Last year, my parents phoned me telling me that neighbours of ours were opening up a supper club. My dad (being the crazy old neighbour he is) even knocked on neighbour Ollie's door to put him on the phone to me so I could talk to him about their supper club. Our neighbour told me that they were always keen to grow their foodie network and I should pop in to a pop up when I was back popping.
If you're ever stuck for an aperitivo idea I have the answer.
Gougères are little cheese puffs made with chou pastry, they are in fact the savoury version of "chouquettes" (light sugary wonders that you pop into your mouth.) These cheesy wonders entertain that gap between hunger and dinner time.
This blog post is written (admittedly) a little late, since my mum had her exhibition last summer at the ice house. But I wanted to write about ceramics because I believe the combination of beautiful pottery and great food must be celebrated.
Ceramics is an art form too often neglected in the contemporary world, mainly, I assume, due to the ability to re-produce decent quality pottery on a mass scale. This production is clearly the most popular, because it is sure that you will be able to buy machine- made plates that are are all identical.
I am no ceramist, nor would I ever pretend that moulding clay or using the potters wheel ever interested me. When I was a child, I would accompany my mum to her studio and watch her work. Often she would put me on the wheel with some clay and I would make an un-object, some strange shape that was neither a vase nor a beaker. I would quickly wash my hands and ask her for 20p so I could buy a chocolate bar from the vending machine and if my sister was with me, we would be get 40p, which would get us a can of tango apple! It was the only time we'd be allowed fizzy drinks. Ceramics started fascinating me as I got older, went to uni and started realising how much nicer it is to have food from a large ceramic bowl than any other recipient.
Pottery is made by forming a clay body into objects of a required shape and heating them at an extremely high temperature in a kiln, thereby removing all the water and moisture and strengthening the material as well as setting it's shape.
Considerable skill and experience are required to throw pots of an acceptable standard. In addition to the potter's hands, techniques include the use of tools for cutting and piercing, such as knives and wires. Thrown pieces can be further modified by the attatchment of handles, lids, feet and sprouts.
Unfortunately, five years ago, Great Western Studios, where my mother had her studio for 20 years, was knocked down in order to make room for a rail extention. Along with half a hundred artists, my mother had to pack her pots, sell her huge kiln and leave in order to find space to work elsewhere. The space cost in London is so high and the demand for hand crafted ceramics is so low, that it was difficult to find a convenient space at an affordable price.
Being a get-up-and-go kinda lady, she found a college which would allow her to continue. However, the use of space was limited and so she also started to experiment with different art forms: jewellery and prints to be precise.
Jewellery is certainly easier to sell, certainly because it is easier to give jewellery as a gift. Imagine the situation, carrying a metre high vase: (Out of breath) "Happy birthday! I'm sorry I missed the starter, I just couldn't carry this up the stairs..." Rather than, a suave, pulling out the sleek necklace: "Hey, I picked up a little something up for you..thought it would go well with your green dress.."
What I love about my mothers ceramics (and now, her jewellery too) is her perfection at imperfection. Human beings are not machines and therefore cannot reproduce identical looking objects. Eating and drinking out of my mothers hand crafted bowls and plates is a sensation that is hard to beat.
The art of dining is not only about the taste and smell of food, but also about the presentation. When we think about presentation, we immediately assume the visual aspect of what is in front of us, which is not really what I mean. What I mean is when you use beautiful art with the combination of great food, the sensation is somewhat elevated; it feels so real, so rustic, so kind. It truly is magical. It isn't even something that is easy to explain in a blog post, but hopefully some of these pictures will give you an idea of what I mean.
One day, (in my dreams!) we will all come back to a world where hand crafted objects combined with hand crafted food will be the epitomy of beauty and reality, where through our senses we can see that this, this was handed over from human to human.
There's shouting and partying going on outside.
People are whooping and jeering like crazy for the Notting Hill carnival and I'm at home baking a chocolate fudge cake.
The idea of going out into the crowds half terrifies me (am I getting old?) so I decided to come home, melt chocolate and help my mum pack for her holiday.
That's got rebellion written all over it.
Tonight I took out my Ottolenghi book and fell upon a Chocolate Fudge Cake.
This cake sticks in my mind so profoundly. When I worked at Ottolenghi, about once a week there was this couple who would come to the shop to buy two slices of this chocolate fudge cake. They were a peculiar couple, they looked very much alike, the kind of couple who look more like brother and sister than boyfriend and girlfriend. They always got the same two slices of cake and never ordered anything else. When I asked them if they fancied trying a passionfruit meringue or a lemon mascarpone tart, they giggled to one another and told me: "we're chocoholics." They told me this was the only cake that they bought which was capable of satisfying their chocoholic cravings. You could tell that they were hopelessly in love by the way they looked at one another, which was intensified by their equal and understanding love of chocolate. It was almost as if the fact that they were chocoholics brought them together, that they understood one another in a way that no other human being could. That is beautiful, I thought. Chocolate can really do great things.
One of the pastry chefs at Ottolenghi explained to me the secret to the decadence of this cake.
Basically, it's twice baked: two thirds of the mixture is baked and then the rest of the mixture is poured afterwards and cooked for less time. This gives two textures to the flourless fudgey fantasy: a slightly drier base with a mousse-like exterior. A must make for all chocoholics, even better as it's flourless so you can give it to your gluten intolerant friends.
240g Unsalted Butter
265g Dark Chocolate (52% Cocoa Solids)
95g Dark Chocolate (70% Cocoa Solids)
290g Light Muscovado Sugar
4 tbsp Water
5 Large Free-Range Eggs, Separated
A Pinch of Salt
Cocoa Powder for Dusting
- Put oven on at 170 degrees C.
- Cut the butter and chocolate into cubes and place in a large heatproof bowl.
- Put the sugar and water into a saucepan and bring to the boil. Once it is boiled, pour over the chocolate and butter and stir until melted.
- Add the egg yolks one at a time
- Beat the egg whites with the pinch of salt into soft peaks. Add the egg whites in three goes so they are well incorporated.
- Pour two thirds of the mixture into a buttered and lined tin and bake for 35-40 minutes.
- Pour the rest of the mixture and bake for 20 minutes.
- Leave to cool completely, and dust with cocoa powder!
Today it rained and snowed at the same time. It rained and then it snowed and then it did both.
They say spring is on its way.
There are better things out there. The sun does still exist. As does Ryanair. And British Airways. They had a sale on actually, British Airways did. Extra Cheap Business Class Seats. They did not advertise it exactly as that, but that was the jist. I bought one. I needed to see the sky again and see the italian 'moroso [lover].
On the flight I kindly got asked what I would like to drink. "Coffee" I replied. The air hostess was particularly kind to me since I had given up my seat to a gentleman who wanted to be next to his wife (ah, love,) so I got some delicious shortbread biscuits with the coffee.
I started to look over the clouds. "Would you like some tea," the air hostess disturbed. I had just had some coffee but I said ok anyway. "A drink with that?" She persisted. "Erm, yes what do you--" but she rudely interrupted my question with "white wine, champagne?" Large grin.
"Could I have some champagne?" I awkwardly replied, hesitantly, as if she would say "oh no actually you can't, that was a JOKE!" ... Champagne with finger sandwiches of egg & cress and smoked salmon & cream cheese. ...... Warmed scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam ...... chocolate tiffin.
I ate everything and then the air hostess returned. "Would you like some tea?" She asked again. "Yes please" I said, wondering how on earth the word "tea" could have so many endless possibilities. I got an actual cup of tea this time, to drink after my champagne. Is it just because we're in the air that its ok to have coffee then champagne then tea, I wondered. There are no cultural rules to determine the order, I supposed.
Cichetti [bar snacks] by the canal
On Return to England.
I came back to the snain and I told a fellow student my opinion on British weather: "I think God is just pouring us with all this weather to tell us to get out of this country and go somewhere else. "Splash," he's saying, "don't you get it? IT IS NEVER EVER GOING TO GET ANY BETTER AND YOU'RE JUST GOING TO KEEP TALKING ABOUT IT FOREVER AND EVER AND NEVER TALK ABOUT ANYTHING ELSE APART FROM THE WEATHER SO JUST GET OUT OF HERE.""
I said that to her.
At first she was bewildered by my sudden dramatic outburst of what God is telling us to do. She did not mind too much since it was a Jew-to-Jew conversation so no religious politics there. But some historical politics came up instead. With calmness, she said: "we should just all transfer to the south of Spain where it's nice and warm."
The Rain in Spain Stays Mainly on the Plain.
I remembered colonisation. The British rule of India. The British in America, in Australia. Poor Spanish, surely they've got enough on their plate with the economic crisis. Obviously not. Some Brits are thinking of colonising Spain now because the snain is getting too unbearable.
Lets just have some spaghetti and close the blinds.
Peppery Carbonara time:
2 Hungry People, 3 Normal
5 Rashers of Streaky Bacon
100 ml Single Cream
1 Garlic Clove, crushed
30g Parmesan or Grana Padano, finely grated
Little Salt and Pep.
Put a large pan of water to boil and put in the spaghetti (according to times indicated on the spaghetti)
Meanwhile, with a splash of olive oil (2 tablespoons) fry the bacon with the crushed garlic clove.
In a bowl, mix the eggs with the cream, nearly all the parmesan and the salt and pepper. Add the bacon.
When the spaghetti is cooked, drain the water then put it back in the pan.
Off the heat, add the cream mixture.
Serve with the rest of the parmesan and a grinding of black pepper.
I hate being alone. Yet, the very worst thing about being alone is eating alone. The idea of cooking for one brings such sadness to my face that I sit on google and ask him/her a variety of different questions until I make myself a massive hot chocolate and eat a hundred gram chocolate bar to myself. Today, with no one being home I knew the dreaded moment was to happen when I left the library on a sunday evening to eat alone...
"Wait a second, you bought boneless chicken thighs this morning," my conscious thought reminded me which made my culinary imagination run wild.
I remembered a delicious chicken dish my mum had made last time I was home so I decided to give her a quick ring to see if this could be adapted to chicken thighs. After the phone call, I found out that it could.
This is not just an ordinary chicken recipe. This is the quickest, most succulent, most flavoursome chicken recipe you can make. That is what M&S would say if he were selling them to you.
But I'm just going to tell you to make it. Because it's delicious. And quick. And great for one. But also great for more than one. If you have friends.
When you're alone, there could not be anything simpler. Ok, I will share the secrets of this delicious chicken. Did I mention it was really flavoursome?
Make this now. You will need (for one portion):
one chicken thigh/ breast
juice of half a lemon
1 tablespoon dried thyme
2 tablespoons soy sauce
(Double/ triple the recipe as you need)
Start by putting some plain flour on a plate:
Toss the chicken thigh (this can also be done with chicken breast) in the flour
Splash some olive oil a frying pan.
Once it's hot, place the chicken in the pan and add thyme and some pepper.
Add the lemon juice and the soy sauce and for it to sizzle around the chicken. Turn the chicken over.
enjoy the sticky and tender deliciousness