30/09/2012

La Porte des Indes–Masterclass

Warning: picture heavy post!

I have a love affair with Indian food. I grew up in a multicultural part of London, and almost all of my friends were Indian, but from very different areas, and so I grew up eating the most wonderful foods. Amazing Gujarati vegetable dishes,  zingy Punjabi stews and keema with peas, pakoras and spicy chicken in the Sikh households, meat dishes rich and full of cinnamon , nuts and sultanas in Bengali houses and  absolutely perfect rice in all of them…mine was a blessed childhood.

It did get to the point where I had trouble remembering the English name for things, and got mistaken for being Indian a lot of the time. This lead to being told off once by an Aunty at a wedding because I “didn't speak my own language.” The poor lady was mortified when she was told by my friend, amid much laughter, that I was Anglo Greek, not Anglo Indian. She spent the rest of the afternoon feeding me freshly cooked spinach pakoras as a penance. Oh woe is me.

Given my early obsession, it should come as no surprise that I jumped at the chance to attend a masterclass at La Porte des Indes in London.

I have to extend my thanks, once again, to my lovely friend Kavita for asking me along to this event. Not only am I blessed with amazing friends, I am blessed by friends with excellent taste.

I arrived stupidly early at Marble Arch, so I had time to grab a coffee and read my book whilst waiting for the appointed time. I’m quite nervous of going in to new places on my own, and when there was no-one to greet me I was a little shy of just wandering down the stairs just in case they were the wrong stairs and I ended up somewhere I shouldn’t be, but I did it anyway and arrived at the right place.

IMG_5747

We were served a gorgeous drink made from passion fruit and guava which stubbornly refused to be photographed by my camera, which is a shame, because the colour of it was amazing. Hopefully Kavey got a shot, because I’d love you to see what a vibrant drink it was.

This is an event that I will not forget anytime soon. The elegance and beauty inside the restaurant – which used to be a ballroom - took my breath away, but there’s a quirkiness too. There is the Jungle Bar where we congregated http://www.laportedesindes.com/london/about-us/jungle-bar/ and I just loved it. I could quite happily have stayed there all day.

The tiger skin rugs of the old colonies are replaced by fake tiger rugs. Fake skins with a happy face and a flat fluffy tail. I may have wanted to take one home. Don’t worry, it is still there. Look, see?

Tiger rug

Staircase

The general manager, Shirin, collected us all together and took us on a tour of the kitchen. I am well aware that a kitchen can be a territorial place. Anyone who has tried to cook with me will attest to that, and so I felt more than a little trepidation at going in. I shouldn’t really have worried, because everyone was smiley, and very accommodating to us invaders.

One of our group got to place a naan bread inside a blisteringly hot tandoor oven, and very brave of her it was too. We got to taste a naan, literally fresh from the oven wall, and it is so shockingly different to what you can buy elsewhere. Better, more crispy on the base and with a far superior flavour.

I managed to get one, very blurred shot of the oven, and it was blurred because the heat coming out of it made me not want to get too close! This is it. I show you my shameful effort simply so you can see the glow at the bottom.

IMG_5749

It is a compact space, with little room for manoeuvre, but everybody seems to work with it perfectly well.

First kitchen counter  Cooking station vivid colours  2nd kitchen side cooking station

Now these big pots here are MY kind of cooking pot. Oh yes. What do you mean I overcater?

Huge pots

Next we invaded the personal space of a lovely smiling man making aubergine fritters, or beignets, which is what they are called on the menu. The smell of which drove a few of us mad it was so good.

Another blurred photo! (I was trying so hard not to get in the way that I rushed it, so that serves me right for worrying too much.)

Aubergine pockets ready to be fritters

The aubergines are made into a pocket, stuffed with deliciousness, and then dipped in a gram (chick pea) flour batter and deep fried. Best savoury doughnut EVER as far as I am concerned. I’m going to get me some gram flour I think. The nice man also let me and another invader eat some of the crispy bits that had collected in the draining tray.

Next was the immense spice grinder, though I didn’t get a shot of that. I was too busy going “Oooh bowls in stacks!” and taking shots of those instead.

IMG_5757

Time to depart the kitchen and head to the demonstration area. The majority of the following photos are by Ayub from http://www.aminart.co.uk/, and I am very grateful to him for allowing me to use them. Mine are marked with my watermark.

All of us and a rapt me

Yes, that is me at the front, utterly rapt in what Chef Mody was saying.

Chef Mody

Chef Mody, in a rare standing still moment.

He described the cooking of each dish as they went along, sometimes being ambushed slightly by his incredibly quiet but efficient assistant. I named him Ninja.

Chef Mody is an absolute pleasure to listen to, a man with obvious passion for food, and the history behind both the restaurant and the cuisine. I also got the feeling that fools are not suffered gladly.

spices

The wooden contraption in the fore of the picture is a coconut grinder, to scrape the coconut meat out of the shells, ready to make milk. Coconut milk is not the liquid inside, that is coconut water. The milk is made from squeezing the grated flesh once it has been mixed with water.

Spice bowls

Frying pakoras

Chard and Water chestnut pakoras in the deep fryer.

Cooked chard and waterchestnut pakoras

The finished pakoras – they were delicious!

IMG_7225

Busy, busy. Chef Mody and his Ninja chef assistant.

Plated prawns potatoes and rice

The finished taster plates of Chard and Water Chestnut Pakoras, Bombay Potatoes, Crevette Assadh, fluffy rice and naan.

The prawn dish was my favourite, and quite possibly the best prawn dish that I have tasted in a long time. You could have given me a bowl of just that and that would have been me happy.

There was a wine expert present as well, and she expertly matched wines to dishes. I cannot comment there, as I don’t drink, but everyone seemed to be pretty happy with the choice of wines, and how they stood up to the flavours they were put with. There are also now a lot of wines being produced in India, and these are available at the restaurant.

After the demonstration ended, we had a quick Q&A session, and then…then it was on to lunch. I’m afraid the next photos are all mine, so may well be a bit shaky.

I was in a serious quandary as to what drink to order, and was nearly swayed by a Coconut Lassi, but when Kavey pointed out a Rose Lassi, that was that question answered.

Rose close up

Rose Lassi

Starters!

Starters

Our lovely starters consisted of beautifully silky Seekh kebab, deep fried puris (mini round breads that puff up when you fry them) filled with yoghurt and I think, a chutney, topped with crunchy sev. (deep fried gram flour vermicelli) It’s a variation on a very popular street food, pani puri, but thankfully this one didn’t leak all over when you bit into it. The samosas were perfection. Filled with minced chicken and spices, they were delicate, utterly moreish and light with it. This came with two fruity chutneys.

IMG_5791

Chutneys

IMG_5792

delicate chicken samosa

There was a danger of filling up here, but I stayed away from the basket of fresh naan. You have no idea how difficult that was.

Fresh naan

The mains were equally good.

Mixed mains

Poulet Rouge, which was chicken in a creamy sauce, then monkfish in a spicy sauce with dried red chillies and spinach sautéed with mushrooms. The monkfish was a bit too spicy for me, but that was probably because I’d chewed down on a piece of dried chilli, not realising what it was. That is what drinking a lassi is for! Not lager, people, yoghurt. Cools the mouth down nicely so that you can finish eating the delicious food in front of you.

Mains plate

Just when I thought we were safe, desserts arrived.

Dessert selection

I’d gone for a wander to stretch my legs, so missed the explanation of what was what. The mini samosa was delicious, and contained chocolate and walnuts in a crisp shell. The chocolate mousse was served in a little leaf bowl and was rich and unctuous. Do you know how hard it is to scrape a leaf bowl with a spoon?

The pink dessert in a glass had the feel of a rice pudding, but possibly one made with ground rice. Tasty as anything though, and rose scented.

The terracotta pot was my favourite. It tasted like a mango cheesecake, so I suspect strained yoghurt with mango purée. It was divine.

Everything about our day was excellent. The only thing I would say was that the group was too large to be able to see properly or take everything in, mainly on the kitchen tour, but everything else proved to be brilliant.

My thanks to Chef Mody and Shirin, to Ayub for the photographs and to Kavey for inviting me along, plus the lovely staff who didn’t mind being invaded at all.

I liked it so much, I’m going to try and convince my boss to have our Christmas party there. I don’t think he will take much persuading mind, as it’s his favourite restaurant. I have been ordered to try the lamb chops when I go back.

La Porte des Indes

32 Bryanston Street

London

W1H 7EG

020 7224 0055

I ate as a guest of La Porte des Indes and received a copy of their cookbook to take away with me.

21/09/2012

Leftovers are What You Make of Them

A night in on my own, and my thoughts usually turn to what I can cook for my dinner. I knew I had a lot of things to use up, so I tried to think of something to do with those.

I had found a celery heart that was looking a bit sorry for itself, a tub of roasted carrots with sesame and sumac in the fridge with a couple of cooked new potatoes, and some tinned goods that needed using up to make a bit of room in my overflowing cupboards.

A soup was born. Leftover Soup.

1 celery heart, finely chopped. This includes the leaves by the way. Worked out to about 1 cup.

1 cup carrots (I had already roasted them in oil with salt, sumac and sesame seeds)

A few cooked new potatoes (3, to be exact)

1 Kallo organic chicken stock cube (very impressed with this)

1 tin borlotti beans

1 tin Waitrose Essentials artichoke hearts

1 fat clove garlic

1/2 lemon

Extra virgin olive oil (fruitier the better)

I already had a little bacon fat in a pan, so I fried the celery off in that, plus some olive oil, along with the carrots and the potatoes.

When the celery was softened, I added in the beans and enough  water to cover everything, plus the stock cube, chopped up a bit, then added thin slices of garlic.

I left it to simmer on low for about an hour.

Whilst the soup was cooking, I took some of the artichokes out of the tin, and cooked them off very briefly in sear inly hot oil, so that they just browned on the cut side.

I had those as an antipasti, with a drizzle of a quarter of my fresh lemon, and more fruity extra virgin olive oil as a dressing.

That there is an Amalfi lemon that I had treated myself to.

Fried artichoke hearts

Back to the soup. It had all cooked down nicely, the carrots were beautifully soft and the celery had gone translucent.

The rest of the artichokes went in, with the juice of half a lemon. I cooked that just long enough to warm the ‘chokes through, then served it with another lemon/olive oil drizzle.

Artichoke bean vegetable soup

Artichoke bean vegetable soup close up

I usually think that my own cooking is okay, but this…this I absolutely loved. The warm flavours of the Mediterranean certainly cheered up what had turned into a dark and rainy autumn evening.

I am thrilled that I have enough leftover to have for dinner on Sunday night, when I get in from my weekend away.

Another bit of using up happened this week, when I found one old potato languishing in a bag. I keep my potatoes in a black canvas bag to stop them going green, and I’d just forgotten about it. A lovely Pentland, grown on our local farm shop’s land. Thank you Calcott Hall!

I had been inspired by listening to Nigel Slater speaking about his new book, Kitchen Diaries II, on Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour. He talked so lovingly of a baked potato, and that reminded me to look in my canvas bag, just in case it contained forgotten treasures.

It did, and it was perfectly fine, just a tiny bit soft. Easily spruced up though.

I washed it, dried it, rubbed it with olive oil and sea salt then baked it on a metal tray for an hour until a skewer went through with no resistance.

Split it open, and stuffed it with the end of some Delice de Cremier cheese that – you guessed it – needed using up. That came from Calcott Hall too.

Okay so the cheese had a few bits of fluff on but you cut them off and it’s all good. (Unless you are cooking for my husband who has a fungus allergy in which case, you most definitely do NOT do this.)

It was more than good. Look.

Baked potato i

That was one heavenly lunch.

Thank you Nigel Slater, thank you.

(I Tweeted him this very photo, and said it was all his fault. “How glorious does that look!” he tweeted back. Yes, I squeaked like a teenage fangirl.

Baking Challenge with Tesco Real Food

I was recently invited to attend a baking event, courtesy of Tesco Real Food, via my esteemed chum, Kavita of Kavey Eats.

The baking event took place alongside Tesco’s Real Food Baking Challenge, so have a go at that!

“Our Real Food Baking Challenge is running for six weeks until 21st October. We're asking customers to upload their best baking recipe to be entered into a weekly prize draw and a grand prize draw, which includes a luxury stay and cooking class at Eckington Manor, a KitchenAid mixer, kitchen utensils, an Eric Lanlard Home Bake cookbook and Persil washing up liquid products.

For more information on the baking challenge, visit our competition page.”

 http://realfood.tesco.com/recipes/customer-recipes.html

The venue for our event was a cookery school not far from Old Street, in a fairly unprepossessing road.

REAL FOOD 002

The location might not be charming but oh my, when you walk in to the school’s premises…well, to say that I would happily live there is an understatement.

REAL FOOD 003

REAL FOOD 012

REAL FOOD 025

REAL FOOD 026

REAL FOOD 027

Yes, it is a place of business, but it really feels like someone’s home, and that made the whole experience even nicer, on top of the fact that we were there for an evening of baking good food.

I already knew some of the bloggers present, and it was very nice to meet people that I’d so far only ‘met’ on Twitter. We were made very welcome, with drinks being given out and synchronised WiFi logging on happening all around. Yup! Bloggers.

Once we had all arrived, and hung up our coats (and yes, I was coveting the gorgeous old coat hooks, which I need to go back and photograph as soon as I can) we made our way downstairs, some of us rather more carefully then others, because the stairs are slightly different heights.

The downstairs kitchen is a thing of utter beauty. I would like to pick up the entire decor and move it to my house. The kitchen is the kitchen I can only dream of, with a huge, long, oak and stone kitchen table, handmade by John himself!

John

This amazing room, combined with the warm welcome that everyone gave us, proved to be the mood of the entire night.

                       Panorama

You have no idea how much I want this kitchen.

REAL FOOD 005

REAL FOOD 009

We divided up into two teams, one at either end of the table, and cooking started in earnest. Well, okay, it started in earnest after I had taken some photos of Mmmmmknives.

Global

REAL FOOD 032

First up for our team was pastry cases for Mini Bakewell Tarts, so we set to with rolling pins and floury hands.

http://realfood.tesco.com/recipes/mini-bakewell-tarts.html

(Personally I’d have added some almond extract to the frangipane mix, but then I’m an almond addict.)

Then it was on to Perfect Scones.

http://realfood.tesco.com/recipes/perfect-scones.html

While the scones were cooking and the pastry cases cooling we whipped up a Victoria Sponge with raspberry jam and buttercream and then moved back on to the Bakewells. At least I think that was the order, but to be honest, it was loud, fun and happy chaos so I don’t care if I have got the cooking order wrong!

Baking frenzy

Baking frenzy!

Handy tip: use a spare bit of pastry to press the pastry circles into the tart tins, much easier than using fingers! Thank you John.

The scone mix accidentally got an egg added to it, so we started again on that one but both sets turned out fine. The one without the egg was better though!

You have NO IDEA just how much bowl and spoon licking went on. I made sure to feed the photographer too, because that’s only fair.

At one point the KitchenAid was accidentally set spinning when it was not in the bowl, and Kavey got rather splattered with cake batter. I am sure you will not be surprised to find out that it DID NOT go to waste.

The Green Goddess

The Green Goddess in all her glory.

The other team was making Black Forest Cupcakes, Fruit Tartlets and Salted Caramel Shortbread.

http://realfood.tesco.com/recipes/black-forest-cupcakes.html

http://realfood.tesco.com/recipes/fruit-tartlets.html

The smell of the caramel as it cooked was gorgeous, and a bit distracting. They cooked the first batch for too long, and had to start again, but that just meant we all ended up with salted caramel fudge! Win all round really.

Sea Salt Caramel Fudge

The recipe for the shortbread is here:

http://realfood.tesco.com/recipes/salted-caramel-shortbread.html

Just cook the caramel until it is a nice dark colour, then tip it into a tin lined with non-stick cooking sheet and leave it to set.

When everyone had finished cooking, we went back upstairs to gather ourselves together a bit, drink the fabulous coffee made for us by this lovely dynamo (I do hope your ‘back’ is better my lovely)

REAL FOOD 007

and natter for a while, possibly dreaming about something savoury to eat.

Back down we went, to be greeted by the fabulous table, laden with our efforts, plus some gorgeous savoury dishes too. Chicken and tarragon rolls, smoked salmon on sourdough, olives…it was all there and of course, we all took photos.

Yes. That is me.

REAL FOOD 226

REAL FOOD 228  REAL FOOD 229  REAL FOOD 233

REAL FOOD 231

REAL FOOD 236

I had an excellent evening, and the only minor gripe is that sometimes, people at these types of event seem to forget that not everyone is at the same level of cooking knowledge, and so talking through a demonstration is both irritating and distracting.

Personally, I have never made scones before, and a Victoria Sponge only once, so I was very interested to hear how to do it using a food processor, and found that I had to strain to hear what was going on because people were having their own conversations. It’s disrespectful to the person doing the demo, plus some of us oldies are also a bit hard of hearing, so pipe down you foodies!

All in all though, it was an excellent event, with very kind and gracious hosts.

To everyone at Food at 52 – you rock.

Many thanks to Vanessa et al from Tesco Real Food for inviting me along, I am very grateful indeed.

Food at 52

96 Central Street

London

EC1V 8AJ

http://www.foodat52.co.uk/about

I received a Tesco goodie bag and travel expenses were reimbursed.