Thursday, 27 August 2009

Well-dressed lobster and phantom meringues

Hmmm, the jury’s out on the cheat’s hollandaise…I had to make an apology to the fish, as time-efficient though it was, it was a different sauce altogether. I also learnt a valuable lesson about making Eton Mess ahead of time – don’t add the meringues until the last minute, after an hour in the fridge they had completely vanished into the cream! Last minute nerves I suppose – nonetheless the evening was great fun, the ambient volume knob inched up by a bottle of delicious Dom Perignon 2000 (a present, wow!), and an amazing Chassagne Montrachet. Not bad for a Monday night.

Foodwise, the evening’s quiet star had to be the amazing buffalo mozzarella we had to start with, along with fragrant plum tomatoes and avocados the size of grapefruits, all from our local Italian deli, Olga Stores on Penton Street.

Dad lives in Norfolk, but work keeps him mostly in New York. When he is here, he does a lot of giving, and not great deal of taking, so when my brother and I saw a chink of daylight in this busy giving-schedule we seized upon the opportunity and staged a Dad-napping for Thursday afternoon. For the most part of last week, he had been looking rather longingly seawards every morning, alas to no avail – there were other things to be done, so Dave and I knew exactly where to take him that day.

Very early this year, on a fruitless (or rather crab-less) mission to Cromer, some friends and I had stumbled upon a secret shrine - a shack if I am honest- to all things crustacean, and fishy, somewhere along the north Norfolk coast. Aptly, it sits in a place named Salthouse. I am deliberately vague about its name – their wares are fresh and bountiful and smell of the sea, it would be too easy, and you need to feel that you have discovered it to compound your joy at what you find within. We plumped for the lobster salad, which not only comprised a day-glo red half-beast, but a generous smorgasbord of other wonders: cockles, herrings, smoked mackerel and prawns – the greatest hits from the Norfolk shores. The pot of mayonnaise and warm boiled new potatoes bathed in butter are a must. They are not licensed, but it seemed all the more Blyton-esque accompanied by a can of eye-wateringly fizzy ginger beer.

I think it is safe to say that this feast, preceded by a breezy walk along the nearby pebble beach at Cley, meant that the sea rushed into all the reaches of Dad’s soul that afternoon – enough to tide him over until the next time he’s here.

P.S: usually a nothing-on-toast-but-marmite girl, I have been bowled over by a gift from my 11 year old goddaughter, who has recently become and apiarist. Contrary to what one might think, this is not a lover of monkeys, but a bee-keeper. Words cannot describe quite how proud I am of this little person in general, but the thought of her in her suit, braving the bombardments of stingers while she collects their hard-worked treasure, just amazes me. Watch this space, the Nacton gold stuff will be on everybody’s Christmas list…

Thursday, 20 August 2009

What a catch!

I love being engaged. It is like the momentary euphoria one experiences on waking up and remembering that it’s a Saturday or Christmas, but all the time. The BSG proposed to me in May by a beautiful stretch of river in the Scottish Highlands, unfortunately known as ‘The Rubbish Heap’ (thoughts jump to medieval vegetable peelings far beneath our feet), during the few days we were there fishing for salmon.

People so often tell me how boring fly-fishing is (they usually haven’t tried it), but I love it. The fun is more in the process and less in the end result, which incidentally goes more often in the way of the swimmer! Of course there is an enormous rush at the strong tug on the end of the line, and the ensuing battle is more than exciting, but there is great pleasure to be taken from the complete mental break you get standing in the great outdoors by a rushing river. You stand quiet and still, so as not to disturb the unsuspecting silver swimmers beneath the bank, and I reckon this companionable calm does the soul a great favour once in a while. I digress, just try it.

The ‘engagement fish’ (it has become so important he even has a nickname) has a starring role next Monday when we have my dad and his mum over to meet each other for the first time. Like food you have grown yourself, fish I have fought to catch tastes all the better for it (all in my mind I am sure). We’ll have it with blobs of wobbly yellow hollandaise, the butterier the better, and the late season’s new potatoes with a crunchy green salad.

My first and only attempt at homemade hollandaise was such a palaver that I vowed never again - think sweating over a bain-marie with an outdated electric whisk and you get the picture - but my shiny new sister in law Rosie has a failsafe blender option she found in an old Delia Smith book somewhere…..something from John Tovey, a 70’s chef who sounds absolutely on my wavelength: life’s too short to sweat it. I’ll let you know how that goes down with the BSG…

Thursday, 13 August 2009

A very good place to start?

The ‘Glorious 12th’ is not only the day that most of the UK’s grouse start to try and get everywhere that bit faster but also the BSG’s birthday. It has become a self-imposed rule that he doesn’t go to work on his birthday, so we usually celebrate with a day centred on eating - as if every other day isn’t.

This year it was lunch at The Square on Bruton Street. I will not attempt any kind of review, but wow, £35 for three courses felt like daylight robbery and all I would say is go! I am still thinking about their gravity-defying blackberry soufflĂ© with blackberry ripple ice-cream popped in the top and warm compote poured over. Be warned: do not let appearances deceive; despite an apparent lighter-than-air quality, its deep fruity richness silenced even the BSG. If purple had a taste, this would be it. Huge smiles all round.

Gooseberries are a rare treat, proving difficult to procure, so my delight in finding them on Monday (I think I held them proudly aloft, to make sure everybody else knew they were there) was compounded by concocting a fooly-type thing, stewed down first with some sugar, and mixed with whipped cream with plenty of greek yoghurt for pale green happy tartness. I can’t wait to have a spoonful when I get home.

The nubbly, giant Amalfi lemons that surrounded us on our holiday in Italy last week are still on my mind; the locals treat these as the stars of the dish from the outset – these monsters are rarely, if ever, a garnish. From smoked local mozzarellas and provolones baked wrapped in their dark green leaves and thick rind to fragrant yellow seafood risottos, their versatility has inspired me to add a little more zest to my cooking in every sense of the word…

I must be on a sweet-toothed drive this week – usually a ‘starter and main course’ type of girl, I have been seduced by fruit. Nothing like the effect of an airless London street in summer to make one crave refreshment!