Belated Festive Post #2 – Smoking Bishop & Eggnog

“A merry Christmas, Bob!” said Scrooge, with an earnestness that could not be mistaken, as he clapped him on the back. “A merrier Christmas, Bob, my good fellow, than I have given you, for many a year! I’ll raise your salary, and endeavour to assist your struggling family, and we will discuss your affairs this very afternoon, over a Christmas bowl of smoking bishop, Bob!”

– Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol (1843)

On hearing these words (or a version of) being uttered by Jim Carrey’s animated form towards the end of A Christmas Carol, I was roused from the kind of semi-catatonic state only brought on by the heady combination of Christmas films and too much Stilton. Although this is obviously not the best rendition of A Christmas Carol, I hope you will forgive me.

To clarify, Patrick Stewart is the best Scrooge…although its hard to argue that both the Disney version, featuring a Victorian-ised Scrooge McDuck (Ducktales…a woo-ooo), and the Muppet’s effort with Michael Caine (Michael Caine! Can anyone else believe that? I’d completely forgotten), are not superb efforts in their own right.

Back to Carrey though. It was upon hearing these words that I remembered watching Rick Stein’s A Cornish Christmas for the umpteenth time, specifically the scene where he is sitting huddled in the corner of a dimly lit pub with a saucy maid and big steaming bowl of Smoking Bishop – the true Dickensian festive drink!

I knew I must have it. And Eggnog too of course, because what’s not to like about bourbon and custard?

Smoking Bishop

Russian Roulette - in lieu of a bullet, the disgraced West Ham mug

Russian Roulette – in lieu of a bullet, the disgraced West Ham mug

I was delighted to find this recipe and also the above quote at the very helpful blog The History Kitchen to which I am eternally grateful for providing the Phillips’ family household with this beverage on Christmas Eve. It (nearly) inspired us to go carolling it was that good. But then we played Trivial Pursuit instead which is always going to be hard to beat.

The key part of this is to leave the baked and clove-studded citrus fruit (above) to soak for 24 hours in the red wine before adding in the port. The waft you get when you unveil it after this mulling feels like Father Christmas himself has punched you square on the nose and asked if you’re man enough. In a jovial, good hearted way.

The port, spices, red wine and fruit completely knock the socks off any mulled wine I’ve ever tried. I would seriously recommend giving this a go. I’d even crack this out now during the grim dark nights to enjoy by the fire (or perhaps a hair dryer under the sheets if you’re as environmentally friendly as Laura.)  Bottle up any leftovers in the port bottle and it’ll mature nicely.

Eggnog

I had been wanting to drink this for every Christmas since I can remember. I think its testament to how corpulently lazy I get around this period that I’ve only just managed it in 2014.

Slightly less helpful recipe here as it uses American measurements (it is the HOLIDAY season after all) but just convert it on Google and you’ll be fine.

The forgotten sherry glasses, dragged from the back of the cupboard and bastardised.

The forgotten sherry glasses, dragged from the back of the cupboard and thoroughly bastardised.

I would say that, unlike the Smoking Bishop, this drink isn’t for everyone. If you’re a fan of cold custard (and we are habitual family of such), then you’ll be well away. Vamp up the bourbon measurements though to give that much needed bit of bite.

Egg-static lads

Egg-static lads

 

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Belated Festive Post #1 – Stollen Wreath & Cola Ham

Get in the hole!

Get in the hole!

It would take a bold man to argue that anyone is feeling Christmassy any more. In the midst of a bleak January riddled with guilty drinking and furtive feasting, there is arguably little for our stomachs to look forward to in this fallow month. So, if you will allow, let me take you back to a time when all was well and full of stodge, binging and general merriment…

‘Big D’ (Dad) rules the roost when it comes to the main event in the Phillips’ household over the holiday period; judge, jury and executioner on the 25th without exception. However, this does allow us minnow Phillips’s to have a pop in the kitchen in the run up and usually afterwards for good measure.

This year I thought I’d chip in with something sweet that would also flex my bread making learnings and the ham (a righteous honour once the sole responsibility of provision by Ronnie ‘The Rocket’ Goldfinch, my grandad).

Unless a dish is reasonably tried and tested in our household, it tends to come under major scrutiny even before the ingredients are bought. Anything involving ‘too much red meat’ normally requires draining negotiation with my mum and anything that is initially dismissed by my dad is a long slog to win back around.

The Cola ham certainly raised a few conservative eyebrows around the family, with I think only my little brother giddy at the prospect of meat boiled in sugary syrup. The stollen wreath less so but only because none of us really knew what it entailed, myself included.

Stollen Wreath

As alluded to above, this is basically a big sweet bread with boozy fruit and a marzipan center running through the middle. Niiiiice. You can find the recipe here.

Rum soaked fruit - always a good shout.

Rum soaked fruit – always a good shout.

Despite coming out looking seriously pimping (if I do say so myself), it was surprisingly straightforward to make. Anyone that’s made a loaf of bread before should be able to tackle this with ease.

The only morsel of advice I would offer is when adding the boozed fruit to the dough, use a slotted spoon or even drain it off beforehand. I had to do some emergency flouring halfway through to patch up some very moist dough. To say Jules (mum) would have been unhappy with the mess would be the understatement of the year. And given that we were nearly at the end of the year at the time, she would have been pretty miffed had she known. And Mum, if you’re reading, now you do.

I ended up going a bit rogue in the absence of a small cake tin for the middle, instead using this rather fetching pot which worked a treat:

Cracking with a bit of Eggnog. More on that to follow.

Cracking with a bit of Eggnog. More on that to follow.

Cranberries, pistachios, marzipan, boozy raisins and generous lashings of icing…proper Crimbo in a mouthful.

Cola Ham with Maple & Mustard Glaze

I won’t linger long on this as I feel like I’ve come rather late to the ‘ham boiled in coke’ party and may be preaching to the choir. If you’re yet to give it a go, I’d heartily recommend following this recipe here. It is face-meltingly good.

After a slight malfunction on my part (I cut the strings off before starting to boil) and a swift fix from Big D (manfully locating some string in the garage and retying the ham), we were off. Having chosen a 4 kg behemoth of a specimen, we could barely fit in the pot as it bubbled away, the stock turning a sticky brown, sweet and meaty aromas perforating the air amidst an offensively loud Strictly Come Dancing semi-final.

Following the boiling, it warranted a quick stint in the oven, being reglazed over and over with the maple and mustard in a gluttonous caress. Beltingly good meat; sweet and salty, melt in mouth and a perfect fatty crust.

The conservative eyebrows were firmly put back in their place. Unfortunately for me, I was still destined to be emasculated at the last moment as Big D stepped into carve the spoils. I don’t think that will ever change.

Curry Club 2014 Season – Amirah’s Kitchen, Wandsworth

January 9th February March April May June July August September October November December
Ranking Member Current Score Penalties Amirah’s Kitchen, Wandsworth
Ace Chinhead 10 0 -2
King Saltieri 11 0 -1
King Boxing Steve 11 0 -1
King Glenhole 11 0 -1
King Dyson 11 0 -1
King Mobile Disco 11 0 -1
Queen Skinny Pete 12 1 -1

January Leaderboard*

A New Year and new beginnings, at least for the seven intrepid members who converged in Wandsworth Town last Thursday to mark the opening of the 2014 season. Shrugging off the mid-winter chill and meek excuses (work commitments and a poor cover-up for staying in with the WAG…shame on you Curry Ace of yesteryear), the club descended upon The Alma pub with parched throats and increasingly grumbling bellies.

Pints of Youngs all round, apart from the obligatory lager for member Dyson, of course, in a welcoming drinking establishment indeed. Perhaps a little busier than the usual pre-pubs of CC lore but it did not take long for the eagle eye of member Skinny Pete to carve out a suitable enclave around the far end of the bar.

Five finished their drinks with veteran member Saltieri (inaugural 2011/2012 Ace) joining just in time for the steeled march onto Amirah’s Kitchen, only moments away. Entering through the almost offensive neon green lighting, the club were ushered to a table at the far end, away from prying eyes.

Disdain was rampant at the lack of large Cobra bottles but this was quelled somewhat by the cracking chutneys that found their way to the table, punching well above the average. With a knowing look and the canny comparable to that of riding a bike, the members began negotiating in hushed but firm tones. Latecomer member Glenhole fell afoul of this, finding much to his dismay that the table had already split into two factions on his arrival, with sides and sundries all accounted for. Despite his protestations, no one would come to his aid.

After a very lengthy lecture about watches from member Mobile Disco and a decision to move to a golf-based scoring system* this season: splendid, splendid curry. The Lamb Rogan Josh I can personally vouch for, braised to melt in the mouth. From memory, the other curries received strong shout outs too and the Bhindi Do-piaza came in as a strong favourite for the sides. Seven liquor coffees (five Irish, two decaffeinated Irish and one traditionalist Jamaican) did push the final bill up a little which led to certain member proclaiming that “the cost of the bill has rather tainted my enjoyment of the meal.”

After a brief tour of the dilapidated nearby Young’s brewery by Boxing Steve and a quick discussion about the merits of opening a Kentish poppy farm, the club arrived at its final destination, The Grand Union. Despite the clear instructions to DANCE!, no member took them up on the offer. Instead, they remained staunchly huddled in the corner with over-priced cocktails (as is tradition), putting the world to rights and discussing Dyson’s mum, before secreting off into the night.

Economy Gastronomy: A Whole Pumpkin

I carry around with me a sordid little secret that only those closest to me are privy to. It weighs heavy on my soul and mocks me from a relentless and endless base of ammunition. Whether its the half-full packet of chicory that I bought for just one recipe, slipping further from its sell by date or a plate of cold cuts that grow drier and drier with each passing day, everything screams at me in protest as its swept once more unloved into the abyss. To paraphrase: “You cruel and deplorable wretch! Does thou know no end to thy gluttony?” That’s right, I am a chronic food-waster.

I’ve tried to right this over the last six months but in all honesty I have found it a struggle to build any real consistency in my efforts. My one ham-fisted weapon being either to bung all of the remaining veg into a mega pasta or a stir-fry dish on a Monday night. I knew there were far more exciting things I should be doing but I suppose the forward planning aspect (bulk buying/menu planning/freezing) had put me off.

As I’ve now got a dauntingly enormous mortgage just around the corner, I thought it would be a good time to revisit this in earnest and that’s when I remembered this book that I had procured on first moving up to London with a promise of saving money through eating more intelligently. A whim that died off as quickly as many others over the years.

Although Economy Gastronomy contains a huge array of recipes, the cornerstone of the book is built around the following premise:

– Invest good money in a high quality ‘Bedrock’ ingredient on a Sunday for a hearty weekend lunch/dinner.
– Bedrocks include things like: leg of lamb, shoulder of pork, a whole salmon or a ton of chickpeas.
– Follow the recipes in the book to create 2/3/4 meals more out of the bedrock ingredient throughout the week.
– Each time you cook a recipe, you are cooking in bulk and then freezing the leftovers.
– Thus creating a constant stash of home-cooked, frozen ready meals that can be reheated when you have no time to cook.
– And so, keeping you away from expensive and unhealthy options elsewhere (i.e. the takeaway).

So I began on my first. The pumpkin…

A 4 kg pumpkin plus all the other stuff required for this course of recipes set me back roughly £30 which is pretty amazing considering it yielded the following:

4 portions Pumpkin Risotto with Roasted Walnuts, Red Chicory and Gorgonzola (2 eaten, 2 frozen)

The Risotto

The Risotto

4 portions Pumpkin Cannelloni with Sage and Ricotta (2 eaten, 2 shamefully binned)

The Cannelloni

The Cannelloni

The Cannelloni

12 portions Spicy Pumpkin Chowder (2 eaten, 2 fridged, 8 frozen)

The Chowder (not sure why this isn't just called soup, because it definitely is just soup)

The Chowder (not sure why this isn’t just called soup, because it definitely is just soup)

And ready for freezing…

That is a whopping 20 portions of food at roughly £1.50 a portion. Granted yes, there is no meat present which would normally drive up the cost but I did push the boat out a bit on the other ingredients (top range cheese, organic etc) so its still spectacular value. Especially when I probably average about £10 to £15 per visit to the Sainsburys Local on the way back home for a single meal for the two of us.

My one issue with this was that (bar the soup, which was amazing) none of this really tasted that great. I do however think that this was my fault for not following one of the key principles of the book which is implicit when it tells you to invest in a high-quality bedrock ingredient (the pumpkin) as it will inform the rest of the dishes.

Incidentally, and counter-intuitively, Halloween time is probably not the best time to be cooking with pumpkin. The shops are flooded with cheap and enormous orange beasts such as my 4 kg one above. In retrospect, I realise these are terrible to eat as they are not designed to be consumed.

This is coupled with the fact that the pumpkin I used was the one that had been sitting on our windowsill for a few weeks after Halloween had passed. Laura hadn’t got around to carving it so it sat facing out of first floor lounge, a limp offering to All Hallows Eve. It was fine to eat in terms of decay. I think.

I’d recommend either finding a guarenteed high quality pumpkin to make the above recipes or using 3/4 kg worth of butternut squash which should be more readily available.

Still, I’m pushing on this week to the next batch of recipes which involves a 1/2 collar of gammon. I’m hoping this proves my theory correct, that a higher quality bedrock ingredient will yield much more consistent results, and not Laura’s insight that the ‘recipes in the book are just crap’…

Street Feast – Final Weekend

I woke up on Saturday morning blinking in disbelief at the offensively bright surroundings that I found myself in. This was my room but, as is the benefit of an eaves skylight bedroom, when summer actually arrives it takes no prisoners. Its either windows open and searing 5 a.m sunshine, or windows closed and its more an equatorial Batcave. Neither of which are conducive to a whisky hangover.

However, this particular hangover was accompanied by a heady sensation of feeling content and self-loathing. Feeling content because I’d spent the evening before sampling the eateries and watering holes of Haggerston’s Street Feast, self-loathing because this weekend marks its final outing (at least in its present carnation) and I had only bothered to go once. The monkey drilling a Wild Turkey bottle size pneumatic drill into my skull did not help either.

As we are Claphamites by trade, venturing into the Dalston area I was worried we would be the least trendy people on site. Even though the place was full of families with strollers, I’d say we weren’t far off but that didn’t stop us having an awesome evening of stuffing ourselves stupid.

Street Feast founder Dominic Cools-Lartigue (top name, top man) was inspired by the Merchant Yard space and wanted to create a no frills, community atmosphere with great, affordable food produced by London traders. On top of this, the aim was to also use it as a showcase for local design, art and music as well as making it the perfect place to have a casual night out with some tasty cocktails. I would say he has hit all of the proverbial nails on their heads. Its a fantastic space and atmosphere.

With good portions of everything available at decent prices, the real agony of this place is the choice. That being said, we still managed to tuck into 1.5 dishes each, plus desserts:

Chorizoo & Halloumi Wrap

Chorizoo & Halloumi Wrap

Kimchi Cheeseburger from Kimchi Cult

Kimchi Cheeseburger from Kimchi Cult

Rib Sandwich with 'Holy Fuck' Hot Sauce from The Rib Man

Rib Sandwich with ‘Holy Fuck’ Hot Sauce from The Rib Man

Doughnuts with Salted Caramel Sauce and Marshmellows

Doughnuts with Salted Caramel Sauce and Marshmellows

The Holy Fuck sauce on the Rib Man sandwich nearly blew my face off. Laura (girlfriend) managed to chomp her way through several mouthfuls, even dipping the roll itself so that it was slathered with the stuff. Impressed and emasculated.

After eating we hit The Gin Store which is a pop up cocktail bar run by Milk and Honey who (I was told) have won the best cocktail bar in London for 3 years running. Definitely one to add to the list. I felt a little sheepish ordering whisky cocktails in this place but was rewarded with a seriously strong (and delicious) off-menu Manhattan. This and a few Old Fashioned formed the structural base of my next morning woes.

The beginning of the end...

The beginning of the end…

I have no real sense of what time we left but the queue outside was enormous and the party was still very much in full swing. I fear we peaked a little early but at least we outlasted the toddlers (I think).

I’m also very gutted to have missed out on Ben Spalding’s Stripped Back pop-up that sat upstairs of the main bar. Apparently its the real foodie highlight of the whole place and hopefully they’ll be another opportunity to have a crack.

On that note, there were rumours that the next Street Feast will find a home somewhere a little closer to Brick Lane. There’s also an upcoming Truck Stop set to happen in Canary Wharf from the same people. You would think with this winning formula that doors would open and it won’t be long till Street Feast is back in earnest. Here’s hoping!

Parma Ham, Mozzarella and Basil Brioche Couronne

The Yeasty Beasty

The Yeasty Beasty

I’m just going to put it out there, this butter enriched Brioche Couronne contains roughly 3,429 calories. That’s around 7 Big Macs. Its for the big dogs…and its totally worth it.

Its another one of Paul Hollywood’s masterpieces but he’s really outdone himself here. Containing a whole block of butter, 3.5 balls of mozzarella, 10 slices of parma ham, a large handful of fresh basil and good sprinkling of Parmesan this is by far and away the most ambitious and delicious bread I have set out to make on my Pollan-esque ongoing quest for the perfect sourdough loaf.

Typically a sweet bread, the Couronne here (literally ‘crown’ in French) has been adapted with oozing cheese to offset the buttery, flaky bread. I have to say I didn’t quite nail the aesthetics (as displayed more elegantly by a fellow blogger here) but the flavours were spectacular.

Because there was so much egg, butter and full-fat milk in the dough from the get-go, it made it very difficult to handle and shape. In fact, Hollywood recommends using a food mixer with a dough-hook attached but, despite my increasingly whimsical and frequent visits to Dentons Catering in Clapham North, I am still to acquire one of these bad boys. So I set about it by hand, gently canoodling the pieces of room temperature unsalted butter into the sticky dough yellow cube by yellow cube.

Then once it was mixed, popped it in for a first proofing into a greased cake tin into the airing cupboard. It emerged doubled in sized (going smoothly so far) and then I dumped it out onto the surface for the serious business of rolling it out and decorating with ham, cheese and basil. A holy enough trinity to transform even the humblest dough.

Pre-proof 1

Pre-proof number 2

This is when it started to go a little pear (or more specifically doughnut) shaped as I tried to elegantly roll, split and then tie the two stuffed dough-sausages into a crown shape. It was supposed to overlap like two pieces of rope but instead I just lost patience and mashed it together. Still, apparently doughnuts are the new cupcakes so I’m bang on trend with this monstrosity.

The couronne/doughnut was left to proof again (as per above pic) and then came out for a quick egg wash and generous coating of Parmesan (as per below pic). Needless to say, I was getting pretty excited at this point. Even timing my walk upstairs to the airing cupboard so I could garner praise from my housemates and visiting brother, feigning nonchalant. “Oh, what this old thing?”

Pre-oven

Pre-oven

Into the oven for 25 mins and the BOOM, the money shots:

Money Shot One: Cheeky Kitchen Wedge

Money Shot One: Cheeky Kitchen Wedge

Money Shot Two: Snack-on-way-to-Wandsworth-Road-Rail

Money Shot Two: Snack-on-way-to-Wandsworth-Road-Rail

I forlornly binned the last mouthful of this fine companion this evening as it was getting a little dry and my waistline was getting a little stretched. Fat-Bastard Special mention should go to my brother though who, on Saturday’s birthday visit, stumbled back to my house at 7 a.m on Sunday morning to demolish over half of the remaining loaf. I make that 3.5 Big Macs. Not bad.

God Save the Cream

First off, I should probably begin by apologising for the pun in the post header. I was also tempted by something like ‘God Save the Queen! / Send her Victori[a Sponge Cake]’ but I think I chose the lesser of two evils in the end.

I’m struggling to think of the best way to start this post as it has been brought on by a trio of events all centred around the common theme of our dear old Queenie, Liz II. The three events in chronological order being the Diamond Jubilee 2012 (and some homagely cooking), a play called The Audience and also the anniversary of the Coronation on 4th June 2013.

Also known unofficially on the global stage as: - Mother of all People (Canada) - Missis Queen (Jamaican Patois) - Paramount Chief of Fiji - The White Heron (New Zealand) - Admiral Elizabeth (US, Nebraska)

Still got it. Also known unofficially on the global stage as:
– Mother of all People (Canada)
– Missis Queen (Jamaican Patois)
– Paramount Chief of Fiji
– The White Heron (New Zealand)
– Admiral Elizabeth (US, Nebraska)

The temptation is to start with the food (as this is supposedly masquerading as a food blog) but before that I wanted to give the play a mention. I’m not sure if this story broke abroad, but for those of us in the UK I think the most recognisible association with The Audience is when Helen Mirren went more Iron Lady than Queen Liz as she gave a band of over zealous drummers a good tongue lashing in full costume during the interval. I’d argue good on her but, whether you agree or not, it definitely boosted publicity for the show.

I’m not going to pretend to know a thing about reviewing theatre, but I thought it was incredible. Funny, insightful and also a more sombre and reverential reflection on the institution of the British Monarchy over Queen Liz’s reign. The whole play centres around a confidential weekly meeting between the current PM and Queen. Helen Mirren plays the Queen throughout the ages, interacting with 12 different PMs, each of whom confide in her their own respective crises of their term. From an aging Churchill to an insecure John Major and a charming Harold Wilson, you’re privy to the whole brilliant spectrum.

But I think what struck a chord most with me was the private struggle of the Queen herself in her total dedication and sacrifice of her life in service to her subjects and country. To become a perfect emblem from the age of 25 and never veer from that path for a nation is rightly heralded, regardless of the opulence of her surroundings. Now the obvious counter-argument to this slightly gushy sentiment is the cost to the taxpayer, again a theme explored in the play. However, as an unbreakable link of present culture to past traditions surely this is a price worth paying? If not, I fail to see the difference between tearing down the monarchy to tearing down all the expensive music venues, museums, art galleries and public spaces that we all hold dear. Or perhaps I’m just naively making sweeping statements from a comfortable middle-class existence in Clapham? Well yes that is also probably true.

Anyway, coming back to the food, the play reminded me of an awesome (both in taste and appearance) cake that Laura created for the Diamond Jubilee last year:

Queen Vic on the inside, Queen Liz on the outside

Queen Vic on the inside, Queen Liz on the outside

It was more or less done using this Victoria Sponge Recipe and then covered with white icing and decorated with a black icing pen and silver balls. Needless to say, she’s much more artistic than me! Continuing a similar vibe though, my contribution consisted of a Diamond Jubilee twist on the classic Coronation Chicken. Tasty stuff.

So to round off with the third event, come the 4th June lets all raise a glass, whether pint or flute, to HM in celebration and gratitude of her service to us. And if that sounds like another deplorable waste of tax payers money to you, then at least enjoy the excuse to drink guilt-free on a Tuesday.