People often ask me how I decide on my menus and frankly am not quite sure, all I know is that there is a lot of inspiration out there and often I go with what appeals to my imagination/taste buds which can be quite nerve raking at times, if not foolish. I'm no longer able to just read a menu, often I'll find myself dissecting it and trying to work out whether it's something I can recreate or whether an item deserves a place on my menu! The most bizarre place, I guess not that bizarre as it was a book but bizarre as it is one of the saddest and most harrowing books I have ever read with the most uplifting moment coming when all the characters are harmoniously brought together by food, they were making masala wada, an Indian “falafel” made with dhal, shredded coconut, coriander, chillies and onions, with a mind boggling result, I served it at the last dinner.
Another example is when I decided to take on the master of classic cooking, Raymond Blanc. I'd just watched him prepare this amazing looking chocolate crumble tart on TV and decided that that was exactly what I was going to make. I managed to get hold of the recipe and to my delight there was a hazelnut ice cream and the most delicious sounding caramel sauce to accompany it, I didn't need any more persuading.
As I got to blanching and caramelizing the hazelnuts, the smells that were unleashed on my senses were enough to send me to heaven (my vision of it anyway), I absolutely love hazelnuts as my breakfast bowl will attest. What is it with smells? Like music, smells evoke all sorts of memories, reactions and moods in people, am told men like perfume with a slight vanilla scent to it as it reminds them of home/cooking, I feel another blog coming on. I remember when I was a little girl our milk was delivered by a farmer every day, straight from the cow so to speak and it was up to us to keep it in the right conditions for it to last. The things mum was able to conjure with that milk are incredible, see the “Back to My Roots” blog. Anyway, one day he failed to deliver for some reason and my cousin and I undertook the mission of going to collect it. On our way back, it started raining, now, there is something about the smell when the rain drops first meet the African red soil that is just magical, so magical in fact that my cousin literally lay down and licked the soil, I would have followed suit but I wash my oranges before I peel them for juicing for heaven's sake and it's not very me is it? ;-)
I digress, as I mentioned before, I had decided to take on Raymond Blanc, the list of ingredients involved was endless (I now own a useless 16 inch baking ring as I bought the wrong one), the process so long that I actually found myself churning ice cream at midnight (did I mention that I have invested in an ice cream maker). By the time I'd finished assembling everything it was almost midnight and I was shattered to the tips of my hair so decided to take a bath whilst the ice cream was churning as I didn't know how long it would take. I must have fallen asleep as the next thing I heard was a loud thudding noise which confused me at first but once my head cleared, I was able to work out that the propeller could no longer go round as my ice cream was at last ready. Of course I had to taste it, midnight or not and it was utterly divine, needless to say it will be on the menu at some point.
This is turning out to be quite an interesting journey as I'm discovering more and more about myself and appreciating my heritage more. As it turns out, my mum may have cooked more than I first let on, oops, and my maternal grandmother was a cook, she cooked for a local secondary girls' school, is cooking hereditary I wonder? lol. I suppose most of this was lost on me as I went to boarding school but my journey has triggered some wonderful memories from childhood, such as the great English baking books we had on the shelf with pictures of the most amazing cakes I could only dream of, boy did I love reading those books during my school holidays. I can't help feeling that perhaps that is why it is easy for me to conjure a taste just by reading the ingredients as I had to use my imagination a lot, I'd never heard of most of the ingredients they talked about in those books, must ask mum where they are!
Another wonderful memory is that of what I'd term my first baking lesson with mum. We had a gas cooker but as it was very expensive, we bought and I think they still buy gas by the cylinder, gas cooking was reserved for when we needed to make something quickly like when we had an impromptu visitor, trust me that happens a lot in Africa especially around meal times, or when we made roast chicken, come to think of it we did this a lot on Sundays after Church, another great British export I suppose. Anyway, mum had decided we we were going to bake a cake and went on to improvise an ingenious oven. We took a very large pan and filled it with sand and heated it on a charcoal stove called a “jiko” for almost an hour or more then made a well in the middle of the sand where we placed the cake tin with the mixture. We then covered the pan with a tin lid and put more charcoal on top and viola, we had an oven and actually baked a beautiful cake. I think I've seen Jamie Oliver do something similar by digging a hole in the actual sand to bake sea bass. Not sure how I had forgotten about this of all incidents in my cooking life.
Well, the journey continues and I intend to push myself even more, after all, what is the point of doing this if I don't better my skills. I'm amazed at my ability so far as I have managed to tackle some complicated recipes with astounding results, I guess I've always been as stubborn as a mule when it comes to cooking. Once I put my mind to cooking something I will do it. Macaroons are something I've always wanted to make ever since my girlfriend and I spent many a Sunday afternoons at Ladurée, this is before everyone else started making “not so good versions” . I have often been put off by the seemingly complicated process involved but I woke up one morning determined to tackle them with outstanding results to the delight of my friends ( including a Frenchie with “ Ladurée was just round the corner from my flat in Paris you know”) and the guests to my last supper as they adorned the goodie bags and will be making a regular appearance as I play with different flavours.
I look forward to welcoming you to the next supper on Saturday 19th May, please take a look at the upcoming events to see more dates and planned menus. Don't worry if a menu isn't up yet, it is bound to be decided way before the event. Do also look out for the “singles” evenings that I have in mind, very informal and chilled out affairs with good food and hopefully good and interesting company.
Keep Calm and Carry on Eating (only good food mind you)!