Looking for food for thought?

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

The week ahead

It's C here. Hello. Normally on a Monday, I take half an hour out just to plan what I need to get done during the week ahead. The problem is, this week, the list is so long I don’t even know where to start. So instead, I thought I’d take R’s approach and write my first post for this blog.

This week marks a new milestone in the life of Charlie and Evelyn's Table. On Saturday, for the first time, we’re serving “in your home” rather than “ at ours”. We’re off to beautiful and peaceful East Lothian to prepare a birthday feast for our clients and we're pretty excited.

After much thought and carefully selected choices, the menu, devised with season and our clients' tastes and requirements at heart, is decided. The celebrations will begin with a selection of canapés. Some favourites from recent suppers clubs will be sampled including Tandoori Mushrooms and Haggis Bons Bons alongside some new additions such as Petit Salmon, Crab Fishcakes and Mini Bruschettas. Guests will then choose from three main courses, and finish with cheese (including a specially ripened, whole Brie de Meaux) and a choice of three puddings... more on these soon.

So, we are currently wishing for more hours in each day and, as the feast is for 40 people, we’ve been begging, borrowing and stealing* large containers, large pans and large spoons to cope with the quantities and in fact it now feels like we own a completely new set of cooking equipment, just in an XXL size. Our small kitchen is gearing up for its own Olympics!

We're thinking of the quantities as cooking 20 dinners for two. This helps our sanity but also, as each of our "in your home" menus, is unique and all dishes will be cooked by us “at ours”, it really is much closer to a large scale dinner party than large scale catering.

First up, Haggis Bon Bons x40 or should that be two Bon Bons for each of our 20 "tables"? Best get rolling!

*for the record not actually stealing just bargains that were a steal.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Guest Post: A taste of PNG

I'm very excited to present our first, intriguing guest post.

I'm also very proud to say it was written by dear friends, adventurers and now ex pats, giving us a taste for their new life. Thank you.

Lots more excitement and fabulous images here.

And so, without further ado over to M...

Papua New Guinea is a country made up of over 800 different language groups. This fact sounds straightforward when read from the page, but in reality it means that communities that face each other from opposite sides of a river or a valley can each have mutually unintelligible languages and, by extension, vastly different ways of seeing the world. In such a cultural chaos, establishing your identity has always been, and remains, critically important. It is who you are, it is what you are, and it represents who you can rely on. And in Papua New Guinea, ‘identity’ means only one thing - land.

PNG is a country where over 85% of the population still depends on their land for their daily subsistence. Even in the centre of Port Moresby its common to see crops being grown next to bus stops, and in scrub land behind smart apartment blocks, and every family has a smallholding or access to one. No matter what your position in society, government minister or bus driver, everyone remains a landowner, and has a connection to their land, their ‘mama graun’ (lit. their homeland, their mother’s land). This connection to land also translates into a strong connection and a love for food, and is probably an understudied part of national identity. If you eat sago, you will probably be from the Sepik, taro and reef fish makes you an islander, and sweet potato and pigs puts you firmly in the Highlands….

A whole new perspective on ‘you are what you eat’.

As life continues to change rapidly for the majority of Papua New Guinean’s, the symbols of land and food will only become more important as tools in asserting their identity in future years. In many ways the development of a ‘cuisine’ could be seen as the ultimate expression of this search for identity, just as neeps, haggis and tatties define the Scottish internationally, and fish and chips define the British. Perhaps a Scot in a kilt eating a haggis on Burns Night has more in common with a Sepik man with crocodile skin scarification tucking into a crocodile foot than we might first think, and in the most unexpected ways!

An identifiable cuisine in PNG is still some way off, and perhaps this reflects the difficulty of homogenizing a presentable national identity in such a diverse culture. Food and eating for visitors can still be a bewildering experience, and is definitely adventurous. Outside of the hotels, which produce the usual range of international compromise (not quite local, not quite European, and nowhere in between), food is still an adventure. Most locals have a diet of superb (and organic!) vegetables, most of which I have never seen outside of the country, combined with a sometimes excellent, sometimes terrifying selection of animals. A meal can therefore range from superb fresh pork, cooked underground on hot stones in a banana leaf with roasted sweet potatoes and vegetables in coconut milk, to skewered monitor lizard, grilled over an open fire with its intestines as a side dish. It is that random. Many people still hunt, fish and gather for their daily meal, so it depends what can be caught or what is in season as to what you might end up with on your plate. And, as meat is a rarity whatever form it takes, so every last piece is always savoured - bone marrow, nails and all. Be warned, and remember that next time that C sneaks his trademark haggis into your next meal (what’s next – haggis dessert?), he’s only re-asserting his identity….

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Good Food Guide search for Restaurant of the Year 2010

The exciting search is on and much to our delight, the vote is decided by GFG readers like us.

Big Hospitality reports that:

"For the 2010 award, judges are looking for independently-owned establishments with excellent regional dishes using local produce where possible and where customer service is top class.

Restaurants are also being encouraged to ask customers to nominate them.

Nominees do not need to have appeared in the guide to be considered but need to achieve high standards. Ten regional winners will be announced in early May before going head to head to be crowned overall winner on May 19. "

Click here to cast your vote. The closing date for entries is 21 April.

Need to decide who gets our vote. Which restaurant gets yours?

Beetroot daydreams

I was oh so excited to see bunches of early beetroot on supermarket shelves this week and cannot wait to experiment with some new recipes. Last year, despite creating what looked like a murder scene in the kitchen, I made batches of hearty beetroot soup (based on a trusty Delia recipe in her Soup Collection). This year, I’m going to attempt to create a lighter dish with the wonderful, succulent texture and delightful, intense colour.

My early memories of beetroot are tied to Tuesday Family Teas at my Gran’s House before swimming lessons. Alongside trays and trays and even ironing boards full of delicious home baking, we sat down to corned beef pie or a very English type of pizza (my Gran’s invention) with homemade crinkle cut chips and beetroot (sometimes pickled, sometimes boiled) on the side. There was something incredibly comforting about those gatherings and it’s probably because of this association that I believe in beetroot as a wholesome, good food. It also intrigued me as a bit of a rebel vegetable with its deceptive skin, vibrant colour and brilliant ability to stain, far removed from the humble pea or other boring, green alternatives.

So, I was looking for some inspiration and found the flavour combinations here. They really captured my imagination and if I can bring just an ounce of this style to Charlie and Evelyn’s Table, my beetroot daydreams will be fulfilled and I’ll have a dish that tastes every bit as good as it looks. And, if that is not enough to convince even the non beetroot fans, I didn’t just dream it, beetroot is also very good for you.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Review of Supper Three

Furnished with an eclectic mix of old and new, boasting walls adorned by the chef's own art collection, Charlie and Evelyn’s old table has found its perfect home.

Come here for a perfectly measured haute-cuisine experience.

My wife, Jennifer, and I were fortunate to receive a second invitation to this well received new home restaurant, and our only regret is having had to pass on last month’s sitting due to our extensive international travel commitments.

We arrived fashionably late, Jennifer looking gorgeous as usual and me even more so.

Bumping into two other guests, we all made our way up the stairs exchanging nervous chatter about what lay before us. Will our hosts sit with us, do we pour our own drinks, what if the food is poor and how do we bridge the awkwardness of paying friends for dinner?

We were all warmly greeted by our hostess for the night, Rachel, who radiated with a post holiday spender. Coats were checked, kisses swapped and ice broken as we made our way to the living room for a welcome drink on the house.

The gents opted for beers, which were served in continental style glasses adding a degree of sophistication to an otherwise middle of the road drink. Jen W opted for water whilst Jennifer was served a delicious looking, and tasting, gin and tonic.

Rachel explained how things would work, and then excused herself returning a few minutes later with the canapés, consisting of haggis bons bons followed by scallops served with a cauliflower puree.

The haggis bons bons were good, but by their very nature will never win any awards, whereas the scallops were exceptional. Delicate and tasty they were perfectly accompanied by the cauliflower. The serving, I feel, could only be bettered by the removal of the ‘extra’ bit of red coloured flesh from the scallop.

Our hosts, blessed with a magical ability for timing, allowed us a few moments to continue chatting and mingling before inviting us through to the table.

Casual sophistication, is the only way to describe the old table and its dressings for the night. Perfect.

But, where was Chef?
Was he alone or did he have a team of helpers?
Why won’t he great us?
Does he not like us anymore?

‘I just saw his hand’, shouted Olly from the head of the table.

False alarm.

Olly was getting ahead of himself...

A few minutes of chit chat was pleasantly interrupted by the arrival of the amuse bouche, which consisted of crumbed muscles. Exquisite, flavoursome, perfectly prepared and presented. I could have eaten ten of them.

Rachel left us to it.

The wine was flowing and the chat had now moved on to gossip of the highest order. Much laughter and hilarity continued, until Rachel danced in with the most perfectly prepared homemade bread starters.

Each plate had three generous portions with a variety of toppings. The crab meat based topping was a treat, as was the cherry tomato styled offering but for me the best was the purred pee and mascarpone.

There was much debate about which of the three was best, with almost everyone having a different opinion. James said he fancied the tomato offering, but I feel that’s because his favourite colour is bright red, as demonstrated by his awful jumper and tie.

Did Chef prepare this varied starter to please all pallets or, as I am starting to suspect, to create an educated foodie debate. We will never know.

‘Rachel! More wine please’, was Alistair’s most useful contribution to conversation all night.

Our unflappable host willingly obliged, whilst Olly somehow transformed himself into the well known and loved DJ Suntan, working the high spec 3 CD interchangeable with aplomb.

This, well nourished, party train was moving full steam ahead!

Rachel popped in to announce that the main course would consist of rib eye cooked medium rare, unless there were any objections?

Jennifer politely objected, and asked for hers to be cooked a touch longer.

Our hostess gracefully accepted this objection and retreated to the kitchen where I am almost certain I heard a muffled expletive, and a faint thumping of a fist.


Who cares - for us it was back to the wine!

After a few sing-alongs, the much anticipated main course was now being brought out, and it could‘t have been more worth the wait.

The tenderest piece of rib eye I have EVER eaten, served with homemade ravioli, a red wine jus and just a dollop of horse radish sauce that for some reason tasted of asparagus. Delicious.

When something is so good you can’t get enough of it, and my only criticism was that the steak offering could have been a wee bit bigger to appease this man mountain South African.

By this stage we were bypassing the wine decanter and usual airing of the wine, and were pouring freely from newly opened bottles.

DJ Suntan was politely admonished for turning the restaurant into ‘Subway Comely Bank’ and the music was turned down to concert level volume.

It takes a lot of guts to serve a plain and simple dessert at the end of such wonderful meal, but once again Chef got the balance just right with his homemade ice cream and espresso mix.

‘Hey, why don’t we pour the espresso over the ice cream’, suggested Jen W.

A knowing smile on the face of Chef, as he walks through to rapturous applause.

What a simple yet delightful finish and I mustn’t forget to mention the choice of either a shot of Speyside whisky, or Amarula which was daintily stuck onto the dessert serving plate with a drop of organic honey.

On Sunday morning, I was asked by a friend how the night went.

Perfect I replied, because at Charlie and Evelyn’s they know that having fun is just as important as eating well.

Review by Matt Hansen, SAIL. Thanks Matt. And, if you fancy visiting Edinburgh and our supper club, be sure to enquire here for accomodation.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Supper Three

(with enthusiastic diners, lively music and snowdrops) done. I really felt pretty jealous that we didn't get to eat this meal.
Yesterday passed in a blur of preparations but carrying empty (maybe even licked clean) plates back into the kitchen definitely felt worthwhile and exciting. I think after three suppers with friends, we're ready to welcome people we don't know, and more of those we do, to Charlie and Evelyn's Table. So please email if you'd like to book a table. You can request a date or check back here for future available dates under "Come Dine With Us".
We made the pasta to a recipe Simone taught us in Tuscany, here is the work in progress:

From the leftover nibbles, I'd say mushroom ravioli with rare beef is a tasty combination inspired by a Roots recipe where the chef patron believes "food is an act of giving and the act of cooking is a gift from the cook to the diner." What a lovely way to think of the dishes you prepare and share.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Menu Three

To start
Bruschetta Three Ways: Pea; Crab; Tomato.

To follow
Slow Roasted Rib Eye, Horseradish Cream, Butternut Puree, Mushroom Ravioli, Red Wine Jus .

To finish

Will there be restaurants in heaven?

There's something about the contentment and satisfaction of a good restaurant that makes me think the answer must be yes. If you mix that feeling with the discovery of a new place, in a new country and add holiday relaxation and excellent wine enjoyed with C, you have my idea of heaven on earth. We found that in Franschhoek, South Africa. Given the amount we ate and drank we should still be full now.

Franschhoek has an unbelievable concentration of excellent restaurants in a beautiful, small village and to make it even better, is surrounded by vineyards like this, wineries like this oh, and mountain views like this.

We liked it. A lot. View above from Dieu Donne by me.

With so much eating to be done, we began immediately with dinner at Bouillabaisse indulging in oysters straight up for C and with pineapple and chilli for me. Followed by open duck won tons which were so good they were impossible to savour slowly. Other highlights, and it's hard to choose highlights when nothing but passes your lips for four days, included Le Bon Vivant where we had a fabulous and creative tasting menu including rare tuna with tomato mousse, basil crisp, and onion strings and met the talented chef Pierre Hendricks (Dutch not French - confusing name). Also, Le Quartier Francais which served an outstanding everything especially the open lasagne with rabbit confit and mushroom foam. C was inspired, pretty much to the point of drooling and I'm sure his take on this dish will be coming to Charlie and Evelyn's Table real soon.
So that's why it's been a bit quiet here but we are back now with lots to share, lots to do and busy preparations for our third supper this weekend.
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