Archive | July, 2015

Good news: a second pop up is coming!

Following the sold-out success of our first pop up event in July, FEAST With Paul is back on 23 August for a second lunch date at Little Water, in the heart of Covent Garden.

This time, there is a vegetarian choice for the starter and main courses. There is also a choice of dessert for those who do not like alcohol.

Entry is £25 for three courses. Drinks are not included.

STARTER

Twice-baked Roquefort soufflé with pear curd, watercress and hazelnut salad (V)
Vodka suggestion: saffron

Chicken, leek and mushroom terrine with pear curd, watercress and hazelnut salad
Vodka suggestion: sea buckthorn

MAIN COURSE

Pork belly with chilli caramel sauce, rhubarb chutney, jasmine rice, herb salad
Vodka suggestion: lingonberry

Open mushroom ‘lasagne’ (V)
Mixed mushrooms, layers of wilted Savoy cabbage, with pickled and crispy mushrooms, black truffle crumb and black garlic
Vodka suggestion: tarragon

DESSERT

‘Gin and tonic’ (V)
Lime curd, gin and lime mousse, tonic jelly, popping candy, candied lime, juniper shortbread.

Please note: the dessert uses no gelatine.

The first pop up was hugely enjoyable and just what I wanted – people coming together over good food. Demand for the second date is sure to be huge, so grab a ticket before they all disappear!

Laughs at lunch with Little Water

Setting out to launch my first pop up was always going to be a daunting task.

There were so many questions running through my mind. What do I serve? Will people like my food? Most importantly, would people who enjoyed watching me on MasterChef pay to eat my food?

I decided to have my first outing serve as a bridge between the show and the present, giving guests something they were familiar with. Any future efforts would give me greater freedom to experiment.

I have had great feedback from so many people who all said that they really wanted to try the food they had seen me cooking on television so that is what I decided I would serve  Also, Little Water is not only a great burger restaurant, it is also known for its vodkas, so I paired each course with a different infused vodka.

The starter was beetroot, dill and vodka-cured salmon with pickled cucumber, horseradish mayonnaise and homemade rye crisp bread. This dish took me back to the beginning of the MasterChef process and beyond. I have been serving salmon three ways as a starter at dinner parties for a few years and the cured salmon formed part of my audition dish. I paired this with a garlic and dill vodka. The aroma is stong, but it goes well with the other strong flavours on the plate.

This salmon dish has become quite personal, so I was quite nervous looking at all the plates lined up, waiting to be taken out to diners. However, once a few plates had left the kitchen and the unmistakable sounds of laughter were bouncing back into the kitchen, I relaxed, knowing that people were enjoying themselves.

The main was based on the dish for which John Torode gave me ‘dish of the day’ in my heat. I served a chicken ballotine, stuffed with mushrooms and spinach and wrapped in Parma ham. This was served with a potato mille feuille, braised leeks and butter-roasted heritage carrots. This was paired with with tarragon vodka.

The vegetarian option was potato mille feuille, cauliflower purée, roasted cauliflower, roasted walnuts, samphire and a caper and sultana dressing. This was paired with a lemon vodka.

I stressed over this course.  I didn’t want anyone choosing this option to feel that it was a lesser choice.  This dish went through about ten different versions before I settled on the one I served. By the time I published the menu,  I felt that I would be happy to choose this dish.

There was no such stress at all over what to choose for dessert.

Chocolate fondants aplentyI cannot remember a time in over 15 years when I have had people over to eat and not been asked if I am making a chocolate fondant. Sometimes, I will even make a dessert that I think goes well with the rest of the menu and also prepare fondants so people can choose a dessert. Or have both. When I have guests, the most important things are that they are at ease and are well-fed.

Food service ran like clockwork. Working with Alex and Chris in the kitchen was so easy. I had done some prep ahead of time, but we motored through what was left and were ready in good time for 12:30.

 

It would not have been a success without all the people who were willing to make the leap from viewer to paying customer. I am particularly proud of my vegetarian dish which had neighbouring meat eaters envious. That, to me, is success.

 

Bring on the next pop up event!

 

Mother and son The whole team Little Water kitchen team Diners having fun

Who wants to play fig roulette?

Is there anyone else who dislikes leftovers?

When you are self-catering, as I am on this break, you are much more acutely aware of what is in the fridge and cupboard than when you are at home. At home, I have store cupboard and freezer staples that allow me to rustle up something Caribbean, Indian, Malaysian, Thai, French or Italian without having to buy anywhere near a recipe’s worth of ingredients. Knowing that there are lots of ingredients that do not have to be used quickly makes you used to always having food available and reduces any sense of urgency to use them.

In this apartment, when I open the fridge, I see lots of white space and I feel guilty if I don’t have a plan for using up what I can see.

I had already made a salad using some of the ingredients I bought at Rialto market. Now, all I needed to do to assuage my guilt was to come up with something else.

I wanted something a little playful – I am on holiday, after all. It also had to be fresh, easy, satisfying and tasty because that is what I am all about.

I came up with figs with mozzarella, wrapped in prosciutto, and a little cherry tomato and rocket salad. Why fig roulette? Because you never know if you are going to have a black or white fig until you bite into it or cut it open!

These were great. What made them perfect for a hot day was an Aperol spritz to sip.

Who wouldn’t love self-catering in Venice?

I am loving this trip to Venice. Day by day, the temperature has been rising from 29C to around 33C. It is perfect weather for trips along the canals, frequent stops for an Aperol spritz and wandering around shaded markets.

I took a trip out to the Rialto Market in Venice to see what was on offer.

I like coming home and just cooking without a set plan, just whatever is in the fridge or cupboard, so that’s what I decided to do here. Having decided to stay in an apartment and not a hotel, meant I had the freedom to cook or eat out. With such great produce, having a kitchen sitting unused seemed such a waste.

I took a quick look around as I stepped into the market to see what caught my eye. I was instantly drawn to white figs. I’m familiar with black figs but white ones were new to me. Almost next to them were beautiful peaches. Within about 30 seconds, I had a dish in my head.

Fig peach salad ingredients

I wanted to make some small plates with whatever produce I found. Cicchetti are small plates, typical in Venice. It can be something on crostini or it can be as simple as a cooked vegetable, such as sliced carrots, or something more elaborate like an octopus salad.

What I ended up with was almost exactly what I set out to put on a plate: a white fig and grilled peach salad with buffalo mozzarella, prosciutto di San Daniele and basil. With a chilled glass of Prosecco, this was just about the perfect lunch, especially in this weather.

 

Join me at my first pop-up event

I’m really excited to announce that I will be cooking at my first pop-up event at the end of July.

I will be serving food that means a lot to me and that people have been asking me to cook for them since seeing me on MasterChef. It will all happen at Little Water, a great burger restaurant and vodka house in the heart of Covent Garden on 26 July at 12pm. I held drinks with family and friends to mark my first MasterChef heat appearance at Little Water and all the staff have been hugely supportive ever since.

I have devised a three-course menu for £25. Each of the courses is paired with an optional infused vodka, a speciality of Little Water. If I were not in the kitchen, I could think of few better ways to spend a Sunday lunchtime.

Full details and menu, including vegetarian option are on the event page.

Britain + sunshine = BBQ

I think it was comedian Paul Merton who said that beautiful people are solar powered because they seem to come out en masse when the sun shines.

The same could probably be said for barbecues. Sunshine and barbecues just go well together. The merest hint of good weather has us heading out for barbecue staples.

Walking around our neighbourhood after six o’clock but while there is still natural sunlight, you can take in the heady aroma of smoke, of meat being grilled and sense the change in people’s mood that sunshine brings.
I’m all for the more Australian way of looking at barbecues. It is a method of cooking that can be enjoyed whenever the mood takes you. When I was in Australia, I had great breakfasts grilled on a barbie as well as lunches and dinners.

So now, I always have at least one disposable barbecue so that I can be up and running whenever the mood takes me. I have been known to be crouched outside over a disposable as storm clouds threatened, just because I had a craving for smoky meat and chargrilled vegetables that no oven could satisfy.

Thankfully, we have been blessed with sun and high temperatures, so being outside had no downside. But I was torn. I wanted a juicy steak but I also wanted a salad to help cope with the hot weather.

It was then that I realised it had been while since I had done anything remotely Thai and I have loved a good Thai beef salad ever since I first visited the Blue Elephant over 20 years ago.

The Blue Elephant transports you to the tropics, complete with forest setting and streams with fish darting around. Even when I moved to Brussels, I used to visit them in their Brussels outpost for an occasional fix. So, that was where I turned for inspiration.

All I bought for this dish was the steak. Everything else was already in the cupboard or fridge, waiting for me to show it some love.

What came off the grill was beautiful beef. Strips of steak crowned a salad of fresh spinach, spring onions, grilled strips of courgette and cucumber, slightly charred on the barbecue to give you a flavour hit that was smoky yet refreshing at the same time. Cherry tomatoes helped cool the fiery heat of the sauce which had several bird’s eye chillies, fish sauce, palm sugar, lemon juice and garlic.

Not bad for what was almost entirely a store cupboard dinner.