Saturday, August 21, 2010


Faretheewell Blogspot - Souperior has moved to

It was time for a redesign and refocus. If you are particularly attached to a recipe you've seen on Souperior, don't worry - they will all be republished on the new site in due course. Let me know if you're lost without a particular recipe and I'll make it a priority!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

What I learnt at school today.....

Lots of fuss is made these days about the amount of cocoa ‘solids’ in your chocolate. Chefs bang on about 40% this and 85% that until frankly you’re wondering why some macho idiot hasn’t just brought out a 100% cocoa bar just for the sake of it. Interestingly enough, that significant little percentage is hiding a lot more than it’s revealing. You see, cocoa ‘solids’ aren’t just one thing – they are in fact made up of cocoa butter (the stuff you rub into your skin to make it feel soft), and cocoa ‘mass’ (where the flavour is). Your 70% cocoa bar can have that 70% made up of any ratio of fat to cocoa mass from 50/50 to 90/10. Anyone who has taken a surreptitious lick of their arm when smeared with Bodyshop body butter (you know you have – don’t lie!) knows that cocoa butter may smell delicious but tastes of nowt, so this explains why some posh chocolates proudly boasting their cocoa content can taste as insipid as your budget supermarket choccie.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Love Food, Hate Waste

Honey-Balsamic Duck Gyoza with Soy Dipping Sauce
As I am once more a poor student again, saving money is something very dear to my heart. I take home everything I cook (most of my fellow students bin theirs, or give it to the charity collection if suitable). My fiancee and I have a Leiths-cooked dinner most nights of the week, rather than cooking something separate. I'm also still ploughing through Christmas leftovers (yes really - in February!), because my family compulsively over-order every single year. Someone really should tell my father that a cheeseboard doesn't need to have 20 cheeses on it, but I can't bring myself to say so because I have discovered most hard or medium-hard cheeses freeze really well, so I've been slowly working my way through them, and am only just down to the final chunk of Dolcelatte at last.

In the sprit of economy and some earth-hugging recycling chic, I'd like to draw your attention to - a new online campaign to promote new food habits. Love Food Hate Waste is asking the nation to think positively about food and get into new habits following the theme of loving food and wasting less!

Planning ahead, making a shopping list, keeping an eye on portions, using the freezer more and getting creative with leftovers could not only help reduce the amount of food we throw away but save us money too.

I thoroughly applaud this site, and would encourage you all to visit it. Hopefully it'll make you have a little think about the way you treat food and meal planning. It's not all austerity and budget-control either - I find so many of my best new dishes come not from wandering the shops buying new produce, but by looking at the contents of my cupboards and fridge-freezer and working out what I can do with what I already have - see my post for last year's Leftover Tuesday (as pictured at the top of this post) for an example - mmmmm duck gyoza!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Leiths - a series (1)

Well my first week at Leiths is well and truly over, and my goodness what an eye-opening week it has been. The sheer pace at which we are expected to work is relentless, far more brutal than anything I've faced in a pro kitchen in the past, I just hope their teaching is actually sinking in whilst I'm running round like a mad march hare trying to get all stages of my recipes done in time, whilst fighting for space on hobs and ovens with half a dozen other eager and competitive students. It looks like there have been drop-outs already, and plenty of disgruntling from others who thought the pace was going to be much more leisurely. All the students who did the 'beginner' term last September return to the school on Monday, so the pressure and pace are expected to increase as our class sizes double, so it will be interesting to see how it works out. I can certainly expect that once I've got used to working at Leiths' top speed, any future work I do will seem like a walk in the park!

By the way, if you're reading this and wondering what on earth has happened in my life all of a sudden, the introductory article is here.

Getting used to the lecture-room atmosphere of the 'dems' - daily demonstrations of techniques and recipes we'll be doing ourselves later on - is a challenge too, my attention span is not what it once was! The dems are fascinating though, and watching a lot of the action via a giant room-width angled ceiling mirror is very interesting, as it allows us a birds-eye view of what's going on. It does give some odd perspective though, at a demonstration on stock-making on Tuesday there was a vat of flat-fish carcasses simmering away, and looking at them through the mirror the fleshy skeletons brought to mind the shots from Alien with face-huggers in laboratory jars!

On the subject of fish, it's widely known that I'm not a big fan, and in fact one of the many reasons I wanted to do this course was so I could be taught/cajoled/forced into learning to work with fish in a professional capacity, even if my tastebuds never conceed to it as a menu option in my private life. It's all very well for John Torode to insist to the Masterchef wannabees that they should never cook something they don't like to eat themselves (it's one of his key winges in fact, along with 'what makes you think soup is good enough for Masterchef?'), but for those of us in the real world, we sometimes have to do things which we wouldn't choose to do under normal circumstances. Fortunately we've started with sole, which is about as inoffensive and un-fishy a fish as one could hope to get, so I've had no problems there (apart from the gag reflex when I have to pick one of the blasted things up whole), but I'm not looking forward to getting to my pet hate of the piscine world - salmon. Perhaps I'll just throw in the seasonings and hope for the best.

It's no secret that Leiths teach classic cookery of the 'old school' (i.e. French), and although they work hard to bring a modern feel to lots of the recipes, and pay due care and attention to 'healthy eating', there is a hefty emphasis on the joys of butter, cream and salt. This seems to be causing some concern amongst some of the more self-conscious female students, and whilst I'm all for moderating one's fat intake and the like, I feel the fashionable healthy cause could be taken too far. Watching a dem on the classic sole meuniere - a dish which consists of pan-fried fillets of sole, served with a sauce of molten butter and lemon juice - one fashionista asked the chef if you could use something other than butter to fry the fish, in order to be more healthy. Predictably enough the answer was 'well you could, but there wouldn't be much point, given the sauce is almost entirely butter'. With a classic recipe, in which the second-largest ingredient is butter (and there are only 5 ingredients), there really is no point trying to make it more 'healthy'. Either eat it and accept the fats involved, or don't. Right? Or perhaps a sole drizzled in 10floz of olive oil would be better..........

Monday, January 05, 2009

New year, new beginning

My my my....such a long time since I last posted, I feel quite out of practice writing! Today is the first day of my new life however, and I hope to mark it with regular blog posts as I explore an exciting new career in - of course - food. I've worked in professional kitchens on a small-scale previously - back at school I did my work experience in a lovely little Bistro/Brasserie, and as part of my University degree I worked both front and back of house at the open-to-the-public restaurant there. Both these experiences confirmed to me that as much as I love cooking, I'll never want to work full-time as a restaurant chef: the hours, the backbreaking pain of 12hour shifts on your feet etc etc. Not for a soft one like me.

Today however, I have taken a step closer to making my food-writing passion a profession, and started the prestigious Diploma at Leiths School of Food & Wine in London. Although a thoroughly competent cook in many ways, I lack the formal disciplines of proper 'chef' training, and Leiths is an excellent springboard to the future. Like many of my fellows who started today, I've skipped the first term (designed to turn people who haven't so much as picked up a wooden spoon into 'snow bunny' chalet girls in 3 months) and now start a week of orientation, which could also be described as an opportunity for the teachers to check you really do have all the beginners skills you said you had when you were approved to jump ahead ;)

It's big and scary reentering education when you've been away from it for a long while, although the age range of my contemporaries is so vast there are several who wont have been at University/College since I was born, and I had proper 'first day of school' nerves, so I can't have had it worst, even with butterflies in the tummy and clutching my bag rather tighter than necessary, as it it was the only barrier between me and playground bullies, or some such. I've never been great at starting conversations when thrown into a room full of people I don't know, but fortunately the course is full of people who are and by the end of the day I'd started to get to know a substantial number of them, which is good as we'll be working quite literally cheek-to-jowl for the next 6 months (space near the stoves is at a premium!).

A new course always means a lot of information to absorb, and there was certainly no lack of it for us today. The managing director and also the principal spoke to us for so long I felt sure their throats would give way under the strain and there were certainly plenty of surprises in what they had to tell us - like the 3 periods of work experience involved (not mentioned previously); or the group work, which could see me feeding the whole class (50-odd) with 3 almost-strangers for a team, in less than 2 weeks; or the fact that our theory exams require us to memorise such things as how many egg yolks make 150ml mayonnaise, or identify the 5 key criteria in browning meat. I suddenly began to wonder when I was going to find the time in evenings and weekends to do a part-time job to pay for the damn course, what with all this homework, on top of a 9-5pm daily schedule actually at the school!

Fortunately for me, Leiths is full of the most excellent staff, who I'm sure will help me muddle through. We were in the kitchens prepping after lunch - a great surprise to many who (like I) had assumed today would be mostly admin. This week is plenty of the more basic stuff - in order to let the staff assess our skills - so we did basic veg prep (onion - slice & dice - the proper way, carrots three ways - julienne, brunoise and baton, and chiffonades of herbs); we learnt to use the giant industrial stoves by sweating onions (not as easy as one would think, there were eight of us, using hobs side by side, with only enough space really for 5 at a time); and trimmed a rack of lamb - a very satisfying procedure including removing the hefty chine bone, skinning the joint and scraping the rib bones in such a vigorous manner the room filled with a screech not unlike fingernails on a blackboard. My lamb bones were pronounced 'beautiful' by our teacher B - always nice to hear - she manages a wonderful balance between serious professionalism and friendly approachability, but then I have yet to meet a teacher at Leiths who isn't like that, which is wonderful.

Tomorrow we are in the kitchens first thing, and I expect to come home with some really lovely food (we are making Quiche Lorraine and Herb-crusted lamb cutlets - the herb prep and onion sweating today will be used here). We get to eat/take home everything we cook and prep, and anything we don't want or use goes to a local homeless charity, so none of the students' waste is actually wasted, which I think is fantastic. I have a freezer full of all the lamb bones from today, which will enrichen many a stew and bolognese to come (I've found if you make a stew/sauce with beef, but include a raw lamb bone from the beginning of cooking it adds a wonderful rich flavour!).

It's a whole new way for me - cooking to a prescribed style, following a recipe without tweaking it, learning new skills - I can't wait to see how it goes!

Friday, August 22, 2008

Murano - the first review??

Lighting at Murano
I had hoped to be a bit quicker off the mark and make this post the first review published of Angela Hartnett's new restaurant Murano which opened in the heart of Mayfair last night. Unfortunately a 3-hour, 12-course meal finishing well past 1am will fell even the mightiest of us, and so it was a little late before I managed to drag my head off the pillow this morn.

Angela Hartnett is, as everyone surely knows, protege to Gordon Ramsey, but to refer to this as a Ramsey restaurant is to dismiss the fact that Murano is very much Angela's venture, not his. She was everywhere to be seen in the restaurant and kitchen throughout the evening, and when some vulgar punter described the restaurant as 'Gordon Ramsey's new place' she pealed with laughter before pointing out that Gordon was currently on a tropical holiday - "bless him".

In terms of the restaurant itself it is incredibly different to the rest of the Ramsey Group's venues, being both extremely small (just twelve 4-seater tables + a 'chef's table') and also extremely well lit - or at least it was when the lights were working - on our arrival we were told by the charming female maƮtre'd that there was a "little problem" with the lights - which came as a surprise to us as even with only the little side lamps on the restaurant was still better lit than Claridges, Petrus or Maze.

Murano Menu It was nice to see a few familiar faces amongst the staff - not just the restaurant manager Jose Garcia, who many will recognise from his recent stint on the F-Word, but several of the waiters have come from the other Ramsey restaurants so although there were obviously relative newbies amongst the team, there were very few of the hiccups in service which tend to characterise the early days of a new restaurant when the staff are still learning to dance their waiting dance together. That said, I've never waited so long to be given a menu, and the little hiccup with four waiters descending on us to raise just 3 cloches raised a few mental eyebrows, but I'm splitting hairs here as really, the staff were what made the whole experience - they were without fail charming, enthusiastic and fun-spirited. They were also all, including the chefs, young - I'd put the average age of the staff at something under 30 - very unusual in the high-end restaurants of London's wealthiest district.

As for the food, well. High standards are to be expected here so expect some nit-picking on my part, but really the meal was fabulous. There is only a hint more of Italiana to the menu compared to any of the other Ramsey restaurants, but then you hardly expect a restaurant clearly gunning for a Michelin star to be serving pasta al forno and pizza Margarita, do you? A selection of menus to choose from - tasting, a la carte, vegetarian and a set lunch menu mean you could easily eat here five days a week without getting bored, although it's possible you'd tire of the chef's obvious fondness for serving extremely bitter accompaniments with sweeter main ingredients - they crop up a lot, not always successfully.

Various Breads

Pata Negra
Appetisers of deep-fried mushroom risotto balls were spot-on, beautifully crisp and 100% free of grease, which is probably a first for me in a restaurant of any caliber. The flavour was incredibly subtle but well seasoned - just right for piquing the appetite before attacking the substantial tasting menu. Our first course of grilled Foie Gras took a loooong time to arrive (one of the waiters was sent over by the chef to apologise for the wait) but we didn't mind too much, as we were served with a handsome basket of fresh breads - tomato & basil foccacia, ciabatta, and paper-thin crisp-breads with a board of outrageously tender and delicious Pata Negra (yes I know, Spanish ham in an Italian restaurant? I wasn't quibbling though - it was tastier than the best ever Parma ham).

Foie Gras with Sweet & Sour Tomatoes When the Foie finally arrived it was worth every second of the wait, being beautifully caramelised on the outside, meltingly tender within and served with sharp and delicious 'sweet and sour' tomatoes.

Truffle Risotto
Our second fungi rice dish followed - a few generous spoonfuls of risotto covered in wafer-thin shavings of truffle which dissolved into each mouthful with a waft of savouriness. Not a particular fan of truffles usually, I nonetheless could have eaten a mountain of this. Next came a decidedly obscene-looking dish of oven-roasted San Marzano tomatoes (the ones usually found in cans!), served with small globules of the mozzarella-derived burrata Campana.

Oven-baked San Marzano Tomatoes with burratta Campana I've chosen a picture that does not look too rude - this is a public blog after all - but trust me, the tomatoes were distinctly reminiscent of a certain item of men's anatomy. Well it made us smile anyway. San Marzano tomatoes are renowned for being pretty shoddy as raw edibles, but they really come into their own in the canning process, which is why they are so ubiquitous on supermarket shelves. They work similarly well once roasted, so it seems, and were juicy and delicious - but also so sharp I developed a tongue ulcer after eating a couple!

Bean & Apple Salad with Cider Vinaigrette I was initially unimpressed by our salad of green beans & apple with cider vinaigrette, as it tasted primarily of the 'squeak' of a raw bean on polished teeth, but after a few forkfuls this turned out to be simply a matter of the salad not having been tossed properly - with the vinaigrette properly mixed through the dish was superb, and an excellent palate cleanser before the big hunks of meat to follow.
Fillet of Veal with Parmesan Cream For the main course there was a choice of roasted fillet of veal or rack of welsh lamb. There being three of us we had two veal and one lamb, and the veal won hands-down, being beautifully seared but juicily pink and tender. The Parmesan cream which accompanied it was quite simply the best sauce I've ever had with meat - packed full of the savoury taste 'umami' and wickedly rich to boot. The lamb was delicately cooked and lovely too, but it was served with a dollop of something unidentifiable, sludgy brown, and smokey in flavour which completely overpowered the delicate taste of the young sheep.

Strawberries with White Balsamic Jelly & Marscapone Sorbet
Being, by this time, very nearly the last people in the restaurant (and it being well past midnight), we were obliged to skip the optional cheese course, which I was rather miffed about as the cheese trolley had been sitting next to us all evening and had been calling to me with its pervasive aromas. They had also run out of the vanilla parfait with chocolate custard and roasted white peaches which was supposed to be our dessert, but as compensation we were offered free rein on the full-size dessert menu, allowing me to sample a dish I'd had my eye on from the beginning - strawberries served with white balsamic jelly, marscarpone sorbet and little brittle chunks of meringue. Spectacularly enough, this was served with a glass of dry ice in the middle of the plate - hot grappa was poured on top to create an amazing volcano of clouds wafting across the table, and the eruption created the sauce which then mingled with the juice of the strawberries on the plate.

Ice-creams & Sorbets
Prior to our strawberry interlude there was a course of house icecreams and sorbets - a selection of 8 tiny scoops for the three of us to share. Basil sorbet was the big winner - an astonishing explosion of herbaceous flavours which jolted your tastebuds like 10,100 volts. Also outstanding were the mango and the black cherry, both absolutely bursting with concentrated fruit. There was something for everything, in addition to those I've already mentioned the flavours were blood orange, pear, chocolate & black olive, banana and strawberry. My feeling was that the sorbets were best by a country mile, but the ice-creams were creamy and unctuous too.

Stomachs groaning, we asked for the bill, only to be presented with one last dish - a glass of delicately lemony tiramisu, topped with an espresso-strength coffee granita. To accompany this we had a range of tuile biscuits ranging from the sweet (chocolate & nuts), to the savoury (beetroot and salt), and some beautiful homemade truffles and liqueur chocolates. A quick tour round the kitchens and a chat with an astonishingly-relaxed looking Angela rounded off the evening perfectly. Murano may have a few tweaks left to do (automatically flushing toilets were commented on by almost every table - due to their habit of going off five times before one had even sat down), and some minor adjustments may be necessary in the kitchen before I declare it my favourite menu, but for atmosphere, service and experience this new venue is quite definitely the jewel in Ramsey's crown, and I will be back - soon.