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An evening at La Cucina Caldesi & a Recipe for Deboned Stuffed Poussin

Oh, life has been pretty busy, eh? You may have noticed that from my posts. I am moving house again. I may start a new blog all about that – I seem to do that more than anything else! Although that would be incredibly tedious, for you and me, and, oh just about everything that can sense any sort of boredom or pain, so maybe I will stick with this monument to pleasure and weight gain that I call Eat Like a Girl.

Sadly, this means that cooking chez moi has all but decreased to nothing. For now my home has ceased to be one, and is an ocean of boxes, vomiting their contents everywhere, while I anxiously decide what’s for the chop, the charity shop, or my new abode. In the middle of that, I am looking for a new place to live, which offers an anxiety all of its own, especially when I don’t have the time to dedicate to it. Before you comment, I know that must change and it will, any day now.

No cooking at home then, but lots of cooking elsewhere for I must feed my habit. I’ve been doing some cookery courses these past few weeks to keep myself topped up, in between endurance eating sessions at Posh Lunch Club and tasting menus in favourite restaurants. I am almost reduced to elasticated waists, *almost*, so next week, I am buying a bicycle.

I love cookery courses with an obsessive’s zeal, they’re so sociable too, and always fun. I like to do courses that offer a new skill or an insight to a cuisine. Something for me to get my teeth into, and get that brain whirring, so it was with much pleasure and a skip in my step that I made my way to La Cucina Caldesi, a bright and pretty kitchen and cookery school, tucked away in a mews in Marylebone.

Cookery Class at La Cucina Caldesi

I have attended a class here before, although not one given by the Caldesi’s themselves. This class was a showcase of recipes from Katie Caldesi’s new book – The Italian Cookery Course – a comprehensive book featuring 500 recipes and techniques of regional Italian cooking, taught by Katie and her husband Giancarlo. Appealing, no?

Running over three hours, we prepared a 3 course meal, starting with gnocchi nudi with spinach and butter, bright green and tender gnocchi, although not as I knew them. Katie described these as ravioli without the pasta skin. They were a nice light starter, and not too tricky to make. Incidentally this is the third time that I have come across them this month, I’ve seen them since on two menus (Fifteen and River Cafe).

Cookery Class at La Cucina Caldesi

These were followed by our piece de resistance, a deboned poussin, or Chicken Under a Brick (Pollo al Mattone). We each deboned one of these small birds, guided expertly by Giancarlo, and stuffed them with chilli, rosemary and garlic, before roasting a flock of them for our delectation. They were served with potatoes roasted with onion, rosemary and pancetta, a dish that I often make at home and really enjoy. How could you not love crispy potatoes with fluffy insides, blanketed in pancetta fat, with crispy pancetta befriending? The poussin was tricky, but delivered lovely results, visually and on the palette.

Cookery Class at La Cucina Caldesi

Cookery Class at La Cucina Caldesi

Cookery Class at La Cucina Caldesi

We finished the meal with hot chocolate cream in a cup, a dessert which Katie’s son had had in an Italian restaurant, and had cheekily requested the recipe on his mothers behalf. Good work on his part, it was a delicious, creamy rich and drinkable chocolate dessert. It is definitely one for the chocaholics that cross the threshold to your parlour.

Cookery Class at La Cucina Caldesi

I would not be so cruel as to tell you all about this and not share a recipe. So, courtesy of Katie Caldesi, here’s her recipe for Chicken Under a Brick (Pollo al Mattone). I’ve edited the method a little to equate how we did it at the class, which is slightly different to the one in the book, e.g. there’s no brick in this version of the recipe – the original version involves marinading overnight under one. I loved it, hope you do too.

Chicken Under a Brick (Pollo al Mattone)

Serves 4

Ingredients:

4 poussins
2 red chillies, cut in half
1 garlic clove, smashed
4 sprigs of rosemary
100ml olive oil
S&P

Method:

Place the birds on a board. Insert a sharp cooks knife inside the first one by the back bone, and twist the knife slightly outwards along one side of the spine, press down firmly and hugging the bone with your knife as you go. Repeat on the other side.

Discard the spine and open out the poussin, snapping the wishbone when you reach it. Repeat with the other 3 birds, then stuff the inside with the chilli rosemary and garlic and a drizzle of the oil, fold together, cosy them in a baking dish drizzled with the olive oil and S&P and roast for 30 minutes or so. You can check that they are done by pushing a skewer into the thickest bit of the breast and checking that the juices run clear.

Enjoy!

I attended this course as a guest of La Cucina Caldesi.

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Cornish Pasta at Fifteen, Cornwall

Cornish Pasta at Fifteen Cornwall
Cornish Pasta? You mean pasty? No? Pasta?!

Yes folks! Cornish Pasta. I’ve just spent a wonderful weekend at Watergate Bay in Cornwall, in fact I am still here, but I had to tell you about this before I left. Fifteen Cornwall, as part of its policy of sourcing 80% of it’s products from Cornwall, has worked with local farmer Charlie Watson Smyth, who has grown, tended to and harvested Cornwall’s first commercially used durum wheat.

Six tonnes of this wheat, stone ground in Cornwall, is going to be made into authentic Cornish pasta. Exciting and innovative, isn’t it? So supportive of local industry too. I was at Fifteen Cornwall yesterday and watched a student make pasta from it. I’ve got a packet in my suitcase to cook when I get home. I’ll let you know how it is.

Cornish Pasta at Fifteen, Cornwall

I’ve had a terrific food soaked weeked of fabulous and local food, foraging on the beach, farmer’s marketing and all of it was topped off with the tasting menu at Fifteen. How sad I am to leave! For now I best get back to my big Cornish breakfast complete with coffee roasted here by the guys at Origin. There’s lots of interesting and inspiring food goings on down here. I’ll be back with more detail on all of it soon.

Cornish Pasta at Fifteen Cornwall

Enjoy your Sunday and hello British Summer Time! Woohooo! How long have we waited this year? Be gone foul Winter.

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Slow Roast Wild Boar Belly with Cider & Puy Lentils

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One day, on a trip to Borough Market, I spied two burly butchers carrying what looked like a small and very hairy headless werewolf about the size of a large dog with great hurry into their shop. I had had a couple of glasses of wine, so with much speed and no hesitation I ran in after them to enquire, is that a wild boar?! YES, I was told grumpily, as they slammed it on the counter. It was bristly and muddy, and very much wild; this little guy had come straight from the forest.

Fresh wild boar! OOOH, maybe I could buy some of the belly? I popped in some days later to enquire. There was none on the counter but they had some out the back, and carved a 1.5kg slab for me to take home and play with in exchange for £12 per kilo. I sound like a wild boar myself now, don’t I? But, my, I was curious and very excited! What would it be like? How would it compare with my beloved pork belly?

I decided, in the interest of science, and obsession, to do a controlled experiment, and to cook it as I often cook pork belly, on a semi-slow roast, with cider and lentils so that I could compare and contrast.

What was it like? Clear, there was real clarity of flavour, if that makes any sense, but that was the first thing I thought. It was fatty, as belly always is, but it seemed less so, as this fella had been running around the forests, getting very muddy as he went. He didn’t have the same opportunity domestic pigs have to pile on those piggy pounds, but it had enough fat to retain much moisture and give it a beautiful flavour. The fat was present but didn’t overwhelm. I loved it.

The only problem is the price and lack of availability, but for a special treat, I’ll be seeking this one out. Delicious! The lentils are unctuous and creamy with the wild boar fat, and a lovely compliment to the tender meat and crispy crackling. If you want some vegetables on the side it’s lovely with some extra roasted carrots and a little cavolo nero. The vegetables in this recipe function as a trivet and supply flavour but are discarded at the end of the cooking process.

Notes for the recipe: keep an eye on the lentils once you add them, and make sure they have enough liquid adding more cider/stock if you need to. You can’t go wrong if you add a little at a time, worst case scenario is that you have lots of lovely wild boar gravy left over. Make sure you keep the crackling dry when you add more liquid.

PS. Forgive the photo. I’ve lost my photo mojo since my camera was stolen. Styling seems pointless with a small semi-broken thing. (I have to open the lens shield with my fingernail). Next purchase = a new one.

Slow Roast Wild Boar Belly with Cider & Puy Lentils

Ingredients:

1.5kg wild boar belly, skin scored by your butcher or with a Stanley knife
3 carrots, cut in half lengthwise for the belly to sit on
2 large shallots or 1 medium onion, skinned and halved
A few cloves of garlic, skins on
A bay leaf or two
A few springs of fresh thyme
White peppercorns (black if you don’t have them but I love white peppercorns with pork)
250g puy lentils
250ml cider
250ml stock (pork or chicken best, vegetable is ok too) plus a little extra stock/cider on hand should you need them
Sea salt

Method:

Preheat the oven to 220 degrees Celsius.
Pour some boiling water over the skin of the pork in a colander or similar. Dry the skin, wiping with a kitchen towel. Sprinkle with some sea salt. The skin will have puffed up which will aid the crackling.
Place the pork in an oiled deep tray on top of the carrots, shallots, garlic, peppercorns, thyme and bay. Roast the pork for 20 minutes. The skin will start to blister.
Turn the heat down to 160 degrees and roast for a further 40 minutes.
Add the lentils and the cider and stock and roast for a further hour. The lentils should be tender by now.
Turn the heat back up to 220 and roast for 10-15 minutes, to make sure the crackling is crisp – take care not to burn it. It really doesn’t need very long.
Discard the vegetables and serve the sliced wild boar belly with the lentils and some of the lovely cidery gravy.

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Posh Lunch Club at The River Cafe

Posh Lunch Club at The River Cafe

I love the River Cafe. It’s so bright and cheerful. By the Thames, the room is lined with high large windows and the room is flooded with light. A big woodfired oven blazes at the end of the room, and the kitchen and bar line the restaurant. Staff buzz behind and high ceilings mean the surrounding customer chatter isn’t imposing. It’s really nice and lively. Even the toilets are cheerful with big bright doors of different colours.

Posh Lunch Club at The River Cafe

It’s at the high end of most budgets, and mine is no exception, so it’s been a while since I visited. Some years ago, pre blog days in fact. Imagine, there was a time when I didn’t blog?! I have long been a fan of their style of cooking, simple flavoursome Italian far so I was excited at the prospect of a return visit, especially as I had secured a reservation with the Winter lunch offer of 3 courses for £24.

Posh Lunch Club at The River Cafe

Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray are accredited with changing perceptions of Italian food in this country, and many established chefs like Jamie Oliver have passed through their kitchens, crediting River Cafe as an inspiration, in terms of their food and their values. Sadly, co-founder and one of the chefs Rose Gray passed away after a long illness recently, and our reservation was moved as a result. Impressively, Ruth Rogers was there, manning the pass. I really like the fact that they never expanded or formed a chain, and stayed dedicated to their restaurant, still cooking and creating. It’s rare these days, no?

Posh Lunch Club at The River Cafe

The set menu offers lots of choice, and I wanted every main on it (there were four). We decided to forego the appetisers and to have a primi, secondi and dolce (starter, main and sweet). I was sorely tempted to go the whole hog, but that’s enough for lunch, when you’ve been eating out as much as I have been lately.

Posh Lunch Club at The River Cafe

I chose the Ribolita for primi, and my friend Caroline, fellow Irish gal and market buddy dining with me that day, chose the Gnocchi di Spinaci. I couldn’t resist two of my favourite ingredients, borlotti beans and cavolo nero but sadly it wasn’t remarkable. It was too wintry for me now that we are in Spring. I would have been happy with it at home, but at River Cafe I wanted something with more vibrance and more appeal. It just didn’t have any va-va-voom. The gnocchi were much better. Light, springy and bursting with flavour in a delicious lively sage butter.

Posh Lunch Club at The River Cafe

My main promised to be better and delivered. Coscia d’Agnello ai Ferri – chargrilled leg of lamb with cannelinni beans , parsley and slow cooked florence fennel. Bright pink in the centre with a gorgeous charred exterior and a beautiful texture, the lamb was perfect. The beans and fennel were a lovely compliment, the beans had a perfect bite, these were not depressing supermarket tinned beans that I loathe so much. Beans are so very underrated, I love the liberal placement of them in the River Cafe menu.

Posh Lunch Club at The River Cafe

Posh Lunch Club at The River Cafe

Caroline had the Coda di Rospo alla Griglia – chargrilled monkfish with anchovy and rosemary sauce, soft polenta with butter and parmesan, and cicoria. Caroline was worried that the polenta would be heavy, but I was confident that this would be the real deal, light and fluffy having been made with great care and over time. Polenta, like risotto, needs careful handling and lots of love, and this had liberal amounts of both. She loved it.

Posh Lunch Club at The River Cafe

The famous chocolate nemesis had to be ordered for dessert, it was mousse like in texture and utterly more-ish with the intensity of dark chocolate but none of the heaviness common in most chocolate desserts. We also ordered the lemon tart which was light and zingy, and a perfect end to the meal.

We had a bottle of Greganico with the meal, a Sicilian white compared to Sauvignon. I preferred it and found it lovely and aromatic with nice acidity that worked well with our lunch. It was light enough not to feel too guilty about a second glass that early in the day! It was a very reasonable £17.50, and was a good indicator for the rest of the list, being the cheapest available.

So, overall a lovely experience, even if the ribolita failed to impress. The service was charming, friendly and very helpful, even when I hopped around the wine list interminably, failing to decide. With wine it came to £40 each, which for the River Cafe is a bit of a bargain. The Winter Lunch Offer finishes at the end of March.

http://www.rivercafe.co.uk/

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How was your St Patrick’s Day?

How was your St Patrick’s Day? Mine is represented by these tights and this soup. Fun, eclectic, decadent and oh so very green with a tiny hint of glamour. I lived it up and celebrated in style and, boy, am I paying the price today… it’s not easy being green! A little debauchery every now and then is good for the soul though, it’s important to clear out the cobwebs, dance a little jig, sing a song or two and start afresh the next morning.

The soup was the start of a wonderful lunch at Racine in Kensington. It was my first visit, why did it take me so long?! I know Henry on twitter, and he knew that we were coming. We had messaged ahead to ensure that we could have the much feted bone marrow with spring garlic on toast. As a treat he also prepared this gorgeous and special soup for Paddy’s Day for us. A light watercress broth with pike boudin topped with black truffle slices which were arranged like shamrocks. It was gorgeous and very elegant and we loved it. A glorious start to an excellent lunch, which I’ll blog about when I am not quite so tired and hungover.

We won the trip to Argentina too, what a wonderful treat! I am so excited, I can barely contain myself. It was very close and I was never sure we would win it, we certainly wouldn’t have if it weren’t for all of your support. So, thank you all for the votes and for making it happen. We’re off to Mendoza in the Autumn.

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HELP! We NEED YOUR votes! Send us to ARGENTINA!

HELP! We need your votes! Vote No. 5!

There’s less than 23 hours left to vote for us to win a trip to Argentina… I am getting nervous.

We’ve been shortlisted for a competition with the most amazing prize of a trip to Argentina. The vote keeps going up and down and it’s very, very close – currently we’re second.

We’re nearly there – the vote closes at 5pm GMT tomorrow. We need every single vote you can give us.

Please vote for us! http://bibendum-times.com/argento-vote-for-your-favourite

Why?

* We dressed as a gorilla, gave away free fine wines to the public in the center of London ,and made people smile, even the security guard who had to move us on.

* It was a great idea! And it has kick started a whole series of public guerrilla tastings that you can go to.

* We deserve it! We work very hard doing all of this stuff for free, and for fun.

* We’re not winning, or at the very least it’s very close, and we need all of your support.

* It’s St Patrick’s Day tomorrow – bestow the luck of the Irish on me, and help me WIN!

Want to see what the fuss is all about? Watch the video then vote for no. 5 here: http://bibendum-times.com/argento-vote-for-your-favourite

Tell your colleagues, your friends, your Mum, your Dad! Cousins, cats, togs, pet tortoises. Anyone you know with a computer and an internet connection. It’s good karma and will come back to you in spades, and I promise in return to be as humorous and exciting as possible, to provide great recipes and maybe some more videos. Vote for me, please!

Please note: one vote per computer, all duplicate votes from the same computer are being removed.

Ps. sorry for all of the shouting and excitability, but… ARGENTINA! Please help me win, and I promise to get back in my box for a bit :)

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Posh Lunch Club at Kitchen W8, Kensington

Posh Lunch Club last week could only be a success, for I was to be in affable company. Oliver Thring, fellow blogger and now writer, joined me for a sojourn to the wilds of Kensington. Always cheerful and ever sharp, I knew we would have some fun.

We had booked lunch at Kitchen W8, a restaurant not on my radar at all, and for that reason, I was keen to try it. It’s like watching a film without seeing a trailer, or reading a review, and not really being sure what to expect as a result.  It can be very successful or perplexing, I wondered what I would get. En route, I spied a tweet from Ollie, stating that they had tried to seat us at the worst table in the room, even though the restaurant was empty. I sighed and speeded on, as ever a fashionable ten minutes late. Chronoptimism, my faithful stalker.

On arrival I spied a beige room, with lots of emaciated blonde older diners, lots of Ladies-What-Lunch. As a less svelte brunette, I wondered if there was a notice barring my sort that I hadn’t spied, the sort with single barreled names, and double barreled bellies. I wondered where these ladies put the food they were eating. Must have been in their handbags or down the loo.  I perused the menu, it was intriguing and I was in excellent company and ready to tuck in.

We were interested in the set menu, fine dining on a budget is what Posh Lunch Club is, as you know. There were three courses on offer for a very reasonable £19.50, two options for each course. We opted for a bottle of house red, a French Cabernet Sauvignon, to power us through it.

For starter I went for a Raviolo of Duck with Rhubarb Chutney and Trompette de la Mort. My second raviolo with rhubarb in as many weeks, I am aware. I may need to change the name of this venture to Rhubarb Club if I continue.

It was a curious dish. The raviolo was lovely, with dense full flavoured and moist duck, enveloped in extremely graceful and delicate pasta, perfect in it’s supporting role, as it should be. There was some finely minced duck on top, which was a lovely textural contrast, but the rhubarb chutney underneath just didn’t work. I really don’t think it was a chutney either, it was just rhubarb. To quote Ollie, in order to be stylish, you take one item off before you leave the house. This dish should have taken this sage advice and left the rhubarb in the kitchen, it would have been perfectly lovely with a simple jus.

The room was filling up now, and a hushed but vibrant atmosphere was developing. Maybe I was settling into the wine. We both opted for the Peppered Flatiron Steak with Pommes Salardaise, Crushed Turnip and Bone Marrow. This was a fine dish, the steak served medium-rare as suggested, with a fine wedge of bone marrow atop. The pommes salardaise were stellar, a firm slice of rich potatoes with a delicious and intensely savoury crust. The flatiron steak was rich and full-flavoured. This was a bold meal with great flavours. An extra green side salad was dressed perfectly, and a good accompaniment. The only thing was I am sure that that turnip was in fact celeriac. No matter, I prefer it and was happy. I liked this course a lot.

Rhubarb obsessed and hoping for a better interpretation than the starter offered, I chose the Poached Yorksire Rhubarb with Stem Ginger, Almond & Orange for dessert. I never can resist it, I had it for lunch today too! I expected a compote but what arrived was some rhubarb on a cake base of sorts, with jelly and icecream and some wafers, effectively. Much better and I enjoyed it, it was understated but tasty and good for the price.

Our meal was over, time for coffee? No. More wine please! A whole bottle. Why not, we thought, it had been a while and we were enjoying catching up. It is precisely for this reason that I am now the proud owner of retro jelly moulds, a new moka and a retro icing set purchased on the way home.

Overall, it really was a pleasant lunch. The service was very professional and swift, the food was well executed and there is some good if adventurous and at times misguided cooking coming out of the kitchen. If in the area I might pop in for lunch again and see if I fared better, I don’t think I would go out of my way to explore. We did have a great time though and it is a lunch to remember, if not for the food, for the laughs and stories shared over the wine. And isn’t that what lunch is all about sometimes?

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Join me on Facebook & Help Send Me to Argentina!

It’s taken a little bit of time to get with the Facebook programme. I wondered if I had the time. I am already very active on twitter and flickr, and spend a lot of time cooking and doing all sorts of other things relating to food. Could I justify more time?

I asked around, why do people do it? Why is it useful? The answer was that it is a great space to do things that you may not do on your blog. Competitions, events, general announcements. But, I do that on twitter? Lots of people use facebook and don’t use twitter it seems. Most people that read this blog perhaps. So, it made sense that Eat Like a Girl have a home there too.

I’ve only just set it up and am feeling lonely. So, please come join me. I promise it will be useful, and I will never ever spam you.

In other news, our Guerrilla Wine Tasting is taking off. Our second one will be very soon. It has a life of it’s own now. A blog, twitter account ( follow @guerrilla_wine), even a facebook page. We’ve been shortlisted for a trip to Argentina as a result of it, and we are desperate to win. It’s down to a public vote so please, please vote for us. It’s a simple poll, you just need to click. Simple!

We’re not winning and every vote counts.

PLEASE VOTE FOR US AND HELP US GET TO ARGENTINA!

Sorry for shouting, but I really need a holiday :)

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Posh Lunch Club at The Ledbury

Posh Lunch Club at The Ledbury

Well posh lunch club is very posh, we know that. But now, it’s very posh indeed, for we have been to 2 michelin star restaurant, The Ledbury.

The Ledbury has been on my list for a long time. The long ineffectual list where places langour interminably. It was raised to prominence once I saw a photo of a gorgeous, pretty amuse of beetroot meringue with foie gras. Within 5 minutes of seeing that, I had secured a lunch reservation for a set menu at a very reasonable £22.50 for two courses or £27.50 for three.

On a cosy quiet Notting Hill St, The Ledbury sits unassuumingly on a corner. Very elegant and affluent, there’s no mistaking that this is high end. It’s spacious and bright, with large windows supprting a high ceiling. It was busy but very gentle. The service was charming and I immediately felt at ease.

This is posh lunch club, so I have to do the set lunch menu, but there is a very attractive tasting menu on offer also.

Posh Lunch Club at The Ledbury

We started with a brief chat with the sommelier on our wine. He was open, friendly, and interested in us getting the best wine within our budget and that would match our meal. Happily we had chosen the same things. There was no pretention, or snobbery, it was really refreshing. He suggested three and we went with a lovely, crisp German riesling.

Posh Lunch Club at The Ledbury

Posh Lunch Club at The Ledbury

The meal started with a divine amuse of beetroot meringue with foie gras. A lovely bright cerise pink, it was really soft and chewy, and the foie gras was melt in the mouth. More please? No? It was followed by a gorgeous brioche with onion and bacon. I was in heaven.

Posh Lunch Club at The Ledbury

The starter was Celeriac Baked in Ash with Hazelnuts, Wood Sorrel and a Kromeski of Wild Boar. Now this was really special, the earthy ash coated the celeriac, which was sliced and had a lovely bite, the wild boar kromeski was like a meaty croquette, dense and full flavoured, the meat was extremely tender. All of the extra details were a pleasure to try and worked wonderfully, I especially loved the grated egg, note to self, use this. This was the star of the meal.

Posh Lunch Club at The Ledbury

Our mains followed, at a gentle pace, this was a lovely leisurely lunch. We had Roast Baby Monkfish with Romanesque, Seak Kale, Razor Clams and Brown Butter which was tender, light and fresh. The fish flaked gently and had a great freh and light flavour. The squid ink on the side (I can’t remember what it was combined with) was velvet and rich, it was a perfect complement. I have since been informed that it is important not to eat young wild fish as it compromises and endangers the species, so, in retrospect, would have chosen the alternative. I know now for future choices, and wonder, if this is the issue I have been told it is, why it was there?

Posh Lunch Club at The Ledbury
Dessert? I can never resist forced Yorkshire rhubarb, so chose Raviolo of Rhubarb with Buttermilk and Hibiscus. The rhubarb was covered with a curious gelatinous sheet, which to my mind was unecessary, but the flavours were perfect, and the hibiscus was a wonderful accompaniment. It was served with vanilla doughnuts, which were light and crispy. I wanted more of those too.

Posh Lunch Club at The Ledbury

We finished with coffees and petit fours which included homemade marhshmallow and an earl grey macaron. Very good indeed and included in the price of the coffee.

The meal with amuse, water, wine, coffee and petits fours came to a very respectable £50 each. This was a very fine meal, in lovely luxurious and relaxed surroundings. I will be back, as soon as I’ve scraped together more pennies.

Another posh lunch club, another lovely lunch.

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February in Food


What a treat to wake up this morning to a bright blue sky. A bright blue sky! There was a big ball of fire in the middle. Were I in a chicken licken frame of mind, I may have panicked, but no, today is March 1st and it is spring. That ball of fire is the sun, gently warming my grey, rain battered frost kissed skin. Daffodils are starting to peep up through the earth, tentatively poking bright green shoots out, and crocuses have thrown all caution to the wind and are brightening up dull gardens. Can you tell I love it? Hurrah for spring.

February was brief and hurried, those 4 weeks always seem to fly, especially after that dreaded hanger on of a month, January. I was starting to feel invigorated and hopeful. Sun and bright skies were surely near. I counted the weeks to British Summer Time (4 weeks left now) and started to do more fun things.

I’ve been very busy, both indoors and out, working on a blog redesign. It’s become EPIC, I’ve been talking about it since last July, working on it slowly. I desperately wanted to put some structure on what I was doing, instead of being so random. As a cook, this started out as a recipe blog, but as the years have gone by (almost three now), I’ve been doing lots more things, and I want to write about these too. It’s very nearly there; hopefully you’ll see the fruits of it this month. I still want the focus to be on my cooking, you can let me know what you think soon when you see it. The handiwork is all my own, and I would love your feedback when I do roll it out, as always, your comments are very much appreciated.

Girls Steak Club at Hawksmoor

Otherwise, what other fun did February hold? I wrote about my time in the kitchen with Francesco Mazzei cooking Vongole. We had the inaugural Girls Steak Club at  Hawksmoor, which was great fun with delicious food and an utter bargain. Keep an eye out for the next one if you’re in London.

Relaunch of the Loft - Nuno Mendes & Pierre Koffman

I went to the relaunch of the Loft and had the pleasure of meeting Nuno Mendes, Pierre Koffman & his lovely wife Claire. We chatted about Turkish food in London, I do hope they like my recommendations.

I contracted the dreaded norovirus and lost a whole week, for 3 days I struggled with water, then gently coaxed myself back to life with Lemon, Ginger & Honey tea. A homemade chicken soup was well intentioned but rejected forcefully, I couldn’t even bring myself to write about it.

Once recovered, I had a wonderful evening at a Paul A Young chocolate tasting at The Ivy Club. Yes, folks, The Ivy Club. I was like a drowned rat, dragging myself in out of the rain. It was a wonderful evening, I’ve long been a fan of Paul’s chocolate and it was wonderful to be brought through a tasting experience led by the man himself. We also got an opportunity to try fantastic chocolate from Mast Brothers of Brooklyn, which Paul’s business partner brought back from a trip there.

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Other food cooked but yet to make the blog was a wonderful wild boar pork belly slow roasted with wine and lentils. It was delicious, the flavour was sharp and clear, and the meat was so tender. I also did lots of weekend brunches, as per usual.

The Blaggers’ Banquet auction finished, all of the moneys were counted, totalling £9349.49. Action Against Hunger were very happy, so much so that they gave us an award for Best Fundraising Event of the Year. We were delighted and look forward to more fundraising events this year.

Action Against Hunger Awards
I kept myself entertained, very rarely a problem, with two new initiatives. I first started Posh Lunch Club, a tour of London’s set lunches in high end restaurants. I’m already booked up for months. So far I’ve had great lunches at Arbutus, Quo Vadis and The Ledbury (review to come). I chatted to Tom Parker Bowles on LBC about my dinner at Arbutus. You can listen to the brief snippet here.

Posh Lunch Club at The Ledbury

Guerilla Wine Tasting

The second initiative was a Guerrilla Wine Tasting. I really wanted to do something fun in wine, so approached Denise of The Wine Sleuth, hoping she would be game, and she was. We had our first one last week, on the South Bank in the pouring rain. Great wines, great company and lots of gorilla fun. We had a gorilla you see.

There’s a ridiculous video (above) which we had such fun editing over wine in Borough Market. There will be more soon. Come join us, they’re open to everyone and free! We hope to get the wine donated as we did last week. It was great wine too.

Beijing Dumplings (Jiaozi)

I spent a week perfecting jiaozi, those lovely Beijing dumplings and exploring possible wine matches. It was really enjoyable although I probably won’t look at one for a while. Recipe and wine information here.

It was a meaty month, with a write up of January’s Pig Masterclass and wine dinner featuring delicious Alsatian wines from Trimbach. I also wrote yesterday of the butchery class that I attended on Saturday at London’s oldest butcher, Allen of Mayfair. I couldn’t recommend it enough.

Butchery Class at Allen of Mayfair

Butchery Class at Allen of Mayfair

A busy month, what could be next? Posh lunches a go-go, fittingly, one is at River Café, following the sad news of Rose Gray’s death yesterday. I have had it booked for a month now and am very much looking forward to that. A previous dinner before my blogging incarnation impressed, this time I will bring my camera.

I have a couple of cookery courses coming up, one evening one at La Cucina Caldesi, and a two day Seafood one at Tante Marie. I can’t wait for both of those. Paddy’s Day looms, I’ll be sure to blog something Irish that you can cook at home for that.

Other than that, I do hope I can finally roll out the behemoth redesign. It’s more the thought of it than the work involved that’s preventing its completion. So, spurred on by a little sunshine, I feel sufficiently recharged to complete it.

See you on the other side!

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A Butchery Class at Allens of Mayfair

Butchery Class at Allen of Mayfair

Life is one long education. I love learning new things, and picking up a new skill if I have a chance. I have been to a number of classes in the last few months, all fun things, and great experiences, starting with a Ham Class at Brindisa and most recently a Pig Masterclass at Trinity. An opportunity to explore hands on butchery at one of Londons oldest butchers recently arrived in my inbox. How could I resist? It was a fantastic experience, and I suspect we will all be writing about it, so, bear with me if you have read about this before.

A small group of food bloggers were in attendance when I arrived, gathered around a large and quite fantastic octagonal table. Slabs of meat were waiting to be butchered. A quick finger count revealed that I have 10, a complete set, and I was advised to listen to the health and safety chat and endeavour to hold on to them. When complete, I donned a white butchers coat and an apron and a Michael Jackson-esque glittering metal glove to shield my hand from the sharp knive. I was ready to go.

Butchery Class at Allen of Mayfair

I am no stranger to knives and the chopping of flesh, from my earlier and brief physiological dabbling at unieversity, to recent forays in my own kitchen. I was keen to glean some tips and tricks from Allen’s that would help me improve my adventures at home. Led by one of the owners, David, we started by jointing a chicken, a feat I have performed many times at home. It was still really helpful to be shown how to do it quickly, and to preserve the yearned for nugget, the precious oyster meat.

Butchery Class at Allen of Mayfair

The chicken jointed, we proceeded to the oxtail. A whole tail each, we sought out the break between individual verterbrae and the knife glided through. I was getting the hang of this and found it really satisfying. Next piece of meat please!

Butchery Class at Allen of Mayfair

Butchery Class at Allen of Mayfair

A rack of lamb proved tricky. I feared the hacksaw being clumsy as hell, but managed it, and had a fantasically frenched rack of lamb to be proud of at the end.

Butchery Class at Allen of Mayfair

Finally, large slabs of sirloin beef were presented, and we prepared a roast each, removing the bone (it was a 3 rib piece), extra fat and gristle, then tying with butchers twine. Learning the knot felt like learning to tie shoelaces, but once cracked, I whizzed through and gazed tenderly at my handiwork at the end.

Butchery Class at Allen of Mayfair

An hour and a half course whizzed by, and we were presented with bags of the cuts that we prepared. Heavy, I struggled home, fingers stinging, but brain whirring, running through virtual receipe rolodecks. I couldn’t wait to get stuck in.

Butchery Class at Allen of Mayfair

David was a charming and helpful teacher, and there was lots of hands on guidance, with other butchers there ready to help. At £100 it is at the pricey end, but you get to bring all of that lovely meat home, so it really is worth it. They also give you a recipe for each cut you take home.

Butchery Class at Allen of Mayfair

The meat changes depending on the time of year, so should you choose to go you may have a slightly different course, but I would highly recommend it regardless. It’s fun, educational, and you get to do some of your weekly shopping too. Allen’s supply some of Londons finest restaurants, including Le Gavroche, so you can’t really go wrong learning from them then, now can you?
Butchery Class at Allen of Mayfair

http://www.allensofmayfair.co.uk/