Why English Food Doesn’t Suck, part 4: Neal’s Yard Dairy

13 05 2009

For my final (for now) argument in defense of English food, I give you Neal’s Yard Dairy.  In making my travel plans for London, I knew I couldn’t miss making a pilgrimage to this celebrated cheese shop.

Cheese at Neal's Yard Dairy, photo by Nick

The cheeses are hand selected for the shops and the company maintains close relationships with the farms and cheesemakers from whom they buy an extraordinary array of cheeses, all produced in the British Isles.  Nick and I visited the Covent Garden Shop, and when we walked into the narrow room, the smell of cheese hit us immediately.  Cheeses of all shapes, sizes and provenances were stacked high on the counter, and the very helpful salespeople were only too willing to let us taste to our heart’s content.

Appleby's Double Gloucester, photo by Nick

We sampled at least a dozen cheeses, and ended up purchasing five.  Two cheddars, Montgomery’s and Keen’s, both made from unpasteurized cow’s milk but displaying quite different characteristics.  The Keen’s is smoother in texture with a nice sharp bite on the finish, while the Monty’s has an almost granular structure and flavor reminiscent of fine Parmigiano-Reggiano.  We also picked up a wedge of nettle-wrapped Cornish Yarg, rich and earthy in flavor with a slight lactic tang, and a mystery cheese whose name we can’t remember and which mysteriously didn’t feature on our receipt.  But if I have to pick one standout, it’s the Stichelton.  (Apologies for the lack of any kind of attempt at styling this photo – hey, we were eating.)

What remained by the time I remembered to take a picture

Stichelton is what Stilton is supposed to be.  Apparently, there was a scare a number of years ago involving a few cases of food poisoning from raw-milk Stilton.  Cheese producers began making it with pasteurized milk instead, and even got a PDO (the English equivalent of AOC) for Stilton produced in this manner.  Since then, cheeses made traditionally, using raw cow’s milk, cannot be called Stilton.  So Randolph Hodgson, owner of Neal’s Yard Dairy, joined forces with Joe Schneider, an American cheesemaker, to produce a “new” cheese – Stichelton.  It is so good, my mouthis watering now, just thinking about it.  Dense and rich, withgreenish-blue veins emanating from the center, the cheese is piquant yet smooth, with toasty, caramelized flavors to round it out.  The flavor just lasts and lasts on your tongue.  If you like cheese, you must try this as soon as humanly possible.  It’s love at first creamy, tangy bite.

It’s time again for La Fête du Fromage Chez Loulou.  I missed last month, but hopefully this will make up for it.  Look for the delectable roundup on the 15th.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.


Poireaux Vinaigrette

11 05 2009

This is one of those ultra-complicated Classic French recipes. 

Leeks + Vinaigrette...

I kid, leeks vinaigrette are every bit as uncomplicated as they sound.  Two ingredients: leeks, vinaigrette.  (Please, trim, halve, and wash your leeks very well before cooking them.  And I’m saying vinaigrette is one ingredient, because counting the oil, vinegar, salt, pepper, etc. as separate ingredients just seems a little nit-picky to me, especially when they are all pantry items.  It’s not like any shopping is required.)  My point is, if you have leeks in the house, you can make this.

Traditionally the leeks for leeks vinaigrette are boiled, but I’ve had some very bad versions of this dish in mediocre cafés, where the soggy, grayish leeks swim in a pool of industrial vinaigrette.  Maybe you have, too.  If so, I urge you to give these a second chance.  I think we’ve all learned some valuable lessons about the comparative merits of boiling and roasting vegetables.  So I roast mine.

... + broiling = delicious side dish

Broil, to be more exact.  I drizzle them with a little vinaigrette (one made with tarragon vinegar and hazelnut oil is nice) both before and after cooking, and voilà, instant side dish!  Don’t tell the French I’m suggesting improvements on their classics, but I bet these would be great on the grill, too, what with summer fast approaching.  Just be judicious with the vinaigrette before cooking – you don’t want drips and flare-ups stealing the show.  And it doesn’t even have to be leeks!  Try this treatment with other seasonally appropriate vegetables – asparagus and green beans are two of my favorite candidates.  Of course, now we’re veering even further away from the original, but it just goes to show that a little technique goes a long way.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.

Why English Food Doesn’t Suck, part 3: Fergus Henderson

8 05 2009

I hardly know where to start with this one.  The dinner Nick and I shared at Fergus Henderson’s St. John Bread and Wine was, quite simply, excellent in every way.  The food was delicious, the atmosphere was convivial, the service was friendly, and we walked out of the place with a couple of free doughnuts!

Many of the places we ate in London were suggested by Shuna Fish Lydon, former pastry chef of The French Laundry and author of the fascinating blog, Eggbeater.  The Harwood Arms was the only one I booked in advance, deciding to play the rest by ear.  Upon arrival in London, after fortifying ourselves with fish and chips, Nick and I met up with my cousin, who is an enthusiastic foodie.  She was excited to see my list of possible restaurants, and was particularly delighted to see St. John and The Modern Pantry on the list, which certainly played a role in my decision-making.  St. John, the main restaurant (which was ranked #14 on this year’s 50 Best Restaurants in the World list) was booked solid, but fortunately its little sibling, the more casual St. John Bread and Wine, had room for us.

Salad is always better with a little pork... or a lot.

We started with a bowl of buttery Lucques olives and a salad of slow-cooked ham, pea shoots, and radish.  This is my kind of salad.  The richness of the ham was perfectly balanced by the fresh pea shoots and the peppery bite of the radish.  And seasonal to boot!  I love food like this: great ingredients at their peak, prepared simply and lovingly.

I do love me some pot pie

When we entered the restaurant, a sparely decorated open cube with white walls and black and white checkered floors, we noticed a pie on one of the tables.  It looked and smelled so good that there was no question we would be ordering chicken and bacon pie for two.  Our choice made, the smile of the chef jacket-clad waitress confirmed that we had made the right decision.  And how!  The crust was flaky and deeply browned, and underneath was a steaming hot stew of, well, chicken and bacon.  The flavor was spot-on: smoky, salty (but not too much), and very satisfying.  My only reservation was that some of the bits of chicken were on the dry side, but I know of no way to avoid this when cooking a whole chicken – the breast pieces are always going to be drier.  Still, it was overall a very enjoyable dish.

The obligatory, yet tantalizing vegetable side dish

The pie was served with a side of crisp-tender broccoli rabe in a mustardy dressing that stood up well to the strong flavor of the vegetable.  While we were eating, we kept sneaking peeks into the semi-open kitchen.  The pastry station was in our direct line of sight, and we watched as the chef spooned up perfect quenelles of hand-whipped something with what looked suspiciously like a bloody mary on the counter next to him.  He appeared to be working out a new recipe, and I was so curious I had to ask when he walked past our table to talk to some friends of his that had come in for dinner.  It turns out he was experimenting for an upcoming competition, and when I told him I was a pastry chef, too, he offered to send us a taste of his new dessert.  Obviously, we accepted.  I took no picture, though, because since it was new and destined for competition, I didn’t want to steal anyone’s thunder.  I will say that it was intensely chocolatey, which is never a bad thing in my book.

Speaking of books…

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Why English Food Doesn’t Suck, part 2: The Harwood Arms

6 05 2009

The boss had been in a really bad mood this week.  And if that isn’t annoying enough, it’s one of those contagious bad moods that makes everyone else irritable.  Not a pleasant work environment.  So today I’m going the blogging-as-diversional-tactic route – I’m just going to pretend I’m still in London, enjoying a fantastic gastropub meal.

Warm onion tart - like quiche, but English

Nick and I arrived at The Harwood Arms a little stressed.  Let’s just say that the scale of the London Underground map is VERY different from that of the Paris Métro.  (A short love note to the Métro, if you’ll indulge me.  Métro, I love you.  You get me anywhere I might want to go in 45 minutes or less.  Your spacious platforms and large-windowed cars almost let me forget that I’m deep in the bowels of the city.  Your lines are well organized and beautifully color-coded.  You are never more than a 5 minute walk away.  I only wish you would run all night so I’d never have to take the Noctilien again.  Love, Camille)

A hearty appetizer salad

Anywho, we showed up rather late for our reservation, but our anxiety was instantly assuaged by the cheerful host.  He showed us to our rustic-yet-elegant wooden table and quickly brought two pints of local beer and a muslin sack filled with bread.  A square of slate supported the butter, and a small bowl of Maldon sea salt accompanied.  We perused the menu and made our selections.  I started with the warm onion tart with Monty’s cheddar (I can call it that, because I bought some earlier that day at Neal’s Yard Dairy), and Nick had a salad bursting with flavorful garnishes including roast pumpkin and some mushrooms we imagined had been foraged that morning.

When in England, you must eat game.

As we let the refined country cottage atmosphere soothe our jangled nerves, the main courses arrived.  Both Nick’s gin-braised venison (pictured above) and my crispy rainbow trout (pictured below) looked and smelled heavenly.

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The Long-Awaited French Fruit Tart Recipe…

4 05 2009

…can be found today over at Andrea’s delicious blog, Cooking Books.  It combines recipes from Chocolate & Zucchini and Desserts by Pierre Hermé, plus a little of my own know-how.  Here’s a taste:

Crisp, buttery crust, creamy filling, and sweet fresh fruits - the perfect dessert!

For the full details, head on over to read my guest post!

Originally published on Croque-Camille.

Joe Interview

3 05 2009

I’m honored to be the first pastry professional featured on Joe Pastry‘s new series, Joe’s Real World.  It is, I suppose, the first official interview I’ve ever given, so head on over to read his great questions and my attempts at coherent answers. 

Joe’s Real World I: Camille Malmquist

While you’re there, the rest of his site is both interesting and informative.  He thoroughly examines baking and pastry techniques, as well as giving fun history tidbits and backstory for all your favorite baked goods.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.

Breizh Café

1 05 2009

So here we are, the first of May.  It’s a jour férié, which means that almost nobody is at work today.  Instead, they will gather at Place de la République to march in support of (or against) whatever issue is important to them.  I stumbled into this défilé last year by accident, and I’ll be doing my best to avoid it this year.  The Tamil Tigers have been there since Tuesday – I guess thay wanted to make sure to get a good spot.  There are a few people working exceptionellement today, notably the scientists who work on things like genetic sequencing of flu viruses, for example.  Which brings me around to why this post is a day late.  Judging from the news last night, everyone was going to be dead of swine flu by morning, and I preferred to spend my last hours enjoying a bottle of wine with my husband.

Breton Cider and Drinking Bowls

Since it looks like we’re all going to live for at least another day, though, I’m going ahead with my last Breton cuisine post.  (Anyway, it’s a holiday, so it’s not like May has officially started yet, right?)  Last Sunday evening (!), Nick and I dined at Breizh Café, a mecca for enthusiasts of that quintessential Breton creation: the crêpe.  Of course we ordered cider – we chose one that was described as “dry” by the menu, and recommended by the waiter.  It was served in little earthenware bowls.  I always feel kind of silly drinking out of a bowl, but when in Rome…  The cider itself was less than impressive.  It was dry, as in  not sweet, but it had none of the tart apple complexity I was hoping for.

Roulade with Andouille and Flags

Fortunately, the meal looked up from there.  We started with a rolled galette (savory buckwheat crêpe) filled with Andouille de Guémené and cheese.  (“What kind?” I asked, hoping it would be some as-yet-unknown-to-me Breton cheese.  “Gruyère,” came the reply.  No dice.)

For the main course, more galettes:

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