Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Return to Rochelle Canteen

Hake, Monk's Beard & butter sauce
at Rochelle Canteen

I've written about Rochelle Canteen before but, hard as it is for me to believe, that was almost three years ago.  I liked it very much then but now Anna Tobias is in charge of the kitchen and cooking so beautifully that I have to take you with me on a return to Rochelle.

Confit Duck Leg with Lentils
at Rochelle Canteen

It's not the easiest place to find.  You're looking for a former bike-shed in an old school yard with walls too high to see over.  You do a circuit, or two, of lovely Arnold Circus and look for a door set in the wall marked "Boys".  Press the bell and you're buzzed through to the partly-lawned yard.  It's a space that used to echo to the cries and laughter of the children of the surrounding Boundary Estate.  These days the school has retrenched to a building diagonally across the Circus and the old Victorian brick building has a new lease of life housing arts and media businesses and exhibition spaces.  Rochelle serves as a "Canteen" for them and for those intrepid good-food hunters amongst us who don't mind sharing bare tables and, sometimes, high decibel levels.

Hake with laverbread butter
at Rochelle Canteen

Head Chef, Anna Tobias, arrived at Rochelle Canteen in 2013 from Rose Gray and Ruth Roger's The River Cafe.  Anna's cooking stays true to the style of Rochelle's owners - Margot Henderson and Melanie Arnold - but there's a new confidence and a particular sympathy in the handling of fish. You can expect 5 starters and 5 mains.  There's often a dish of rillettes or a terrine; maybe smoked cod's roe or brandade; when the season is right there may be a perfect plate of asparagus with hollandaise or samphire with brown shrimp.  Mains might be a gutsy Rabbit Stew; a Smoked Eel, Leek and Parsley Pie; maybe some Sweetbreads; a vegetable-based option or two; and, possibly, a simply cooked Sole or Fillet of Pollock.  Vegetables are highly valued - some of the veg, as well as herbs, are grown in raised beds in the schoolyard.  Puddings are often classics, so you might find a Lemon Posset; an Eton Mess; a Chocolate Tart; or their might be a Lemon Sponge Pudding.

Apple Fritters with Caramel Ice Cream
at Rochelle Canteen

On recent visits I've enjoyed a bowl of Brandade with a soft boiled egg and sourdough toast; a Crab and Little Gem Lettuce salad; a perfectly cooked fillet of Hake served with Monk's Beard and butter sauce; meltingly tender Confit Duck leg with lentils and watercress; another fantastic piece of meaty Hake, this time with laverbread butter; sweet/sharp Apple fritters with caramel ice cream; an Apple Galette with vanilla ice cream; and a heavenly Rhubarb trifle.

Apple Galette & Vanilla Ice Cream
and Rhubarb Trifle
at Rochelle Canteen

Being located in a former school, Rochelle Canteen is restricted to opening for breakfast, lunch and tea Monday to Friday only.  Restrictions also mean there is no drinks licence but you can take a bottle  with you and pay a very reasonable £5 corkage charge.  Handily you can pick up a bottle at Leila's Shop, a half circuit of Arnold Circus away on Calvert Avenue.

Turkish Coffee Cake & Espresso
at Rochelle Canteen

Service varies from briskly efficient to deliciously relaxing depending on how busy the room is but you never feel less than welcome.  If the weather is kind you may get a table in the schoolyard and, if  you're lucky, you might find this joyous Turkish Coffee Cake on the menu to finish with an Espresso. Expect to pay around £25-30 a head including service (excluding drinks).

Rochelle Canteen
Rochelle School
Arnold Circus
London E2 7ES
Tel +44 (0)20 7729 5677 

Sunday, 15 March 2015

How to Boil an Egg by Rose Carrarini

Egg in the Middle
from How to Boil an Egg - Rose Bakery
by Rose Carrarini
Illustration by Fiona Strickland

There seems to be no let-up in the trend for cookbooks based on one prime ingredient.  In recent years we've seen In Praise of the Potato by Lindsey Bareham, Le meilleur et le plus simple de la pomme de terre by Joël Robuchon, Bacon by Michael Ruhlman, and The Tomato Basket by Jenny Linford.  Ruhlman followed his Bacon book up with the 2014 publication Egg: A Culinary Exploration of the World's Most Versatile Ingredient.  But before Ruhlman turned his pen to the egg came Jan Arkless with How to Boil an Egg in 1986. Within the past decade we've seen The Good Egg by Marie Simmons; Michel Roux's Eggs; Jennifer Trainer Thompson's The Fresh Egg Cookbook; Lara Ferroni's Put an Egg on It; A Good Egg by Genevieve Taylor; and the latest addition to the pot, Blanche Vaughan's Egg.  The egg's protein-packed versatility makes it the perfect food and so the books keep on coming.

Rose Carrarini's How to Boil an Egg, hit the bookshelves in 2014.  The choice of title surprised me as I had fallen for the media myth that Delia Smith had got there first with that one.  In reality, Delia devoted the first three chapters of her 1998 How to Cook book 1 to the subject of eggs, including instructions on exactly how to boil an egg. The fact she had the audacity to suggest anyone might not know how to boil an egg brought a degree of media ridicule not shared by her grateful readership and Delia had the last laugh with phenomenal book sales. Whatever you think, her advice "If you want to learn how to cook, start with eggs" remains excellent advice, I think.

My favourite of the clutch, Rose Carrarini's book is truly all about the egg and shows just what an essential role it plays in our cooking. Whether it's the star or has a supporting role, here the egg carries the dish.  Based on the cooking for her Anglo-French bakery and restaurant Rose Bakery in Paris, means she offers some more unusual recipes and twists on the expected classics.  Continuing the theme of her first book, Breakfast, Lunch, Tea, this book is presented in chapters.  'Eggs for Breakfast' offers Chocolate Orange Muffins and Lemon Pancakes as well as Egg in the Middle and Eggs Baked in Dashi.  'Eggs for Lunch' range from Poached eggs in Tomato and Fennel Broth through gratins, tarts and salads to Japanese inspired 'Chawanmushi' savoury custards.  'Eggs for Tea' offers treats like Purple Corn and Blueberry Cake, Green Tea Genoise, Îles Flottantes, Deep Custard Tarts and a Semolina Pudding that might just banish all memories of school lunches.  Low sugar and gluten-free are something of a passion too.

I've tried several of the recipes in this book and I have to say it is not without the odd editing error or omission - one recipe forgets to mention the essential component in the ingredients list, another doesn't supply the oven temperature.  It's not a hand-holding kind of book in the manner of a Delia but the small mistakes are pretty obvious so you can't go far wrong.  In another of the 'Egg' books the instructions for 'scrambled eggs' extend to a page and a half, so I'm relieved to say that here they take up a mere three sentences.

Purple Corn and Blueberry Cake
from How to Boil an Egg - Rose Bakery
by Rose Carrarini
Illustration by Fiona Strickland

And if you're thinking how beautifully photographed the dishes are, look again.  Illustrations are by
Fiona Stricklanda botanical artist who has made an intriguing diversion into food illustration. Different painting techniques had to be explored, including the use of opaque watercolour mixes and a lighter weight of paper.  Shades of white had to be painted-in rather than Strickland's usual technique of allowing the white of the paper to shine through colour to provide highlight and contrast.  The results are, mostly, astonishing.  From the moist crumb and sticky glaze of Purple Corn and Blueberry Cake, to the luscious dish of caramel-drizzled îles Flottantes, you can't quite believe what you are seeing.  My favourite illustration, perhaps, accompanies a recipe for Egg in the Middle (at the start of this piece) where the crispness of the fried bread and the just-cooked egg are so perfect you want to reach for a knife and fork.

Eggs Baked in Dashi
from How to Boil an Egg - Rose Bakery
by Rose Carrarini
Illustration by Fiona Strickland

Here's my adaptation of A Simple Apple Flan.  I like it particularly because rather than being predictably encased in pastry, it's held together by eggs, a touch of corn flour and a layer of caramel. It's light and, despite the caramel layer, slightly tart from the lemon juice which is there more than to simply prevent the apples from oxidising.

A Simple Apple Flan
from How to Boil an Egg - Rose Bakery
by Rose Carrarini

A Simple Apple Flan
(Serves 6)

150g (5½oz or ¾ cup) Caster sugar
Juice of 1 lemon
60g (2oz or 4½ tablespoons) butter, diced
1kg (2¼lb) cooking apples such as Bramleys
3 eggs, beaten
1 tablespoon cornflour (cornstarch)

Pre-heat the oven to 140C(fan 120C)/250F/Gas(oven temperature was missing from the printed recipe so this is my advice)
Heat 100g caster sugar and 2 tablespoons of water in a small, heavy-based pan over a high heat, gently swirling the pan to dissolve the sugar.  Then boil without stirring for 4-5 minutes to achieve a smooth caramel.
Remove the pan from the heat, add half the lemon juice and 25g butter and mix well.
Pour the mixture into a round ovenproof dish (or smaller dishes) to cover the base and set aside.
Peel, core and slice the apples.  Put them in a stainless steel pan with the rest of the lemon juice and cook over a low heat to a soft purée.  Stir in the remaining sugar.
Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the beaten eggs, the remaining butter and the cornflour.
Pour the mixture over the caramel and bake for about 30 minutes until it has firmed slightly.
Remove from the oven, allow to cool then refrigerate overnight.
Just before turning out the flan, place on a low heat for a few minutes to release the caramel base then invert onto a serving dish.  
Serve with custard or double cream.

How to Boil an Egg by Rose Carrarini - Published by Phaidon

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Barcelona Spring 2015

Barcelona roost

Late February in Barcelona and the citrus trees are festooned with heavy fruits, leafless white-barked plane trees soar into blue skies (maybe we were lucky) and a few delicate blooms of purple bougainvillea cling on gamely.  The squawks of the Monk Parakeets vie with the roar of traffic around the City, sending you scuttling for the narrow streets of the Barri Gotic when the noise gets too much.  Here, I find the most ridiculously picturesque feral pigeon roost I'm ever likely to see.

Breakfasting in a hotel rarely appeals to me.  Early mornings are, I think, the best times to dive into unfamiliar streets and simply follow your nose.  The aroma of eggs being cooked, bread baked and coffee brewed draw me down the streets and alleyways of cities.  Sometimes it’s good, sometimes bad and, if you’re lucky, it can be revelatory.  

Nømad Coffee - Barcelona

I know Barcelona pretty well and this time I’m staying close to the best place for coffee.  I was introduced to Nømad Coffee soon after it opened in 2014.  Starting off its life as Cøffee Lab & Shop (Nomad Productions), which I wrote about last year,  I'm glad to see it has now settled on an easier name to remember.  The place has only got better, serving up, for my money, the best filters and cortados you will find in Barcelona.  The staff are lovely, it's hip without trying and it sits in the rare haven of peace that is Passatge Sert in El Born.  What's more they'll now serve you the best croissant in Barcelona too, from nearby El Born bakery Hofmann.  

Satan's Coffee Corner

Another recent arrival is Satan's Coffee Corner in the Barri Gotic.  It's very close to the Cathedral de Barcelona but hell to find.  Worth seeking out too for Ken's great sandwiches and salads.  If you prefer your coffee more traditionally Spanish, the best place for that is the institution that is El Magnifico at Career de l'Argenteria 64

Sardines & Anchovies
at Monvinic

When lunchtime comes around, I make no apology for yet again recommending Monvinic in the Eixample district.  I last wrote properly about this fantastic wine bar and restaurant back in 2013 and its standards are as high as ever.  The cellar stores several thousand bottles of wine from all over the world and there's a library should you want to make a real study of them.  But it's not just the wines that bring me back to Monvinic.  The food, served in both the low-lit bar and the stylish restaurant is very good and the Menu del Dia remains astonishing value.  Two 'Tapas' dishes (really not that small), a main, a dessert, a glass of wine, bread and water for Euros 19.50 is a steal.  To start, a small dish of Sardines and Anchovies - a perfect balance of sweetness and acidity; a cocotte of just-cooked vegetables in a light, buttery broth; a cream of cauliflower soup; and a bowl of whipped bacalla served simply with toasted bread.  The Monvivic take on the very British Shepherds Pie, in this case using shredded confit duck, was irresistible to us both as a main dish and with our included glass of Catalan Do Empordà Sellecció Vinyes Velles 2011, it did not disappoint.  The dessert was the only no-choice course but was a delicious chocolate tart with orange sorbet.  Honestly, just go!     

Natural wines - L'Anima del Vi

There is a clear interest in natural wines in Barcelona, evidenced at the tucked away L'Anima del Vi and nearby Bar Brutal in Can Cisa on Calle Princesa.  However, it's the cosy Bar Zim which is a firm favourite for me.  Francesco keeps a short wine list available by the glass or bottle and manages to deliver a few freshly prepared tapas using good ingredients and benefitting from having the brilliant Formatgerie La Seu just a couple of doors down.

Quimet y Quimet

For Tapas, the Adria Brothers' Tickets and Bodega 1900 are the current hot spots, both in Parallel. Cal Pep in El Born continues to serve very good seafood but you really should squeeze into the ever-crowded Quimet y Quimet.    

Hofmann Pastelería

I've already mentioned you can buy Hofmann croissants at Nømad Coffee, but for the full range of cakes and pastries a visit to their El Born Pastelería Hofmann is well worth doing - get the almond one!

Fish stall in Mercat de Santa Caterina

There are numerous good markets in Barcelona.  I rarely visit La Boqueria (at La Rambla 91) but can recommend Mercat de Santa Caterina on Av. Francesc Cambo and La Llibertat in Gracia for shopping. La Libertat is the least visited by tourists but there is fabulously fresh produce and I always make a bee-line for LaGrana where the delightful smallholder will point out the best Catalan pine nuts, Marcona almonds, Malaga raisins and so many fruits and then vacuum-pack them for travel - great service of excellent produce.

Oh, and did I mention the beach?

A February evening on the beach
in Poble Nou, Barcelona

Passatge Sert 12
08003 El Born
Twitter: @nomadcoffeebcn
Current opening times Mon-Fri, 8am-3pm
Directions: Passate Sert runs between Carrer de Trafalgar and Carrer de Sant Pere Més Alt
Diputació 249
08007 Eixample

Carrer de l'Arc de Sant Ramon del Call 11
08002 Barcelona

Carrer Dagueria 20
Barri Gotic
08002 Barcelona

Poeta Cabanyes 25
El Poble Sec

Flassaders 44
El Born
08003 Barcelona

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Coleman Coffee Roasters

Coleman Coffee Roasters

You've probably noticed I have very few recommendations for coffee on my blog.  There are, of course, any number of places in London where you can drink a decent coffee, and plenty of guides pointing the way.  There are a few I'll happily call in at but then there are the independents whose focus is on their own roasting.  If they'll brew me a cup and sell me the beans directly, that's perfect. So here's one for you.

Jack Coleman grew up in a flat above the original Monmouth Coffee in Covent Garden with the aroma of coffee permeating every corner of his home.  With that introduction it could have gone either way - coffee hater or coffee lover.  Fortunately for us it was the latter.  Fascinated by coffee, he was working in the Monmouth shop as a barista from his early to late teens before helping set up the original Fernandez & Wells.  Then an Otto SwadloV3 roaster was going begging and the idea of bringing it back to life was irresistible.  The machine was in pieces but with a bit of TLC and a lot of application, Summer 2008 saw Jack Coleman roast his first batch of raw coffee on the 58 year old Viennese beauty.  With modifications for ducting, insulation, pressure gauges, fans and thermometers, it's now producing some of the best coffee roasts in London.

From his small south-east London roastery Jack Coleman specialises in Arabica coffees, buying his raw beans based on quality and traceability.  Roasting is in small batches of around 3.5kg, which is as much as the Otto Swadlo V3 can cope with.  On Saturdays he crosses the few metres from his base, brings the Marzocco up to temperature and serves shots of excellent expresso.  You can also pick up a bag of his freshly roasted beans.  The fact he shares this retailing space with The Little Bread Pedlar bakery who make, for my money, the best croissants in London, makes this the perfect place for a Saturday breakfast.  Handily, there's a fantastic choice of independent food traders clustered around the Spa Terminus location.

If you can't get to Spa on Saturdays, you can get a taste of Coleman Coffee in London at some of the best places like Leila's Shop, Italo Deli and Brunswick House.

Piccolo from Coleman Coffee

Coleman Coffee Roasters

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Ricotta Pancakes for Breakfast, Lunch, Tea

Ricotta Pancakes
with banana and maple syrup

It's almost Shrove Tuesday.  I know because I'm getting the usual hints and reminders that pancake making needs to be factored-in to the food plans soon. With its approach comes the usual thoughts of what kind of pancakes to make?

Buttermilk Pancakes with their tangy, ripe fermented flavour and open texture that sucks up syrup like a sponge. Their satisfaction quotient belies the fact that buttermilk has only a 2% fat content, being the liquid leftover from the butter-making process.  If you can get true buttermilk, rather than the supermarket 'cultured' variety, your pancakes will taste so much better.  However, my favourite pancake for this day of the year, and probably yours too, is the one who's mixing I don't even have to think about; the one I've made 'forever'.  My Shrove Tuesday Pancakes, I've learned, fall somewhere between Jane Grigson's "Pancakes for the Poor" and "Pancakes for the Rich".  This is almost certainly the one I will make on 17 February.  There will be sugar and fresh lemons on the table, and Lyle's Golden Syrup for some (me).

Folding in the egg whites

But I've already offered you recipes for both of these pancake mixes.  So here's a Ricotta version.
Ricotta is a soft Italian cheese made from milk whey left over from cheesemaking.  The resultant pancakes are richer than the buttermilk version, having a higher fat content, and producing a similarly fluffy-texture.  For me, the taste is not as good as a buttermilk pancake, but that could be down to the fact I can get good quality buttermilk, at an affordable price, more easily than an equivalent ricotta I'm prepared to treat this way.

This is my go-to recipe for Ricotta Pancakes.  It's adapted from the one in Breakfast, Lunch, Tea by Rose Carrarini of Rose Bakery in Paris and includes the reminder: 'when adding "wet to dry" never knock the air out of the mixture by over-mixing the batter.  In fact at this point you should "turn the batter over with a large spoon no more than eight times!'

Ricotta Pancakes
(Serves 4 - makes around 8 pancakes)

100g(4oz) ricotta cheese
100ml (3½ fl oz) milk
2 medium eggs, separated
75g (2¾ oz) plain four
½ teaspoon baking powder
A pinch of salt
A little unsalted butter for cooking

Beat the ricotta with the milk and egg yolks until smooth.
In a separate large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.
Add the wet mixture to the flour and stir very lightly.
Beat the egg whites until stiff then fold them into the batter.
Melt just a little butter in a small frying pan and add 3-4 tablespoons of batter.  Tilt the pan to get an even thickness of batter.  
Cook on a low to medium heat until the pancake is lightly golden on the bottom.  Turn and cook for another minute or so until cooked through.  
Cook the rest of the pancakes in the same way, adding a little extra butter to the pan for each.
Serve hot with your choice of fruit or sauce.

Monday, 26 January 2015

A Change of Appetite by Diana Henry

Radicchio and red onions on white bean purée
from A Change of Appetite by Diana Henry
Photo by Evie

I think most of us now accept that eating less meat and heavy foods is the way to go - though "meat-free Monday" still annoys the hell out of me.  Truth is meat has only been on my menus a couple of times a week for years now, sidelined for more vegetables, grains and fish, and I know I'm far from alone in moving to a healthier, more thoughtful way of eating.  That  doesn't make Diana Henry's latest book, A Change of Appetite, any less welcome.  In fact it's a book for the way many of us eat now and, certainly in this house, it's finding an appreciative audience.  

The focus of the book is the author's perception that people want to eat more healthily and the acceptance that it would be good for her to make some changes to her own diet.  This book came out of curiosity about what 'healthy eating' means and how to achieve it without compromising on the sheer enjoyment of food.  The guiding principle for the author was that dishes had to be delicious, their healthiness being a bonus, and there would be a thoughtfulness about the ingredients borne out of wide reading (there is an impressive bibliography).  This is not a diet book. Diana Henry doesn't tell you what you can't eat - that was a relief because frankly no-one is going to take away my cake - but what you can.  In that vein, I share Diana Henry's belief that "The problem isn't with what you eat at one meal, but what you eat across the board".

A Change of Appetite offers the, now, familiar format of the four seasons, each with reminders of ingredients that are at their best early, mid and late in the quarter.  Along with stand-alone recipes there are menus to help bring balance of flavour and nutrition to a meal.  Recipes globetrot with dishes like Vietnamese Rice paper rolls with nuoc cham; a Lentil and roast tomato soup with saffron from India; an Italian dish of Lamb scottadito with summer fregola;  a North African Spiced mackerel with kamut and as pretty a Persian Salad as you'll ever see; a recipe for Georgian Roast chicken with walnut sauce and hot grated beetroot; and there are dishes from Northern Europe like Citrus marinated salmon with fennel and apple salad and Braised venison and beetroot with horseradish.  Puddings are on the menu but with an emphasis on fresh and light, like Blood orange and cardamom sorbet; Raspberries with basil and buttermilk sherbet and Blueberry and gin jellies.  Happily, you'll find Pistachio and lemon cake and a Blackberry and apple rye galette too.

It's important to know that as Diana Henry says "there is lots of big front-of-mouth flavours, such as chilli, ginger and lime, the kind of thing you want when you aren't eating starchy or rich food". Spices are a prominent feature and, if they're something you're not used to, the first time you make a dish you may want to reduce the quantities just a little in some recipes.

Yoghurt with honeyed saffron syrup, almonds and apricot compote
from A Change of Appetite by Diana Henry

Photo by Evie

So, what have a I tried so far?  Radicchio and red onions on white bean purée with its mix of bitter, sweet and earthy, felt healthy and satisfying eaten on its own for lunch but there are suggestions for what to serve it with and how you can change the basic recipe (a feature of many recipes in the book).  Yogurt with honeyed saffron syrup, almonds and apricot compote was a big hit. The combination of apple juice, cardamom and citrus infused dried apricots with yogurt and a saffron and orange-flower water syrup is a delicious one and visually it's a stunner.  I didn't have agave syrup so substituted a slightly lesser amount of honey.  It's easy to overdo saffron, so be cautious.  Cardamom too needs to be used sparingly for as Diana Henry says, cardamom "needs to move through a dish like a ghost" .  Once all the elements of the dessert were put together, all was perfection.  Citrus compote with ginger snow is another visually arresting dessert.  I'm a big fan of lime so appreciated its liberal use in this dish.  The "snow" is a granita that packs a big ginger punch and could be a little too powerful for some.

Citrus compote with ginger snow
from A Change of Appetite by Diana Henry

Photo by Evie

Dishes I'm really looking forward to trying include Smoked haddock with Indian scented lentils, inspired by Kedgeree; Red mullet and saffron broth with corfu garlic sauce; Roast tomatoes and lentils with dukka-crumbed eggs; and, when summer arrives, a Middle-Eastern inspired Cucumber and yogurt soup with walnuts and rose petals and Poached white peaches with rosé wine jelly.  I could go on.

I'm wary of the blurb on book covers but in this case Yotam Ottolenghi's "Everything Diana Henry cooks I want to eat" quote sums up my own feelings about A Change of Appetite.  All this and Diana Henry's scholarly and engaging writing style.  If you're still wondering if this book is for you, take it from the shelf and read the two pages at the back of the book ''Final Thoughts'.  Full of good sense reminders for a more thoughtful way of eating.  I think you'll be convinced.

A Change of Appetite
by Diana Henry

First published 2014 by Mitchell Beazley
Photo by Evie

As ever, with Diana Henry's books, the photography, by Laura Edwards, is beautiful and evocative.  I love this book and it's already earned its keep on my bookshelf.  I know I'm going to make a lot of the recipes, and I'll feel all the better about having my occasional cake.