July 27, 2009

This is how we lunch...

A wintery welcome to you all, my friends, and may I first begin by offering my humblest apologies for last weeks post. You know those things that seem clever and witty at the time but that on reflection just make you look like a bit of a tool? Yes, well… Sorry about that.
So moving on, and the subject of this weekends shenanigans was something designed to bring a little cheer to the hearts of TPB. Having spent the week moping about licking my wounds (figuratively speaking of course, otherwise… eew!) and positively sulking about my hemispherical position (not only could I no longer hang out with Miss Sally and Mr Saint, but they were going to round one of Ultimate Barista Fighter, without me!), I was naturally a little glum. Miss Rose came up with the sterling proposition that all would be put right (as it quite often is) with pig.
Having exposed Miss Rose to my obsession for Ottolenghi delights, we turned to them once more for guidance and decided on roasted pork belly with an accompanying array of delicious salads. So I'm afraid there will be no recipe links this week as it's all Ottolenghi. Just get yourself the book; go on, I promise you won't regret it.
After selecting our cart du jour, and knowing our proclivity for generally overdoing things, we thought for a change it would be nice to entertain for lunch. Unfortunately certain other commitments and epic all-night drinking sessions led to various unannounced absences of friends, and resulted in the feasting being left to Miss Rose, Mr L and myself (thanks Paul!). I know I will most likely fail to convince you of anything to the contrary, but you have my assurance that the overindulgence to follow was in fact intended for a far greater number of people, honest...
For mains, a rather wonderful slab of pork was selected and lovingly smothered with garlic, rosemary and thyme, the skin salted and then sent intoxicated (we opted for Leffe blond instead of wine) into a very hot oven.

Roasted pork belly
As our little piggy crackled away, we prepared an extraordinary spiced red plum, ginger and rhubarb relish. Plums were necessarily replaced with apple as a consequence of seasonality, but regardless this was a killer condiment in gorgeous glistening rouge, and was mighty tasty to boot.

Spiced apple, ginger and rhubarb relish
The first of our spectacular salady counterbalances to our extravagant pork-fest was a sensually challenging lentil concoction. Puy lentils simmered with bay were moistened with a luscious sauce of shallot, red wine vinegar and dried cherries (we used Team Pretty Bake spiced Morello cherries), mixed with baby spinach and crispy bacon and finally topped with a heady Gorgonzola. It may sound like a curious combination but you have my word that it is extraordinarily delicious.

Puy lentils with sour cherries, bacon and Gorgonzola
Next up was a gorgeous, crisp mix of French beans and mangetout lathered with olive and macadamia oils and adorned with orange, chives and freshly roasted hazelnuts.

French beans and mangetout with hazelnut and orange
And last but not least was roasted butternut squash embellished with toasted almonds, pepitas, nigella and black sesame seeds, and accompanied by the especially scrumptious burnt aubergine with pomegranate molasses.

Roasted butternut squash

Burnt aubergine with pomegranate molasses
Each item was simply spectacular and aesthetically divine, and when combined into a most delectable feast you'd have to agree this is one sexy luncheon:

Ottolenghi roasted pork belly with salads
Of course a Team Pretty Bake Sunday session would not be complete without just a little bit of baking, so we finished the day with the lovely apple and olive oil cake with maple icing.

Apple and olive oil cake with maple icing
So that, my friends, is how we like to do lunch. For once a rather anecdote-free occasion, just a lovely crisp winter's day spent roasting, baking, and feasting with good friends. Ottolenghi did not disappoint, L & A did manage to stop by for cake, and although Marky Marc arrived too late for his promised antipasti to be properly enjoyed, we did get a sneak peak at his salami (you didn't honestly think I'd last a full episode without just a little smut, did you?), and if the taster is anything to go by, they're going to be delicious.

Marc's salami
Until next time...

July 18, 2009

The world may be against me, but I'm going to attempt the absurd anyway...

Thanks mostly to my lovely sister, I have recently fallen smitten with a delightful little coffee blog published by a rather fine chap from Square Mile Coffee Roasters in London. I adore coffee and find all things associated with its production absolutely fascinating, so I especially love it when those in the industry take the time to share their knowledge and expertise with us, the plebeian consumers.

As I have only recently begun actively involving myself in the coffee scene, attending cupping sessions and whatnot, I tend to present merely as an observer, hovering on the periphery, snapping up snippets of information and beverage-y goodness without disturbing the waters, as is my quiet and unassuming nature. So when version two of the absurd challenge was proposed, the basic premise of which was to pour latte art with something silly, my thought patterns turned to items which I'd find amusing, all of which were prefaced with the phrase; "wouldn't it be hilarious if someone used a…" And then I thought…

One of the reasons for the conception of Team Pretty Bake was to take my mind off life being shit by tackling kitchen challenges in which I would hopefully find enjoyment and that would be a means to improving my culinary skills. So I concluded that this certainly sounded like a challenge (so much so that the exact terminology was even included in the title), so why the hell not give it a go?

I should point out beforehand that I am not a barista, nor have I ever been, and I have absolutely no latte pouring skills whatsoever. So please let you judgement of absurdity also include my rubbish attempt at what I would very loosely describe as latte "art". Here, therefore is my attempt at silliness in a culmination of my two selves; a research scientist by day, and lady baker by night…


Team Pretty Bake's offering of absurdity
featuring Miss Emily – lady baker, science nerd (and thankfully not a barista)

So there you have it. An amateur's attempt at the ridiculous, far from being a serious contender I'm sure, but certainly executed in the spirit of the challenge. Please visit the link above to check out the skilful entries submitted by serious coffee folk to understand both how far out of my league I actually am, and to watch some serious technicians at work.

I think we could all do with a little creative absurdity once in a while, don't you?


So anyway, as for why I'm starting to get the feeling the world doesn't like me. My apologies for once again deviating from our usual foodie-fuelled fun, but I just need a brief rant. You understand… I'll admit I may be being a little fatalistic, but after all the horrible things that have happened in my life these last thirteen months, I didn't really need this…

For all those inattentive drivers out there who pay less attention at roundabouts than you possibly should; here's what happens when car meets bicycle and Miss Emily meets bitumen:

…my rather spectacular full sleeve (or should that be full pant?) of asphalt abrasions and subcutaneous contusions. 'Tis a far greater display of flesh than what I would normally be comfortable with, but it does seem inherently necessary to show of ones battle scars on the rare occasion of their acquisition. Those unfamiliar with the events of the past week will hopefully glean from my whimsical approach to the subject that I am in fact ok, just very battered, scraped and bruised; and quite a bit hurty. Perhaps this will also serve to demonstrate to those friends who believe our Sunday baking sessions are a little nana-esque, that while we here at Team Pretty Bake do like to project an image of elegance and refinement wherever possible (perhaps myself a little more-so than Miss Rose, ahem), we are also pretty tough little ladies who can be hardcore, bad-ass biyatches should the occasion call. \m/

July 13, 2009

Satisfying obsessions...

Jerusalem artichokes
Due to our other-continently adventures, it has been some time since Team Pretty Bake's last Sunday baking session, and my word does it feel good to be back. That kind of feline stretching, scratch between the ears and curl up in front of an open fire sensation of good.
For once there wasn't much of a plan (and sometimes it's simply better that way), just a desire to satisfy a few burgeoning obsessions and to get back to the real basics of what cooking's all about. There is something immensely satisfying in producing something almost from scratch, and we discovered this by way of our first cooking (well, non-cooking) exploit whereby we produced our own butter.
While the weather and personal aversions prohibited the donning of classical milkmaid gingham, and advances in technology made for an absence of hand churning, it was immensely satisfying to be able to produce our very own baking staple. We started with some exceptional crème fraîche cultured cream, whipped until the cream seized, collected the sudden flood of buttermilk, and washed our gorgeously yellow butter in chilled water. I get that the lipid content and hydrophobicity of butter means this step is entirely logical, but I still love that you actually wash butter; it's just fabulous. So geeky wonderment aside, ultimately what you end up with is the most beautiful, soft, yellow and delicious butter I have ever seen. All who have tried it exclaim rather profoundly that it "tastes like butter", but I guess there's always room to work on our descriptors.

Team Pretty Bake butter
Following on the buttery theme, our next kitchen treat was a browned butter and blackberry tart. People frequently make associations between food and love - bandying around the phrase "the way to a man/woman's heart is through his/her stomach" with gay abandon - and I do believe some truth lies smothered in this vomitous romantic drivel (and, if I may, poppycock), as the heavenly aroma of browned butter would have to be one of the greatest small pleasures in life. And the tart itself was also a delight, with its browned butter and fruity goodness atop a crunchy biscuity base.

Browned butter and blackberry tart
Now if you managed to wade through the epic posts regaling our European adventures, you will be well aware that both Miss Rose and I returned with some overdeveloped food obsessions in need of replication and a thorough working over. To satisfy somewhat Miss Rose's salted butter caramel fetish, we prepared a chocolate and salted caramel tart which had been tempting us for some time. With desire in her eyes, Miss Rose confronted her fear of molten sugary pain and took her caramel to the edge. The luxuriously smooth, deep amber (salty) caramel which resulted was then poured into a sweet pastry crust and topped with a luscious dark chocolate ganache. Another of our "so bad for you it's good" creations, while we would make some textural modifications in future, this tart was still exceptionally good.

Chocolate and salted caramel tart
To round out our baking Sunday and address my personal Ottolenghi fixation, we roasted a chicken and served it with a stunning bake of kipfler potatoes, Jerusalem artichokes, lemon, olives, tomato, parsley and thyme.

Roast chicken served with Jerusalem artichokes, potato, lemon, tomato and thyme
My passion for this style of cooking knows no bounds, and the delightful Yotam and Sami did not fail in satisfying my desires. A delicious combination with an ease of preparation, heavenly aesthetic and lending itself to shared feasting, this really is my thing, and such a fabulous way to serve wonderful fresh produce.
It was so nice to get back in the kitchen and share good food with good friends, even if it involved being likened to a nana and a science nerd rodent despot in the one sitting. A genuine pleasure indeed, and as Miss Rose snuck to a quiet corner with a jar of salted caramel and a spoon, and I set about waffling on in semi-creative prose, we both turned our minds to what next…
Are you thinking what I'm thinking, Miss Rose?

July 2, 2009

Episode 3: London - blessed are the cheese makers... and bean roasters...

The House of Commons, the Thames
The third and final leg of Team Pretty Bake's European sojourn took place in the imperial London, and although I embarked on this particular section of the journey without the pleasant company of the delightful Miss Rose, I arrived directly into the charming and well-organised hands of Miss Sally and Mr Saint.
I have spent a number of days contemplating how best to present episode. You see, having the benefit of two like-minded quasi-Londoners being in charge of proceedings meant that this was ten days crammed full of absolute awesomeness, and if you thought the previous posts were long this runs the risk of being positively scary. After all, within hours of my arrival I was washing down a pint of sausage rolls with a pint of cider at the BFI - and things only got better! So rather than follow my usual preference for chronological presentation, here instead is a list of the more notable culinary highlights, and a brief explanation of why they were just so…

Pint of sausage rolls - BFI
Blessed are the bean roasters – Having spent two weeks in a vacant coffee wilderness, the cafes of London were an absolute blessing. At present there are two roasteries proffering their wares in central London who we caffeine addicts are particularly excited about, and it was by no means a coincidence that the best establishments I frequented were brewing with either Square Mile or Monmouth beans. My first stop was Milkbar, the delightful younger sibling of Flat White, where at long last I was finally able to relax with a cupful of deliciousness.

Milkbar – Bateman street, SoHo
The nearby Fernandez & Wells was equally delightful, and the square mile-fuelled Taste of Bitter Love near Columbia road not only had a fantastic name but produced a worthy coffee to match. Attempts to have my coffee made by the now world-renowned Gwilym Davies were sadly thwarted, but I did get to see him making coffee for others, if that counts. My ultimate London coffee experience was completed with a trip to the Monmouth Roastery and café in Southwark, where not only was the coffee excellent, but the fortuitous coinciding of our visit with that of their main buyer resulted in an impromptu tasting session accompanying a discussion of their favourite farms currently operating in Guatemala.

Monmouth Coffee Company – Maltby street, Southwark
Lantana – This gorgeous little café-cum-bar in Fitzrovia was everything I desire in a breakfast venue; small and unassuming, a dedicated clientele with similar dispositions to those of my own, excellent coffee and a number of scrumptious brunch options. The cinnamon-sugar-encrusted brioche French toast served with stewed plums, berries and pistachio ricotta was simply divine, and repeated visitations would most certainly have occurred had there been more time.
Borough Markets – I don't care that getting excited about markets probably makes me a sad person, for those in London are simply spectacular. The produce available is wonderful, and everyone wants you to try their wares; not simply as a marketing gimmick, but because each stallholder is involved in the production of their goods, so they're genuinely excited to share things with you and actually care what you think. Gorgeous and frenetic, it was easy to fall in love with Borough, but my highlight would have to be Neal's Yard Dairy, to my mind the most wonderful cheese shop in the world.

Neal's Yard Dairy – Borough Markets
St John Bar and Restaurant – A Fergus Henderson creation renowned for instilling the virtues of nose-to-tail eating, St John's was selected as our special occasion dining establishment and performed above and beyond all expectations. Any eatery where the waiter describes the daily menu as "porktastic" is just fine by me. The wealth of British pig breeds on offer in the standard forms of chops and roasts meant we were perhaps a little less adventurous when it came to the offal offerings, but we did manage to enjoy a hearty spleen, and the bath chaps were thoroughly delicious. Watching a fine young waiter dissect our neighbour's suckling pig with the finesse of a raving lunatic was an absolute delight, and that a restaurant famed for their meat could finish with such spectacular desserts was pure heaven. Bravo to you, St John, and all that you stand for.
Broadway market – Another speciality farmers-style market, this delightful bazaar inhabiting the streets of Hackney had quality produce abounds. Climpton & Sons provided a perfectly civilised flat white, and Violet a delectable dark molasses ginger cake accompanied by a gorgeous cupcake display, but most notable of all were Sporeboys and their perhaps greatest-of-all-time breakfast sandwich:

Sporeboys – Broadway Market, Hackney
Beigel Bake – Open 24 hours, selling a dozen beigels for £2,40 and producing an astoundingly scrumptious salt beef beigel, Beigel Bake on Brick lane is a resounding demonstration of why sometimes the simple things are often the best.

Salt beef beigel – Beigel Bake, Brick lane
High tea at the Wolseley – Every lady deserves a moment of sheer decadence every once in a while, so one fine afternoon, Miss Sally and I called on all the pomp and ceremony we could muster to indulge ourselves with afternoon tea at The Wolseley. Elegant and decadent, the experience was sublime, and while I'm afraid custom prohibited the acquisition of photographic evidence, the tower of finger sandwiches, assorted pastries and fruit scones lathered with homemade jam and clotted cream were consumed with gay abandon, such was the whimsy of the Hart ladies.
Cupcakes aplenty – I know they're the current "it" item in baking circles which always lowers their desirability in my world, but the charm of the cupcakes from Hummingbird Bakery was damned hard to ignore.

Cupcakes – Hummingbird Bakery, Portobello road
The Company Shed – Already recounted by Miss Sally with stunning proficiency and far superior photographic talents than my own (or indeed lack thereof), this nondescript shack in West Mersea was the perfect day trip dining destination. Arrive with bread and wine in hand, have patience, and ultimately you will be treated to a seafood extravaganza that is cheap, extraordinarily yummy and fresh from the sea. Need I reiterate that good things done simply…

The Company Shed – West Mersea, Colchester
Ottolenghi – Earlier this year, Miss Sally and Mr Saint sent me birthday tidings in the form of a wondrous cookbook from this delightful little eatery, so it was only natural that my expedition to ye olde London towne included a visit down Islington way. Ottolenghi has the sexiest window display ever, and if I can come even close to creating edible luxuries of this standard then I will be one happy baker. Communal dining is so hot right now, and when it involves mid-table toasters it is absolute bliss. The coffee was lovely, their breakfast enchanting, and Miss Sally did well to exercise such patience as I fretted over which tempting treat to take home. I want an Ottolenghi of my own, and I want to be them, but will happily to settle to have them all as my friends. Oh glorious Ottolenghi, swoon!

Ottolenghi – Upper street, Islington

Ottolenghi breakfast

Ottolenghi treats
Now in the interests of maintaining your sanity, I shall attempt to curtail this marathon posting and wrap it up in a flurry of non-foodie highlights:
Thornhill square, Islington – Sounds sappy, I know, but the thing I enjoyed most about London was hanging out with Sally and Simon doing the things I used to love doing. That and it was the scene for one of the greatest cat vs. squirrel battles in human history. Mental images of second squirrel to the rescue still make me smile…
London's museums – The more astute among you will by now have noticed a theme to the things I enjoy, but it must be said that the museums of London are awesome. The British Museum houses the Rosetta stone, Greece's Parthenon marbles and a wicked clock exhibition to name but a few, and the Wellcome Collection just down the road offers many incurable curiosities. Add to that the Science Museum with Babbage's difference engine (as well as half his brain!), the first atomic clock, 'Consul' the educated monkey and George III's scientific instrument collection and you have a world of fun, quite literally.

British Museum
Greenwich - Home to the Royal Naval College, National Maritime Museum, and Royal Observatory with its planetarium, camera obscura and the Prime Meridian; Greenwich was the highlight of highlights. To actually see Harrison's timepieces H1 to H4 was incredible, and the anticlimactic ball drop was quite simply hilarious.

Royal Naval College; Prime Meridian; Flamsteed House – Royal Observatory
Bath – An exemplary depiction of Georgian architecture, the city of Bath is absurdly beautiful. Featuring the Roman Baths, Bath Abbey and Pulteney bridge – one of only four in the world to have shops spanning the full length across both sides – the entire city is wondrously crafted from Bath Stone. Architects' John Wood the elder and younger's vision to recreate a Palladian architectural landscape is executed with extravagant finesse and epitomised by the panoramic magnificence of the Circus and Royal Crescent. When in Bath, one indeed gets the impression of classical decorum on a palatial scale.

Pulteney bridge; Roman Baths; Bath Abbey
So there are a number of things I have missed. Seeing Daniel Kitson in his native surrounds was excellent but has already been recounted elsewhere; and I didn't get tell you about our cooking exploits as hosts of Miss Sally and Mr Saint's first Out-Rage event. Sadly I was too busy explaining how a Japanese quiff allowed entry to my top five to stop and take pictures, but it was mighty fine, believe me.
I loved London, and I know Shane would have loved it too. In fact, he would have loved the whole trip, and it most certainly would have been better with him there and sharing the excitement of things which only he could appreciate. But it was still a wonderful adventure, made special by those who took part, and I presume he would have been proud to know that I did it.
While the trip did its best to distract us from the saddest anniversary we will forever have to endure, it also marked a year of significant battles for mum. She has done it without fuss, and selflessly accepted that while for most, breast cancer should be their greatest challenge in life, for us it was not. It is therefore with much happiness and relief that the yearly report has been passed with a resounding all clear, and that, at least, is deserving of a hurrah.
And so on that rare good note, I will thank you for sharing this time with me and bid you good night. We shall return to regular programming in a few weeks, and I will do my best to try and keep it short…

Stonehenge, naturally