Archive for February, 2010

A Birthday Celebration

February 20th 1940 a very special person was born. A person, who had he not been born, I would not be here writing this post right now. I hear your jokes now “and the bad thing about that is?” That person is my Dad and to celebrate his 70th birthday we (Brother, Sister and me) decided to have a special dinner for him, partly because Arsenal were also playing at home that day and he is a season ticket holder so it was a bit easier to eat at home. It did mean I could be left alone in the kitchen to create.

Much thought went into the meal, even asking on Twitter and Facebook for people’s ideas. In the end we went for this menu:

Slow cooked mushrooms with pancetta and mixed green leaf salad.

Lamb shanks with celeriac & apple mash, braised baby onions, carrots and roast potatoes and a madeira sauce.

Toffee apple crumble.

The inspiration for the menu comes from two men, kings of the culinary world, Richard Corrigan and Michel Roux Jr. All recipes are from just two books and one fo the reasons I went for this menu was the idea of taking two quite differing chefs and seeing if you could put their cooking styles together. The menu actually is mainly Richard Corrigan as only the recipe for the shanks and the onions are from the Le Gavroche cookbook. The rest is from The Clatter of Forks and Spoons.

I went to town on this meal, well actually I went on line. The veg was ordered from Gregg’s Veg. Who is Greg you ask. Well it’s Greg Wallace of Masterchef fame and lately on my blog as owner of Wallace & Co in Putney. It really was an experience getting the veg. It arrived the day before the meal as ordered, so fresh that when I opened the box the smell was amazing. The last time I smelt veg like that was in a farm shop. A great mixture of root veg, fruit and salad. Just for you Greg, “cooking doesn’t get tougher than this”. 

The meat also ordered on line from Broadstripe Butchers. Broadstripe is the sister company of Fairfax Meadow, suppliers to some of the best restaurants in the country. You may think that may make them very expensive and well, they’re not cheap. I did shop around but had to have the best quality for the meal and when you consider that including delivery, the shanks were cheaper than the big name supermarkets there was no question as to where I got my shanks from. When they arrived, they looked good, perfect size and already trimmed for me.

Saturday arrived, I go into town for a few last minute forgotten items. Nothing major, oh and I needed an easy brunch so I didn’t have to worry at home. Thank you to the Fudge and Pie Man for yet another great pasty. Big enough for me to get e through to the evening. I get home, Dad almost on his way out, wife just leaving to get her hair done. A quiet house and an empty kitchen awaits so to the cooking. Here is where I tell you that this post is really about how to cook a big meal without having to spend the evening in the kitchen and not with your guests and not detailing the recipes.

I start with getting the shanks off in two batches as there were 7 of them. Braised in chicken stock, carrot, celery, onion, garlic, bouquet garni and peppercorns. Braised for about 2 hours which gave me time to prep the other food. I peeled the potatoes and rested them in water, same with the celeriac, carrots and baby onions. I rest, I tweet, I have a coke. The shanks are ready so they are turned off the heat and left to cool in the stock, this is about 11 a.m. Cooked well before needed. The thing is they are then covered in madeira sauce and roasted in the oven which is why you can do the long part of the cooking so early. While the shanks are on I put the mushrooms in the oven, my god hey look good before they go in, Portobello mushrooms, garlic sliced and dropped on top, thyme, rosemary and olive oil. On the lowest setting at he bottom of the oven for 3 hours. Yes 3.

I make the madeira sauce, basically the wine, red wine vinegar, shalots and stock from the shanks. It simmers, reduces and left to the side to be heated up later.  I have another break as I ponder about when to do the rest and start tohe pudding process which I suddenly realise takes longer than planned. So I boil up the potatoes then roast them almost to readiness. Browned and crispy but not quite done. I take them out, leave them somewhere cool and that frees up the hob again. I cook the condensed milk for the crumble. It’s condensed milk, heated in boiling water keeping the tin sealed for about 4 hours. It turns out to be a think caramel which you then coat the apple with.

I make the crumble and almond cream for the crumble while that’s cooking and am quickly onto the onions. These babies are just amazing, I urge you all to try this. Very simple recipe of baby onions, peeled and kept whole. Brown off in butter, add a good measure of port and reduce. Add lamb or other dark meat stock and simmer for about 20-30 minutes until tender. I added another measure of port while they were simmering as personal preference. Another dish you can leave to cool and re-heat later. I slice up cox’s apples, heat in a pan with butter and sugar to caramalise for about 5-10 minutes. Done and left to cool.

I get the celeriac going as this is cooked in butter and soften that way rather than boiling. Sliced Bramleys are added after about 10 minutes. Cover the pan so the juices don’t escape. The apples produce enough moisture to soften the celeriac. It will take about 2 hours though on a low heat. WIth the only things now cooking being the mash and milk, I have time to shower and change, do my hair, ready for everyone to arrive. I have to add that my wife has been doing a great job decorating the table while I’ve been in the kitchen.

Everyone arrives, the house smells great and we open the champagne. Speeches and toasts are made, presents are opened. I sneak off, laying out the starter plates. Mushrooms quickly back in the oven at a medium heat to warm up, pancetta grilling. Mixed leaf salad goes on the plates with a drizzle of aged balsamic and white truffle oil. Mushrooms on top and finished off with the crispy pancetta. Everyone sits and we serve. Just as I take the food in  pour the sauce over the shanks and put them in the oven. Carrots in the steamer are started.  Note, I’ve only been in the kitchen for ten minutes maximum since everyone arrived.

Room goes silent, we eat and I look around. I like this part. Watching people eat my food. A few mmmmms and then the comments as plates are emptied. It goes down very well. A very simple starter and everyone says it was so good. Mushrooms taste great and it has a feeling of breakfast with the pancetta on top. Also very good for the large main meal to come. I pop out to the kitchen. I take the shanks out and replace them with the potatoes. The shanks go on the hob for the sauce to reduce more and keep them warm. The celeriac and apple is roughly mashed, it smells like apple sauce with a twist. The onions are heated up in the sauce.

I pop back in for some more wine and general chat with everyone. I’m planning to time this well so it’s not too quick but people aren’t complaining they’re hungry before the main turns up. I give the potatoes ten minutes. Run into the kitchen, pile the mash in the centre of the plate, put the shanks on top, carrots and onions round the side. The potatoes go in two dishes for everyone to help themselves. If it tastes as good as it smells I’ll be happy. Finally touch, sauce drizzled over the shanks.

Braise Lamb Shanks in Madeira Sauce

We eat. We go quiet again. Again I love it when food does that to people for the right reasons. My wife is not a fan of lamb and it was  a risk, she can’t stop eating it. The sauce I think is the key. My brother in law who isn’t a fan of onions gives them a try. They were just a token addition to his plate really. He tries them so much I should have cooked more. The shanks are so big everyone is stuffed. Just what I planned as the dessert is a bit more difficult to have ready.

I go in the kitchen while the table is cleared. Pastry, cooked earlier and ready made I add (sorry to the perfectionists but pastry is an art and I can’t do it justice). I pour in the almond cream and heat up the apples, coating with the toffee made earlier. They are then poured on top once the toffee has melted fully. I then cover with crumble. In the oven for about 30-40 minutes. Everyone had their choice of topping, vanilla ice cream, double cream or creme fraiche.

Maybe not the best looking but tasty all the same. We continue to drink and food seems to be a big topic. Jokes of me doing ‘Come dine with me’ or Masterchef. No thanks, I say, not having people poke round my house and they would be out on the first night if they were rude. Masterchef, tempting but I know i wouldn’t do it justice. I need time and planning. Everyone is ready for pudding, It’s good, very sweet but good. Not too many dishes emptied this ime mainly as were all stuffed. The boys finish theirs off.

More wine, port and much lounging around feeling well fed. A great family night for a very special occasion. It’s all gone smoothly, no mistakes, nothing forgotten and not spending all the evening in the kitchen. I spent it with my family. The washing up……………. that was left until tomorrow.


Mushroom starter, celeriac & apple mash, toffee apple crumble all from “The Clatter of Forks and Spoons” by Richard Corrigan.

Braised lamb shanks with madeira and braised onions from the “Le Gavroche Cook Book” by Michel Roux Jr.

Suppliers for this meal

Lamb shanks from Broadstrip Butchers www.broadstripebutchers.co.uk

Veg from Gregg’s Veg  www.greggsveg.com





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A few weeks ago a new Cafe was opened in Putney called Wallace & Co. The Cafe gets its name from Greg Wallace who most people would know from Masterchef which he presents with John Torode, and of course, Masterchef  The Professionals with Michel Roux Jr. My Wife’s eyes lit up when I told her about the café as she is a big fan of Greg’s. I have to say I was more than happy to make the trip across london knowing Greg’s passion for good ingredients. So we made a plan to go, spending a day in London and originally planning to finish the day at Wallace & Co. Note I said ‘planning’.       

We made a lazy start, getting a train about half ten to head into London. The first stop being Oxford Circus for ease of being on the central line. We took a walk down Regent Street thinking about brunch as we’ve heard that Wallace & Co gets so busy it would be good to go late afternoon. After being dragged into a couple of clothes shops, which wasn’t all bad as my lovely wife bought me a couple of t-shirts, we concentrated on finding somewhere to eat. We ended up in the Shakespeare’s Head on Great Marlborough Street. They advertised  British Pub Food and didn’t disappoint. Full of pies, sausages, battered cod but thinking of eating later we went for  a sharing platter called the British Platter. What we got were several battered cod goujons, whole tail scampi in breadcrumbs, sausages and chips. So much for a light lunch. It was only £12 and I thought considering how much food we got, it was quite reasonable. Chips were great, batter on the cod was crispy and tasty and scampi, which I haven’t had for so long was cooked just right. There was an interesting mushy pea dip that came with it too which was odd as it was cold but my Wife wolfed it down. She is northern and loves mushy peas. To wash it down I went for a pint of Young’s London Gold with my wife going with half a Strongbow.        

After being fed and watered we continued shopping and I have to admit I did get into it, especially as we went into a Ted Baker shop. One new suit later and we were off to find another pit stop before making our way to the tube to continue our trip across the river. We got to Selfridges and the temptation of the Champagne bar was just about resisted as I spied a pub just up one of the side roads. So we popped into the Henry Holland, a pleasant pub with real ale again and what I call a real British pub. The choice of ale was Fuller’s London Pride this time which is just a smashing pint. My wife stuck to cider with a magner long neck. We started to feel peckish so decided it was time to head to Putney for a late lunch. After trying to figure out which train lines were working as the ‘information’ provided on London Underground is pretty useless.        

We took the tube down to East Putney wondering exactly where Wallace & Co is. Luckily it’s on the same road as the tube station so we looked over the road and saw it was a left turn and the café would be on the other side. A long walk I thought as we saw number 102 (Wallace & Co are at 146). It’s actually is only a couple of minutes down the road. Set back slightly from the road with a nice smoking area out the front, not that we smoke. As we approached I became quite excited. Why? Because I could see the table of produce that greets you as you enter and on it were the reddest, biggest toffee apples I’ve seen for many many years. I knew then, one of them would be leaving with me.        

Red onion marmalade & goat's cheese tart with chicory, blue cheese & pear salad.

We were shown to a table on the raised section at the back, the cafe being fairly quiet as the lunch rush was over. I sat facing the entrance of the cafe and able to watch what was going on. We were greeted with a friendly smile and the atmosphere is very relaxed. Going through the menu was pretty difficult as I could have eaten most things on there. In the end I went for a red onion marmalade, a goats cheese tart with chicory, blue cheese & pear salad and the very best scotch egg, with soft yoke, I have ever had. It was a lovely crisp tart and the onion was so sweet. Good choice with the salad as it was quite refreshing against the sweetness of the red onion. Would love to know what type of pears they use too a they were just amazing. My wife opted for the leek & Lancashire cheese quiche with imam bayaldi (a spiced Turkish Aubergine salad). She said the quiche was very nice and the imam bayaldi was the highlight for her with several “mmmms” coming from her direction. The wine we chose to go with this was a Spanish white, Rueda Vereio Carrasvinas 2008. I have to say the first couple of sips were pretty hard going. When we started eating though it was as if the win took on a whole new personality and went well with the sweet & savoury flavours.        

Knickerbocker Glory

  The waitress took our plates away and asked if we would like pudding? Would we? You have to look at the menu and ask yourself that same question. Yes please, everything on it and I’m a man who doesn’t usually have pudding. It was a tough choice which resulted in me reverting to childhood and going for the Knickerbocker glory. This desert brings to mind, tinned fruit, ice cream and cream. This was nothing like that, amazingly creamy ice cream which I will admit I struggled to figure out what flavour it was but as I never had just one ingredient in my mouth I wasn’t helping myself there. The fruit was amazing, so fresh, so succulent. The melon refreshing your mouth as you ate, oh and the pineapple was intense yet not sharp like you often get. I’m salivating now just thinking about that desert. There was only one thing my wife would go for and that’s the rhubarb crumble which I think she liked. I say think as she didn’t say anything, again just more “mmmmms”. In fact I thought she was doing a Meg Ryan impression at one point.        

Desert cleaned up and the bill arrives with me just looking down the café at the produce table and knowing I will be spending more here. I have a mooch around the front of the cafe. It all looks so good but I’m wary I have to travel all the way back to Essex yet. I plump for the beets, golden, white and chioggia (which I’d never heard of before). They have already been used for a delicious dinner on Sunday night. Yes, one of the toffee apples left with me too and then at the last minute some pears were added along with a Wallace & Co bag (might use that at the next Masterchef Live). So if you’re passing Putney or want to make a special trip, I highly recommend Wallace & Co, strangely situated between Pizza Express and Nandos. A cafe with fresh ingredients and a reasonable price. Next time we’ll be going for dinner to try that part of the menu.        

I feel a bit thirsty again and manage to talk my wife into stopping off for another drink but where to go. As I look at the tube line, wanting somewhere that’s on the way I remember we stayed near Marble Arch last year and the hotel has a nice bar, well it is Gary Rhodes W1 bar & Brasserie. So we get off there and pop into the Cumberland for one, okay two drinks. A pleasant time with a great waiter who felt sorry for me with all my wife’s shopping. Of course yes it was all hers I agree. Pinto Grigio and a Jack Daniels & Coke. I’ll let you guess who had what. We finally headed off after a nice break and headed back to the tube and home. A long day but such a great day, in fact I’d say it was knickerbocker-glorious!        

Wallace & Co, 146 Upper Richmond Road Putney, London, SW15 2SW; T: 020 8780 0052 www.wallaceandco.com

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