly. Add 8 tbsp cold water, then bring everything together with your hands until just combined. Roll into a ball and use straight away or chill for up to 2 days. The pastry can also be frozen for up to a month.

Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured surface to a round about 5cm larger than a 25cm tin. Use your rolling pin to lift it up, then drape over the tart case so there is an overhang of pastry on the sides. Using a small ball of pastry scraps, push the pastry into the corners of the tin. Chill in the fridge or freezer for 20 mins. Heat oven to 200C/fan 180C/gas 6.

While the pastry is chilling, heat the butter in a pan and cook the leeks for 10 mins, stirring occasionally, until they soften. Then turn up the heat and add the mushrooms. Cook for 5 mins more, then turn off the heat.

Lightly prick the base of the tart with a fork, line the tart case with a large circle of greaseproof paper or foil, then fill with baking beans. Blind-bake the tart for 20 mins, remove the paper and beans, then continue to cook for 5-10 mins until biscuit brown

While the tart case cooks, beat the eggs in a bowl, then gradually add the cream. Stir in the leeks, mushrooms, cayenne pepper and half the cheese. Season, then tip the filling into the tart case. Sprinkle with the rest of the cheese, then bake for 20-25 mins until set and golden brown. Leave to cool in the case, trim the edges of the pastry, then remove and serve in slices.

I love this tart, it's so rich and creamy - obviously its probably got about a million calories in it, for the waistline watchers amongst you, but hey who cares when it tastes this good. We ate it along with a beautiful looking tomato and mixed herb salad knocked up effortlessly by the extremely talented 'E'.

Monday 19 July 2010

Southville Supper Club - Bristol

The supper club phenomenon, which in London has become almost part of the fixtures and fittings of the dining scene, has been somewhat slower to make its way from the capital and take root in other cities around the UK. Don’t get me wrong, supper clubs are dotted throughout the country, and the movement is huge but whereas in London it’s now a well-established scene, in lets say Bristol; it’s quite a new and groundbreaking diversion from traditional dining.

I absolutely love the whole concept; the idea of getting to nose around a stranger’s house and eat their food is incredibly exciting, so I couldn’t wait to try a new supper club holding it’s second event in Bristol, where the whole scene is still really in its infancy, and subsequently the movement here has a real pioneering vibe to it.

Arriving bang on 7pm at a towering Victorian terraced home, right on the edge of the Southville district of Bristol, I knocked at the door with the excitement, tinged with trepidation that comes from pushing the limits of your comfort zone. Happily the slight degree of nervousness I felt was soon settled by the warm welcome we received. We were greeted happily and ushered upstairs via a winding staircase to the dining room by the cook’s smiling girlfriend.

The dining room was set as one long communal table, which I thought would make for an interesting dining experience. Chatting whilst waiting for the other guests to arrive our host informed us that six diners had dropped out at the last minute, so she and the cook Sam, would be joining us for the main and dessert to make up the numbers. Fine by me, but I thought it was such a shame for the hosts to be let down at the last minute by so many people.

Sam, who was no doubt slaving away in the kitchen as we opened a bottle of cracking sherry we’d brought with us (No corkage), has a reputation that proceeds him somewhat, having had an article published recently in Fire & Knives magazine. He works as an artisan baker for the rather excellent Bristol based Mark’s Bread, which had obviously paid dividends here; he’d made the superb semolina and sesame sourdough bread we were tucking into.

At this point our fellow guests arrived, a nice couple that confided this was their first supper club dining experience and a smiling female work colleague of Sam’s, hailing from Japan.

The seating arrangement with the one table meant that conversation broke out spontaneously between us and our fellow diners, and continued throughout the course of the meal. This is one of the real differences between a supper club and the more formal restaurant experience. It makes for great fun if you like meeting new people.

Our first of six courses arrived, striking crimson against the white bowls it was served in – chilled beetroot soup with frozen broad bean crème fraîche and beetroot crisp. It was a nice start to the meal, the sweet freezing cold broad bean contrasting beautifully against the slightly warmer beetroot soup. It was really enjoyable and a pleasant pointer towards the standard of the food to come.

The next course of country pate was meaty and rich, with a strong livery taste, nicely portioned and served with bowls of Melba toast. A heap of thinly sliced pickles and radishes on the side served to cut nicely through the fattiness of the pate. Lovely stuff.

‘E’ being a pescatarian (a brand of hypocritical vegetarian who eats fish), *hiss* was served a small plate of the frozen broad bean crème fraîche from earlier, decorated with thinly sliced radish. It looked surprisingly striking, and was apparently a decent substitute for the meatiness I was indulging in.

Beetroot made another appearance in our next course, a pile of artfully draped mackerel home cured in beetroot with pickled cucumber and horseradish sauce. Again, a really nice plate of food, light and tasty, looking around the table it seemed everyone else agreed, cleared plates all round.

The main of fried lambs liver with runner beans and onion mash, despite visually perhaps being the least attractive of the dishes so far was gorgeous. I’m normally not a massive liver fan, but this was really good and combined with the onion mash just the thing to soak up the bottle of fino I’d consumed.

‘E’s pescatarian option consisted of the same onion mash but served with a fillet of pan-fried pollock.

A bit of a palate cleanser came next in the shape of an elderflower granita, which set me up nicely for dessert proper.

A beautiful and rather complicatedly constructed trifle (cherry jelly, blueberries, strawberries, custard with vanilla salt, cream and almond brittle all making an appearance judging by my notes), served in antique cups was a great way to finish the meal, it was bloody gorgeous basically and looked great.

Finishing up our booze, and putting the suggested contribution of £20 each into the envelopes provided, we were waved off into the night contented and glowing from such a pleasant experience (and perhaps in my case, just slightly by the booze consumed). There’s no doubt that Sam is an extremely accomplished cook, in fact I’d go so far as to say his food is among some of the best I’ve eaten in a home cooked environment. And, what a bargain! £20 for six courses?!!
Get in there.

Here’s hoping Southville supper club goes from strength to strength, and that the whole supper club scene expands and prospers in Bristol. It’s such a refreshing alternative to restaurant dining and can only be seen as a positive additon to the city's dining options.

Keep an eye on Sam’s Twitter feed here to book a place at the next Southville supper club.

Friday 16 July 2010

A Crab Masterclass at Source – Bristol

Source, the Bristol Food Hall and Cafe is one year old. As part of the celebrations, this week they held a free crab masterclass. Seeing as I am currently a man of leisure, and also an unashamed lover of anything gratis, I happily attended in order to learn what I could. (How to select, murder and dismember a crustacean being skills I am sadly lacking in).

Now, brimming with newly learnt crabby knowledge, I shall pass what I discovered onto you.

After donning aprons, Joe from Source introduced us to the victim, a whopping behemoth of a crab hailing from Brixham. Its claws were bloody huge, with a grip easily able to encircle a human limb, if anyone were stupid enough to get close enough. In the first of many crab horror facts that afternoon, we were informed a crab this size would have no trouble breaking an arm. Luckily for us – it was already dead and cooked…. its vice like claws inanimate, phew!

Upon discovering it was relatively safe, I had to control an urge to pose for a photograph ‘big game hunter style’ with my foot on its flat monster crab head, but resisted.

On with the lesson…

First we learnt how to select a decent live crab, basically – the more grizzled and barnacled looking the beast, the better it is for eating. The reason for this is that a crab constantly grows new shell and then discards the old one. When it has just discarded its old shell, it has hardly any meat, and what it does have doesn’t taste as good.

Although saying that, apparently buying fresh crab is always a bit of a lottery, and until you crack it open, it’s hard to tell how much meat it contains. But a good guideline is they should feel heavy for its size.

Next you need to chill it for a few hours, this dulls it and slows it down so there’s less chance of it breaking your arm or getting into your spirit cupboard and drinking all your booze.

When it’s groggy and slow – it’s time to dispatch it humanely. This is achieved by flipping it on its back, pulling back it’s groinal flap (errr…. I may have made this term up…but it is a groin and a flap, so seems right to me). Bizarrely, unlike the rest of us, the crab doesn’t appreciate this manoeuvre…. it probably suspects what’s coming next. It will try and stab you with its legs, which I might add are surprisingly sharp. So quickly stab it with a skewer downward, and then up towards the head into its brain – and then that’s that. 1x deceased crustacean.

At this point Joe regaled us with more horror stories of people being too slow, or the custacean too fast... and the crabs sharp legs leaving bruises on hands so deep they took six months to fade, and an ex-colleagues experience of the impaled grab reaching around with its claw and pulling the skewer out of itself.

So next you cook your dead crab in salted boiling water, a crab this size should take around 15mins.

Next, onto the fun part, dismembering the corpse.
Flip the crab onto its back and rip its legs off, achieved by folding them inwards till they snap off. These are full of white meat. We used a crab cracker (like a large nutcracker) and a crab pick (a slim skewer like implement) to break open each joint and push the meat out.

Break off the claws; we’ll come back to them in a minute.

Remove and discard the mouth area.
Remove the “Groinal Flap” (Or whatever the hell its called).

Rolling the shell forward slightly, push upwards with your thumbs to remove the underbody from the shell in one piece.

Discard the stringy looking intestines, any membrane and the ‘dead mans fingers’, which are the grey gills attached to the body. Interestingly despite the rather foreboding name, these aren’t actually deadly poisonous, just indigestible and unpleasant.

Cut the underbody in half with a sharp knife, it has a honeycomb construction; use the crab pick or a skewer to extract all the white meat. Discard what’s left.

You should now have the shell, which is full of brown crabmeat, which is perhaps not the most appetising looking stuff, but certainly the most flavourful.

Finally, holding the crab cracker like a judges gavel, whack the crab claws hard to break them open. These are full of beautiful white meat.

The final dressed crab has the brown and white meat presented in the shell.

Obviously, at the end, we got to sample some of the crab with some fantastic brown bread and a glass of perfectly matched white wine, ‘Picpoul de Pinet’.

So a free, very informative lesson, with some crab and a nice glass of wine thrown in. Superb.
Thanks to Joe and everyone involved.

Source are running more free masterclass events in the coming weeks, which might quite possibly include a butchery lesson – so keep your eyes peeled for their announcements on Twitter @sourcefoodcafe

1-3 Exchange Avenue
St Nicholas Market

Friday 9 July 2010

Tio Pepe Tapas Trail - London

The overriding foodie theme of the summer so far, for me at least, has been all about tapas.

I attended various events leading up to the recently held
Tapas Fantasticas event at Tower Bridge (Which was bloody superb by the way, loved it…if you didn’t go this year, make sure to go next year!).
I’m off to Barcelona at the end of the month for a break, and that is surely going to involve eating loads and loads of the stuff
And earlier this week, to publicise the forthcoming London based ‘Tio Pepe Tapas Trail’ I was invited along to a couple of rather decent tapas restaurants to sample the trail for myself.
(I basically staggered around between places, eating tapas and drinking sherry for free – hard life eh?).

I almost never write about PR led events, don’t get me wrong…I love a freebie as much as the next food blogger, but its rare to get invited along to something that you’re actually able to write about without appearing to be a paid up mouthpiece of whatever product or restaurant that smooth talking Public Relations snake oil salesman is trying to push that week. It rarely, if ever feels right.

But, saying that, I’m actually going to talk about this particular event as it appeals to me in a number of ways: -

Way No. 1 - The Spanish, when eating tapas famously go on bar hopping tapas ‘crawls’ – They’ll move from place to place, only eating a plate or two of what’s especially good at that particular bar, before moving on. This event encourages that in London, which to my mind is a good thing.

Way No. 2 - I’m quite a big fan of Sherry.
In the UK, up until fairly recently, its suffered from a bit of an image problem…. being perceived somewhat unfairly as the favourite tipple of your Grandmother, but it has gradually been reclaimed from the OAP’s and is once again hip and trendy. This event allows you to drink it for free.
Drinking for free is always good.

Way No. 3 – A number of restaurants participating in this event are places I like, or want to visit….Barrafina, Fino, Iberica, Camino and Moro to name but a few. This is a good excuse to visit, and get a feel for them.

Basically, next week, between the 12th-18th of July, if you order a tapas dish costing £4.50 or more at any of the nine participating Spanish restaurants in London you’ll get a glass of Tio Pepe for free. Nice.

Although I should point out - this is one glass per person, per restaurant.

But, it does encourage you to move around, and try loads of places – whilst getting spannered on free sherry! Yay! The PR was very keen to stress “sensible drinking”…I on the other hand am very keen to stress “unsensible drinking”, so don’t let me down people.

There’s a map of the participating restaurants and more details here: -

It’s been helpfully organised into two ‘Trails’, Central and Northern – all of the restaurants are within perfect stumbling distance of each other. So get out there one scorchio evening next week – eat loads of nice tapas, a dish or two of whatever’s considered best at each place,and claim you’re free glasses of Tio Pepe.

By the way, based on what I sampled, I can recommend in particular the Arroz Negro and Pan Con Tomate at Fino and the Albondigas de Cerdo y Rabo de Toro (Pork and Oxtail Meatballs) at Barrica.

Have fun!

Friday 2 July 2010

Bob Bob Ricard - London

Let me begin by saying that I like Bob Bob Ricard (or BBR) a lot. There’s a decadent, almost romantic feel about the place. Step through the heavy wooden doors and into the lobby and it seems as if you’re stepping back into another, more glamorous age. The beautiful art deco style interior, all dark wood, brass, expensive tiles and blue leather clad booths has to be considered as one of the most attractive dining rooms in London.

Look around, and the overwhelming impression you’ll get is of ‘no expense spared’ and an attention to detail that’s verging on the obsessive. The wonderfully stylised BBR monogram stares back at you from almost every surface, even the tableware bears the stamp, having been commissioned from Wedgwood.

Despite only having been open for less than two years, BBR already feels like an older historic, more established London institution, akin perhaps to The Ritz or Rules. Although BBR in comparison is an institution that is utterly off its face on meow-meow.

Perhaps I should qualify that last statement, you see, there’s a fabulous eccentricity to the place, with the infamous ‘push for champagne’ buttons in every booth, the electric pink and blue jacketed staff and the wine pricing policy which has seen BBR undercut, well… pretty much everyone with their modest mark ups, no matter how prestigious the bottle.

This eccentricity extends to the menu, and it’s what I love most about BBR. Food trends come and go in London, and there is an established order of things. Bob Bob Ricard seemingly cares not for what anyone else is doing. They plough their own furrow regardless, and the resulting menu is a unique mix of high-end Edwardian and British nursery food, punctuated with Russian dishes and finally some international classics thrown in for good measure. It’s the craziest menu I’ve ever seen, and what’s even crazier is – it works beautifully.

My latest visit to BBR was for a ‘Posh Lunch’ organised by the ever-cheerful Niamh of Eat Like a Girl fame, and taking advantage of the fact that BBR are running a deal throughout July intended to promote the fact that their ‘House Champagne’ isn’t some job-lot of cheap and cheerful fizz as is often proffered by less prestigious establishments; but the rather excellent Pol Roger Champagne. (Which was apparently the favoured bubbly of none other than Winston Churchill). As such, at lunchtime order a main and either a starter or a dessert and you’ll get a free glass to accompany your meal (normal priced at £11.50). What’s not to like about that?

Starting the meal off with a rather nice refreshing BBR House cocktail consisting of rhubarb infused gin and tonic, we sat down and I noticed that the BBR monogramming program had even extended as far as the butter. Which is another reason to love the place, every time I’ve been; I’ve noticed some other new, tiny, often amusing detail.

I enjoyed a starter of a rather decadent version of Russian Salad, topped with a soft boiled quails egg and liberally scattered with shaved truffle. With this, just for kicks we drank shot glasses of the rather excellent (and surprisingly cheap) Russian Standard Platinum Vodka, downed in one, in the Russian style and then instantly followed with a ready poised forkful of food, the chilled vodka accentuates the flavour of the food, and really is something worth trying.

My main of Veal Holstein arrived, a classic dish of veal schnitzel topped with a fried quails egg and anchovies (Apparently fact fans, invented for and named after Bismarck’s Foreign Minister Count Holstein). The BBR version, as you’d expect comes literally smothered with truffles…lurking in the beautiful mash and in a hidden puddle of truffle gravy. I’d heard good things about this dish, and yes they were all true, it was a bloody nice plate of food.

Whilst eating my main, I was served my free, chilled glass of Pol Roger and had the distinct impression that I could get used to this. As Champagne goes, it’s a rather good one.

Last, but not least, I was treated to a spectacle for dessert. And it’s not often I can say that.
The aptly named ‘Chocolate Glory’ (which the menu told me consisted of chocolate Jivara mousse and chocolate brownie with passion fruit orange jelly and meringue served with fresh raspberries and hot chocolate sauce – got that?), was brought out last. Held aloft with a reverence normally associated with holy relics. This golden sphere was presented to me, and then, to many “ooohs” and “ahhhs” from my dining companions the waiter proceeded to pour a steady stream of hot chocolate sauce in a onto the metallic ball…. nothing happened at first, but then suddenly the middle melted away before my eyes exposing the contents. (As you can see in the photo).

It was bloody fabulous, I felt like getting up on my chair and applauding. No matter what it tasted like, I felt that I’d got my moneys worth from the sheer drama of it. Luckily, as an added bonus it tasted pretty damn good.

Finishing up with a decent coffee, I reflected on my lunch at Bob Bob Ricard. To be honest, dining at BBR isn’t the cheapest option, but then the best things in life often aren’t.
Saying that, there’s no doubt in my mind that it’s worth it, mainly due to BBR being a truly original dining experience, its unique; there is nothing else like it anywhere. If you haven’t been – Go, just to experience the decadence and the wonderfully eccentric menu for yourself.

Bob Bob Ricard

1 Upper James Street

Telephone: +44 (0)203 145 1000