Tuesday, 10 April 2012

The art of dining

 I managed to run from the hills this week and head up to London all by myself.  As much as I love living in the Stroud valleys, I’ll always grab at an opportunity to head up to the big smoke.  It turned out last Thursday that there were three things I wanted to go to, each one holding a connection with home.  The first stop was Somerset house where there was an illustration exhibition featuring some great Horsley talent.  Next up was the pop up shop Nothing but Navy, the shop that first popped up in Stroud at Christmas before heading east to Shoreditch.
The grand finale to a great day was a supper club run by Stroud’s own Alice Hodge.  It was in a National Trust property in deepest Hackney, it was here that I ate what would be my last supper.  The food, art and surroundings were outstanding.  
This summoned a debate with the taxi driver on the way home, who claimed it is not about the food but the company.  Of course the finest food in the world would be ruined if you had no-one to share it with.  But it won’t surprise you to know that for me it’s about the food, it doesn’t have to be splendid but it has to be tasty.  Some of my favourite meals have been simple and shared with friends; fresh eggs scrambled over a camp fire.  Likewise my worst ever meal was shared with a whole load of family and friends but was undoubtably still the worst meal and food experience I have ever had. When great food is shared with the people you love, add in an inspiring setting and that surely is the recipe for a memorable meal. 

So next I tried to recreate the feast,

Last week I spoke about my last supper, this week it was Tom’s birthday and what better excuse than an attempt to recreate it.  On Wednesday night we had twelve for a meat fest.  Tom reminded me it’s been a year since I cooked the almighty french meat dish, pot au feu.  This week it was the turn of the italian classic bollito misto.  This is a big meat dish, chicken, tongue and brisket, boiled together to create an almighty feast.  To start I served some of the broth with the stock vegetables, parsley and spaghetti, topped with toasted garlic sourdough.  The main, stolen from the Art of Dining supper club, was the meats served with a plain boiled potato and carrot, accompanied by mustard fruits, salsa verde and the piece de resistance bone marrow bread sauce. Fortunately Henry took charge of the bone marrow and smoked it before adding it to my bread sauce. Next there was cheese and salad, plums in vodka, rhubarb crumble with dodgy homemade ice cream all topped off with lovingly made chocolate truffles. 
Of course from this big meal there were some serious leftovers.  These were reincarnated as a vietnamese pho, using the broth, brisket, noodles and some added flavour.  The remaining chicken went into some egg fried rice for the kids.
What struck me with this dish was it’s amazing simplicity yet impact to feed a crowd, and confirmed to me this is exactly how I want to cook.  

Winstones ice cream

I have loved pretending it is summer this week. I am loving the blossom, bulbs popping up, sun on my back and the arrival of English summer food.
My purple sprouting has finally sprouted in abundance and worked brilliantly in a beetroot, watercress and english tomato salad.  It’s great to see the garden vegetables thriving and knowing that with a few leafy greens I’ll be able to create a meal throughout the summer.
This Sunday I abandoned the traditional roast in favour of a summery version.  I roasted the chicken as usual, but served it with a selection of salads.  Firstly a panzanella, an italian bread salad, made with croutons of sourdough and english tomatoes.  A wild garlic pesto made with handfuls of the stuff filling woodland banks at the moment.  I just whizzed this together with toasted pine nuts, parmesan and some local rape seed oil.  For me the epitomy of Summer came with the alarmingly early English asparagus, roasted in the oven, may it be the first of many.  Next up was the turn of English strawberries, good but not as good as they hopefully will be.
Of course as in all good English summers we choose the cloudy day to make our pilgrimage to Winstones ice cream on Rodborough.  It’s here that the children behave like they’ve never eaten an ice cream before and we all scoff down in excitement our blackberry and cream ice cream, and then promptly head home to find our jumpers and light a fire.