Wednesday, 10 November 2010

The Restaurant Experience

A great dining experience does not completely centre around the taste of the food. 

So much of it is to do with factors that could easily be taken for granted.

For me, going to a restaurant is a delight because - if I choose the right one - I leave feeling pampered, and there's nothing I enjoy more.

What I want is to open the doors to an interesting ballet, 'The Dance of the Dining Servitors'.

One greets me with such a friendly welcome that I feel compelled to have him join me at my table.

But that waiter pirouette's away to be replaced by the next, who seats me and hands me a list of dishes that sound so tasty, I wish to sing them aloud.

Then another dances over to me and takes my beverage order and so on.

My mood is affected by the gleeful nymphs addressing me, by the rich smells that surround me, by the happy voices chattering at tables nearby.

Even the lighting, the music and the art on the walls play a part.

The Perfect Bite

And all of that in anticipation of that first perfect bite, the beginning of a sort of tantric pleasure that will end with an absolutely sinful, sweet dessert bringing a tear to my eye.

The dance is over.  I pay, but I am happy to pay.

In fact, for what I've received, I've paid far too little.  So I tip big, then exit the stage.

I walk along the river to help digestion, but also to think back on the last hour like one does in a first love's encounter.

Is there anything as lovely as the restaurant experience, when it's the right restaurant?  I'm sure there is, but a great dining experience definitely rates in the top ten.

Happy Eating!

Sunday, 17 October 2010

The Italian Market at the N1 Centre

When long logs of fresh ciabatta stare at you from a table of foccacia and large round sourdough, dusted with flour and appearing slightly like a tasty fat space craft, it becomes a bit difficult to remember that you actually didn’t come to Angel to eat.
Or maybe you did, because the Parkfield Street nook  (aka the N1 Centre) always seems to have food on display in some measure or another – especially during warm summer weekends.

A lover of food, I greedily walked from one impressive display to another, picking ‘just a bit’ of my favourite Italian salamis and cheeses.

There’s really nothing that provides more simple satisfaction then a market of fresh food.

The gentrified Angel draws crowds of people every week to its shops and markets, but unlike the uber-touristy Oxford Street, the residents reign supreme here.

So there is always a semi-respectable hum of shoppers, rather than a mob-like descent upon the area.

La Dolce Vita

Last weekend, the Italian food market graced N1 with its inevitable presence.  The smell of fresh olives and bread permeated the area and the people flocked like flies. 

After all, how could anyone resist the charm of having a giant metal angel watch over you, while you sink your choppers into a hunk of perfectly aged Milano salami?

The quality of the food is such that you actually do feel a bit better about the food you’re bringing home. 

The tasty Italian pastries and sweeties form a rainbow of sugar.  One mere look and your likely to get a cavity.

For more information about the N1 Centre, visit them on Facebook or at

Friday, 8 October 2010

Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough

As some of you know, I've been obsessed lately with salami, cheese and bread.

Thanks to a French friend of mine, who lived with me for three months, I just can't get enough of baguettes, brie and cured pork.

Tonight, I went someplace to buy these things that I thought might have them in ample supply and in good quality - Selfridges.

Now, Selfridges on Oxford Street is not your ordinary shopping experience.

If you're like me, on a budget, then shopping for high scale food in high scale department stores is not the most practical approach to grocery shopping.

Still, we must all treat ourselves special sometimes.

The Meat Counter

Of course, I was very pleased to walk straight to the meat counter and immediately find my new guilty pleasure, Jésus.

Jésus, a pork liver sausage, is so far the best cured meat I've tasted and I simple can't get enough.

Yet, beneath that canvas of meaty goods, I also saw Gyula - a Hungarian sausage.

Admittedly, I have the warm fuzzies for Hungarian sausage.

This is due to the same French friend.  Whilst staying with me, a close Hungarian friend of hers visited the home of his youth.

He brought back with him a Hungarian sausage that was aged over a long period of time until it became the beautiful, reddish marvel that my friend cheekily dangled in front of me.

After gleefully watching me suffer, she finally offered me a slice.  What can I say?  The moment my  buds registered the new taste, I was hooked.

That night, it took all of my will power to keep from creeping into the fridge and robbing my friend blind while she slept.

And then she had the nerve to leave half of that sausage in the fridge while she went on a quick trip to France.  AGONY!!!

The Hungarian sausage I bought from Selfridges isn't nearly as tasty as the one my friend was given, but it had the same rich, spicy quality that I've come to love.


I also picked up a granary baguette (granary bread is lower on the Glycemic Index) and some excellent brie cheese (best brie I've tasted in London so far.)

Once I returned home, I simply made a bit of homemade mayonnaise, and voila - the perfect meal.

It doesn't get any better than this.

Happy Eating!

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Big Sausage Made in the Old Style

Jésus a L'ancienne is all I can think about.

No, I am not referring to a Christian deity, nor am I referring to one of the fine male inhabitants of Puerto Rico.

Jésus a L'ancienne is a French pork liver sausage.

Now if you've been reading my blogs (and I'm sure you have) you already know that I am currently obsessed with French cuisine.  Therefore, the sausage is of no surprise to you.

Still, of all the sausage I have tasted thus far, Jésus a L'ancienne is indeed my favourite.

Pig from heaven

I can only imagine that when a French butcher decided to come up with this delightful hunk of meat, he had selected the pig from a corner of heaven.

L'ancienne, a French word meaning 'made in the old style' gives somewhat of an indication of how this pork liver sausage was cured, fondled and shaped before it ended up on a chopping block.

After a frantic call to my friend in Belgium, I found out that Jésus is French for 'big sausage'.  And this particular 'big sausage made in the old style' can be found in different regions, smoked or unsmoked.

I am happy and a little bit ashamed to say that I ate the entire 150 grams that I'd bought home in one sitting.  Moderation was just not an option for me upon being introduced to this delightful treat.

But still, I can imagine that it goes very nicely with a doughy French bread and a lovely wine.  My friend assures me that the Jésus de Monteau is particularly appealing.

Happy Eating!

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Hollandaise Sauce Should Drip, Not Plop

Hollandaise Sauce is such a lovely finish to so many different foods. 

But as in making mayonnaise, it could go wrong fast if you don't know what you're doing.

Last night I made hollandaise sauce as a topping to asparagus, typically a delightful combination.

The plan was to drizzle the hollandaise sauce across the middle of the asparagus, the way they do in restaurants.

After all, presentation is part of the fun.

I Cheated and Paid the Price

I thought I was being so clever using a blender.  But cheaters never win.

You see, just like in making mayonnaise, the egg yolks don't mix well with one of the other ingredients - in this case, the melted butter.

So I plopped the yolks into the blender, turned in to it's lowest speed and dripped in the melted butter from the top portal of the blender lid.

This is usually a fail proof way of making hollandaise sauce, but the problem is that you lose control.

Instead of being able to determine the thickness of the concoction based on the feel as you whip the sauce equipped with nothing else but a wire whisk and your own throbbing hand, you're sort of forced to deal with whatever the result is in the blender.

Sometimes you don't know what that is, until you've spooned it out of the blender.  By that time, you may find that it is too fluffy because it was mixed too quickly.

Pain is Good

After making mayonnaise many times until I felt I had it right, I realise there is something delightfully artistic about doing things without the help of electrical appliances.

That is not to say that you shouldn't get help when you can, because these things are meant to make it easier and less time consuming to cook or bake something to perfection.

Still, in making hollandaise sauce, it is important to remember that the danger of curdling - though scary - is not a total disaster.

My friend once grimaced as she showed me her bowl of curdled mayonnaise.  But due to her more than ample amount of competitiveness, she decided to 'never say die'.  She whipped and whipped and whipped that mayo back into shape.

Gloppiness is Bad

 My hollandaise sauce came out gloppy last night.  I had blended it so much that it had thickened really fast.

Hollandaise sauce should be easy to pour and have the consistency of buttermilk or creme, but not so thick that it doesn't pour at all.

So my advice as you follow the below recipe, is to use a wire whisk rather than a blender.

Your hand muscle and wrist will throb like no one's business, but you'll have a better sauce in the end because you'll be able to tell right off whether it needs a bit more lemon juice or another pinch of salt.


4 ounces of butter (that's one half block for Brits or 2 sticks for Americans)
3 egg yolks
1 or 2 tablespoons of lemon juice
Salt and pepper for seasoning

Put three egg yolks in a small mixing bowl.  (For those of you, who need a good method for separating eggs, see my previous blog on making mayonnaise).  Have all your ingredients at hand, so that as you add you won't have to stop whisking.

Cut up the butter into a few similar sized pieces and melt in a pan.  Don't put the heat to high, because you don't want the butter to start turning brown - melt it slowly.  Put the warm melted butter into something you can pour.

Start blending the eggs with the whisk and slowly add a bit of lemon juice.  But keep that wrist moving as you add in drips of the melted butter.  A little at a time will ensure that the yolk will mix with the butter and not curdle.

When the last of the butter is fully blended in, add a little more lemon juice.  From this point on, you're really using your personal judgment.  Is the mixture too thick?  Does it need a bit more lemon juice.  Is it too thin?  If it is, you should keep whisking until it thickens.  Does it need a pinch of salt or pepper?  If so, drop some in but sparingly to be sure that you're not over seasoning.

You get the picture.  Once completed, it goes great on asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, eggs and many different types of fish.  Try to use it right after it's made.  It's always best to eat it fresh, since you can't refrigerate.  The butter will harden again and if you try to heat it, you'll basically scramble the eggs.  So make it just before using it.

Happy eating!

Monday, 27 September 2010

Mayonnaise Unjarred

I can't remember a time in my life when the rich, white creaminess of mayonnaise wasn't a part of it.

But what did I know?
I only thought that something wonderful had been captured in the glass jars that I have nimbly stuck my fist in over the years, trying to get the last few glops from the bottom with a butter knife.

It wasn't until recently, that my French friend watched me in disgust as I reached for a jar of store bought mayo from the fridge.

"What are you doing," she asked, shaking her head in disappointment.  You might have thought I was eating dirt the way she reacted.

"I'm making tuna," I replied, with feigned ignorance.  I knew she was getting at something, but my ego couldn't take it.

Yet, I finally let her school me in the ways of making homemade mayonnaise.  And since then, I have never looked back.

Making Mayonnaise

Making mayo from scratch is no easy task when you're a beginner.

There is a legitimate worry that instead of a smooth, creamy custard-like substance, you'll actually make a gloppy, curdled mess.  I speak from experience, believe me.

But first, let's talk about the colour.  Mayonnaise is typically white when you buy it from the supermarket.

However, if you're concerned that something which contains both egg yolks and mustard is not at least a tiny bit yellowish in colour, then you are a very smart person indeed.

I've made mayo countless times now and it has always been a very light yellow hue.

But probably the most important rule of making mayonnaise successfully is to whip it....whip it good.

Though Shalt Not Curdle 

You see, egg yolks do not mix well with oil.  And if you don't constantly whisk, stir or beat the mixture, then it will most assuredly curdle.

So remember to have all your ingredients right in front of you.

There's nothing worse than starting a good whipping motion, only to find that you have to stop and get the mustard from the fridge and then twist the top off and get a spoon.

By that time, you could be in up to your wrist in curdled goo.

Lay out all the ingredients, and relax your wrist - because you are about to give it a fierce workout.


3 egg yolks (from medium-sized eggs)

1 to 2 teaspoons of dijon mustard

1 to 2 teaspoons of lemon juice

1/2 cup of olive oil

Salt and pepper for taste

First separate eggs.  For those of you who find that difficult, here's an easy method.  Keep a cup or bowl in front of you in which you can discard the egg whites.  Also, keep nearby the bowl in which you will drop in the egg yolk.

Gently crack the egg on a hard surface, but only pull the shells apart a little (just enough for the egg yolk to drip out of the crack in the egg.

Once all the egg white has dripped out, open the shell all the way and drop the egg yolk in a bowl.

The best method for whipping the eggs is to use a wire whisk.  Whisk the egg yolks until they are blended.  Then add in a teaspoon of dijon mustard and whisk again until blend.

Now this is the delicate part.  Keep whisking while using your free hand to pour in small drops of olive oil at a time.  So you want to dribble in a little bit and then whisk.  When the oil is completely blended with the yolk, drip in some more.  Keep doing this until all of the oil is in.

You'll notice that as you whisk, the mixture will begin to thicken.  That is a good thing.  After half of the oil has been dribbled in, you can begin to take chances.  There is less likely of a chance that the mixture will curdle by then.

You can also begin tasting it to see what it needs.  A little salt?  A bit of pepper?  Maybe a drop more lemon juice?  It's up to you.

I made mayonnaise about four times before I got it right, so don't be afraid to experiment.  Also, at times when I was too broke to buy olive oil, I settled for the cheaper sunflower oil instead.  Decent mayonnaise can be made with either oil.

The great thing about homemade mayo, is that it tastes good with anything.  You'll find yourself dipping pieces of fresh bread into the mixture.

Since it is basically oil and eggs, mayo is high in fat, so be careful if you're trying to keep your caloric intake low.

This is a fresh food made with raw eggs, so it's always best to eat it in the first couple of days and keep refrigerated.

Bon appetite!

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Bread, Salami and Cheese....Oh My!!!

You can’t imagine my joy when I looked at my account Friday before last and saw a mysterious balance of £37.26.  How did four quid turn into £37? 

Yes generic bank person, I’ll hold.  What?  I received vacation money from a job I did with a temp agency?  Well that’s wonderful.  Mr. Bank man, if I were face to face with you now, I would kiss you.”

That’s basically how it went.  Now most people who find an extra £37 in their bank account after a month of being broke, probably pay off a bill or some such.  Not me.  No sir.  I went to Whole Foods Market on High Street Kensington and spent £33.00 on the following:
  • ·      Cranberry and Pecan Sourdough
  • ·      Salami Toscano Salum
  • ·      Spianata Calabra (Spicy Salami) Madeo
  • ·      St Nectaire Fermier Mons
  • ·      Coulommiers Mons
  • ·      Queen olives, and
  • ·      A packet of sushi (a salmon roll cut into 8 pieces)
Some of these items may seem foreign to those, who are not in the know regarding the multi-various amounts of salami and cheeses that the world has to offer.  Don’t worry, I’m still learning myself.

There are so many different types of salami, you may find yourself standing in front of a counter filled to the brim.  If you’re like me, you might not have a clue as to what type of salami is the best to buy.

Since I’ve recently been introduced to saucisson (a French salami) I began to look for any type of salami from France, hoping it would put me on the right track. 

However, the market only had one type of salami from France on the day I visited and it was much more expensive than some of the others.

Remembering the small sum in my wallet, I opted for the two types of salami:  Salami Toscano Salum and Spianata Calabra Madeo.

Lets break them down.  Salami Toscano Salum is an Italian Salami.  Toscano means it’s from Tuscany. It’s about three and a half inches in diameter and seasoned with garlic and spices and then stuffed in a pig’s intestine for months until it’s ready.

Spicy Spianata Salame is a Calabrese Salame that uses chilli pepper in the recipe. The minced pork is molded into a spianata shape (whatever that means).  I looked up the word ‘spianata’, and apparently it’s Italian for ‘clearing’. (Scratches head).


Don’t be afraid to explore the world of cheese.  There is such an astounding variety that you could spend your whole life trying them. But since I am a student of food myself, we’ll have to learn about cheeses together.

I chose the Coulommier because the rind was quite white.  I’ve learned from experience that if the cheese is rather soft (a bit creamy looking) and the rind is very white, it often means that the cheese will not be sharp. I’m not a big fan of spicy or sharp cheese.

As I suspected the Coulommier was mild and nutty, but lovely.  It’s a tad bitter, but I don’t mind that in a cheese, especially when I’m eating it with something that offsets the taste a bit like salami. Coulommier is from the brie cheese family and is named after a commune in North-Central France.

I took a chance on the St. Nectaire, but I crapped out.  St. Nectaire is a bit of a spicy cheese from the French region Auvergne.  I have a friend, who would have loved it, but I didn’t enjoy it at all. 

The more you know your cheeses, the better chance that you will choose the right cheese for your taste and occasion.
With some cheeses, like the Coulommier, the cheese rind is edible.  However, you can’t eat the rind of every cheese (and believe me, some you won’t want to).  Some cheese rinds are much too bitter. I wouldn’t eat the rind of the Nectaire cheese if you paid me.

Supermarket sushi

You ever walked into a supermarket, took one look at the sushi section, and walked back out again.  Yep, me too! 
Lets face it.  Sushi is fresh fish, emphasis on the word ‘fresh’.  If it is not fresh, it is still sushi, but just not edible.  The smell of old fish will ensure your departure from the market.

There are some supermarket chains, however that have a pretty good sushi department and Whole Food Markets fits into that category.

In fact, the store on High Street Kensington has sushi with both white rice and brown rice, which I find preferable since diabetes runs in my family and brown rice is lower on the Glycemic Index.

Bread with stuff in it

Whole Foods also has a wonderful array of baked breads including, my favourite, cranberry pecan sourdough.  Something about the combination just makes me feel transported to my Nana’s warm kitchen.

And you can’t go wrong with queen olives.  They go nicely with most breads, though I wouldn’t mix it with the cranberry pecan sourdough.

Why?  Well, I’m a big believer in not forcing a lot of strong tastes to compete with each other. 

Sure, a good cheese should have a good wine that can keep up with it.  But someone has to be the star.  Olives tend to be salty, while cranberries are sweet and pecans are… uh… nutty. 


When I bought the salami, I wish I had not asked for it to be sliced.  Per my instruction, the nice lady behind the counter cut thin slices for me.  It just didn't work as nicely with the bread.  

The shape of sourdough is a bit like an American football that has lost some of its air.  These things have to be considered when choosing food that goes well with it.

Also, the bread was a bit laden with goodies and should have been reserved for something simpler.  In fact, the bread could have stood on its own.  Next time, I'll get a simpler bread so that the salami and cheese can shine.  Perhaps, a nice baguette.

I wonder what wine would have been perfect for this meal.  Any suggestions?