Eric Chavot swears on Saturday Kitchen – I get traffic!

The Capital Hotel’s Eric Chavot played a blinder on last weekend’s Saturday Kitchen. He was amusing, watchable and enigmatic, and the dish he created looked fab. Shame he let slip the f-word towards the end of the show and thus gave the Daily Mail free rein to vilify him …

My terribly clever WordPress dashboard registered a healthy dollop of traffic around Eric’s name after the programme, which spurred me to explore the chefs and cookery writers delivering the best footfall for me on this blog. So, pop pickers, here is my top ten of Lewis blog foodies. Dah Dah, da-da Dah, der der der, der der der, Dah Dah, da-da Dah … etc.

But what does this tell me about the relative pulling power of food stars, and the nature of chefdom, apart from the fact that I should clearly cook a dish from Marcella’s classical Italian repertoire every night if I want to grow my audience?

First, isn’t it interesting that two of the darlings of the food scene, Fergus and Alain, are way off the pace? Both are great chefs, and Alain occupies a place in the stratosphere of chef legends; but clearly their entrails and extravagance haven’t struck a chord with my visitors. Could it be that few domestic fridges harbour foie gras or trotters?

Second, how revealing that the top three should be booktastic, all, Madhur and Marcella having forged long and glittering literary careers from producing standard texts, Jun having only weeks ago brought out a popular new tome, Simple to Sensattional?

The message is that producing books of recipes that are attainable, tasty and rooted in a specific regional cuisine ensures a loyal following. In years to come, Jun (a really nice fellow) might have built up such a canon or work. Meanwhile, I would expect his name to be searched on less and less in the coming weeks, as more of his peers bring out new books. Ah, but “Fame is a fickle food upon a shifting plate”.

[The post was brought to you by Emily Dickinson and WordPress]

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Lamb chops, Jersey Royals, asparagus and strawberries

Jersey RoyalsSeasonality was the byword on Friday night: a celebration of Springtime in the British Isles. There’s something rotten in the UK at the moment. Before I sat down to write this post, I heard one politician after another desperately trying to defend their vast expenses claims; as I write, a roomful of football pundits are banging on about how Drogba’s post-match histrionics were somehow justifiable. Our morals might be shot; but at least we can still grow great produce and rear magnificent livestock.

The kidney-shaped Jerseys came clothed in shreds of skin, like gold leaf flaking off a  Buddha effigy in a Bangkok temple. Their feintly nutty taste was sensational, and raised up a notch by the adition of a knob of salty butter.  I parboiled the asparagus in water, then gave them a quick fry with butter. I grilled the lamb, and immediately wished I hadn’t. Nigel Slater’s Appetite has a finger-licking recipe for lamb with anchovies, garlic and rosemary, which I did consider; but then I decided I didn’t want the smack in the face of his recipe to oveshadow the subtle flavours of the potatoes and asparagus. Grilling failed to give the lamb chops that charred colour and caramelised sweetness I love. Back to the frying pan next time.

Susie likes to steep sliced strawberries in balsamic vinegar. I’m not against this, but these strawberries were so sweet, so succulent, that nothing else was needed. They were delicious and juicy.

[This post was brought to you by Henry Winter speaking Chelsea sense]

Nigel Slater’s Moroccan spiced lamb shanks with aubergine

lamb-shank-tagineVery bland, this recipe. I had a couple of lamb shanks in the fridge this afternoon and couldn’t find my favourite tajine recipe, so I opted for good old Nigel Slater. Slater rarely lets us down, but tonight he was found wanting in the flavour stakes. His tajine called for onions, garlic, cinnamon and a couple of teaspoons of harissa paste. It needed more flavours, more oomph. I added a good heap of ras el hanout, which I think is added at the end of cooking, much like garam masala; but I fear it may have lost its potency in the years since we bought it in a Marrakech market … Next time I’ll turn to Claudia Roden and her New Book of Middle Eastern Food.

lemon-and-corianderOn the upside, the couscous was zingy: I mixed 7 ounces of it with 250ml of hot water, then stirred in a glug of olive oil, a generous handful of coriander,  salt, pepper and the juice of a whole lemon.

[This post was brought to you by Lorelei and the Boat Train by the Pogues]

Ducasse and Zafferano deal me a double Michelin whammy

scallop-roseSo much to report, while I wait for our Moroccan spiced lamb shanks with aubergine (with thanks to Nigel Slater’s Real Cooking) to cook through. I contrived to eat at two Michelin-starred restaurants on Friday, lunching at one Michelin-starred Zafferano with the MD of the London Fine Dining Group, Paul Singer, then dining with Susie at two Michelin-starred Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester. Belt-loosening stuff. Here are some highlights:

  1. Zafferano’s award-winning Peach Bellini: cloudy, perfumed and eminently quaffable.
  2. Little explosions of flavour from the crystallized salt in the aged crumblings of Parmesan served as antipasti at Zafferano.
  3. Zafferano’s homemade Papardelle with enough beefy morels to fill two cupped hands.
  4. Burrata ravioli at Zafferano: creamier than any soft cheese I’ve ever tasted.
  5. Bollinger rose champagne, served with choux pastry mini-buns that had bene dusted with black pepper and paprika, and which – pouf! –  evaporated in your mouth: a revelation. 
  6. The perfect beauty of the rose of marinated scallops, lamb’s lettuce and celeriac, and the earthy impact of its black truffle sauce.
  7. Ducasse’s roasted chicken and lobster, sweetbread, creamy juice: the flavour of the sweetbread seemed to coat and then fill your mouth.

[This post was brought to you by Zubrowka bisongrass vodka and Insomia by Faithless]

Asparagus, parma ham and (hard) boiled egg; pears and Poire William

asparagus-and-parma-hamLast night, boutique contract caterers Lexington Catering celebrated being named a Sunday Times top small company to work for 2009 and a Best Company of 2009 by throwing a party on the 33rd floor of Broadgate Tower. After a coupel of hours of champagne, canapes and stunning views of Legoland-London below, guests were sent on their way with a generous handful of Isle of Wight farmer, Ben Brown’s asparagus.

asparagus-cookingTonight, we decided to throw together an asparagus, parma ham, soft boiled egg and parmesan salad, with a hunk of soda farl. Cliched as it may sound, I realised I didn’t know how to boil an egg, at least not a perfectly gooey, soft boiled egg that would ooze over the asparagus like sunshine at dawn. Queue St Delia. Her How to Cook Book One explained that simmering an egg for one minute, then taking it off the heat, covering the pan and leaving for 6 minutes, would guarantee a “soft, fairly liquid yolk and a white that is just set but still quite wobbly”.

Uh-huh.  I followed the saint, but the yolks ended up pretty much hard boiled. Boo. Next time, I think four or five minutes of resting time will suffice. Still, the dish was a tasty treat, and the asparagus discernibly better than the twiggy stalks from the supermarket that we normally endure.

pearsWhile I tried in vain to make a hard-boiled egg look runny for the camera, Susie grabbed our copy of Nigel Slater’s Real Fast Puddings and whipped up sliced pears steeped in Poire William, chilled and sprinkled with toasted almonds – part of our crusade to use up our fruit and veg before it goes off. Delicious.

[This blog was brought to you by Crimewatch with the volume turned down and the faint noise of the water board reparing a pipe outside.]

Arctic Rolls, Wispa bars and Mellow Birds

arctic-rollInteresting article in last weekend’s Sunday Times about the return to our supermarkets of food brands not available for decades, such as as the Arctic Roll and the Wispa bar – all “part of a growing trend among food producers to tap into a wave of nostalgia, seemingly being propelled by a new-found love of comfort food as a way of coping with the recession”, the article suggests. 

I don’t know about you, but I get mighty tired of those tedious conversations we’ve all endured at pubs and dinner parties, when squiffy thirty- and fourty-somethings wax lyical about dodgy food products of yesteryear. “Oooh, Tarquin, I can’t ber-lieve you preferred Drifters to curly wurlies, blah, blah, blah …”

Nigel Slater has taken pointless chocolate-coated nostalgia to new heights, with his latest book, Eating for England. Toast, I liked – a sort of Fever Pitch for the kitchen. But I’d give Eating for England a wide berth, if I were you.  

Since you ask (oh, you didn’t ask?), I miss Nutty bars tremendously. And, with that, I think Stupid and Hungry has travelled quite far enough down memory lane.