Thursday 24 July 2014

Cocktails at the Ritz

Cocktails at the Ritz.  Just the sound of those words betrays the decadence.  And decedent it was.  A real treat.

The cocktail bar at the Ritz, known as the Rivoli Bar, is certainly vying to knock the Savoy's American Bar off its perch as London's swishest place to imbibe mixed drinks.  Recently refurbished, it has all of the 1920s charm one would expect of the Ritz in general and certainly of their flagship bar.  They've spent that refub money well, though: it is stunning.

We were only stopping in for the one, sadly.  I had the Jalisco Smash, a new take on the classic mint julep, combining aged tequila, shiso leaves (a kind of Japanese herb, similar to mint (in taste, not style)), fennel seeds, lime and cucumber.  It was lovely.  But sadly too short.  Way too short, in fact.  With a julep there's a degree of stirring, which lengthens the drink.  Not here: it was gone in minutes. 

Grubster Girl had the Me Encanta, one of their infamous champagne cocktails, mixing aged tequila, grapefruit infused agave nectar, kaffir lime leaves and champagne.  Again, very nice (and plenty of it this time).  Quite dry (but then champagne cocktails often are) but very tasty. 

It was a fantastic experience, it really was.  But I'm not sure I'd rush back, if I'm honest.  Nothing wrong with generally – nothing at all, really – except the numbers on the menu.  The prices are there to remind you of where you are: Caviar can be bought at a snip at £14.50 a gram (supposedly to be accompanied by a particular vodka which comes in at £35 a dram).  Cocktails (what we were there for) start at £19 and go all the way up to a mind blowing £350 per glass (honestly, no joke, but then you're talking a drink mixed with 1910, pre-revolution Bacardi).  This is steep.  Proper steep.  Almost to put one in one's place, I feel, to give you a sense of luxury that is born only from the prices, a sort of Veblen bar.  Against the American Bar's (frankly, I feel, superior) cocktails at £14 a pop (which is still bloody expensive, don’t get me wrong) I just felt it was all a step too far.

 - GrubsterBoy -

Tuesday 22 July 2014

Basil Sorbet and Balsamic Strawberries

This is another one of those recipes that I am going to keep up my sleeve for a dinner party because, again (much like whisky cured salmon or making your own home made oatcakes) it makes you sound like a phenomenal, nay, award winning, chef without actually being even remotely difficult.  Please don't allow the length of the post to confuse you - this is a lot easier than it looks.

The one thing I do recommend, however, is that you do it with an ice cream maker.  I have one that goes in the freezer for 48 hours before hand, which is a bit of a faff but frankly does the job just fine – they start from about £30 these days, whereas the worktop machines (that have an in-built freezer unit) start from about £300.  You can do it through the freeze, whisk, repeat method (freeze for a few hours, whisk the partially frozen crystals, freeze again, etc...) but I advise against it.  Before I had my machine I had a (thoroughly underserved) reputation for being crap at ice cream based on an incident during a weekend in the country when I made sorbet, the boys turned up on the Friday night as I was meant to be doing the waiting-and-whisking bit, we got lashed and I forgot to whisk, and we ended up with a block of frozen syrup for pudding the next night.  So save yourself the bother. 

You will also need a stick blender or (if you're lucky and have one) and actual smoothie blender. 



300g caster sugar
125g basil leaves
Juice of one lemon


600g ripe strawberries
30g caster sugar
3 tbsps balsamic vinegar

Before you begin, ask yourself this: Are my guests coming tonight?  If the answer is yes, then find another recipe.  This recipe takes two days – one to make, and the other to freeze.  At a pinch you could do steps 1-4 the night before, and then get up super early on the day of the party and do the rest as quickly as possible.  It feeds 4 to 6.

1. Pick your basil over, removing any grim-looking bits, and breaking the stalks up into sections no longer than an inch – shorter even if you can be faffed.  Omit this step at your peril – you will spend days (literally) trying to unravel long fibrous stalks from the blades of your blender.

2. Place the basil and the sugar, along with 300ml of water, in a large(ish) saucepan over a high heat.  Bring it to the boil until the sugar has completely dissolved and the basil wilted a little, so that it looks a bit like steamed spinach.  Take it off the heat and allow it to cool.

3. Whilst the sorbet syrup cools you can get started on the balsamic glaze.  Mix the sugar, just two of the tablespoons of vinegar and two tablespoons of water together in the smallest pan you have.  This should go over a medium heat, stirring regularly.  Dissolve the sugar and bring it to the boil, cooking off most of the liquid.  Turn the heat off, cover and leave it to cool right down to room temperature. 

4. By now your sorbet syrup will be cool enough to play with (but careful, it will still be hot).  Basically, you need to blend it smooth.  This really requires a blender, but I don’t have one of those, so I improvised with a kilner jar and a stick blender.  Do NOT put it in a food processor.  Turns out those puppies aren't waterproof.  Basically it came out like an erupting volcano. 

Once you've liquidised it will look like one of those hateful smoothies that hippies / healthfreaks drink in the morning and wax lyrical about.  Fortunately, this is pretty bad for you (it's basically almost entirely just sugar) and tastes wonderful, so no harm of it actually being one of those. 

Put it through a sieve, using the back of a wooden spoon to force out as much moisture as possible.  If you're being super diligent you can put it through a muslin immediately afterwards, but I could not be faffed.  Once that's done it'll look even more like one of those hateful smoothies, but relax – it still isn't.

Add the lemon juice now, then stick a lid on in and let it cool right down to room temperature.  If you can, you could even stick it in the fridge overnight to cool it down ready for the churn (this is not essential, but it helps if you're using a frozen bowl churner). 

5. Right, both mixtures should be cold now – or at least not hot.  If you're using an ice cream maker that's ben in the freezer you need to work pretty quickly.  The way this system works is that the frozen core of the mixing bowl will cool the syrup and freeze it, whilst churning the ice crystals.  The second law of thermodynamics, as immortalised by Messrs Flanders & Swann, dictates that that the entropy of an isolated system never decreases, because isolated systems always evolve toward thermodynamic equilibrium, a state with maximum entropy.  Or, put more simply, "heat can't move from the cooler to the hotter"  This means that the flow is not cold moving from the bowl to the syrup, but heat moving from the syrup to the bowl.  This only really has one practical application here: the syrup will never, ever get as cold as the bowl.  Your freezer will have dropped the bowl's temperature below 0°C (probably to something around -18°C if you've given it enough time) but it's now only getting hotter – both from the ambient temperature and from the syrup.  So the longer the bowl is out of the freezer, the less effect it will have on the syrup.  Similarly, the hotter the syrup at this stage, the less effect the frozen bowl will have.

So get moving.  Have everything prepped and ready to go – syrup in a jug, ice cream maker set up, everything it its place, before getting that bowl out the freezer.  Then, once it's out, go go go. 

6. It's really very simple from hereon in, in terms of the sorbet at least.  The machine's makers should have given you some instructions, so just follow them.  Only thing I would say is this: it's a lot like making jelly from scratch: you follow all the instructions and then you get to this stage and nothing happens for AGES – and you're convinced nothing will – until suddenly you look down and it's basically a slush of ice crystals.  Mine took about 30 minutes to turn into slushie, a bit like this:

Ideally, I'd have it slushier, more like melting snow, but by this stage the bowl had lost most of its coolth (that's a word, OK?) and there's a risk that you end up reversing the process.  I think it was a combination of my bowl not cold being enough (it had only had 24 hours in the freezer) and the syrup not being cold enough.  Neither made a dramatic difference, but there's no reason to let that happen to you.

But anyway, once you get to this stage, you just scoop it all out with a spatula and get it into a tub in the freezer.  It'll need at least a couple of hours there. 

7. Returning to the balsamic strawbs... Your vinegar syrup should be cold by now.  Stir in the third and final tablespoon of vinegar.  Hull and quarter the strawberries and place them into deep dish.  Pour all of the vinegar syrup over them, turning them very carefully with a spoon to dress them like a salad.  Put them in the fridge for at least a couple of hours, turning them at least once during the process. 

8. That's pretty much it.  When you're ready to serve scoop a spoonful of strawberries into the bottom of a bowl and add a wee bit of the vinegar syrup.  Then put a ball of sorbet on top and serve to some pretty impressed guests.

- GrubsterBoy -

Sunday 20 July 2014

Food Porn #8: Charcuterie

All the charcuterie you can imagine, brought over from France.  Another food feast at the hands of GrubsterMummy.

 - GrubsterBoy -

Thursday 17 July 2014

Tommi's Burger Joint

Our first visit to Tommi's Burger Joint was slightly accidental.  We had to be up in town midweek during the day, for one reason or another, and so it made sense for us to plan somewhere decent to have lunch.  Somewhere, perhaps, where there would usually be a queue, but it being (a) a school night and (b) lunchtime we might not have to wait outside for ages (if at all).  So we headed to Patty & Bun.

Except Patty & Bun was closed for refurbishment.  So we wandered to Meat Liquor.  Except there was a 45 minute queue (no, really, how absurd is that?!). 

And so we came to stumble upon the utterly unprepossessing frontage of Tommi's Burger Joint.  I had never even heard of Tommi's before that day, but it got good hits on Google for burgers so I thought we should give it a try.  Also, by this stage I'd have gone anywhere given that I was pretty sure GG was about to start tucking into my right arm.

Basically, the concept (if you can call it that) is this: you go in, go up to the bar, and order yourself a burger / accoutrements / drink then scramble to find somewhere to perch.

Then you go hit the best condiments counter I have ever seen.

We both ordered ourselves a Texan Burger, the special of the day, which was comprised of a glorious medley of pulled pork, slaw and chipotle mayonaise.  To go with it we had fries and a couple of milkshakes. 

 First up, the shakes.  Bloody marvellous.  Pure Americana in a glass, they were thick, creamy, rich, sweet buckets of joy. 

Then the burgers arrived.

The patties were cooked to absolute perfection, pink in the middle, nicely juicy, very tasty.  You can opt for something called a 'steak burger', which is rib eye, fillet and rump steaks minced together and burgerified.  Our burgers were their standard fare, and bloody good they were too. 

The filling was a great little combo.  There was some fear (from GG only) that it could have been a bit of a spice fest, but it wasn’t at all.  It was very well balanced, in fact - and not nearly as sloppy as I thought it might be.

I heartily recommend Tommi's.  In a very crowded field, they've managed to put together something that, whilst not original, seems somehow to feel one of a kind.  Well done to them for that, at the very least.

- GrubsterBoy -

Tuesday 15 July 2014

Little Rustic Lemon Tarts

Ok, so these didn’t work out amazingly, although they were still pretty tasty.  The thing is, I cannot bake.  I may have mentioned this before, and I'm sure it sounds ridiculous, but I just cannot bake.
I was seduced by the simplicity of the recipe (from Butter Baking) for the tart cases – it claimed that no blind baking with beans or beads or whatever was needed.  In fact, the recipe for the cases is incredibly simple.  Which is great for someone bakingly-challenged like me.  The problem was that they just didn’t live up to it – not the best cases, they did actually need to be baked blind with beans (they puffed up a bit too much in the process) and they weren't as buttery crumbly as I was promised.
BUT: The tarts still tasted good.  I'd like to say that's the consequence of my natural prowess.  I doubt it is, but I'd like to say so.  So I'm going to give you the recipe anyway, because it's pretty damn easy and, for the most part, can be made of larder-type ingredients.  If you have a better recipe for tart case pastry, I'd use that – but in a pinch this is a phenomenally easy way to get the job done. 

For the pastry:
300g plain flour
180g salted butter
2tbsp vegetable oil
2tbsp caster sugar

For the lemon custard:
3 eggs
100ml single cream
150g caster sugar
3 lemons

1. Starting with the pastry cases, preheat your oven to 200°C.  Mix the butter, sugar and oil together with two tablespoons of water in an ovenproof dish. Put the mix in the oven for 15-20 minutes so that the mixture is completely melted and starting to brown around the edges.  Like so:

2. Add the flour quickly before the butter solidifies and mix it all up – be careful, though, because it will be superhot.  When you're done you should end up with a ball of very sticky, greasy dough. 

3. Let it cool enough for the dough to be manhandled, then start to fill a muffin tin with the dough.  I say a muffin tin, as it will be much deeper than your average tart tin, which is good because you're making a pastry that will end up relatively thick – so if you want to get a good smack of filling, you need something a little deeper. 

Take a lump of dough, about the size of a gold ball, and flatten it out in the middle of each muffin hole, pinching it up and around until it fills the cavity.  Prick the bottom of each one with a fork.  Now, the Butter Baker recipe and I diverge a little here – they say that there's no need to blind bake, I found that the pastry puffed up like a puffer fish on heat making it difficult to get any filling in there.  So, I reckon some greaseproof paper filled with baking beans / actual beans would be a good idea.  Or, you could just pop little cupcake cases in there and fill them with the beans – much easier, if less cost effective.

Either way, bake them until golden – it took me about 20 minutes, but I think my oven may be highly suspect.  When they're done, turn the oven down to 150°C.

4. Whilst they're baking, you might as well get on with the lemon custard filling.  Start my zesting and juicing all of your lemons.  When zesting, as ever, try to avoid picking up too much of the white pith, as this will be bitter and yuck.  You want the zest chopped as finely as possible – I have used a zester and then minced like I was chopping herbs.

5. In a large mixing bowl, whisk up the eggs with a hand whisk – no need to go crazy with the electric here.  OK, so there are five eggs in this bowl – that produced way, way too much custard.  I am doing you a favour, yeah? 

Then mix in the cream, sugar, zest and juice together, again with a hand whisk.  You should end up with a bright yellow custard.

6. Pour this into the pastry cases.  You need to do this quite carefully.  The cases, being a bit 'rustic' (read: shit) will have lots of little cracks around the edges.  If the custard spills through the cracks it will run down and case the sides.  I did not care at all, but you might have a little bit higher aesthetic standards than I do. 

7. Once the oven has reached 150°C pop them in for 15-20 minutes or so, until the custard has set but is still soft in the centre.  Take them out and allow to cool before serving. 

They go fantastically well with raspberry sorbet.  As I was doing this for a spur-of-the-moment dinner party, I bought the sorbet.  However, you could make your own very easily, I would imagine.  At some point in the future, I might just give you a recipe for that*...

- GrubsterBoy -

* PS: There is a recipe for a sorbet coming NEXT WEEK.  Promise.  Not raspberry, but still sorbet.