Sunday, 2 March 2014

BILDER AND DE CLERQ, AMSTERDAM - FIRST ANNIVERSARY


Balloons and bunting
Daffodils and roses are already blooming in Amsterdam's quietly raffish Oude Pijp district (think Shoreditch with canals and bicycles rather than end-to-end traffic and crowds). Our gently aimless Saturday morning stroll past Sarphati Park is suddenly transformed: we have stumbled unexpectedly into the balloons and bunting of Bilder and De Clercq deli's first anniversary party, a celebration of their big new idea.  In business, the first year is when new ideas either wither and die, or put down roots for a robust future: it seems B&dC are well on their way, given the packed, good-natured support in the café and browsing the deli shelves.

The novel food stations
B&dC is not your usual deli: its USP, its new idea, is the "meal station". Across the store are a dozen or so of these separate stations, each dedicated to a particular dish, and each containing a recipe card and all the listed ingredients in appropriate quantities.  A cheerful assistant explains (while she dispenses anniversary snacks): choose your menu and then simply load up the ingredients which are laid out ready at the station and in its mini-freezer - and there are well-matched wines available to reduce decision making even further. Large, colourful images of plated up meals stand above each station to draw your eye and stimulate your culinary imagination - and your appetite. B&dC source as much as possible locally, though their recipe vision is international: Thailand and Indonesia, The Middle East and Singapore are represented in addition to Europe. 

The station for Thai Mussels
Each recipe card is designed for two, though it is easy to multiply up for a feast; it costs between €5 and €7 a head. So if you are in a hurry or haven't planned ahead, the hard part (ie: deciding what to cook and sourcing the ingredients) has already been done. Sounds like a brilliant idea!

Monday, 30 December 2013

LE LINGUE DEL DIAVOLO - DEVIL'S TONGUE CRISPBREADS

In this joyous season of Santa and carolling angels, there comes a time to cut against the grain of general goodwill to mankind. So, these wafer-thin crisp-breads are not afraid of their inner dark side: mis-shapen and generally rather ragged, they are all the more attractive for being rough around the edges in a "Robert Johnson, wrong side of the tracks kinda way." 
Resist the sweetest blandishments of another mince pie or slice of panforte. Match le lingue del diavolo with salty-savoury chunks of parmesan (or a wisp or two of prosciutto-style, smoked reindeer) and let the Devil do the talking.

Ingredients:
220g   plain flour
200g   sourdough starter (100% hydration)
100g   plain yoghurt
40g     light olive oil
2 tsp   poppy seeds
a pinch of salt.
Plus olive oil, sea salt flakes, chilli flakes or fennel seeds for scattering on top of the biscuits before cooking.
(Makes 8)

Mix together and knead to a smooth dough. Let the dough stand for a couple of hours in a covered bowl.
Half an hour before you are ready to bake, heat the oven to 200 degree C and place a baking stone on the middle rack.
Knead the dough briefly and divide into eight small balls.
On a floured surface, roll out each ball until very thin and tongue-shaped. Just before baking, brush the surface of each one gently with a tiny amount of olive oil and scatter with salt (or chilli flakes and/or fennel seeds, to taste); then place on the hot baking stone (or a flat baking tray).  Bake for 8 - 10 minutes or until crisp and pale golden brown with darker blotches.  Place the biscuits straight onto a rack and let them cool and crisp up. They can be stored in an air-tight container, but are best eaten fresh while still at peak crispness. 

Sunday, 27 October 2013

APPLE AND SALTED CARAMEL ICE-CREAM

Autumn's here and the clocks went back by an hour last night. Meanwhile the biggest storm of the century (so far) is predicted later this weekend. Time to hunker down then and to use up some of our glut of apples. This ice-cream has an unusual combination of sweet, sharp and bitter flavours (think toffee apples); it is soft textured, with chewy bits of apple and contrasting shards of brittle/melting caramel.
Ingredients

For the caramel brittle:
100g  granulated white sugar
¾ tsp  flakes of sea salt.


For the ice cream custard:
400ml  unsweetened apple juice
juice of ½ lemon
250ml  milk

300g  granulated white sugar
60 gr  salted butter
½ tsp  flakes of sea salt
200ml  double cream
300g  apple
5  egg whites
100g granulated white sugar.
 
1   Make the caramel brittle
     Place a silicone/Teflon mat (or a lightly oiled sheet of baking parchment) on a baking tray. Have this close to hand when cooking the caramel.
     Scatter the sugar evenly across a heavy bottomed pan and heat gently until it melts. Opinion is divided about whether or not to stir the sugar as it melts - safer to roll it around the pan until all is melted. For the proper bitter flavour, let the mixture brown until just before it burns - your nose is the best guide here. Then IMMEDIATELY scatter ¾ teaspoon of flaked sea salt into the pan and pour the caramel evenly over the prepared silicone sheet, tilting the tray to help it spread as evenly and thinly as possible. Once it has cooled and set hard, shatter the caramel into small shards which will be folded into the ice-cream as it freezes.

2   Prepare for making the ice cream.
     Simmer apple juice (freshly juiced if possible) and juice of half a lemon until reduced to 200ml.  Cool and keep to one side.
     Core, peel and dice the apple (into approx. 2cm squares) and plunge into cold water with juice of half a lemon to prevent discolouring.
     Half fill a large bowl with ice and water, and set a smaller bowl in the water - the ice bath will cool the ice cream mixture quickly. Place the milk in the bowl to cool.
3   Make the ice cream
     Prepare caramel in exactly the same way as before, with 300g sugar. As soon as it is ready, remove from the heat a stir in the slightly salted butter. Once the butter has melted, add the salt and cream and mix.
     Return the pan to a low heat; any lumps that have formed will melt away. Stir in the drained diced apple and let it cook for a couple of minutes; do not allow the apple to get soft. Pour in the prepared reduced apple juice and add the whole mixture to the milk in the ice bath and let it cool.
 
      Whip the egg whites to soft peaks and then beat in the sugar. Once the ice-cream mixture is cool, gently fold in the soft meringue, keeping the air in as far as possible. It won't necessarily all mix smoothly initially, but repeated folding as it sets in the freezer will solve this; it is easier to control the texture of this particular ice cream by using the freezer and by repeatedly folding from sides to centre, but churn in an ice-cream maker if preferred. Once the ice-cream is almost firm but before it freezes hard, stir in the small shards of caramel brittle.
     Because of the caramel, the ice cream never sets too hard, so can usually be served direct from the freezer. Serve it with extra caramel and thin slices of fresh apple - or even caramelised apple slices for a bit more sweetness; alternatively, sticks of shortbread work well, and add another texture and flavour.

 
 

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

E5 BAKEHOUSE, LONDON FIELDS

artisan; sustainable; volunteer bakers;
railway arches; Hackney; community; sourdough; lost traditions; natural;
environmentally friendly; small; locally sourced; kitchen-table start-up;
hand-crafted. 
 
Most of today's on-trend foodie buzz words describe The E5 Bakehouse pretty accurately: in fact, many can be found on their website. It is no surprise, therefore, that the E5 bicycle-delivery-service has to pedal further and faster each day, spreading its range of excellent sourdough loaves to an ever increasing number of outlets. No wonder the queue for fresh bread stretches so far each morning, lured in by the smell fresh baking and the tang of sourdough.

And there are few better ways to while away a weekend (or weekday) morning than breakfasting in the small rough-and-ready café at the front of the bakery - or even sunning yourself on the pavement outside on a good day.  So alongside sleek i-pads or laptops are chunky slabs of toast (made from the fresh bread that steadily emerges from the ovens) slathered with home made jam - try a slice of their signature loaf, the Hackney Wild; alternatively, go for healthy bowls of muesli or granola.
Meanwhile, the bakery, which has been busy since the early hours, continues to bustle along behind the counter, hand-crafting artisan sourdough loaves from locally sourced and organic ingredients to feed the long line of bread lovers waiting patiently to be served.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

BILLINGSGATE FISH MARKET AND THE SEAFOOD TRAINING SCHOOL

 
What is it about the English and fish?  Think about the great, ancient markets of London: Covent Garden and Smithfield, with their porters, bustle and banter, both have an air of romance about them, are part of the image of Englishness.  Not so Billingsgate.  Even in its "new" location, it crouches at the feet of the gleaming modern cathedrals of commerce that make up Canary Wharf, seemingly cast in the role of ugly sister. And Old Billingsgate  was  apparently "a place apart" with a very different set of traditions. 
 "That it was a place apart from the rest of London is not in doubt;
here, in an atmosphere of reeking fish, with fish-scales underfoot,
and a shallow lake of mud all around,
specific types and traditions had sprung up.
There were the 'wives' of Billingsgate
who dressed in strong stuff gowns and quilted petticoats;
called 'fish fags' they smoked small pipes of tobacco,
took snuff, drank gin and were known for their colourful language."
(From Peter Ackroyd: London: The Biography)

It is just after 5:30am.  Canary  Wharf is still; silent; office windows are glowing but empty. However, Billingsgate is bustling with activity, and it's been going full tilt here for several hours already.  The car park is full; anonymous, dripping white boxes are loaded into vans which disappear out of the gates onto the empty streets. A small group, bleary eyed, yawning and clearly unused to life at this hour), gathers to take the Catch of the Day Class run by the Billingsgate Seafood Training School.

First, a tour of the market, led by CJ Jackson, fish doyenne, Director of the Seafood Training Course and writer of such classics as Leith's Fish Bible (she is a former vice principal of Leith's) and The Billingsgate Market Cookbook; it is her hand clutching the monster lobster below. 
At first glance, Billingsgate is nothing like the great, glistening open air fish markets of Spain or Venice. This isn't about display, the gaudy arrangements designed to seduce the casual passing eye.  Rather, this is about shifting merchandise, the practical packaging and sale of goods in large quantities to specialist purchasers. However, the fish are sparkling fresh, each eye is translucent, every scale shines like a tiny jewel.  The whole place smells of the sea. And everywhere you turn there is a different shape or colour or size.
For a couple of hours we are bombarded with facts about Billingsgate (the largest inshore fish market in UK, with one of the widest selections of fish in the world), about fish in general (the difference between Canadian and British lobsters and how to grow eels), while dodging porters and trolleys and ice.  Weirdly, both George Orwell (in the 1930s) and the Kray twins (1950s) have worked at Billingsgate. 
By 8:00am, the market is over and it is time to climb upstairs for breakfast in the Cookery School - a spicy kedgeree.  Then it is on to learning knife skills, creating a fish stock for bouillabaisse, filleting flat and round fish and cooking. Even those most squeamish at the start are soon de-scaling and hoicking out guts insouciantly while sipping glasses of wine and comparing the neatness of knife work.

A Gurnard is first up for filleting
The team in action
The joys of working with squid




















Once the preparation is done, the cooking takes over and the resident chef demonstrates just how versatile fish can be - and how quick and easy each dish is to put together.  While she cooks, we watch over our bubbling vats of bouillabaisse.
Bouillabaisse in preparation


Plaice parcels stuffed with tomatoes and pesto ready to go into the oven
Baked Hake and chorizo
Grilled chilli mackerel


Our time is up. We have scraped, sliced, gouged, assembled and watched the experts in action.  All that is left is to enjoy the chilled rose, slurp our very own bouillabaisse and share personal triumphs and disasters - and above all to celebrate the wonders of fish.  Then, rather like the traders at the crack of dawn, we bag up our fish and head home.
 

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

BROADWAY MARKET

The "Broad Way" is the wide thoroughfare down which in the 1600s East Anglian herders drove flocks of sheep from their final grazing lands at London Fields to Slaughter Lane (the Brick Lane abattoir) to feed the city of London. A market and a pub sprang up where the route crosses the Regent's Park Canal: the pub is The Cat and Mutton ("cat" is an old word for "barge", though others say it is a corruption of "cattle"); the market is Broadway Market, one of the oldest chartered markets in London.  To underline the agricultural origins of the area, Sheep Lane still runs parallel to the Broadway.
After flourishing for centuries, Broadway Market fell into disrepair in the 1980s; unloved and unlovely, it was considered ripe for re-development by Hackney Council at the start of this century. Plans to demolish parts of the street were met with protests and resistance, documented in Emily James' film, The Battle for Broadway Market, and by a determination to save this ancient London institution.
 Today's vibrant Saturday Market started as a community action project in 2004 to raise funds for local schools, the St Joseph's Hospice and other charities, as well as to regenerate the area in response to the threat of re-development.  It caught the wave of the changing demographic in east London, and it is flocks of young professionals, dressed in their finest weekend gear, that now stroll from London Fields to the Cat and Mutton.
In keeping with tradition, it is still a food market, though now rather more eclectic, artisanal and organic than the old fruit and veg stalls. The olive oil stall above gives an insight into the new market, as does the Vietnamese ca phe stall beyond.
While by no means a hard and fast rule, the canal end of the market is the place for vintage clothing rails, old vinyl, prints and books.  The London Fields end usually starts with the juice stall and meanders through a range of food stalls offering locally sourced and produced food as well as cooked dishes from around the globe.
The success of the new market has meant discussion of plans to extend its area and perhaps to open on Sundays as well. If there are protests now they are about the gentrification of the area. 
The shops that line Broadway Market are also well worth exploring. There are plenty of bars and cafes on either side of the stalls to rehydrate or relax after the exertions of Friday night and Saturday morning. Designer clothes shops jostle with an excellent bookshop; Fin and Flounder sells very good fish and The Buen Ayre Restaurant specialises in Argentinian beef. And F Cooke's eel and pie shop (est: 1900 and now run by Fred's grandson, Bob), all green tiles and marble surfaces, stands as a reminder of former days while also doing a roaring trade with the new inhabitants of Broadway Market.

Monday, 1 July 2013

EL CELLER DE CAN ROCA, GIRONA, and JORDI ROCA'S ROCAMBOLESC GELATERIA


Girona is a much under-rated city, known more, perhaps, as a Ryanair hub and stag-do venue (and yes, it has at least one Irish-themed pub) than a destination in its own right.  Many visitors go straight from arrivals to Barcelona rather than venturing into Girona itself to discover the quiet streets of the picturesque mediaeval old town, complete with its cathedral, university and an impressive market laden with fresh produce.
The elevation of the Roca Brothers' restaurant El Celler de Can Roca to the world number one slot may well change all that, of course. The Rocas weave together magical dishes that celebrate and re-invent simple, iconic local ingredients such as olive, artichoke and prawn.  Each dish is as remarkable for the imagination at work as for its technical expertise, a masterly combination of the arts and sciences of cooking, with a sprinkle of fun thrown in for good measure (eg: white asparagus and truffle viennetta).

Amuse bouche - flavours of the world
Artichoke

Prawn with head juice, seawater, seaweeds and plankton

Sole with garlic, parsley and lemon
However, if you don't feel like frittering away your complete life savings on one, long, magical sitting, Jordi Roca's side enterprise gives a flavour of the Roca approach. The Rocambolesc Gelateria is a Willy Wonka style, fantasy ice-cream "factory" just over the bridge from the old town with pipes, dials, buttons and gadgets everywhere, and bright red and white spirals flying off in all directions. Even adults regress into excitable kids when they enter this brightly lit store. 

Rocambolesc is a bit like an old-fashioned ice-cream cart (the original idea was for just such a cart trundling through the city) which has been transformed into a quirky store.  Jordi has developed a wide range of ice creams and sorbets, made only from natural ingredients; six are always freshly churned and on tap. The colours and flavours are intense, and there's a selection of whacky toppings (fresh fruit, popping candy) to add as the whim takes you.

There's also a real old-fashioned candy floss machine ready to whirl into action if the rich, creamy gelati aren't enough of a sweetness hit to get you through siesta time.  To rediscover your inner Roald Dahl, head for Girona now.

Rocambolesc
50, Carrer de Santa Clara,
Girona.