Saturday, July 27, 2013

Eating, drinking, shopping and cooking

One of the joys of being out of the country is that the quality of the meat, fish, chicken and vegetables is really top class. You can spend as much or as little as you want on ingredients. With such good ingredients available, we make it a point to try and cook as much as possible when in London.

We do not have access to a full kitchen not do we have more than the very basic tools to cook with. Just a stove, an oven, basic pots and pans and a few knives. So cooking is limited to less elaborate dishes. This is really neither a constraint nor a problem in London. You have more than enough ingredients available to buy, process and cook at home.

We do like having an evening of what we call `meat and cheese’. This comprises of a small cheese platter with cheese from La Fromagerie and excellent Cheesemonger on Moxon Street in Marylebone. They have a dedicated, humidity and temperature controlled cheese room with extremely knowledgeable sales staff. You can approach cheese buying from many angles. You could tell them that you plan to drink a certain Red wine, or a certain white wine or even a sparking. Then they recommend different cheeses that would complement the wine. Or you could tell them that you want a mix of cheeses, a hard, a washed rind, a soft and a blue as a general indication and they will select some for you. Or you could go the country route, for example, I want a French a Swiss or an English cheese. Or you could say you want a cheese made from a certain type of milk. The salesmen are helpful, knowledgeable and enthusiastic. With the cheese we have a few `cold cuts’ that we buy from a delicatessen. A few thin slices of a San Daniele ham, or some Pate or a Terrine, or a few slices of a fresh cooked ham or some salami. If we are really enthusiastic a few slices of a heavily smoked Salmon is also bought. A small tub of mixed olives to have with our drinks and, of course, decent bread. All this is washed down with a bottle of wine bought from Hedonism, the most fantastic wine shop I had written about earlier. None of this involves any cooking, but the comfort of having a meal at home with music purring in the background with such good quality food and drink is a real pleasure. More often than not, we have left over’s. No problem, we have them the following night with a fresh bottle of wine. Pleasure is undiminished.

Brie with a layer of Marscapone and Truffle

A fresh ready to eat Saint Marcellin

A Salami

Half a loaf from Poilane

A small artisinal bread from the Market

At times we actually cook. This is a meat and potato kind of meal. To start with we visit a butcher, Macken Brothers are a reputed butcher and they have an outlet nearby. British meat is good, Scottish as good, but what we like is American. There is a reason for this. American cattle are grain fed; grain is not a natural food for cattle. So they tend to put on weight. Then the cattle are grass fed. With British meat the cattle are only grass fed. Macken Brothers sell USDA Prime meat, and the Rib Eye is truly fantastic. So we buy a couple of USDA Prime, Rib Eyes weighing about 200-250 grams a piece. Yes I know we are being silly buying American meat in Britain, but we really do like this. USDA Prime is very difficult to get even in the USA. A very small proportion [about 3%] of meat is graded as `Prime’ by the USDA. This category means that it is of the highest quality with a lot of intramuscular fat – marbling. This makes the steak more juicy and tasty. The meat is dry aged for 28 days to achieve even more flavour. This is a real treat. Along with the steak, we get a packet of frozen Roast Potato made by McCain. These are cooked in Goose fat. All you need to do is pop them in the oven and you have delicious potato, crisp on the outside and almost soufflé like on the inside. A ready cleaned and bagged Salad of mixed leaves with a Lemon to dress the salad with. To make a sauce to go with the Steak we buy some Beef Stock that is sold by the Butcher or even at the supermarket. It is a simple matter to reduce the stock to a Demi Glace add some seasoning and it is good to go. The steak is cooked on a super hot pan which emits a fair amount of smoke. I am always worried that the fire alarms will be triggered. Rest the steaks, pour on the sauce plate up and have a great meal with a good bottle of wine.

The brilliantly marbled `Prime' Dry Aged Rib Eye

Cooked. Demi Glace, Roast Potato and a Lamb Lettuce Salad

Sometimes, we substitute the steaks for some fresh sausages. It’s a pleasure to walk to the butcher and buy one each of 4-5 different sausages. This time after we chose 3 sausages (Cumberland, Pork and Sage and Toulouse) we asked the butcher to recommend his favourite sausage to make up our batch of 4. To our surprise, he suggested we try the Chicken and Apricot. Unusual for a butcher t recommend a non pork sausage but we went with his suggestion and were not disappointed. We placed the sausages on a hot pan and cooked them through on all sides and ate them with some potatoes and sautéed spinach. Perfect. Fresh, delicious sausages which are absolutely impossible to buy in India. Both of us agreed the Chicken and Apricot was the most flavourful and moist sausage of the four! So the next time, listen to your butcher.

On quite a few occasions, especially during spring or early summer we buy top quality Asparagus. This is when it is in season and is delicious. Simply boiled and topped with some butter, lemon and shavings of Parmesan is heavenly. If you want to splurge you could get some San Daniele ham and eat that along with the Asparagus. Sometimes when we see great Tomato in the market we buy a few different types and make a salad. This is just sliced Tomato with a simple Vinaigrette and a herb, either Basil or Thyme. To complete the meal we have Ravioli. Good quality Ravioli with a variety of fillings, Pumpkin, Meat or Mushroom is what we get. Boil it and drizzle some olive oil and the same Parmesan results in a top class meal. If you like you could get yourself some ready sauces, Pesto or Tomato and use that with the Ravioli.

It is not all eating out for us. Buying great ingredients and eating them as is, or cooking them is such an immense pleasure. For one single meal we will often visit upto 5-6 different specialty shops or artisanal purveyors and let me tell you, it adds to the pleasure of putting together a great meal. No point walking into a supermarket and getting all the ingredients from there if there is better stuff available outside. And no, this is not because we have the luxury of time when we are in London. We are exactly the same even in Mumbai. We trudge from store to store and often to different parts of Mumbai to buy the best ingredients for our meals. It’s not about convenience, it’s about the pleasure of a good meal.

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