Everything Has Changed.

Yesterday Keith and I drove to New York, where we are now and where we picked up our new puppy.  He’s a whippet, born April eighth. We’ve named him Fergus Henderson, after the chef at St. John in London, but we’re just calling him Fergus. (Whippets are English, the name Fergus is English…) Fergus Henderson is just too much of a mouthful, especially if you want to be smart and stick both Keith and my last names in there too.  That’s a lot to fit on an ID tag.

My dad won’t admit it, but he’s pretty enamored with Fergus. I don’t blame him, because this dog is pretty damn cute.  I’ll be posting a photo of him every day on a separate site called Fergus, At Your Service, though I’m sure I’ll be mentioning him on a fairly regular basis — we’ve now got a four-legged reason to stay in.  So get used to more writing about home-cooked meals rather than restaurant food.

You’ve been warned.

Everything Has Changed” by Lucinda Williams.

Lunchtime at Albert Cuyp Markt.

Oh, there’s still so much I want to tell you all about our trip last month, and there’s still so much I want to tell you about other things (I know you don’t think I’ve forgotten to keep you posted about my CSAdventures) but somehow time has gotten away from me.  Bear with me while I figure it all out, and in the meantime, enjoy this little slideshow of photos I took at the Albert Cuyp Markt in Amsterdam.  (Click on the legs.)

Albert Cuyp Markt, 8

Unlike London’s Borough Market and Montréal’s Marché Jean-Talon, the Albert Cuyp Markt is an actual street market; the vendors set up and break down their carts, trucks and booths each morning and night.  Don’t worry though — the street is closed to automotive traffic during market hours (Monday through Saturday from eight in the morning until six at night).

Also unlike Borough Market and Jean-Talon, the markt offers products ranging beyond produce, including clothing, furniture and even electronics — which reminded me more of some of the markets I’ve visited in Hong Kong, Thailand and Singapore.  There’s still a lot of food to sample, buy and smell, however.  My favorite was Amsterdam’s infamous raw herring sandwich; fatty, sweet and rich, I wish I had one in my hand right now.  It was that good.

What’s amazing about this market is that it’s in the center of a picturesque part of Amsterdam known as the Pijp, whose little pockets of ethnic communities definitely flavor the markets’ stalls.  Crave a Surinamese sweet?  Need a tagine?  The markt has everything you need, and frites to boot, so if you plan to visit, I highly recommend doing what Keith and I did: skip breakfast.

Albert Cuyp Markt
Albert Cuypstraat between Ferdinand Bolstraat and Van Woustraat
Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Homesick, Sort Of.

I’m feeling homesick again, except I’m nostalgic not for where I’m from but rather for where I could be.

When we moved to this apartment about two years ago, one of the selling points aside from the ability to remodel the kitchen was the proximity to a massive supermarket.  For someone accustomed to hauling groceries home during a fifteen-minute walk, this was a big deal.  The thing is, the novelty has worn well off now, especially as I make a point, when I travel, to visit markets like London’s Borough Market and Montréal’s Marché Jean-Talon.  Each time I do drop in to such a market, my excitement is smothered a bit by a combination of my longing and my jealousy.

How wonderful would it be to instead of having a local grocery store to have a local market?  To be able to form a relationship with my chard-grower, to become friends with my sorrel-supplier, to pal around with my berry-picker…  It sounds awesome, doesn’t it, to have a connection not only with our food, but also the people who coax them out of the earth?  The closest I can come at this point is taking part yet again in the Food Project‘s CSA program this year.  We’ll start getting produce boxes in a few weeks’ time — I’ll keep you posted.  In the meantime, here’s a link to 2008’s food.

Kate’s Kitchen in London.

kate-4Where do you live?
I live in a Victorian flat in North London with my boyfriend Jeremy and new favourite American friend, Darlington.

kate-8How often do you cook or bake?
I cook lunch and dinner most days and like to do some cake baking every week or two.

kate-5What is your favorite kitchen utensil?
My favourite kitchen utensil is the potato ricer. I find it a little tricky to use but am always amazed at how creamy it makes your mash.

kate-71Which part of your kitchen do you like best and why?
The best bit of our kitchen is the stereo (even though it is melted and does not work properly) as singing Abba and cooking is so much fun — there are so many dance moves you can incorporate!

kate-2What was your biggest kitchen accomplishment?
I’m not really sure what my biggest kitchen accomplishment might be — it could be best to ask someone else — however one of the most enjoyable is definitely Delia Smith‘s Chocolate Bread and Butter Pudding. I’ve pasted the recipe below, however I never include the cinnamon or rum.

Chocolate Bread and Butter Pudding, from The Delia Collection: Chocolate by Delia Smith
Makes six portions

9 slices, each ¼-inch thick, good-quality white bread, 1 day old, taken from a large loaf
5 ounces dark chocolate, 75 % cocoa solids
3 ounces butter
15 fluid ounces whipping cream
4 tablespoons dark rum
4 ounces caster sugar
good pinch cinnamon
3 large eggs
double cream, well chilled

  1. Begin by removing the crusts from the slices of bread, which should leave you with 9 pieces about 4 inches   square. So now cut each slice into 4 triangles. Next, place the chocolate, whipping cream, rum, sugar, butter and cinnamon in a bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water, being careful not to let the bowl touch the water, then wait until the butter and chocolate have melted and the sugar has completely dissolved. Next, remove the bowl from the heat and give it a really good stir to amalgamate all the ingredients.
  2. Now in a separate bowl, whisk the eggs and then pour the chocolate mixture over them and whisk again very thoroughly to blend them together.
  3. Then spoon about a ½ inch layer of the chocolate mixture into the base of a buttered 7 x 9 inch ovenproof dish and arrange half the bread triangles over the chocolate in overlapping rows. Now, pour half the remaining chocolate mixture all over the bread as evenly as possible, then arrange the rest of the triangles over that, finishing off with a layer of chocolate. Use a fork to press the bread gently down so that it gets covered very evenly with the liquid as it cools.
  4. Cover the dish with clingfilm and allow to stand at room temperature for 2 hours before transferring it to the fridge for a minimum of 24 (but preferably 48) hours before cooking. When you’re ready to cook the pudding, pre-heat the oven to gas 350°. Remove the clingfilm and bake in the oven on a high shelf for 30-35 minutes, by which time the top will be crunchy and the inside soft and squidgy. Leave it to stand for 10 minutes before serving with well-chilled double cream poured over.

Lunch at The Eagle.

Our last London meal was a bit stressful.  We needed a place that would be quick, didn’t require a reservation and was near where we had stored our luggage.  Oh, and ideally, the restaurant would be atmospheric and the food delicious… With these caveats firmly in place, we found ourselves at The Eagle, a gastropub in the Clerkenwell neighborhood of Islington.

When I use the word “gastropub,” what I really mean in this case is The Gastropub.  The team behind The Eagle were the first of London’s pubs to not only start serving dishes beyond the usual pub fare of bangers and mash or fish and chips, but to also create the genre of food itself.  In fact, if you look up gastropub on Wikipedia, there’s a photograph of The Eagle at the top of the page.  Seriously.

It was a typical British day (sunny in the morning, bullet-sized raindrops by mid-day) when we squeezed in amongst the crowded tables.  The Eagle is incredibly popular; we luckily snagged two stools at the counter overlooking Farringdon Road.  From there we could watch the activity behind the bar, where immense sausages were frizzling away on a flattop grill.  We also had a great view of the dining room itself; it’s a massive, window-lined space full of tables, mismatched chairs and squashy looking sofas underneath a pressed tin ceiling and framed with hunter green walls.  It was also absolutely packed with loud, chatty Londoners tossing back pints and ordering their lunches up at the bar, where the day’s offerings are chalked up on blackboards.

the-eagle2While I warmed my wet feet on the radiator underneath the narrow counter, Keith got in line at the bar.  He decided to go with a few of the aforementioned sausages; I chose the chicken, ham and mushroom risotto (£8.50), mostly because it’s a dish I have no patience to make myself.  The thought of all that stirring makes my arm feel sore even now, as I sit comfortably on my sofa, nowhere near a stove.

The Eagle’s risotto has a lovely creamy texture, and the dish wasn’t laced overwhelmingly with mushroom.  It was also neither laced overwhelmingly with any other flavor; the rice was almost too subtle, and I found myself adding liberal amounts of both salt and pepper to my plate, something I very rarely do.  In all fairness, each bite of chicken was especially tender and the ham was amazingly juicy — it was just the rice itself that I found a bit lacking.  Perhaps lacking is not the most appropriate word to use here.  I think missing is more accurate.

The menu at The Eagle begins with very English cuisine like Keith’s sausages, and then moves across Europe to land squarely in the Mediterranean; aside from my risotto, the chalkboard listed both a Spanish fish stew and similarly-styled grilled prawns.  It doesn’t matter if you prefer to stand on the British or Iberian side of the culinary fence, since a trip to London’s first gastropub shouldn’t be skipped.  The risotto, on the other hand…  Well, I’ll leave that up to you.

The Eagle
159, Farringdon Road
London EC1R 3
+44 020 7837 1353

The Eagle on Urbanspoon

Missed Opportunity.

I wish I had thought to photograph pub signs while I was traipsing around England — wouldn’t that have made a nice little photo essay?  Pub names are so interesting; I saw countless Kings Arms and Red Lions, a few Georges (The George, The George V, The George IV, The George & Dragon,  The George & Vulture, etc.), a couple of Alberts (The Prince Albert, Victoria & Albert, Albert Arms, Royal Albert, etc.) a Fleece & Firkin (which sounds a bit scandalous), The Happy Cocks (which sounds very scandalous) and both The King’s and The Queen’s Head.

Anyway, what I’m trying to get to is this:  what would I name my pub, if I were to open a pub?  Here’s a short list of potential names.  Please feel free to contribute!

  1. The Baby Head*
  2. The Gnome & Unicorn
  3. The Knitting Kitten
  4. The Stomping Stallion
  5. The Unruly Knockers (because you simply need a vaguely outrageous name)**
  6. The Vicious Circle**
*Keith coined this phrase to describe the way a drinker’s head droops when drunk.
**A co-writer’s credit must be given to my friend Marcella.  She knows why.

Dinner at St John.

(Firstly, let me say this: the interior of St John is so brightly lit that I decided not to use a flash, which is oftentimes intrusive to other diners and waitstaff.  Secondly: I’m an idiot.)

st-johnThe reservation I was most looking forward to during our trip to England was the dinner we had booked at St John.  I’m a huge fan of offal, having grown up fighting over marrow-filled bones, so the thought of eating at a restaurant most famous for adhering to a “nose to tail” menu was absolutely exciting.  I purposely stopped reading anything that referred to St John, Fergus Henderson or offal, so I was completely entranced by the restaurant’s all white utterly utilitarian interior, which has been well-documented.  What was interesting to me was that the sight of such dazzling white wasn’t the slightest bit austere; in fact, it only enhanced the fantastic aroma radiating from the kitchen in the most teasing fashion.  It was as if the whiteness of the place, the total lack of visual stimulus focused the senses more on what was about to be consumed.

Unfortunately, I was suffering at dinner — I had flown over the Atlantic with the teensiest sprout of a cold, which of course blossomed into the most beautiful flower a few days into the trip.  For that reason and that reason alone I briefly considered ordering the cauliflower soup as my starter.  Keith looked at me with a raised eyebrow when I mentioned my choice of appetizer, then calmly listed why I was making a mistake.

“Besides,” he said, “I need you to get the marrow so I can taste it.”

st-john-1It doesn’t take more than the mention of marrow to twist my arm in its favor, so I agreed.  I sincerely doubt I can clearly express how glad I am that I listened.  Sure, I’m biased when it comes to marrow, but this marrow (£6.70) is what all the other bone marrows in the world dream of becoming when they grow up.  Even if I hadn’t smeared pieces of crunchy grilled toast with the impossibly soft and stunningly supple marrow, even if I hadn’t then sprinkled it with coarse granules of salt, crisp leaves of parsley,  and beads of capers, seeing versions of this plate float around to the other tables in the dining room would have been enough.  I’m not exaggerating when I say each looked like a veritable mini Stonehenge.  I’m exaggerating even less when I add that my mouth is watering even now, many meals later.

st-john-2It would have been hopeless to chose an entrée that could possibly compare to the lusciousness that was the marrow, but I tried my hardest with the lamb tongues, butter beans and anchovy (£16.00), which was also served with curly leaves of kale.  The tongue, which I haven’t had in years, was intensely flavored, meaty and dense, and its sauce added just the right amount of salty energy.  Something I realized while eating, though, is that I apparently really hate the butter bean.  Could there be anything more boring and more tepid-flavored than this legume?  I don’t know if Keith noticed, but I kept on offering him bites of bean or placing them, uninvited, on his plate.

st-john-3At first, we thought we weren’t going to get dessert but when our server suggested the treacle tart, we realized that fighting the urge for sweets was a silly battle.  The thing is, our server all but abandoned us soon after mentioning the kitchen only had one tart left; all of our attempts to catch her eye or get her attention seemed to be categorically ignored.  By the time we did manage to put our order in, the treacle, of course, was gone.  We ended up instead with a lovely clementine trifle (£6.70), but no amount of custard, sponge cake and fruit can make up for the loss of a pastry filled with sugary syrup, butter and cream.

I think my love and consumption of meat has been well-documented thus far, but it should be noted that St John, remarkably, has a very nice selection of vegetarian dishes.  Even more remarkably, the restaurant’s menu changes daily; while there is some overlap and while some starters, mains and desserts remain the same (read: marrow), there’s no guarantee that diners will be able to replicate a previous day’s entire meal.  Nor should a diner attempt to.  Where’s the fun in that?

And, for no reason other than I just plain would like to, I’ll end with Chef Henderson’s famous quote explaining his cooking mentality:

If you’re going to kill the animal it seems only polite to use the whole thing.

St John
26, St John Street
London EC1M 4AY
+44 20 72510848

St John on Urbanspoon