Wednesday, October 31, 2007

happy halloween

I’m glad I live in an apartment which doesn’t lend itself to conducive treat-or-tricking. it’s not so much the repeated opening of the door to the neighbourhood kids, in a range of pvc getups and an abundance of make-up and fake blood designed to make them pseudo- vampires/witches/Britney-spear look-alikes (in increasing order of scariness). it’s the fact I know I will probably scoff all the treats before the children even arrive.

my one concession to Halloween this year has been, shock horror, my first jack-o-lantern. I even got myself a 99p pumpkin carving set. I could have gone for the deluxe £1.50 set which came with pumpkin carving templates. that would have been 51p better spent considering the rather wonky toothy grinned pumpkin I ended up with.

my real motivation however, was the inside of the pumpkin. having scooped out a large cup worth of pumpkin flesh, there was only one thing to do – make pumpkin risotto.

pumpkin risotto (inspired in part by a g ramsay recipe)

cup of pumpkin flesh
olive oil
cup of Arborio rice
vegetable stock
minced garlic
bay leaf

cut the pumpkin flesh into chunks, drizzle a little olive oil, and roast in a single layer at 200C till tender. cool. whiz into a puree.
heat the olive oil and sauté the minced garlic. add rice and stir till grains are all coated in the oil. add a ladle of vegetable stock – the pan should be sizzling hot and the addition of the vegetable stock will cause the rice to spit and jump about in the pan in a rather angry manner. stir. stir and stir till stock is almost all absorbed. keep adding ladles of vegetable stock, continuously stirring till each ladle of stock is absorbed. repeat till the rice is tender but still slightly al dente. stir in the pumpkin puree. fry the bay leaf in a little butter till crisp. I grilled a slice of proscuitto for a couple of minutes till crisp and crumbled it over the risotto together with the bay leaf. definitely a treat.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

piri-piri chicken

what’s a girl to do when her boss gives her a bottle of piri-piri sauce from his recent travels to the Algarve? she makes piri-piri chicken.

piri-piri chicken

chicken – marinated in half a bottle of abovementioned piri-piri sauce (alternatively, whiz into a puree a handful of birds-eye chili, a splash of vinegar and a splash of olive oil), huge tablespoons of minced garlic, salt and a glug of olive oil. I advocate using a spoon. you will regret having used your hands if you inadvertently rub your eyes.

not the most precise of measurements I admit but you’ll figure it out, as things depend on how hot you like your chicken. ideally left to marinate overnight as the chilli permeates every crevice in your chicken and acts partially as a tenderizer. bring to room temperature (if chilled overnight in the fridge) and roast at a preheated oven at 200C for about 25 minutes depending on the size of your chicken (parts) till the juices run clear and skin is deliciously crisp.

I served my chicken with spinach rice and a carrot salad dressed lightly in a splash of the chicken juices from the roasting pan. mix a couple of tablespoons of the chicken juices from the pan with a good glug of the piri-piri sauce (depending on how hot you like it and if there’s any left) and drizzle over the chicken.

i love pattersons

they say, you know it’s true love when you can’t stop smiling and thinking about the object of your affections. I couldn’t stop smiling at work on friday, simply just thinking about the prospect of dinner at pattersons. I couldn’t stop smiling during dinner. and I couldn’t stop smiling after. and I’m still smiling now. it’s true love I’m convinced. of course, the pleasure was compounded exponentially by the brilliant conversations and the lovely company of E.

I never thought I could love pattersons more than I did. but they charmed our socks off by giving me and e a glass each of champagne on the house, and an absolutely brilliant amuse bouche in the form of a panfried halibut with spinach puree, tomato concasse and (I think) carrot purree. and a wafer of black truffle. absoulutely brilliant. and it eased the pain of the after-effects of my indecision when I had decided to forgo the halibut which was on the specials of the day. as the table had been booked in e’s name, i’ve concluded e’s got special dining powers. definitely making her do all the bookings from now on.

I was secretly pleased that they hadn’t changed the menu yet. having had the same starter the last two times I was at pattersons, I fought all temptation to order the langoustines for the third time, and instead went for the rabbit tortellini. “it tastes just like chicken (but better)”, I said soothingly to e, hopefully dispelling any fluffy-animal-rabbits-are-too-cute-to-eat issues as I hoisted onto her a forkful of the sweet flakes of rabbit meat encased in its light, al dente pasta shawl. she very graciously reciprocated (as I hoped she would) with a forkful of the blessed langoustines and courgette flower tempura.

I want to meet the chef and his kitchen staff at pattersons and kiss all of them. they’re lovely people I’m convinced. the food is really very well executed, and inventive without being pretentious. and I always have a very good time. and they’re not overly precious about their food. e decided to forego the foie gras stuffing in the dover sole (which came with the lovely punch of celeriac puree and basil pesto gnocchi), and they happily obliged. and the resulting dish was just as brilliant as I remembered it with the foie gras stuffing. our lovely waitress couldn’t have been more apologetic when she gravely informed us that the panna cotta that e had requested for puddings were sold out, and the kitchen was more than happy to acquiesce to e’s request for sorbets (which weren’ on the menu as such), and obliged with a trio of lovely fruity sorbets.

being the greedy git that I am, I wasn’t going to have anything omitted from my mains, which was the well hung fillet of beef, with breaded sweetbread, ratte potatoes and baby carrots. nestling on the square of lusciously tender potatoes was a single clove of roasted garlic. it was a good thing I wasn’t planning on snogging anyone that night, because that single clove of roasted garlic gave me unparalleled pleasure as I squeezed its soft mushy garlicky goodness out of its shell and smeared it liberally over each mouthful of the potato. I’m not much of a meat-and-two-veg kind of girl, but if meat-and-two-veg were always done like this was, I could eat it every day. I had for pudding, the vanilla and chocolate cheesecake with almond macarons. to be honest, I was slightly dreading this as I had in my mind’s eye, a generic supermarket cloyingly sickening slice of overbearing cheesecake. I’m not sure what I was doing thinking of that. of course pattersons wasn’t going to serve me a slab of drudge – the cheesecake came in delicate quenelle shaped spoonfuls of goodness. I must have audibly squealed with pleasure with each pop of the almond macarons into my mouth.

it’s slightly disconcerting, I mused on the drive back home, that while i sometimes question my ability to fully explicitly express my affections for anyone in a coherent and sensible manner, I have absolutely no difficulty in saying - I absolutely love pattersons. no doubt about that.

p.s – I’ve finally found out the name of the squashy plants on the tables – they’re colloquially referred to as “mind your own business”. or if you’re being posh – soleirolia soleirolii in latin.

fit for the queen

i sometimes wonder if princes harry and william ever eat pot noodles? as they stumble out of boujis after yet another night out partying and boozing on the house with their mates, do they ask their drivers to stop for a kebab, or do they ring their butler/cook/entire royal staff and order a royal fry-up? do you think the queen likes curry? rumour has it that prince charles has never buttered his own toast. what on earth do the royal family eat?

this nation, obsessed with its royals, was given the opportunity to watch various top chefs in the country compete against each other for the opportunity to cook for the queen’s birthday lunch in the bbc show “the great british menu” last year. it was a tense affair, almost as fun to watch as iron chef without the dodgy japlish voiceovers. the panel of judges – the at times scathing trio of prue leith, oliver peyton and matthew fort could well have given simon cowell and his x-factor gang a run for their money. it was good television to watch though at times the chef’s choices of dishes were a little bewildering. bryn williams won the honor of cooking the fish course, and when he started cooking at odettes, he put this dish on the menu. royal food brought to the people.

I was royally late for lunch. having very wisely decided that I would venture to drive to odettes without the aid of a map and in very logical fashion decided that since I knew how to get to regents park, I imagined huge signs pointing me in the direction to regents park road. I was obviously not taking any account of the fact that london’s bewildering road nomenclature system, the added complications of one way streets and my general lack of direction which would prove this almost impossible. several panicky calls to the restaurant later, motivated only by the prospect of lunch and my embarrassment of having kept jl waiting for the greater part of half an hour, I soldiered on and finally arrived in a fluster. a profusement of apologies later, I finally looked around the restaurant and immediately calmed down. it was absolutely lovely. the wallpaper with its grey vinery pattern, the bright yellow chairs. it was funky with character, an entirely relaxed clean space without any hint of bland minimalist starkness.

the eating procession started with a shot of sweet creamy corn soup topped with a popcorn. jl chose to start with a scallop ceviche – sweet slices of scallop with its panfried brethren, a pea veloute and sweet pea shoots. I started with a roast quail breast. it was accompanied by a quiver of jelly which was surprisingly savoury with a hint of vinaigrette.

the fish course – roasted turbot with oxtail and cockles. I had wanted to eat this dish ever since the first time I watched bryn cook it in the preliminaries when he beat angela hartnett to represent wales. it was inventive – a myriad of layers which demanded culinary curiosity. while the french have regularly done their turbot with bacon – bryn’s addition of the braised oxtail and the cockles made me want to snatch the plate away from prue leith as she ate it all and praised it between each mouthful. jl had gone for the monkfish – it came with a lentil broth and a bed of greens. the disks of fish had a coating of some sort we couldn’t quite identify, but it was extremely delicious.

I’m so glad jl loves pudding because the odette puddings were absolutely brilliant. jl chose the caramelized pineapple with coconut ice-cream – Tropicana on a plate. I had the frozen strawberry parfait with strawberry and mint compote, and the most adorable mini strawberry donuts.

I don’t’ know what the queen eats on a daily basis. I’m sure she has the best of the land (and I imagine the royal pantry to be brimming with duchy originals products). but if she had bryn williams cook the fish course for her birthday, she is one lucky lady indeed.