…half the world away, I’ve been lost I’ve been found, but I don’t feel down…

Yesterday I cleaned all the things.

Okay, not all the things, just all the things in the kitchen and livingroom. Fits of cleanliness are common for me, especially when I’m stressed or uncomfortable.

I think I miss my home.  At least C bought a great vacuum. 

Many of my friends lived abroad for some time, free to wander and work and meet people and experience different cultures without the pull of responsibility or family. I never did this. As someone who quickly becomes uneasy in large groups, preferring one-on-one social interactions, my apartment, with all my carefully acquired things and hundreds of books, was my cave of solitude, especially since I had room to seat only 3 at a time. 

Enter First World Problem: I miss my things. Mainly my books. And perhaps it isn’t that I miss the things that I own, but owning things, any things. When I first arrived I purchased 5 pairs of shoes. I’m not a shoe girl, the 15 pairs I left in Canada were collected over 10 years, and I only really wear one or two pairs until they are falling from my feet in tatters. I also bought clothes, just t-shirts that look like ones I brought with me, and hoodies, and some skirts, again I have a grand wardrobe back in Canada, but I’m not fashionable and most definitely leave the house in jeans and a hoodie almost every day. Buying things made it easier to go home at night to a tiny room with bare walls (which is certainly not to say anything against the house, it is lovely, it just isn’t mine).

As previously mentioned, while I knew the way all the Colonies know intrinsically about traditional English cooking, I never really looked into it. Maybe I just thought that they’d moved on, or that it was all stereotypical, like the drinking and the racism (which goes to show stereotypes are as such for a reason).

When I realized that everyone goes nuts for Bakewell tarts, Eccles cakes, puddings, fools, scones, I had to remind myself that I love learning new things and I’m an old hand at research so that’s great, but I also thought Seriously? You guys eat this stuff? 

This is food people consumed during the depression. Sure, Britain went through a horrible economic slump in the early 70s, which is probably why things like Bacon Butty (bacon between two buttered slices – I’m sorry, but I still don’t qualify this as a sandwich) is still on menus, and one can procure a can of Macaroni Cream (like rice pudding, but made with the very inexpensive macaroni) at any off license.

Whywhywhy is an entire nation continuing to eat like this, in 2012?

After a weeks of straight rain,  I realized why puddings and chip sandwiches and piles of whipped cream folded with jam is so appealing: this is shit that all parents feed their kids, and when you live in a rainy, dreary country where clothes that have been dried in the dryer become damp within 24 hours, when you have to travel 2 hours to and from work everyday or you think you’re getting trench foot because your boots are never dry, it makes sense that the entire population would make a proper cup of tea and eat something that reminds them of when everything was less complicated and less tiring.

Which might be why the Canadian and I had Kraft Dinner last night. It was from the USA and not Canada, so was actually Kraft Cheese and Macaroni Dinner, and it did taste a little stale, likely because the English buy their macaroni and cheese in cans (I didn’t even photograph that disgusting sludge before it went in the bin), and won’t pay ₤4 for a box of dried pasta imported from the New World, but it was delicious and reminded me of home.

Jellies are something the English are known for, but amazingly it isn’t easy to find artisanal jellies in London though, admittedly, I did a search on Google, found nothing of great interest, and became immediately distracted by Wikipedia. Marks & Spencer carries a selection of rather nice jellies; I had the black currant one and it didn’t remind me of baby barf, which is always a good thing.

Jellies in England are not like the name-brand JELL-O Canadians are brought up with. Jello has a higher gelatine content, so it sets a bit stiffer. It’s chewey. English jellies are very soft and melt in your mouth. They are also layered beautifully, and when turned out, their wobble is rather unencumbered as compared to turned out Jello.

I’ve always been fascinated by the wiggle wobble of gelatin-set foods, and was overjoyed when the executive chef, a very enthusiastic, wiry man in his late forties, set a piece of passionfruit bavarois on a chopping board, grasped both edges of the board, knelt down to get his face at eye-level with the mousse cake, and began to shift the board back and forth, causing the cake to flop in all directions.

“THAT is how you know you’ve got a good ba-vois.”

The last dish I made for the resto was a jelly-panna cotta combo, because the English only want their jellies from M&S, not restos. I wanted to sneak it in somehow, and I had some black berry purée lying around, so I made this:

Créme Fraîche Panna Cotta with Blackberry Jelly, Compressed Apples, and Candied Pistachios. 

Blackberry Jelly

125g simple syrup

150g blackberry purée

2 tbsp blackberry booze of some kind

2.5 sheets gelatin

Warm the simple syrup if it is pre-made, or whip some up (75g of water, 75g sugar) and throw in the gelatin you’ve already bloomed. Stir in the purée and booze, strain, and carefully pour into glasses to desired quantity. Chill until set.

Crème Fraîche Panna Cotta

150g Crème Fraîche

150g Milk

150g Whipping Cream

2 Sheets Gelatin

75g Sugar

Warm milk and sugar to just a simmer, stir in bloomed gelatin. Whisk together the crème fraîche and whipping cream and slowly stir into the milk. Give it a pass through a sieve, then pour carefully into glasses, layering it over jelly. Chill.

Vanilla Jelly

Honestly, this is really just like a glaze for the Panna Cotta, because the only things I think should be white are the plates and table linens, if that. Food shouldn’t be white.

Scrapings from 1 vanilla pod

1tbsp Lemon Juice

150ml Simple Syrup

1 Sheet Gelatin

1 tbsp Blackberry purée

Combine all but gelatin, warm slightly, add gelatin, pass through sieve, make sure the mixture is cooled, then pour a thing layer over panna cotta. Chill. 

I topped it with apples compressed with simple syrup, lemon juice, and vanilla, blackberries tossed in blackberry booze, and candied pistachios. The above photos are the test batch, below the final dish. I had to serve it in a different glass, one I don’t care for. Though it kinda looks like a tiny terrarium, which makes me a bit giddy. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And this totally happened tonight. What. The. Fuck.

 

 

 

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The Love of My Life.

I think I have a problem.

Okay, I know I have a problem, this I’ve never doubted.
Though we can never marry, and he is not always there when I need him, Coffee and I can never be apart for long.

Here, I am busy enough and live far enough away from work that coffee is no longer the first thought in my head when I wake up. Actually, “fuck, I gotta piss” is the first thought, but this isn’t a post about urinary tract infections (see July). I don’t even think of coffee until I have left the flat and am about two blocks into my journey. Regardless of who I am talking to, what is going on around me, what shambles I likely appear, the longing begins and I fantasize about drinking coffee and my ability to concentrate is all but completely shattered until I can have it. This is a Lorelai Gilmore sized coffee addiction.

I can manage without it. There have been two days here where I woke up so late coffee of any sort was out of the question and I hadn’t yet nicked a giant box of Nestle Instant Espresso that is now hidden in my pastry cave for me to dip into and concoct something that uses three packages, half a cup of water, and a tablespoon of whipping cream. The busiest day the resto saw during my stay (90 lunch, 150 dinner) I actually managed without a drop of coffee, but admittedly I had a terrible headache, was cranky as hell, and totally confused for 13 hours. There was a moment around 9pm when I realized at 5pm I had sent out a Passionfruit bavarois instead of that godforsaken strawberry tart. I was so ashamed.

Last week, a friend of the Canadian was in town and he had the day off. I was finished at 3pm for a change, and agreed to meet them in Hyde Park after a quick jaunt to Harrods for fancy cherries to give my Sunday Bakewells a pop.

Oh wait, Olympics were still happening.

I leave the hotel and am immediately sucked into a sea of sweaty sports fans and patriotism (something the English do almost as well as queing).

Eventually I make it to Harrods, pick up the jam and some incredible coffee grind-filled chocolate, am offered tourist directions which I politely decline ( I do have a UK bank card after all, do only tourists and Jennifer Saunders shop at Harrods?), then hop back on the tube one stop to Hyde Park Corner so I can stroll through the park back to Marble Arch. Despite the crowds, it is a beautiful day.

Hyde park and Withnail (my iPhone, I name all my electronics after miserable people) do not get along. Withnail becomes very confused in Hyde Park. Admittedly I have become very lost while relying on his GPS in Hyde Park before, so I can only blame my lack of coffee for why I thought I could make it this time.

GPS directs me

IN

A

GIANT
CIRCLE.

Only, when I get back to Hyde Park Corner Station, it is exit-only and I am now on the incorrect end which means I can’t get back on the tube.

I have no interest in walking back to Knightsbridge because it is a weird place and being there compels me to purchase expensive but cleverly designed bottles of Gin I simply cannot afford.

There is a sign that says Green Park Station 6 minutes, and beside it pointing in a different direction Victoria Station 15 minutes. I go for Green Park because I’ve never been to Victoria and am quite sure it is very much out of my way. At this point, I am trying to get to SoHo because I’ve taken so long they have abandoned the park for a more delicious venue.

Walkwalkwalkwalkwalkwalk.

Looking for signs of being near Green Park, which I know, ie:

I see none.

Walkwalkwalkwalkwalkheywaitaminutestop.

Um. That sign says Victoria Station 6 minutes. 

  1. I have been walking longer than 9 minutes so these signs are lying
  2. WHERE THE FUCK DID GREEN PARK GO, QUESTION MARK!

Goddammitididitagain.

So I am lost in Belgravia. I don’t know what it is, I only know it’s approximate location, but I have at least heard the name before, so I am not especially upset. I do absolutely have to take a piss. Withnail tells me there are lots of buses from Belgravia to SoHo, but keeps where to catch these buses to himself. Tease.

I arrive at Victoria Station. My head feels like it will, without a doubt, explode. My eyes are attempting to secede from my face. I search for the Underground, but they keep it tucked away like a creepy family secret and instead encourage people to buy Burger King from one of three locations or leggings from Accessorize.  I am transported back in time by Victoria’s bizarre inner architecture and realize I have in fact been here; I had to drag my giant luggage through this wretched neon-illuminated mishmash of a building when I first arrived. Victoria Station is a symbol of great confusion and stress.

HEAD

GOING

TO

EXPLODE.

I find a coffee shop. I dig in my change purse. I have almost no money. I stare at the caffeinated options, begging to find something I can afford. The Italians behind the counter look uneasy. I look like a total fucking messface.

Espresso.

For ₤1.65.

Cause I only have ₤1.70.

Sometimes we have to make tough decisions. Life altering decisions. I made one that day. I bought an espresso, a single fucking ounce of black deliciousness for  a fucking ₤1.65 cause I couldn’t afford anything else because it MIGHT make my headache fade just a bit.

I bought that over priced espresso. Shaking, I turned down the offer for milk, grabbed the teeny paper cup with a snarl, avoided eye contact and rushed out of the shop. I sat down outside Victoria Station like a tramp and sipped it, in a vain attempt to make it last like a real coffee, but it just became tepid and bitter. I smoked a cigarette. My headache went away. Everything seemed alright. But I was still in fucking Belgravia.

This dessert is an ode to the love of my life. It is also the first real dish I’ve had on a menu, so it is kinda special to me.

It isn’t pretty (hence all the horrible photos I’ve taken of every angle, trying to make it look classy and awesome). I was asked to make a dish that had chocolate, coffee foam, and salted caramel and ended up with this, the closest thing I can make to a mocha/flat white hybrid. While it doesn’t have a bear or batman drawn into the foam, it is very tasty, and as a coffee addict, I find it to be a satisfying alternative.

Chocolate & Coffee “Ganache” with Salted Caramel, Milk Foam, Coffee biscotti, and Milk Chocolate Ice Cream.

Chocolate & Coffee “Ganache”

The ganache is in quotes because it isn’t a traditional ganache, which is an emulsion of chocolate and cream. This version uses very little chocolate and a gelling agent called carragean to set it; the result is something that is rich but not intense, with a light sweetness and great flavour.

250g Whipping Cream

90g Dark Chocolate, 64-70%

100g Whipping Cream

75g Whole Milk

30g Sugar

3 pkg Nestle Instant Espresso, or 2tbls

0.5g Kappa or Carregean powder

Bring the cream to just below the boil, pour over chocolate and after a minute begin to stir with a spatula from the centre out. Combine the sugar, espresso, and carregean, add to the milk and cream, then pour into the chocolate mix. Give it a whiz with an immersion blender, then return to the pot and cook on med, stirring as you would with an anglaise, until it reaches 90˚, then VERY QUICKLY I AM SO NOT KIDDING ABOUT BEING FAST HERE pour into vessels. If it develops a skin, give it a stir. This stuff sets at 60˚ no joke.

This is how quickly this stuff sets. Totally. Worth it.

Let set up in the fridge. As with Gelatin, this will take about 24 hours to finish setting, but can be served within 2 hours. The texture will be like a crème brulée.

Salted Caramel

This is my favourite caramel recipe.

240g Sugar

120g Glucose (or corn syrup)

1tsp lemon juice

450g Whipping Cream

50g Butter

salt to taste, I use about 7g

Bring the sugar, glucose, and lemon juice to about 188˚ (I’ve noticed this number changes based on humidity, the type of sugar, etc, so go for a deep amber with foam that is just a touch lighter), carefully pour cream into sugar, and keep it on low heat until all the sugar disolves. Then whisk in butter and salt. This ratio of sugar to cream and butter will allow the caramel to be thick when set in the fridge but still a bit fluid.

Milk Foam

This foam is to mimic the fine-bubbled foam produced when steaming a whole milk. The sugar gives it a slight sweetness, to marry it with the dessert, and the cream gives it body and helps it hold its shape. It is ready to use straight from the fridge.

325g Milk

225g Whipping Cream

2 sheets gelatin (8g bloomed)

30g sugar

Heat the milk, cream, and sugar just until the sugar dissolves. Bloom gelatin, add to the dairy, and stir over ice bath until it is very cold.  Pour into an espuma gun (whipped cream dispenser), fill with one or two chargers (two for a full size, one for a small one), shake vigorously for two minutes, then chill.

Milk Chocolate Ice Cream

This is an adaption of the Icecreamists home recipe. My life will have a little hole in it when this ice cream is no longer in it.

2L Milk

1L Double Cream (or 1600g Milk, 1400g Whipping Cream I would guess)

100g Glucose

600g sugar

10g Ice Cream Stabilizer

16 Egg Yolks

200g Cocoa

800g Milk Chocolate

Heat dairy, glucose, and half the sugar over medium heat. Sift the cocoa, then mix well with stabilizer and sugar, then whisk in batches into yolks. Mixture will be very thick. When milk and cream simmers, pour 1/3 into yolks, whisk well, pour back into pot, and cook slowly to 82˚. Pass through a strainer or Chinois and chill well over an ice bath. Churn. Stuff in your face.

Folks, these are your children, therefore our future is dire…

This is a plate of profiteroles.

 

How shiny and lovely they are.

 

I asked Commis to please make more chocolate sauce.

 

Commis makes this:

I leave Commis a note asking “Please fix the chocolate sauce over a bain marie”

 

Commis takes a Sharpie and crosses out this request, but continues to do everything else on his handover (things to do) and NOT cross out anything else.

 

I say to Commis, “So, the way you made that chocolate sauce, you know why that happened, right?”

 

Blank look, “What do you mean?”

 

…..

 

“The chocolate sauce. It was lumpy. Because the chocolate wasn’t melted properly. I assume because of the batch size, you poured two smaller batches over the chocolate for the whole batch and it didn’t fully incorporate.”

 

“I just made one batch. It was fine.”

 

“No, it was lumpy.”

 

Blank look.

I write on my list of things to do: THROW OUT ALL CHOCOLATE SAUCE.

Write on Commis list: Make new chocolate sauce.

Wonder how long he’s going to spend bitching about how I’m a cunt.

Broken equipment, broken Commis (plural), broken spirits….

Fuck this shit, I’ve already got a new job. Now I just hafta give my notice.

The Morons are Winning.

Thankfully, this past week has been very busy compared to last week.

There are things about my existence I have learned to accept, like that I can’t make plans or get excited about anything because something will inevitably go awry or I’ll fuck something up and the whole thing will collapse. Nor can I rely on anyone else for anything, mainly excitement or change or adventure because it is very likely the people I know will forget or get distracted by a shinier idea or we all work together and we aren’t bad people so we won’t burn the place down so we can all run off somewhere amazing for the weekend.

I don’t drive, nor do I have any interest in owning or directing any money into a car, so I don’t go very far and if I do it is frustrating.

I also have a weird thing about not wanting to be alone but loving being alone at the same time, and likewise I hate talking but also love telling stupid stories and there is never a happy medium for either.

It also seems that I rarely experience the things others do — while sure I live in a big, bustling Metropolis far away from my hometown, there are people in this city right now doing the same thing I am except they have normal jobs and aren’t social weirdos, so they party and travel, things that as a chef and a loner I don’t really do.

Therefore, it is clear that I both love and hate my job. I look forward to making delicious things but loath doing the mundane or boring or overly complex or overly simple jobs. I love going to work because the people I work with are weirdos and fun but everything is broken and I’ve made 15 batches of choux since moving here and only two have come out to my standards and ever time I bitch and moan about the Commis I manage to fuck up something incredibly simple and then I hate myself.

Okay, I know, this is a bit mellow dramatic, but I’m a patissier, we cry when we make 10 batches of uneven choux, its what we do.

Another thing I am trying to accept is that no matter how much I try to make something tasty and pretty, my efforts will be quashed somehow.

Here are two pieces of evidence to support this fact:

  1. A black currant bavarois with Crème de Mûre marinated fruits
  2. Nougat Glacé with Marmalade (had to use up that marmalade from the Fakewells I was hocking) and Raspberry.

I had these on the menu this weekend as specials. I think three Bavarois sold all weekend, and the Brits wouldn’t bite at the Nougat Glacé (which we adverted in the English Frozen Nougat — apparently still too confusing bordering on possibly gross sounding). Instead a lot of this happened:

No joke, Sunday night during the closing ceremonies I sold 7 Vanilla ice creams.

In all honesty, I hate putting Vanilla on the ice cream menu because I fear this is what will result; with all the effort and time put in to creating delicious flavours and interesting combinations and everyone sticks to boring old plain Jane stuff. Part of me understands going for what you know, wanting something that comforts you, but come on. Eat vanilla ice cream at home. Or in Brighton walking along the pier with your grandma. Or when someone dreadful comes to call and all you have on offer is this:

I’m at the point where I don’t know why I even bother. I should just get a desk job to quash the varicose veins that are developing on my already so-pale-I’m-see-through legs.

Oh well. At least I have found a place that serves milk beside my coffee, instead of dumping a cup in a turning it nice a white and flavourless. Because, lets be honest, colourless things have very little flavour.

And guess what has no colour?

VANILLA ICE CREAM.

The post about food.

Well, the Olympic madness is halfway over.

To be honest, as I work in the western side of Central London, I have seen little of the crazy the Olympics brought in to town. Hyde Park has been much less crowded than anticipated, though I’ve still avoided it like the plague, and Oxford Street is surprisingly easy to walk due to thinner crowds.

Of course, there is some outrage among shop and resto owners in the west; claims that sales are down between 10% and 30% (as compared to last year at this time) do not surprise me, as it has been rather quiet. They have extended our service hours at work, notably the dinner service starts at 4pm and continues on until 11pm, which means I don’t get out until midnight at the earliest, and that’s with a real push to get everything together before the last tables come in.

I believe it was the Cultural Minister who said the west had seven years to market themselves, and they clearly failed to do so as the east is booming, and Mayor Boris is pretending nothing is wrong.

So since I’ve spent a good deal of time working, or rather being in the kitchen waiting for people to order (thankfully beach-body season seems to have passed and dessert sales are up, I no longer feel totally useless), there has been little time to sightsee. Since I try to photograph food as much as possible, here’s what I’ve found so far…

The IceCreamists – SoHo

This ice cream is good. I found them through the Commis, who brought in their titillating  book that remains an excellent distraction while I wait to use the single working oven (the other one suffered a bit of an electrical fire last week, much to my chagrin). Sure these guys pump stabilizers of all sorts into this ice cream to give it a delicious chewy texture, but the flavours are wonderful.

The Canadian delivered Apple Vodka and Peanut to me on a particularly trying day. Oh, and they also make Breast Milk Ice Cream, which sells for ₤19 for three scoops. No taste-testing of that one, so I don’t know if it is worth it.

Yauatcha – SoHo

This place confused me. The resto is enclosed by brilliant blue glass save for one long clear opening to showcase their beautiful French pastries, despite their claiming they are an upscale Dim Sum and Tea House. After pressing my nose on the glass and trying to not lick it, it is London after all, I finally decided to venture inwards.

They gave us a lovely amuse bouche of pickled cuccumber and spicy sauces.

Then brought us delicious iced teas, no but really spectacular teas that I can’t possibly say enough about. We had Strawberry and Vanilla, and Lime and Kiwi.

The Kung Pow Chicken was awesome and their fried rice was moist and fluffy without being greasy.

And finally, the Yuzu tart and Peach Melba (with sesame and almonds)

Euphorium Bakery – Islington

Interweb reviews touted this as one of the top café/bakeries in town, so I was a little skeptical. Our first visit we tried the jam-packed with marzipan Almond Croissant, Apple Strudel, Eccles Cake (which was delicious, even though I don’t care for glacé or candied fruits), and their Tiramisu, the best I’ve had thusfar. This is the Strudel with raisins and walnuts, as well as a cross section of their traditional croissant. Only downside was the mocha, which was really horrible. The Flat Whites were great.

 

The Happening Bagle – Finsbury Park

I’ve read this is the best Bagel in London, though it is quite unlike any other bagel. A) it is double seeded, and B) the people of Finsbury Park dislike properly cooked bagels so they are taken from the oven a couple of minutes early.

Mysterious Donut Stand – Camden

In all honestly, I didn’t try these. But they came in 15 flavours and were the size of my face. I’ve yet to see them again, though I am in Camden during the week and the donut cart was spotted on a Saturday, so maybe it’s a weekend delight. Though not a donut person, these were pretty epic.

Chin Chin Laboratories – Camden

There is nothing like going to Camden, getting something to eat from one of the hundreds of food stalls and sitting along the canal.

I’ve already gone on about these ice cream makers, but I visit almost every week for their special so it’s only fair. They always offer Vanilla and Chocolate, neither of which I’ve tried, then offer a brand-spanking new sorbet and ice cream flavour.

Cherry Sorbet, with deliciously chewy bits of Cherry.

Strawberry Mary, a play on the Bloody Mary. Strawberry and Tomato base speckled with celery salt and herbed brittle. Awesome.

…and The Hummingbird Bakery – Portobello Road

Portobello is well known for its antique shops and quirky vintage business. I saw a couple of antique shops, and after 26 years of antiquing I can say with a bit of authority that they were a bit on the lean side, and mostly tourist crap shops. It broke my heart. There is also a well-known cupcake shop here, the Hummingbird Bakery. If you spend any time looking at baked goods online (at tastespotting, for instance) or peruse baking books in shops, you know the Hummingbird. It is famous. It’s red velvet cupcake is very famous. I bought one.


I was not especially impressed. Though the cake was just moist enough to not qualify as dry, the flavour was difficult to spot. The frosting was American sweet. The latte was bland. I’m sorry, I just can’t agree with the general public on this one.