Saturday, 30 March 2013

Je m'appelle Fatboy

Tomorrow we're off to France to visit my parents for a few nights. Back in January they jettisoned themselves from the UK, headed for brighter pastures in beautiful Brittany. Playing out their lifelong dreams they invested their children's inheritance money in bricks and mortar, and so Maison Calon Lan was born. So I'm very much looking forward to the new places I'm going to see, new people I'm going to meet and, of course, new foods I'm going to try. Hopefully I'll report back next week with some garlic frogs legs or horse burgers. Too soon?

For now I'm just running around doing the important stuff that needs doing before we leave. Like, drying my chilli peppers out on top of my coffee machine. See you in a week.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Bread Day

It's a wet and windy Saturday in London, what do you do? If you said 'shopping', 'cinema', 'museum', or 'pub' - you'd be dead wrong. Normal, perhaps, but wrong. Obviously you spend it with four close friends, half a tonne of flour and a boat-load of brie. (And, embarrassingly, Magic Mike buffering on a movie streaming website in the background. I've torn up my man-card.)
Emily - who organised the day of dough - was bouncing off the walls when we showed up. When I tell you she'd thought of everything, she'd thought of everything. Eggs, herbs, spices, sugars, oils and so much flour we've now all got shares in a local mill so that's pretty cool.
This dough has got a lot to prove...sorry.
With it being Easter just around the corner I thought I'd make some hot cross buns. Plenty of fruit, some good kneading action and a whole lot of time to prove is what you need.
The first loaf! Emily and Sophie (shoutout) done an Irish soda bread. They even made their own buttermilk. Skills. This was really tasty. Rustic, rich and satisfying. Boom.
Thom made these. Yeah. Thom. I know. Anyway he made these stilton and thyme rolls. I have to say they were good because he walked to the shop all by himself to get the ingredients. And because he thinks it was a competition and that he won. It wasn't, he didn't. But these were good, they really were. A solid C+ I think, and he'll be proud of that.
This one was made my girlfriend/fiancee/future minder and I couldn't be more impressed. Proper artisanal stuff that, with a great looking shine. And it tasted great too. Bit of pate, bit of spicy tomato soup...ain't nothing wrong with that.
Sophie (shoutout #2) and Emily brought also these guys to the party. Classic bread rolls that tasted as good as they look. Strong contributions from a pair who, I'm pretty sure I heard ask 'what's kneading?' Legends.
This was a big loaf I made with stout and wholewheat flour, then made a flour paste and spread seeds, herbs and minced garlic on top. So you know it's good for you.
Finally, my hot cross buns came out pretty good as well. Glazed with golden syrup then halved, toasted and served hot with butter - all of your dreams come true. So that was my Saturday. I made a load of bread with a load of good friends. Can't be beat. C'est incroyable. (#3)

Saturday, 16 March 2013

The Perfect Chicken Club

I left the nest the best part of a decade ago. Heading off for university, I was excited about my newfound independence and the adventure that lay ahead of me, and in a lot of ways I've never looked back. But even now, several dorm rooms, apartments and houses later, I still feel like there's something missing in my life. Something that, the minute you leave home, you can never get back. Obviously I'm talking about my parents' fridge. Bottomless and automatically-replenishing, I had few better friends during my teenage years, and certainly none who were as giving. More often than not what I dove into that bad boy for was sandwich ingredients - which I would pile high onto each other in ridiculous fashion before trying to sneaky the snack up past my parents and into my bedroom. Well, they say practice makes perfect and I definitely had a lot of practice. So here's my ridiculous, but perfect, chicken club sandwich. 10 years in the making...once a Fatboy, always a Fatboy.
There is NOTHING better than homemade mayonnaise, and a sandwich of these epic proportions demands something a little bit special. Whisk together 2 egg yolks, salt and pepper and a tablespoon of dijon mustard, then very slowly add about 250ml of good quality olive oil. An electric whisk works wonders in these types of situations. I then split mine between two ramekins, adding chilli sauce to one and garlic powder to the other...huge flavours here.
Great food doesn't have to be fancy. Just top ingredients and flavours that work well with each. Lay out all of your sandwich fillings and admire them, then get ready to build. I genuinely believe that creating the perfect sandwich is artistry - no different than painting a picture or writing a song. You layer all the elements together just right and you'll end up with a masterpiece. That's what I tell myself at least.
Toast your bread. IT'S GOTTA BE TOASTED. It's a scientific fact that toasting your bread makes any sandwich taste better. Chilli mayo x 1.
I fried one butterflied chicken breast in a bit of olive oil, with some smoked paprika on both sides. Slice it up and layer on your mayo. Keep it simple...stupid. 
Now I know you don't win friends with salad, but this is the perfect chicken club sandwich, and the perfect chicken club sandwich calls for baby gem lettuce and thick slices of tomato.
The double-decker. A sandwich amongst sandwiches. Lather both sides with your choice of mayonnaise and then stick some ripe avocado on top. Holy guacamole this is looking good.
Bacon. Streaky. Smoked. All of these things need to happen.
Obviously there's gonna be cheese. A couple slices of Swiss should do the trick.
Add a final layer of mayo-schmeared toast on top, spear with cocktail sticks, crack open a bag of potato chips and enjoy. You beautiful artist you.
Find me a better looking sandwich than that. I dare you.

Friday, 8 March 2013

White Chocolate & Apricot Bread & Butter Pudding

I'm not feeling very well at all so let's keep this one short and sweet. If you're after some classic comfort food, you just can't beat a good bread and butter pudding. Quintessentially British, and quintessentially bloody fantastic. I'm pretty sure there's a Sunday this weekend. Use it to make this.
When I got my first job working in kitchens, I remember the first thing I learnt to make was this delicious white chocolate bread and butter pudding that we used to make with slices of panettone. Rich and sweet...it was the perfect pudding and last weekend I decided I had to recreate it. With it being March and not Christmastime, I didn't actually have any panettone lying about and so for this one I've used a nice brioche loaf. As ever, the more butter the better.
Pour 150ml double cream and the same of whole milk into a saucepan. Add a couple teaspoons of vanilla extract and stick on a low heat until you've got a nice gentle simmer. Add 75g white chocolate pieces and stir until melted into you've got one saucepan of creamy, chocolatey, milky goodness.
In a large, clean bowl add 3 medium egg yolks to 60g caster sugar. Get out your whisk and go to town until you've got a smooth, pale mixture. Strong wrists are a must. Carefully pour the warm milk mixture over the eggs, whisking constantly. Return to the pan and heat gently over a low heat, whisking until the mixture thickens into a nice custardy gloop. That's right, 'gloop'.
Cut 6-7 slices of brioche, butter on side and then halve and arrange across a greased baking tray, neatly if you can. Take a large handful of dried apricots and roughly chop, then scatter across the top.
Pour the egg mixture over the top, making sure you get into all of the sneaky little nooks and crannies. Sprinkle with a couple of tablespoons of demerara sugar and bang your pudding into a preheated oven at 220C for 10-15 minutes, keeping an eye on it until you've got a lovely golden brown crust on top.
That's the lot. Pull it out, slice it up, cover it in cream. I hope you all like this one. I'm off to bed.

Ingredients
150g whole milk
150g double cream
2 tsps vanilla extract
75g white chocolate pieces
60g caster sugar
3 egg yolks
handful dried apricots
6-7 slices brioche
2 tablespoons demerara sugar
butter, for greasing