Friday 19 December 2014

The Lockhart

I've wanted to go to The Lockhart for absolutely ages.  I just don’t know why I didn't go before now.  I was not disappointed.

The Lockhart's entry on Google suggests that it serves 'south western' cuisine.  I'm not so sure.  This is proper Deep South stuff, the home cooked comfort food of the lands below the Mason Dixon line – all American food, without being just another BBQ joint.  This is the stuff you read about in books but never try, the gastronomy of the South you usually only get to sample if you head there yourself.

We started with some bar snacks – in particular, a bowl of crispy pig skin with pickled watermelon rind.

It was the rind that I was most excited by, if I'm brutally honest.  I heard about it somewhere else and was astonished to read it – surely, surely, this can’t really be a thing, right?  Well, it turns out it is – and bloody brilliant it is too.

I insisted on washing down the snacks with a Mezcal sour, which was decent.

 Later on we got some mint juleps that were equally good, if perhaps bordering in the sweet.  One of the friends I was dining with is a professional wine merchant and was after a bottle of the red stuff.  A treat from Washington arrived that I rather liked, if my other two companions (more attuned to old world drops, perhaps) we less eager.

For starters I had the gumbo.

Now gumbo really is one of those dishes you hear about without ever really knowing what it is.  Basically, it's a sort of soup / stew full of seafood and thickened with a burned roux and okra.  Splash a bit of Tabasco in there and there you have a fine comfort dish for an autumn's night.

Friend 1, Matthew started with one of the daily specials, a smoked pheasant salad.

Friend 2, Greg, had the devilled crab.  Nice enough, but I gather a bit over devilled, which sadly had the effect of losing a lot of the delicate crab flavour.

Onto the mains.  Matthew opted for that most classic Southern dish, shrimp and grits.

"Brave", says I when it was ordered.  "That's twice you've told me eating grits is brave," says Matthew. "Is there something I should know?"  Why is eating grits brave?  Simple: most of the time they're fucking disgusting.  Now, I am sure I'm going to get into a lot of trouble for saying that – and rightly so, I suspect – but a lot of the time to a, shall we say unsophisticated, English palate, they are less than pleasant.  Not on this occaision, however.  On this occasion they were fantastic.  My only criticism is that there did seem to be rather a lot of them.

Greg went for the southern fried chicken, which he claims is his favourite dish (the savage).  This came with a coleslaw that was apparently fantastic – and I can imagine it would be, I can hardly think of anything better to go with fried chicken.  It also came with a bowl of spaghetti squash that I was told was totally unnecessary, and unexciting.

I, however, in my humble opinion won at food ordering.  Because I had the slow cooked, smokey Jacob's ladder beef ribs.

OK, so I said this wasn't a BBQ joint and here I have a picture of an enormous BBQ smoked joint.

Well, I actually said that it wasn't just another BBQ joint – it's still got some BBQ joint, OK?  And why wouldn’t it?  BBQ, done the slow, smoky way, is an essential component of the US South eating experience.  And, what's more, this was done brilliantly.  Like, actually, brilliantly.  These ribs were cured with a coffee and BBQ rub, before being smoked for hours and hours and accompanied with a BBQ reduction.  The meat was so soft, so juicy, so flavoursome... I run out of words.  First rate.

It came with a rather sad looking cucumber and tomato salad that was unfortunately a little lazily done but essential given the fatty richness of the meat.

We also kept our mains company with a couple of sides, including a bowl of collard greens – spring greens cooked with vinegar and bacon.

But the highlight was the corn bread, which comes to your table straight out of the oven, in its piping hot little cast iron dish, bubbling away like crazy.  I have never had proper cornbread like this before.  This was just jaw-droppingly good.

Sadly, by the time we'd got through that lot we were absolutely stuffed so there was no room for pud.  Oh well, next time.

 - GrubsterBoy -

Tuesday 16 December 2014

Cranberry Sauce

This is a recipe handed down from GrubsterMummy who makes a batch of spiced cranberries every year around Christmas time.  They're so good, that BigGrubsterSister takes a jar back to Australia whenever she visits the UK.  However, having helped the production process last year and made my own batch this year, I have to wonder why – because they’re the easiest thing in the world to make.  They also have the advantage of lasting for ages – easily a year, we find, often using the previous year's batch each time around (provided you seal your jars properly).  However, that said, it's best when it's fresh, so I recommend making it now for this year.

Strictly speaking this isn’t a cranberry sauce and more a cranberry condiment.  But it's way better, and has the advantage of going equally well with goose as it does with turkey, on account of it being not so sweet.  It's actually quite a sharp sauce – despite the sugar, the sharpness of the cranberries and the tang of the vinegar both cut through.  But that's what makes it so good.


10g whole allspice
2 cinnamon sticks, broken up roughly
20g peeled and diced fresh root ginger
600g cranberries
350ml cider vinegar
450g demerara sugar (which I believe is Turbinado in the US)

You will also need some jars to keep the finished product in, a muslin / cheesecloth about 20cm x 20cm and a 10cm length of kitchen string.

The first thing to do is make up your spice bag, so that you can infuse the spices without getting them caught up in the cranberries.  I do this by placing the muslin over a very small bowl, filling the cavity created with the spices, then picking up all four corners of the cloth and tying the string around the neck.

Next, place the bag in the middle of a medium saucepan and tip the cranberries around it, so that the top of the bag protrudes from a sea of little berries.  Pour all of the vinegar over the berries and turn place the pan over a high heat.  You'll notice that the vinegar doesn’t immerse the berries – that's normal.

Keep the heat on high until the vinegar starts to boil – you should see this as a couple of bubbles appear and you hear the occasional berry pop.  Once boiling, turn the heat down to a simmer and leave it simmering for 25 minutes.

It's probably a good idea to get your over up to temperature now, to sterilise the jars: turn the heat to 120ºC. Also, take this time to wash the jars in hot and slightly soapy water.

At the end of this time you'll see that most of the berries have popped and there's a lot more juice in the pan.  This is good.

Now add the sugar – all of it – and stir it in.  Bring the mixture back up to a simmer and cook for a further 25 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Get the jars in now as well – they need 20 minutes in the oven.  Once they're done, get them out and arrange on a chopping board (so that they don’t ruin your work surface).  Be very careful handling them – as they're glass they'll retain their heat for ages.

Once the 25 minutes is up, your cranberry mix should be nice and mushy and all of the sugar dissolved.

First, remove the bag of spices using tongs.  Give it a good squeeze on its way out to release any juices in there and scrape off any sauce with a spoon.

Using oven gloves and a ladle, transfer the mixture to your jars.  If you're using Kilner-type jars, then wait until the glass is just cool enough to get the rubber seals on and close the lids.  You may see a bit of condensation, but this should pass when they're fully cooled.

Et voila.  Spiced cranberries, ready for the Christmas table.

- GrubsterBoy -

PS: The recipe is actually adapted from Good Housekeeping's 1973 edition of The Cookery Year.  It's a fantastic book, actually, containing a base recipe for almost any dish you want to attempt – a sort of British Silver Spoon.  If you can get your head round conversions from Imperial to Metric, you're fine.  And it's chocablock with wonderfully retro pictures and dishes.  

Friday 12 December 2014

Food Porn #11: Political Pastries

Being in Barcelona, as we were, in the midst of the highly controversial Catalonian independence referendum, there was plenty of marketing, hype and merchandise going around - for both sides of the argument.  But one attempt to cash in on the will-they-won't-they vote caught my eye in particular.  The bakery next door to our hotel had a line in little pastries that were like a halfway house between yum yum donuts (in taste) and gingerbread men (in shape).  For the day of the intended referendum (which never officially came off in the end) the little doughy dudes were done up in Catalan colours and given issue flags yo wave - Yes, No and ?.  Well played.

Thursday 4 December 2014

7 Portes, Barcelona, Spain

7 Portes is one of those restaurants that's managed to basically scoop everyone else in the locale.  You ask friends where to go in Barcelona for a bit of grub, 7 Portes is likely to come up.  You pick up a guide book and flip to 'best restaurants' and you'll see 7 Portes somewhere on that page.  Restaurants like this aren’t always going to be the best – in fact, they can often be the worst – no, it's about having tapped into something bigger, some pulse of the city that means that its patrons feel like they've actually been to that city and lived the experience.  Like Café de la Monde in New Orleans, or Katz's Deli in New York or the Savoy Grill in London – if you visit you just have to go, even if it's not going to be the best meal you get in that city (except, at least in Katz's case, it's gonna come pretty darn close).

The interior of 7 Portes is definitely striking.  It's all oak beams and marble floors, reminding me of what we'd call the 'Grand Café', even if that that would make it Austrian.  Also, interestingly, around the walls are little plaques where famous people are supposed to have sat and taken their victuals.  The table to our left had house Truman Capote, and to our right Ernesto Ché Guevara.  Our table had played host to an obscure Spanish poet that I'd never heard of and now can't remember, which just goes to show that you kinda win some and lose some when it comes to which celeb had previously warmed your seat cushions.

We opened proceedings with a (mini) bottle of cava.  Cava, so bemoaned by the English snob, is big business in Catalonia on account of so much of it being produced from hereabouts.  7 Portes house drop was pretty decent, too.

GrubsterGirl kicked off with the salt cod balls, whilst I dived in with a bowl of clams.

GG's cod balls were pretty good, but sadly just too bland.  A sauce – perhaps a romesco – would have been a delightful accompaniment, even if just to give the fritters a little 'wet'.  Also, the portion size was epic.  Much more than any one person should try to eat for a starter.

My clams, on the other hand, were fab.  Being by the sea you get a good range of seafood, and 7 Portes is supposed to be one of Barca's finest purveyors of Catalan cuisine, so I chose accordingly.  The molluscs were cooked in cider and vinegar, accompanied by thick slices of roasted garlic.  They had a sweet, almost caramel-esque, richness to them that was wonderfully matched by the scent of the vinegar (fortunately, none of its sharpness came through) and the fruitiness of the cider.

For the main, I had salt cod – bacalao for the uninitiated – and a massively popular foodstuff in Spain – was fantastic.  It was cooked with garlic and smoked paprika in the traditional 'llauna' (hot plate) style, and came on a portion of spicy white bean.  Very nice.

Mrs G went on to order the millionaires' paella for her main.  This is basically just a normal paella, albeit with all of the shells and bones removed so you can just pile whole forkfuls of hot, steaming rice and meat and fish into your mouth.  Good times.

It was very good – although once again it was way way way too big – what you see there is the portion for one (I jest not).  It also had slightly too strong a base – the stock (presumably) that was used to make it was so rich and heavy that it ran the risk of (and all too often did) wholly masking the more delicately flavoured shellfish.

Puddings were a bit disappointing.  GrubsterGirl opted for vanilla ice cream with hot chocolate sauce, which is poured at your table.  They're actually very fond of this at 7 Portes, the old school style of having the waiter do much of the work at the table.

I had a similar affair, a block of vanilla ice cream covered in burnt caramel and scattered with a type of turron made from ground almonds.