Archives for category: Bread

Where do you go when two Emirates pilots are arriving into London for one night only over Easter weekend and you want a good catch up?

Despite reading that this weekend tourist traffic into London was up over 60%, I somehow talked myself into thinking Covent Garden was the answer. It was primarily driven by my desire to go to The Barbary with these guys as a good sharing food option.

I met Captain P when his wife and I were setting up Taste of Dubai some ten years ago now. P tells me the event is going from strength to strength which is great to hear. And how fabulous that he could just WhatsApp me from afar and appear here in London for a catch up after too many years of not seeing each other. You know good friends when you can do that and just pick up again from where you left off.

When visitors come to London I feel a need to match the restaurant with the person to get a good evening together and my thinking was that Dubai has a lot of the top International chefs doing classic cooking but I was sure the Israeli food revolution had not got there yet. After great meals at sister restaurant Palomar, along with Bala Baya and a truly wonderful meal at Honey & Smoke, The Barbary was the last Israeli place to on my list to try. And Seven Dials is a good place to meet. Certainly that end of Covent Garden has developed massively with a wonderful international collection of one off shops to discover and it is easy access from Heathrow.

I was able to browse whilst I waited. I had a natter with the guys doing the Haeckels pop up at Beast, admired the Easter confectionery at Pierre Marcolini and popped into Bread Ahead’s Monmouth Street corner shop. Wandering the arteries coming from Seven Dials and Neal’s Yard is always entertaining with its unique blend of shops from across the globe.

The Barbary has been on my list for a while and everyone I know has enjoyed their meal there. Personally I don’t think the team have the same Israeli vivacity of Palomar but there is no doubting the food which is all made in front of you on their grills at the counter and with an interest and passion from the chefs that is undeniable. The Spanish Head Chef was happy to explain everything and from the very first bar snacks our dishes were delicious.

The pilot’s favourite was the black salmon dukkah which was prepared in the Israeli version of soy sauce and mirin with a sweet sticky glaze coming from a syrup made by infusing a sugar syrup with the burnt aubergine skins from the baba ghanoush and then sprinkled with dukkah. I loved the warm chickpea starter and everything was lapped up with bread from their tandoor oven which was also in the kitchen on show. The open flamed grills added flavour to all the main dishes and the extra swirls of pastes and dips and drizzles just took the flavour one step further.

This is delicious well made tasty food celebrating the best of that Barbary Coast. The food and service was generous, engaging and somewhere that the pilots declared they would come again. Now, where to suggest next time?

I have to admit: ever since I watched April Bloomfield on Mind of a Chef take her inspiration, I have been ever so obsessed with the concept of the morning bun.

I wonder if it is because of all that European viennoiserie that these are not really something we have in the UK but when you see the experts at Tartine Bakery in San Francisco demonstrate their glorious beauties on the show, then I defy you not to think this is a great idea.

Like endearing April, I can’t help but fiddle with the concept thinking up fillings. It sort of reminds me of a traditional Jewish Rugelach but with better pastry. I used to watch my grandmother make those many years back and that combo of jam, nuts and fruit got me thinking too.

As I had friends over today for Sunday brunch I decided that I would give them a go. I tried a couple of different fillings using simple shop bought croissant dough and playing around with sizes. My easy silicon mould was a great size but I am sure a tin base would get a more effective crunchy base.

Admittedly the pastry itself was just a little bit disappointing, not helped by my lack of wash before baking, but the results were pretty good for a first attempt. For sweet, I went with a use of of the delicious marmalade that my gardener made me for Christmas as the base, topped with raisins and pecans. Part morning bun, part rugelach. For savoury, another use up. The end of last week’s pesto (I told you it had many uses) with extra pine kernels and cheese. I tried two different sizes. The marmalade proved a little too generous after cooking falling to the bottom and stopping that delicious crunchy base, but they were a good size.

Either way, if you are looking for an impressive but achingly simple way to impress for breakfast then just buy some croissant dough and go for it.

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This week I was given a lovely present of an abundance of organic Summer berries. The colours and flavours were so fantastic and in order to preserve the memory, I was given a lesson in jam making by my present bearing friend. I did however save a bowl of the blackcurrants which are truly my favourite Summer fruit, not only for their colour but also that unique, just-picked-from-nature flavour which can be sour, but were just wild and wonderful this time.

The jam making started with the food prep and using a fork to get all those tiny currants off their stems – an easy solution to a fiddly problem. The result was a bowlful of berries that oozed temptation. I was under strict instruction to separate the currants from the berries as they cook at different times and if you are not careful some turn to mush and others aren’t ready. And weigh them first as you need that to calculate the ratio of sugar to add.

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So in went the berries to my lovely copper pan, which seemed the most appropriate vessel for this process. Nothing else, just pure berries and a medium heat and ten minutes or so later we had a glorious pot of colour that was ready for the addition of the berries. It was a quick few minutes to just heat them through before they gave way to their fruit and juice and I was ready to add the sugar.

My friend’s recipe is equal parts of fruit to sugar so there was a lot to add. Stir it in and keep cooking til the jam is ready. So how do you know when it is ready? Well it seems to me that anyone who is a jam maker has their own way of figuring that out. One friend keeps a plate in the fridge and then drops the ready liquid onto the plate and returns to the fridge to see if it is set. Today my friend merely put it on a plate and pulled a finger through. When there is a clear discernible line then all is good.

Whilst waiting for this, we sterilised the collection of jars I had. This is pretty critical to the process of keeping everything preserved to its best. So a thorough boiling and we were ready.

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Jarring up is a messy process when you don’t have all the professional kit, but hey, that’s part of the fun. And top tip… when the jam is in the jar, and the lid sealed and on, just tip the jar upside down to let all the air dissipate. We had a bit of a disaster with one jar, but hey ho. It’s all part of the fun.

On Sunday I completed my tried and tested rye bread recipe which always produces a great loaf with my happy healthy sourdough starter and I have to say, tucking into a piece of warm bread with a dollop of jam was very satisfying indeed.

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The Cathedral of our Lady of Chartres

The Cathedral of our Lady of Chartres

Sunday is always a more religious day in such a Catholic country and as we were in the vicinity we decided to visit Chartres. The huge gothic cathedral here is imposing and despite many tourists you do get a sense of the local community as Sunday service is conducted. We stopped for traditional crepes/galette and then car roof down made our way back through the countryside spotting the local Percheron horses, field after field of wheat being cut and chilled back on the Island for the afternoon.

la_perriere

La Perriere in L’Orne

We wanted an authentic traditional French brasserie style meal that evening which should have been the easiest thing in the country to find but somehow it proved illusive. We had a list of a few places and couldn’t get them on the phone to book so imposed once more on the brilliance of the sat nav, Doris, to find these far flung places. Firstly to La Perriere which was the most picturesque of villages and home of La Maison d’Horbe. Well it was not to be our maison for that evening as we were clearly told there was no room at the inn so onwards to Le Pin la Garenne and their offering of La Croix d’Or. Neither of us were feeling that experience to be a good thing so feeling ever more hungry we ventured to Saint Langis les Mortagne and the well named Les Pieds dans l’Eau. Once again we were not meant to dangle our feet in any water or anything at all as we were clearly told there was no room here either. Now what? We eventually ended up at a place that the couple at D’Une Ile had mentioned which was apparently going to offer us a traditional experience.

Moulin de Villeray started off with so much promise. They had a table! and a water mill and a bridge and a pretty setting. They were crazy full and very large. But then the meal began. I am not sure if the service is a true representation of the authentic French experience but a good 6 minute wait to be seated followed by a further 10 or so minutes before anyone even tried to come near us with anything like a menu and then a further 15 or so minutes before we could even order anything just finished us off. And did I mention we were starving hungry? We were genuinely hysterical by the time the first course arrived. The big feature of the meal was most definitely the bread and not for all the right traditions of the well known baguette du Perche recipe. I say this because the lady who had clearly been told it was her responsibility to replenish the bread took her job very seriously. She couldn’t offer a menu, or a drink, or a plate of food, but bread – oh yes, she was an expert here. If you carried on eating said side plate then she carried on filling it. One could eat a whole baguette and more if that way inclined. We became like children giggling away at the preposterous experience. No food, or bad food but certainly baguette!

After that the evening deteriorated into a Fawlty Towers-esque experience. Words cannot describe the catalogue of issues that prevailed. And at those prices, it should have been the best thing we had eaten. Sadly the only saving grace was the memory of the experience and the stomach muscles that worked so hard through the laughter. I am sure we were perceived as crazy Brits but if that’s an authentic French experience then I would rather never repeat it thank you very much.

On our return, the D’Une Ile chef told us he agreed the food was not great. But that there is little in the area to impress, which is such a shame as the raw ingredient is there. Why that old fashioned classic French cooking has not remained with the tradition of the area is a mystery to me.

Monet's House peeking through the immense gardens

Monet’s House peeking through the immense gardens

Our last day meant a need to venture back up the country to Calais but we had one last stop to fit in and we thought a quiet Monday would be the perfect way to do it. Our route up North took a detour to Giverny and the home of Claude Monet. He lived here for the final 43 years of his life and created a home and a garden that proved to be his inspiration. The house and more importantly the gardens were designed and created by him over these forty odd years and he was able to develop spaces and colours that were the essence of some of his most famous pieces. The water lillies and Japanese gardens are probably the most famous and we meandered along the motorway to have our moment connecting with these.

Sadly, it seemed that the whole world had the same idea. I know that everyone should have the opportunity of the same experience but it really did take away from any sort of spiritual connection when you are queuing for an hour to get into the garden itself and then battling with coach loads of British school kids who are on a day expedition and clearly not all that interested in what makes this all so special.

Despite the crowds, despite the grey weather and despite the time pressure we were under, there is no doubt that this is a place to visit and I would come back to do it differently next time. Book tickets in advance. Go early to avoid the crowds. Give yourself time to explore the whole place. But most of all do go. In the same way that Venice shows itself as the inspiration to great Italian masters, so this once family home in a small town in Normandy shows itself to be the home of Impressionism and you can’t help but feel it in your soul.

The famous water lily pond taken from an angle trying to avoid tourist central

The famous water lily pond taken from an angle trying to avoid tourist central-

So our journey ended on the motorway up to Calais and the ferry back across the 20.6 miles to the UK harbour. Even the drizzling rain couldn’t dampen our spirits and we parted knowing that we would most definitely do this again. It is highly recommended as long as you book dinner!