Thursday, 18 July 2013

This one cost Ben £300!

Which is, incidentally, about the same as this, rather beautiful dry cured ham from the Parma region in Italy.

Now that I have a massive, brand new, gravity slicer it allows me to slice my own, which is so much nicer than buying it in pre sliced, and it means I always have something nice for a quick lunchtime snack lying around!

So, anyway, Ben wasn't feeling very hungry so he thought he'd go over to Nottingham for dinner and blow some money on a weight saving exercise.

And, so, barely able to talk through malnutrition, he was telling me about his dinner, and how some truffled Tunworth made a superb cheese course.

And as luck would have it, I just happened to have a couple of Tunworth's in the fridge at The 5* Randolph, and some summer truffles, I thought I would continue with "Rabbit and Rarebit" combo.

I cut the cheese in half horizontally, just like a cake, and sliced some truffles over the cut surface, put it back together again, wrapped it up, and there you are, easy!

They've been doing it over in France for years, normally with Brie, and with real black truffles the results are incredible.

Now the cheese was maturing all I had to do was deal with the little bunny rabbits.

Legs and shoulders were removed, salted overnight, cooked in duck fat, shredded, mixed with some of the cooking fat, seasoned and then pressed overnight to make some rillettes, or just potted rabbit, if you prefer.

If there's no Parma ham lying around I love nibbling on the trimming of these before dinner service.

You know, it's tough being an Executive Head Chef!

The saddles were boned out, a light chicken mousse was made, more truffles sliced, and sliced ham laid out.

And, as you can see, another sandwich was taking shape, all I had to do then was roll it up in cling film, and give it a soak in the bath, and forty minutes later I'd end up with a nice little truffled rabbit ballotine.

With the chopped up bones a rabbit stock was made, ready to be reduced for the dressing, and I had kept some chicken fat so I planned to add some of that to split out on the plate as well, sharpened with a few drops of white wine vinegar, it just adds another layer of flavour to the dish.

More summer truffles are sliced, seasoned, and put just off centre, as a base for the Tunworth cheese, celery has been julienned, blanched and pickled, along with some little girolle mushrooms and carrot ribbons.

I think it's quite fun to serve carrots with rabbit, Bugs Bunny did enjoy them after all!

And the celery is good as it goes very well with both the cheese and the rabbit, cutting through the richness of the dish, and providing another texture, as is the wafer thin slice of fried bread.

This one is hopping out of the door at the moment, I'm getting through eight rabbits a week, but it's a good dish for service as most of the work is done in advance.

The crab dish was going really well, although I was now looking for any excuse to get some of these bad boys on the menu, so I ordered some.

And, as Andy only went and won Wimbledon, I had the perfect reason for a new summer starter.

I'm already thinking about the dish I'll devise for when Will wins down in SW19!

A couple of sea trout just happened to turn up, along with some cod that I was planning to salt for a garnish on another dish.

Equal amount of salt and sugar were mixed and the trout fillets left to cure for a few hours.

It firms up the texture by removing some of the liquid from the fish, and it means we can serve it cold, perfect for this brilliant weather we've been having.

And as this starter was inspired by all things summery, a cucumber sandwich was also required.

But a nice, dainty one!

So, a cumber was peeled, and then cut into long, thin strips, lightly salted and washed, fresh horseradish was grated into softened butter and crustless white bread was sliced.

Meanwhile the lobsters have been cooked, and the flesh removed from their shells,
These were then roasted and made into a classical lobster stock, along with caramelised vegetables, white wine, saffron, tomatoes and fish stock.

I was going to make some lobster ketchup by setting the stock with agar and blending it with some mayonnaise, smoked cayenne pepper, a pinch of sugar and some lemon juice.

Remember where you heard it first - lobster ketchup.


The last of the English asparagus was just begging to go with this dish, along with some rounds of new potatoes, that were steamed and marinated in herb infused water vinaigrette, compressed cucumber balls and caviar were going to go on top of the sandwich, and finally some nice, big, juicy nuggets of the worlds finest lobster.

Oh, and the cured sea trout.

So, if I were ever to go on a picnic, which I'm not by the way, this is what I would like thank you.

And a couple of bottles of chilled Champagne!

So, still on the lobster theme, we had a group of guests dining last night, and I wanted to offer a lobster starter, but English asparagus has finished, and it's boiling in Oxford, so I thought of using a couple of other summer ingredients.

Avocados for a start.

I wandered around to the covered market on the lookout for some, and as luck would have it, the fruit and veg stall is right next to the cheese shop, so I picked a perfectly ripe Camembert for a late night snack as well!

And I got  half a dozen, really soft avocados, which would make perfect guacamole, although I going to make mine really smooth with some lime juice and creme fraiche.

Everyone knows how nice shellfish and avocados go together, I then thought about adding a gentle kick with some diced, de-seeded red chillies, ripe watermelon would add a sweet juiciness, compressed cucumbers would add texture, little orange segments would also be a welcome addition.

Basically I'm just doing a dish based on south American ceviche.

Now, as these lobsters were quite expensive I needed to bulk them out a little, and as we had a delivery of some perfect John Dory that day as well, I could use them, so I was going to marinade them with some lemon and lime juice and olive oil. I also picked some lemon thyme over them and just steamed them at 50oc for a few minutes, as I wanted the fish to be nice and moist, but just cooked through, as some people are put off by raw fish.

Coriander was picked and my world famous lobster ketchup was taken out of the fridge, ready for action.

I made one up before service last night and it was so lovely and light and pretty, I'm going to put it o the menu at the weekend.

So what a summer we're having down in Oxford!

And just as a prelude to the next one here's a picture of a new dessert I'm playing around with involving  strawberries and cream, in various forms.

It's going to have a little summer pudding and I think Pimm's should be on there somewhere as well.

Right that's it, I'll tell you all about that next time, along with my new rice pudding dessert and if it's possible to update bread and butter pudding.

My monies on yes!

I'm off into town now, cider and sunshine, what a day off I'm having!

Music recommendation for today - "Walking on Sunshine" by Rockers Revenge.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Honey Honey!

Right then, this ones all about Greece.

Inspired by my love of kebabs, this dish is all about those smashing flavours, of a Greek taverna, things like taramasalata, barbecued squid, beautiful fresh fish, char grilled vegetables, tomatoes and olive oil.

And summer in Oxford.

But before that I'll tell you how nice it is in my new kitchen at The Randolph Hotel, and that having a big kitchen brigade allows me to do things like this.

Order loads of fish for a start, so we've got some wild brill, John Dory and squid, they are both for the "honey honey" dish and some, rather large, quite lively cock crabs.

I wonder who would win in a fight, a lobster or a crab?

I think the crab, they have massive claws, which, when cooked provide me with loads of nice white meat.

So all I had to do was get one of brigade to crack all the bodies, make sure he reserved all the brown meat from the bodies, and then pick through it all.

It's the first dish I changed at The Randolph, and it's going really well, as summers perfect for crab, and because of the rubbish start to the year lobsters are a bit too expensive to use at the moment, but we are getting our monies worth as we use every last bit of the decapod.

With some of the brown meat we blend with softened butter, salt and pepper, and that's it.

That's to go on the warm toast, some more brown meat is mixed with thick, homemade mayonnaise, tomato ketchup and Tabasco sauce and lemon juice.

This will give the white meat a nice, creamy kick, which has been dressed, very simply with just olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper.

And the bashed up shells are quickly roasted in a hot oven, and then added to a soup base that has sweated down leeks, garlic, onion and carrots, tomato puree, white wine, herbs and saffron.

Covered with chicken stock, and simmered for a couple of hours, I'm left with a beautiful crab broth.
This could then be clarified and served as hot consommé, or set with gelatine for a cold jelly, or blended with some agar for a warm fluid gel.

I'm keeping everything nice and simple at the moment though, and just reduced it a bit and finished it with a touch of cream and a knob of butter, foamed it up with the bamix, and there you go.

A few compressed cucumber balls, caviar, little lemon segments and a flower!

We serve a lot of these, but it's all Ok, as most of the preparation is done in advance, and the presentation is quite simple, so at the moment it's not too stressful for all my new chefs!

So the next day I ordered in some summer truffles, bone marrow, sweetbreads and girolle mushrooms, although at that point I had different plans for all of them, but in the end I didn't have time to sort out all the new dishes, but I needed a meat starter for the menu, so just as luck would have it, all those ingredients work perfectly together, all I had to do was work out a way to serve them all.

Now I think sweetbreads are absolutely brilliant, and as these were veal, it made sense to serve them with beef, deep fried in breadcrumbs, to add another dimension of temperature and texture to my carnivore's delight.

I'll tell you all about preparing them when I get back to my original plan for serving them, along with suckling pig belly and morels.

It's great being in Oxford!

But back to the emergency dish, and a steak Tartare was needed, of course, topped with some egg yolks that had been cooked in the water bath, seasoned and then whisked with a touch of truffle oil.

Bone marrow was prepared in the usual manner, and just warmed in a little bit of red wine sauce, the girolle mushrooms were pickled with Champagne vinegar, olive oil and herbs, along with blanched salsify and very thinly sliced sweet white skinned onions.

There're expensive though aren't they?

Yes they are!

And I'm using them, a lot.

A few breakfast radishes were sliced, along with my summer truffles, and the rest was simple, a bread wafer, some picked tarragon and pea shoots, the seasoned, chopped sirloin of beef, warm bone marrow and hot, crisp sweetbreads.


And, as it turned out a real success on the menu that night.

So back to the Greek inspired fish dish.

I managed to procure some smoked cod's roe, which, is, of course, used for making taramasalata.

Ever so simple to make, it is just the cod's roe blended with milk soaked white bread, that was been squeezed out of excess milk, some onion juice, lemon juice, a tiny bit of grated garlic and olive oil.

It's best to use a milder olive oil for this as it might end up overpowering the delicate smokiness of the roe if you're not careful.

So, just a couple of minutes of blending, and there you go, homemade taramasalata, or as it's now referred to with my international kitchen brigade, "pink stuff"!

It would be a perfect partner for the John Dory that arrived that day.

I blackened some onions under the grill, ground them to a powder, as this would add a nice barbecued effect to the Dory.

A thick piece of courgette was char grilled, seasoned with thyme, salt and pepper, while the green skin was cut into julienne and blanched.

Fish stock was reduced with a clove of crushed garlic and then squid ink was whisked in.

Plum tomatoes were peeled, quartered, seasoned with salt, sugar and olive oil, and left under the hot plate lights to semi dry out. Not too much though as I wanted their juicy, intense flavour and slightly chewy texture there, and if they are left too long they go like little bits of hard, red rubber.

Potatoes were cut into rounds, and cooked, very slowly, just like fondants, but I used olive oil, some thyme and more garlic, as I didn't want any butter near this dish.

The cleaned baby squid was seasoned and put on a red hot ridged cast iron pan, as I was still trying to get those slightly burnt, charcoal elements into the assembly.

The Dory was steamed at 60oc in one of the Rational's for eight minutes, seasoned with Maldon salt and lemon juice and then a dusting of the burnt onion powder was all that the fish needed before plating up.

A couple of baby onions and micro basil are the finishing touches, one of my first in Oxford.

I, of course, enjoyed some more proper Greek food that night, on the way home, from the Kebab Kid, and I loved it!

Right that's it!

Tasting menu starting next week, and I'm changing all the desserts as well, but before that I'm just going to wander up into Oxford, to meet Sophie from work, take her for a drink and decide where to go for dinner tonight!

I'll tell you about my new, improved, Coronation chicken starter next time, and if I've got away with ordering some very expensive, new white plates for the restaurant!

Today I recommend that you listen to "Blurred Lines" by Robin Thice feat.T.I and Pharrell.

We're loving it down at OX4.

Monday, 13 May 2013

                       ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

So, here I am, just lounging around at home, wondering what I should put on the menu tonight.

I'm off work for a few days, and thinking of new menu ideas, I thought I'd cook Sophie a nice little mid week five course tasting dinner.

And I wanted to try out my new Persian blue salt crystals, and as I'm such a rubbish bloke, I hardly ever take Sophie out to eat, so I could kill two birds with one stone!

Asparagus was always going to be on the menu somewhere, and I thought that some nice, young tender Derbyshire lamb might be nice as well.

A couple of fish courses and a classical French pudding and we would be sorted!

Luckily for me some people in Derbyshire are still enjoying fine food and wine, well at my house we are.

So, as usual, I'm a little bit in it.

First things first though, and I'd managed to get my hands on some nice, plump chicken wings.

Now I love wings, but just cooked like that would  have been far too messy for the meal I had in mind, so what I did was just chop them in half at the joint, as I was going to use the middle section.

And that means I can fry the knuckle ends off tomorrow night and have them with some scampi in some sort of Mexican themed delight.

All I had to do then was salt them for a couple of hours, just to start the seasoning process, and it will draw out a bit of moisture, making them go nice and crisp when I fry them off later.

Right that's one element of one course done!

Next I had to sort out my fish courses, and as I wanted to serve them both cold, it means that most of the preparation had to be done in advance.

With a nod to Japanese sashimi I got a couple of mackerel, whipped off the fillets and pin boned them.

A pickling liquor was made by dissolving some sugar with horseradish cream, yuzu juice, which has a nice, sharp, citrus flavour, wasabi powder and some cracked peppercorns.

This was going to poured, warm, over the mackerel, to take away some of the rawness.

You can do this and leave the fish in the marinade for longer, and fish will keep for longer, so it's a great way to plan in advance, as the longer you leave the fish in the pickle, the more it will "cook", so it doesn't taste raw at all.

A piece of salmon fillet was skinned, pin boned and 
trimmed of all it's fat.

And I mixed equal amounts of caster sugar and smoked Viking salt together, as I wanted a background smoky flavour, but don't have a smoker at home!

Left for a couple of hours, and then washed off it will work well with the other oily fish as a starter.

But as it's also quite rich, we need something to cool it down a little, so cucumber was peeled, deseeded, and chopped into pretty diamonds.

These will be marinated in a splash of white wine vinegar and a pinch of salt, just to make them nice and crunchy.

So, the salmon is ready to be washed off, but I'm just going to blot the mackerel fillets on some kitchen paper, as I want to keep the horseradish, and anyway there was not much salt used in the cure so I don't need to.

A couple of Jalapeño chillies were sliced, as were a couple of red radishes, and then the easy bit.

Plating it all up.

On my new Himalayan salt blocks!

Which, in truth, is the reason for this first dish!

It was alright actually, a bit of a kick from the chillies, cool cucumbers, the nice juicy salmon and fatty mackerel, and I sprinkled on a few more drops of yuzu juice and finally some blue Persian salt crystals.

Now the next course was a nice easy one.

First thing was to sort out a potato salad.

And, as with most French dishes, a couple of shallots are required, these are just peeled and chopped, covered in white wine vinegar and then reduced, until almost dry, as if it's not reduced enough the finished dressing will be too sharp, and then finished with some olive oil, that's the dressing sorted.

Now I first learnt how to do this salad at Le Ritz in Paris, and
it's brilliant, as it goes with so many things, but then we served it, warm, with soft poached eggs, Morteau sausage and black truffles.

It's quite simple in a way, but it's important to get everything just right, or it can be a bit of a mess.

I was checking out the hotels website yesterday, but they are closed for a two year refurbishment, so I'm sure it's going to be stunning when it reopens.

And I'm going to take Sophie!

Now what I should have done is cook the potatoes in their skins, and while still warm, peel and slice them and then put them in the shallot dressing.

But I didn't, I just sliced them and blanched them quickly, and that's why you need waxy potatoes for this as they are less likely to fall apart when they are cooked.

Easy, eh!

So that can be cling filmed, and left at room temperature ready for the next course.

Now I know I'm in the middle of Derbyshire but I still wanted another fish course, and I've found out about this company called Seafood & Eat It, which sells this amazing fresh white crab meat, so I picked some up from Waitrose in Ashbourne and course number two is just about there.

All I had to do was season the crab with a touch of lemon, some salt and pepper and olive oil and away we go.

I added a julienne of salami to the potatoes salad, quartered some sweet cherry tomatoes and chopped a bit of parsley.

And that's it!

Sorry about the fuzzy picture, and maybe I should have used a different plate, but it was delicious, really light, and as I'd served some potatoes with it I didn't need any with the main course.

And how easy was that, it's not really cooking at all!

Right the next one does involve a bit of cooking, and I wanted to try out my new Japanese Agemono - Nabe cooking pot.

It's actually meant for deep frying but I think it's
a bit small, so I intended to cook my asparagus in it.

English, of course, and all I had to do was put a healthy amount of butter, a splash of water and a pinch a salt.

Lid on, and then put on a high heat, the water would start steaming the asparagus, emulsifying with the butter giving it a nice glaze, and it's easier than blanching it and then reheating it, as it saves on washing up, although now we are moving to a house with a dishwasher I 'm going to find out just how pots and pans I can use for one dinner, for two people in Oxford!

Quite a lot, probably.

So, I've washed off the chicken wings, covered them with some duck fat, and I'm going to gently poach them.

Only about thirty minutes, or so, and then, all that was needed was to de-bone them.

And you have to do that while they are still warm, as if they get too cool the flesh starts to harden up, and you might rip the skin, and that, darling, would be a disaster!

Just a bit of gentle pressure and the bones just pop out.

What I might do, when I start using these as a garnish in the restaurant is stuff the cavities with some herbs and bacon, and then I've got some little stuffed chicken thingies for a new tasting menu.

Right, they're going into a nice hot pan to brown them off, and these things make the most superb nibble, it's impossible to stop snacking on the hot, salty, crispy little pieces of poulet!

I had some thin slices of Parma ham that I was going to use as well as it's another great match with both chicken and asparagus
So, that's course number three out of the way, and it can't have been easier, smooth Parma ham, roasted chicken wings and some asparagus, what a spring time delight, and there was no work involved at all, I think anyone could knock up this dish, easy!

Ok, so with a nice bottle of red wine decanted, it's time for that lovely

And as so many lucky people will be enjoying Italy this summer, I thought I'd do Sophie an Italian inspired main course.

Bagna Cauda.



Wild garlic, from my garden.

Home made, warm focaccia.

And a jus!

And an onion, or two.

One rack of lamb should do.

And all I've done is remove the skin, cleaned the bones and cut it in half, diced up all the meat from between the bones, that will be browned off and turned into a stock, and then reduced for the jus, scored the fat on the four bone rack, and I'm going to dice up all the fat and render that down to whisk back into the sauce.

You see I'm going to use every last bit of the lamb, wringing as much flavour as I can from it.

So into one pan goes the lamb trimming, and a lamb stock is on the way, and by dicing up the lamb fat and then cooking it in water, we can render all the lamb fat out.

Now this is very important as lamb fat has a delicious taste, and it seems such a shame to waste it.

Think of dripping on toast, well that's all this is, only served in a liquid form, and it's going to become a classic "jus gras", gras meaning fat in French.

At work we have tub of this on hand, just to melt into hot lamb stock, so that it splits out on the plate, giving a massive lamb hit to the sauce.

And because fat coats the mouth it will linger on the palate for longer, making the dish taste even lovelier.

The focaccia was started in the normal way of a bigga ferment, well fermenting, then being mixed, by hand, with more pasta flour, warm water and olive oil.

This was easy as all I had to do was, every thirty minutes, or so, just lightly knead it with some more oil, no bashing around or heavy mixing, a final prove, and then baked in a red hot oven for twenty minutes.

And because the oven was cranked all the way up I had cook our lamb "en cocotte".

I like cooking like this, as it's browned off, with a couple of crushed garlic cloves and rosemary, the lid is placed on, but slightly ajar, so the steam can escape, and I've just turned the lamb around every few minutes.

I have been known to forget about things that go in the oven sometimes, so this way, it's on top of the stove and I can carry on enjoying my wine without any fear of overcooking the meat!

Rested for half an hour, it's going to be perfect.
So then Bagna Cauda.

It's an Italian delight, but really easy and as anchovies and lamb are such great friends, I thought that along with some wild garlic, blanched cauliflower and nice sweet roasted onions it would be spot on.

Especially as I had some warm, soft bread to mop all those lovely lamb juices!

Basically it's just olive oil warmed with crushed garlic, salted anchovies that will melt into the oil, and then some butter is whisked in, so it's a warm dipping sauce, normally raw vegetables are served with it, as a sort of crudités, Hayden I hope your getting all this, and haven't forgotten my Italian lesson the other night - now repeat after me "Ti amo mi chica bella"!

And as cauliflower is also so good with anchovies, everything would marry beautifully.

So the lamb was carved into nice thick chops, the warm cauliflower was dressed with wild garlic, crushed anchovies and a touch of lemon, the focaccia was sliced, the onions sprinkled with sea salt and there you go, Italy on a plate.

Right we're just hopping back over the boarder now for pudding, and it's another dead easy one to knock up, as long as you have some eggs and sugar you're there.

So, whites in one bowl, yolks in another.

And then a classic creme Anglaise was prepared, just by warming milk and cream with a split vanilla pod, then whisking it over the egg yolks, that had been already whisked with caster sugar, poured back into a pan, it was then cooked very gently until it started to thicken.

You have to be careful when you do this, if it gets too hot you'll end up with some messy scrambled eggs.

Strained through a sieve, and covered with cling film, all I had to do with it was cool it down.

If I had an ice cream machine all I would have to do then is churn it, and then hey presto, vanilla ice cream!

Meanwhile the egg whites are whisked with more caster sugar and turned into a classic meringue.

Now, everyones got different ways of doing it, but I think the best way is to start whipping the whites and then start to add all the sugar, quite quickly, and then just let the machine do it's thing, and you'll end up with thick, glossy, stiff meringue.

Now this can be piped out and baked in a low oven, but I'm making some "iles flottantes", lovely little light poached meringues for our pudding.

You see, poor old Simon's only got one oven at home, and as it was getting super hot for the bread I had to come up with a pudding that could be done on top of the stove!

So, using two dessert spoons, I shaped the meringues, and poached them in a mixture of milk and water until they were firm to the touch.

If the milk is too hot they will inflate and souffle up, but when they cool down they will deflate and look all small and sad!

I'm going to try steaming some at work and then baking them, I think they might go all crunchy on the outside, but stay nice and soft in the middle.

But for this dessert the crunch will come from a dark caramel that is poured over the cold Anglaise and poached meringues, so that it sets and goes all crisp!

A bit dangerous to do, its just caster sugar and a tiny bit of water, boiled to a dark caramel, you have to watch it mind, as in a second it can go too dark and then its ruined.

A handful of raspberries cut through the rich custard and sweet meringues.

I know it looks a bit homely, but I'll tell you what, it's a great way to end a five course dinner.

Right that's it!

Dinner at my house, and all because I'm such a rubbish bloke, and never take poor little Sophie out!

Although I've got a feeling that's all about to change, because I've heard there is one of the finest Chinese restaurants in Oxford, oh aren't we lucky!!

Next time I'll tell you how Sophie blagged two birthday dinners, and I discovered the world's best drink!

Todays music choice "I can see clearly now" by Jonny Nash, it's all down to my amazing vision you see!