Good day

Sep. 9th, 2009 08:59 pm
wildeabandon: photo of me with wavy hair and gold lipstick (comfort)
Despite my utter failure to get to bed at a sensible time last night, and thus running on only three hours sleep, today has been a really good one. On [personal profile] kake's sterling advice I went to investigate Atari-Ya sushi bar, which is just around the corner from where I work. Let's just say I shall never be patronising the Selfridges Yo! Sushi bar again - who would, when they can get sushi half the price and twice as good a couple of streets away. I had a takeaway bowl of chirashizushi for £6.50, and utterly delicious as it was, I could barely finish it. Nom.

After work, which was unusually productive and enjoyable, I went swimming with [personal profile] sashagoblin. I've been going and doing my 40 lengths a week for perhaps a couple of months now, and although every time I've felt absolutely fine in the water, getting out of the pool has always included a period of feeling as though someone had filled my lower legs with lead. Until today. I think I might actually be getting fitter. Rah, and woot, and all that sort of thing.
wildeabandon: waffle with summer berries (mmmfood)
(temporarily filtered away from [livejournal.com profile] obandsoller)

The shiny new crush I mentioned a couple of posts ago is coming for dinner this weekend, and whilst I'm not entirely convinced by the adage of the title, I don't want to miss a chance to impress, whilst also getting to indulge in two of my favourite pastimes of cooking and eating delicious food. Here I present a menu plan, with recipes, and a couple of requests for advice.

To start I'll be serving a white onion soup. Finely chop one very large or two smaller white onions, about three cloves of garlic, and half a teaspoon of thyme. Heat a spoonful of olive oil, and gently saute until the onions are transluscent. Add about 300ml of vegetable stock and a large splash of vermouth. Simmer gently for about 15 minutes, then blend until smooth. Season to taste and allow to cool. When it's time to serve, chop a slice of bread into squares and fry in a very little oil seasoned with salt and pepper. When the soup is hot stir in about 50ml of double cream, and serve in small teacups with a few croutons and a drop or two of truffle oil.

Next I'll be doing courgette fritters - the recipe is in this comment, although I shall be doing them with coriander, and serving them with tzatziki dip.

For the main course I'll be doing a beetroot and goats cheese risotto, with roasted cherry tomatoes and peppers, and some kind of salad. The first question for you, dear readers, is "what sort of salad should it be?" Given the colours of the rest of the dish, I would like it to be predominantly green, and given the richness of the risotto, I would like it to be fairly light.

The tomatoes and peppers (sliced into thick strips) are simply thrown into a roasting dish, tossed with a little extra virgin and balsamic, and go in the oven at about 200 for around half an hour. By the time they come out they'll be bursting with sweetness. For the risotto, chop an onion and start sauteing gently. Whilst that's happening chop a couple of (precooked) beetroots into cubes of around 8mm, and a tablespoon of tarragon quite finely. Add 100g of carnaroli rice to the pan and continue frying for a couple of minutes. Start adding vegetable stock a little at a time, stirring all the while, until the rice is almost the right consitency. Then add a splash of red wine, the beetroot, tarragon, and about 50g of soft goat's cheese. Stir through, and check for consistency - if need be keep adding liquid until it's perfect.

For a sweet, I'm going to do a white chocolate and passionfruit mousse based on this recipe. The second question then, stems from the recipe calling for raspberries to soak up the liquid which inevitably settles at the bottom of the mousse. It being the dead of winter, it would feel unfitting to do this even if I could find decent ones, so what should I use instead? I thought perhaps a sponge of some kind, but that would be a lot of faff. Another kind of fruit? Crushed amaretto biscuits? Something else?

And finally, to end the meal in utter indulgence, home made Valrhona truffles. Bring 150ml of double cream to the boil, then reduce the heat and add 150g of chocolate. Stir until the chocolate has melted, then remove from the heat. Allow to cool for a couple of minutes, then add 25g of unsalted butter, cut into small pieces. Stir until smooth, and chill the mixture for at least three hours. Once cooled, dust your hands with cocoa powder, and taking teaspoons of the mixture roll around in your hands until it forms a ball. Drop each one into the cocoa mixture, and then place on a plate, to be returned to the fridge, until time to serve.

Of course, the only trouble with this is that I'm now looking forward to the food just as much as seeing the boy.
wildeabandon: waffle with summer berries (mmmfood)
I've just eaten one of the best meals of my life, and you all know how many good meals I've eaten. [livejournal.com profile] borusa and I had the tasting menu at Vanilla. It's late, so I don't think I have time for a full review, but I'll post a few highlights. Edit: Okay, I lied, have a full review. But actually, go and eat there yourselves. Really, do.

The amuse bouche was "clay potato with aioli". Neither of us were quite sure what a clay potato was, despite the efforts with google. What it turned out to be was a new potato coated with a very thin layer of clay. Yes, actual clay, as in hardened mud. Apparently it's good for the digestion, so a good thing to start with. It was surprisingly good. The coating was thin enough not to be really weird, but added a strange and fascinating texture. The aioli was extremely good, and there was a seed and salt dip that turn what could have been just a gimmick into a very flavourful bite. I am going to get hold of a recipe for the coating and use it on medallions of pigeon breast. It has to be done.

The first starter was scallop on pork belly (a traditional combination, for very good reason), with a black pudding, bacon and potato terrine. The scallop was very nice, but completely overshadowed by the terrine, which was amazing. If I were a pig, I'd be queueing up to be turned into this terrine. Oink.

The second starter was an egg cooked very very slowly (45 minutes at 64 degrees) - this meant that the yolk and the white were exactly the same texture - cooked, but not quite solid, and as it was brought to the table it was covered with a large glass that had been filled with oak smoke, which they waved under your nose, which added extra layers of flavour. It was served with a jerusalem artichoke foam, vegetables I'd never tasted before ([livejournal.com profile] borusa help me out - the thing like plantain but black?) and wafer thin layers of lomo sausage, which makes parma ham go home and cry becasue it's just not up to the job.

Then the main course. I had halibut, with mussels, chervil - both whole root and a sauce made with root and leaves, scallop and parsley foam, and hazelnut paste. I know what you're thinking - it sounds like overkill, but whilst each ingredient had a strong flavour alone, a mouthful with all of them Just Worked. Robert had the venison. I had a taste, and it was utterly glorious, but I'll leave him to go into the details.

The pre-dessert was a glass full of berry bubbles. The taste was much like a the fruit bit of a really good summer pudding - very enjoyable, but not outstanding. What made the dish outstanding was the texture. It was like taking the frothiest of frothy mousses and making it frothier still, but with just enough structural integrity to not pop. There was something very pre-adolescent about eating it, and we giggled all the way through. It was served with a pastry with a shell like a very thin doughnut, filled with a liquid vanilla cream, which was exactly what you needed to counter the sharpness of the bubbles.

After that I didn't think it could get any sillier, but the dessert proved me wrong. They brought a plate with fresh and caramelised figs, crushed biscuits and toffee sauce, and a shot glass with what looked like rough sugar cubes inside. Then they poured lavendar milk into the glass of what was actually dry ice. It was AWESOME. It was like miniature volcano on your plate. I may have squealed with excitement a tiny bit. You then dipped the figs and biscuits in the pool of milk that gathered at the bottom of the volcano. It could perhaps have had a bit more flavour to it, but y'know, figs are good no matter what, and also VOLCANO!!!

I think this counts as my third favourite meal ever, but it was third of the price of the Fat Duck, and the only reason it doesn't beat Bacchus* is the lack of matching wines - the food was probably slightly better. One thing that I've noticed about tasting menus is that they either wuss out and do traditional food for one or two courses, or they go slightly too far with the gimmicks and end up making something not very nice (even Heston screwed up with the liquid black pudding, if you ask me), but this place got the balance exactly right. Every course surprised and delighted, and a lot of us made us ask "how can this possible work", but it did work, every single time.

*which sadly has now closed down. I shall find out where the chef is now and when I do I shall tell everyone.
wildeabandon: photo of me with wavy hair and gold lipstick (Default)
I've just got in from a late dinner at Le Gavroche. On balance, the meal was probably the fourth best I've ever had, and a full review will follow. (Edit: note to self - this never happens, write the whole things as soon as you get in)

I want to note one particular course now though. It isn't common, but it's not extremely rare, for food to make me moan, and sigh, and feel sensations not unlike the approach to orgasm. This dish, though, this duck pancake and fois gras in a cinnamon sauce, accompanied with a Banyuls 'Reserva' - a rich, spicy, sweet, dark grenache, is the only time food has brought me to the edge of tears.

I started by sipping the wine and letting it flow over my tongue, slip down my throat. I took a mouthful of fois gras. This is a delicacy that I've never been certain deserved its hallowed place, but as time has gone by I've acquired a taste for it, and this seemed like the culmination of that acquisition. Another sip of wine, and although it wasn't the flavours that meshed, there was an assonance, an almost Christmassy sense to the combination.

A pause, another mouthful, another sip, another pause. Then I tasted the duck. I can still, if I close my eyes, feel the crispness yielding between my teeth, revel in the seeming contradiction of lightness and richness and spice and juice released each time I bite down. I met the eyes of my dining companion and he commented, "I think these are the flavours the wine is supposed to match." Nodding my agreement I confirmed it with another sip, and found new layers as the aromatics of the wine and the duck melded together.

But what now? The fois gras, so delicious a moment ago, couldn't possibly compare. Self indugently I took another bite of duck, another sip of wine, and let the glory of it wash over me again.

Resistant still, I nonetheless returned to the fois gras, and was amazed to discover that the contrast to the duck, the smoothness after the meaty texture, the soft opulence after the sharp spice, the brusqueness of the charred edges, gave it something new and revitalised, a harmony where before only the melody had been audible.

Again and again I repeated the sequence, taking smaller and smaller bites each time, desperate not to reach the point where it would all be gone. And then, when it was all gone, and I almost wept, my darling companion gave me the last of his, allowing me to draw out this heavenly pleasure for a few moments more.

If I can ever create something like that I will die happy.

Things

Mar. 7th, 2008 01:03 pm
wildeabandon: photo of me with wavy hair and gold lipstick (Default)
Good things:

Eating reallyreallyreallyreally good food at Bacchus, one course of which has outdone both oysters and chocolate covered strawberries as most erotic food experience ever.

Having a lover within walking distance, who you can call and invite over on very short notice when arriving home after the above. I've not had that since leaving Cambridge, and I've missed it, a lot.

Spending a couple of hours figuring out how to do something quite tricky, finding a rather nifty way of doing it, and feeling smug at levels of sql-fu.

Bad thing:

Realising half a day later that it was completely unnecessary because you'd misread the question. Bah.
wildeabandon: A glass of wine with text "Moderation is a fatal thing.  Nothing succeeds like excess." (excess)
(Aside - apparently the way to get lots of comments on this journal is to post about feminism, as both times I've done it recently I've set a record high. I'm afraid I don't have time to start replying to things that have been said since I last saw a computer on Friday, but thanks for all the interesting views)

So on to the actual update. Last Wednesday I was having a meal with [livejournal.com profile] jamesofengland and [livejournal.com profile] bellabrigida and I mentioned that I'd never eaten veal. James was shocked and appalled, and suggested that the best place to get veal was Florence, and that we should go there for the weekend. I blinked a couple of times, thinking that this was a bit last minute, but the next day I dug out my passport, rescheduled my plans for the weekend.

Unfortunately, then James called and said that as it turns out, there are no flights to Florence from London that give you a sensible amount of time there, so that plan fell through. As it happens though, because of the way the time difference works, it is possible to get to Houston, and have nearly 24 hours there, which would be time for a reasonable amount of touristy stuff.

As you can imagine my initial response was somewhere along the lines of "!?! You're suggesting we cross the Atlantic for a day trip?!?" But on the other hand, it sounded pretty shiny, and I've never left Europe before, so I figured "Why not?"

Getting through immigration was interesting. They also seemed to think that travelling quite that far for quite such a short time was a little odd, but after the eighth or ninth time of asking they seemed convinced that we really were going to be going back again the next day, and we went on our way, with me making very clueless touristy comments like "Gosh, everything's a lot bigger than it is in London."

After dropping our things off at the hotel we met up with some friends of James' and went out, first to a bar called the "Poison Girl", which was, well, exactly like you'd expect a Texan bar called "Poison Girl" to be like. After a drink we went on for dinner, and I did indeed have veal, and it was wonderful, although the experience was made rather odd by what is probably the worst service I have ever encountered. The wait of nearly two hours for a table was unfortunate, but the fact that they managed to fail to understand that the question "is there any dairy in this" applied not only to the main focus of the dish, but to everything on the plate, was quite impressively bad. The fact that they managed it two courses in a row rather beggars belief. Still, as the dairy-free was because of James' Advent fast rather than because it would make him ill, it was quite funny, and the food really was good.

By the end of the meal I was pretty exhausted, since it was effectively about half past six in the morning, so we went back to the hotel, and I was asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow. In the morning we got up bright and early and went to church - it was my first ever Greek Orthodox service, and I got a lot out of it. The familar-but-not-familar liturgy was interesting and moving, and I think it's an experience to repeat over here, but perhaps after doing a little bit more reading so I understand how it fits together.

Onwards then, to the Rothko Chapel. I can't write about this in a way that would do it justice. I'm not good at writing or talking about art at the best of times, and the way that the space affected me was so profound and unlike anything I've ever felt before that I think trying would not only be futile, but would also be damaging to the memory.

Afterwards we went on to look at the Menil Collection, which was fun and interesting, although less "punch to the stomach" affecting. I liked most of the Magrittes, and also the work they had by Robert Rauschenberg, who I'd never heard of before. It was a relatively whistlestop tour though, before we went off for lunch at a place called "Bubba's Burger Shack". This was another venue that was exactly what you'd expect with a name like that. A tiny wooden structure underneath an overpass, which serves burgers - either buffalo or beef, and not much else. They have a wine list of one, except on Sundays when there's a choice of red or sparkling. The red comes out of a box and is served in polystyrene mugs. The burgers are delicious, and despite buffalo meat being very lean, they make sure there's enough cheese and bacon to ensure a proper artery-hardening experience. It was fantastic.

And then, full of buffalo, it was time to head home. We went back to the airport, calling briefly at the "Water Wall", a sort of artificial waterfall type structure, which was strange and wet. They were much happier about letting us out again, and I slept for most of the flight, getting in to Gatwick around seven, and coming straight to work.

All in all, it's been quite a weekend.

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wildeabandon: photo of me with wavy hair and gold lipstick (Default)
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