Monthly Archives: March 2007

How to not burn your house down

1.  When making croutons, do not be overly generous with the olive oil.

2. Be sure to monitor croutons after placing them in the toaster oven.  Do not get too distracted with sweeping, dusting, or Battlestar Galactica reruns (if you’re a geek like me, you’ll appreciate the irony), etc.

3.  When you notice that contents of the toaster oven are on fire, do not open the toaster oven’s door without something to douse the fire immediately.  Otherwise, the sudden rush of oxygen will cause the flames to shoot out.

 4.  Do not stand and gape at it, either, hoping it will die down.  Otherwise, the heat will build, and eventually cause the entire thing to explode, spewing shards of carbonized glass everywhere.  Try to put it out (after unplugging it), preferably with baking soda or flour.  Don’t be too paranoid about using water.  It works okay.  Just be careful not to spread it. 

5.  Keep all the windows open and run the fans for the entire weekend.

6. Dispose of toaster.   Accept that you will not be floating croutons in your soup that night.  Maybe order takeout.

frakkin toaster!

UK Montage

British cookbooks!

A few years ago, I went to England and practically starved (if not for afternoon tea and the fish and chips in between, I would literally have starved)–the good news was that I lost seven pounds during my four day stay. I came home and told my husband that “England is a miserable place!”

He didn’t believe me, being an Anglophile himself. “I’ll take you and you’ll love it.”

He was right. It is now one of my favorite places in the world, London one of my favorite cities that I have visited multiple times now. I love England–and not just for its culture and architecture and beautiful parks and its sights, either. I love England for its (get ready now) food. I think I now gain a few pounds when I visit London.

I thought I’d list a few of the food highlights of my visit…

cheese and onion pasty

Pasties! This delicious pastry/lunch-you-can-hold-in-your hand was a new discovery for me–found on a frantic search for lunch near the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Center across the way from Westminster Abbey (talk about the incredible juxtaposition between a high tech conference and staring out the windows to an old historic church across the circle).

I loved them so much, we had pasties two days in a row for lunch–the first day, I fetched cheese and onion pasties at Stiles at Sutton Ground Market. The second day, I did a taste test, with Cornish pasties from Stiles, and cheese and onion pasties from West Cornwall Pasty Company further down the street. (Stiles won).

Now I am addicted to the suckers, and am secretly glad that no one makes pasties in the Bay Area. I did look up a few recipes and was horrified at the lard content–now I’m more than secretly glad that they aren’t as easily obtainable around here.

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Afternoon tea with Cheese Board scones

afternoon tea

I love the ritual of afternoon tea–scones and devon cream and little sandwiches in the lull of an afternoon and in the company of a companion. This time, I went to Brown’s, the highly regarded afternoon tea place in the Mayfair district–for many people, afternoon tea is synonymous with Brown’s.

I was honestly disappointed with Brown’s for tea, feeling rather cramped and uncomfortable in their space. While it definitely has an air of history, I was dismayed by the seating arrangements–the two of us were cramped into a seating arrangement that was clearly for four (one of us having to share a loveseat sofa with someone from another party). The sandwiches and pastries were unremarkable–so what’s the big deal?

Still, afternoon tea is quite a delight in my book. When I go to London, afternoon tea is an indulgement that I rediscover–and when I return home, a ritual that I crave for quite some time.

But why crave it? Why not indulge it?

On impulse, I decided to make some scones (the Cheese Board recipe, my favorite!), buy some devon clotted cream, and make little sandwiches. On further impulse, I invited a friend over for afternoon tea.

scones done

Click–when things come together, it is quite a wonder. This afternoon, we had an impulse tea, complete with fresh baked scones, devon cream, jam, and little egg salad finger sandwiches. Accompanied, of course, by Mariage Freres’ Marco Polo Rouge (rooibos) tea.

It was a great little break in the day, one that got two friends to sit down, if for a brief moment, to pause and share an enjoyable hour together. Genius.

Why do I not indulge myself more often? You ought to try it, too.

The Cheese Board scone recipe follows…

scone batter

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F*cking good! (Restaurant Gordon Ramsay)

2nd course seared scallop

We went to Gordon Ramsay’s 3 Michelin star flagship restaurant on Royal Hospital Road–one of Restaurant Magazine’s Top 50 restaurants in the world. It consistently lands in the top 20, and in 2005 and 2004, it was one of the top 10 restaurants in the world, keeping good company with El Bulli, Fat Duck, French Laundry and Pierre Gagnaire.

Gordon Ramsay has a sort of cult status in Britain–he takes up considerable real estate in the cookbook section of Foyles bookstore, and his TV show, The F Word (haha, the very obvious play on his tendency to swear–a LOT) has a brilliant following. Plus, he has at least 9 restaurants in London alone; in a sense, Ramsay is the culinary beacon of England. He burns bright and sometimes, angry.

Americans may know him from his television show, “Hell’s Kitchen” and his new restaurant in New York.

We arrived at Restarant Gordon Ramsay on Royal Hospital Road nearly 45 minutes early for our seating–usually, a bit of an awkward situation at restaurants. Our plans included sitting at the bar and waiting for our seat. At Gordon Ramsay? No problem. We were seated IMMEDIATELY, to our great delight.  (Later, during our chat with the staff, we found that the restaurant normally only does one seating a night, holding that table for one party).

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Yesterday, I celebrated St. Patrick’s Day with my husband and my wonderful friends, Anne and Ryan.  Yes, I know this post is a day late, but just try to blog after drinking a few glasses of Black Bush with Black Velvet (Guinness and champagne) chasers, and see how far you’ll get. 

Although my family cannot claim to have any Irish blood in it whatsoever, my mom always liked to make corned beef on St. Patrick’s Day (my husband is about a quarter Irish, though).  And I know it’s currently in vogue to prepare more “authentic” meals than corned beef, I still like to make (and eat) it.   Besides, people expect it.  This year, I decided to supplement it a little bit, and I was pleasantly surprised to discover a St. Patrick’s Day menu in the Lucques restaurant cookbook when I was looking for a recipe for Guinness ice cream.  I surprised myself by preparing nearly the entire menu.

As a starter  (this wasn’t in the cookbook),  I served Irish chedder and Cashel blue (also Irish, from Neal’s Yard), and made Irish soda bread as an accompaniment.   The soda bread is pretty easy to make – I think my husband could make it.  But next time, I’ll forgo sprinkling the sugar on top.

The first course in the cookbook was a pureed watercress soup a la minute, with croutons spread with “gentlemen’s relish”.  The “relish” was basically an anchovy butter with shallots, parsley and lemon.  The soup was a little on the mild side, but the relish perked it up quite nicely.  I also threw in a bunch of chives at the end.

The next course was buttered cockles on champ.  Since “cockles” are pretty rare here on the west coast (they’re not indigenous to Northern America, nor are they farmed here), I substituted littleneck clams.  The clams are sauteed with green onions, then white wine (I substituted champagne) and broth are added to steam them open, then they’re finished with a handful of parsley, snow pea sprouts, peas, butter and more green onions.  Champ (pronounced “sham”)   is a traditional Irish mashed potato dish.  There’s as many versions of it as there are cooks making it, but it usually calls for loosely mashed potatoes with lots of butter, cream and green onions.  When we visited my father-in-law, he prepared a version with smoked ham and mayonnaise.  I decided to go tweak Lucques’ version, which called for green garlic instead of green onions (I used both).    I sauteed the aromatics in plenty of butter, added cream, then added unpeeled Yukon Gold potatoes that were previously boiled whole and smashed with the heel of my hand, then mashed them a little further over the heat as the cream reduced and absorbed into the potatoes.  Yummy and heart-stopping.  Lucques’ cookbook also suggested served brown scones with this, but I decided that it was a (carb) bridge too far.   

The main course, obviously, was corned beef with boiled cabbage, turnips, potatoes and carrots.  Instead of boiling the brisket for the entire time, the Lucques cookbook says to just bring the brisket to a boil, add onions and spices, then cover to pot and cook it in the oven for four hours.  The brisket is then removed from the broth and baked in the oven in a separate dish at a higher temperature to “crisp” the top.  In the meantime, the other vegetables are cooked in the remaining broth.  I made a parsley-whole grain mustard-shallot sauce to go with this, but I think I would have like fresh horseradish as well. 

Finally, for dessert, we had Guinness chocolate spice bundt cake, with Guinness ice cream.  I’ve made Guinness chocolate cakes before, and the recipe I’d used previously was a dense 3 layer chocolate cake with a ganache frosting, which was quite a production to bake and assemble.  I think that the spices, along with the addition of molasses, in the cake served to add extra oomph to the Guinness flavor, which was overwhelmed by the chocolate in the previously made version.  The ice-cream also had molasses in it, which also served to amp up the Guinness flavor.  My husband, who proclaimed he’d only have “a little taste” of the ice cream, found himself scooping up a third serving.  The only difficulty I found with the ice cream is that it was slightly too icy.  Next time, I’ll use only cream and no milk, plus I’ll boil down the molasses with the Guinness a little longer. 

 Alas, I don’t have many pictures, but I take comfort in the fact the any pictures taken would have borne witness to general debauchery, so you’ll have to take my word that it was a tasty meal.  A hostess’s hint:  These courses are pretty heavy, so start serving early and space lots of time in between.  Do as much of the prep work (chopping all the veggies and herbs, baking the cake, making the sauces, freezing the ice cream, etc.) as possible the day before.  That way, you can celebrate instead of being stuck in the kitchen the entire time.  And, uh, it’s a lot easier to cook while inebrieted if your mise is already in place.

All meat, only meat*! *Niman Ranch Meat

mysterious dining

Connie, Susan, and I (Christine) each had the opportunity to parttake of the Dissident Chef’s “Niman Ranch Meal” this past weekend. The Dissident Chef/Subculture Dining is something I’ve written about here on Muffin Top before–an underground dining experience drenched in secrecy, anticipation, and adventure. You don’t know what you’ll eat (well, this time we knew it was a Niman Ranch meat-focused meal) and you don’t know WHERE you’ll eat until a few hours before mealtime. You only know WHEN. (The direct link to the Dissident Chef’s website is here).

There’s just something about that kind of setup that sets a diner’s mouth salivating. (not a pretty picture, I tell you).

Having eaten and reviewed a previous Dissident Chef meal, I was curious as to what I’d experience next–would he try something new? Would it be consistent with my previous meal experience? Would I last for 9+ carnivorous courses? (At the end of our meal on Sunday, the diners were sprawled across the couches and floor in the living room, giddy with full stomachs and food coma). And I was curious as to what Connie and Susan’s opinions would be.

(Not to mention that Michael Bauer, the SF Chronicle’s food critic, blogged about the Dissident Chef preceding the dinner nights–it was definitely a topic of conversation amidst the diners).

We ate on separate nights–Connie and Susan dined on Saturday night with 40+ diners (in a residence, with a residential kitchen, something to keep in mind–and they sat at the same table). I dined on Sunday night, with 12 diners in the same residence. Needless to say, this affected mood and kitchen pacing, etc., as you will read in the interview that follows.

grilled and braised shoulder of lamb with turnip and farro

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