Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Wedding Feast.

I was at the wedding location at 7 a.m. to get the fire started. Lynda was there to help me and we soon had a good blaze going. In addition to the large bag of charcoal I added a few logs of wood. When the fire was going nicely we put the pig on the grill, after its overnight marinade with a spice and wine mixture. We covered up the pig with heavy duty foil as we had been instructed. It seemed pretty hot under there.

Then disaster!!!I left Lynda and went over the hill to West LA to pick up my clothes from home and coordinate with Eloise.As soon as I walked in the door I got a frantic call from Lynda. " The pig caught fire. It's blackened and maybe useless.""Oh no."

Well, my addition of the wood had been a bad move. A few minutes after I left the wood exploded in flames and made the whole pit an inferno. Lynda had eventually got the hose and put the fire out.A little later I got the message from Rhiannon who had been awakened with the bad news and had left her motel at 8 a.m. to go and help Lynda.
" It doesn't look good,honey" she said. What a set-back this was after all our efforts in acquiring the pig.Plus several car-rides out to Mojave to bring special foods

The pig had come from Mojave where it had been raised by Donny Hewes, a farmer with a keen feel for livestock. It had been raised on a custom diet that I'd planned. It included eggs,mayonnaise and lots of apples.

I had been working for weeks on the wedding feast and a lot of prep had been done before the day. The sauce for the pasta had been made and stored. The wild mushrooms that I bought in February and March had been preserved in oil. The week before I had started making trips to the wholesale market for vegetables and I had picked up a large consignment of organic vegetables and beautiful strawberries on the Wednesday before.From David Barnes farm in Temecula

But still on the day there was a huge amount to do and it all fell on the shoulders of Lynda and Daniel Bentley,my friend and butler to the stars.Thank god they ere capable British shoulders and they didn't fail under pressure.

Of course as soon as I was able I hurtled back over the hill to the valley to inspect the pig. We were lucky,it wasn't a total write-off. Lynda had stopped the flames in time and after some scraping I could see the meat underneath was usable. We restarted the fire, this time very cautiously and put the pig back on.The animal, a four-month old, was pretty big but I could see that it wouldn't feed the hundred and twenty we were expecting.

So with Ted in tow I headed off to the 99 Ranch Market where I had planned to get the extra meats and veg. It was a good choice because they had a wide choice. I chose two more pork legs, two pork bellies that turned out super sweet,plus large amounts of chicken wings and duck legs. Now where else but an Asian market do you find duck legs for sale? We added lots of tinfoil to the cart, wooden skewers and a load of fruit. We were set and we headed back to the wedding site.

A few helpers had trailed in but it was 12 already and here was a lot to do. I gave instructions for cleaning salad and veg. Davonne headed off with a list of last minute items like salsa and sterno for the chafing dishes.

We all worked hard for the net two hours; marinading the rest of the meat, trimming vegetables and cuttiong cheese. Briton was a big help. So was Stella Bentley. Kirsten and Brandon took one some responsibility.

But then I was called away with a message: My bride was saying it was time to get ready!
So I left the preparation and focussed on the real business of the day: getting married.
Daniel Bentley helped me with the dress and provided lip balm and toothpaste. Daniel Sullivan helped my morale with a vodka and tonic. Finally, I was ready and moved out to the garden where the ceremony was taking place.The setting was dreamy with a flower-decked stage and helium balloons floating everywhere.

The ceremony was beautiful and touching: we were there in front of friends and family declaring our love. My bride was the most beautiful I have ever seen.The eperience was a complete union of our souls.

I was overwhelmed and took a short rest after the receivingline. Then I was roused by my wife who told me that Daniel was freaking out because he wasn't getting any cooperation. So I flew to the BBQ pitto find out what was up. For the next hour then I was directing and organising the meal.And finally I took over from Danile carving the meat. The pig had come up trumps. The meat was sweet but firm and totally unlike any shop-bought pork I'd had. The grilled vegetables looked great thanks, to Lynda and the buffet set-up was totally professional with a line of chafing dishes each bubbling out a little steam. The salad were ona separate table and included beet and cucumber. tabbouleh with lots of chjopped parsley ( thanks Brandon) and the specialty salad leaves wereset off by Eloise's tasty vinaigrette made with organic olive oil. It was a team event and I was proud.
The meal was enjoyed by everyone and capped a magical day.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Baked Alaska story

It was Rhiannon’s birthday coming up and I wanted to do something
special. I researched some cake recipes and decided on something I had never made before:
Baked Alaska.

As I read I found several different recipes for this classic,
but all of them included ice-cream,

So, for a week before the party, I was busy with my ice-cream maker-the kind where your rotate a cylinder inside a bucket with and ice-sakt mixture. I came up with some strawberry, some chocolate and some apricot from earlier this year.

I baked a cake as well. A gorgeously soft.golden sponge cake from scratch. It had lots of eggs and sugar!!

So the day of the event I put the thing together. I melted the ice-cream slightly and formed it into rounds which then refroze. Later I put the cake together and sandwiched the ice cream between the sponge layers. I also added some strawberry puree and whipped cream, flavoured with bourbon, in the layers.

A layer of chopped crystallised pineapple that I had made earlier was the topping. I then put the whole thing back in the freezer.

Guests started arriving and the party began to hum. First I served some drinks, then I was entertaining. At the busiest time I started the meringue. It took a dozen egg-whites. I whipped up a storm and there was a lot of snowy looking egg-whites in the bowl. It finally had the right consistency.

By this time we were getting Rhiannnon out of the room in anticipation.

I took out the frozen cake from the fridge and started covering it with meringue. It took a lot of it to cover the cake but finally I was done.

It looked like this:

Finally I was ready and the cake went in the oven. I had really no idea how long it would take. It took less time than I thought.

I opened the oven door after 8 minutes and took a peep. The cake was already faintly browned all over. I gave it a minute more and then took it out. A faint dribble of molten ice-cream was flowing from the cake.

I held it a minute in front of me. It was an amazing creation!
Then I very carefully carried it over to the main table where I set it down. I was grateful it was over! That baking had been a challenge. But now I had Sabrina and Kaeti to help me decorate.

There were quite a few decorative features. Some baby concord grapes that I had coated in powdered sugar gave a festive air. Then the candles and some colored sugar on top. And the name Rina of course in a pink gel.

It got quite a reception that cake and people asked me all sorts of questions. Definitely my most ambitious cake project yet.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The long search for Buddha's Hands

Looking for this rare and beautifully perfumed fruit took me to some out-of-the-way places in San Diego county.

The other day I came across a box of the exotic citrus Buddha Hands in the wholesale market and asked them where it was from. I was thinking imported but they said it was local. So when I got home I did the research and found the name of a grower: Cunningham Farms. In Fallbrook near Temecula- 95 miles away from my home

On further investigation it seemed that I would find the Cunningham Farms stand at the Farmer’s Market in Temecula on a Wed or Sat. So bright and early last Wed I set out for the market. With Mapquest in hand I negotiated the several freeways needed to get there. A stop off in Corona after an hour’s drive brought me to a McDonalds and breakfast. Fortified, I drove on and got to Temecula before 10 a.m.
Well, I had thought of Temecula as a small town but it turned out to be a large, not very lovely one. Stopping off in the downtown area I enquired at the Temecula Olive Oil company’s lovely shop and was directed to the shopping Mall on the other side of the freeway.

I found the shopping mall but no market. I asked in the gas station and no one knew of it. I asked more people outside filling their gas-tanks but no luck. An older gentleman was very helpful. He told me he had never heard of a Farmer’s Market on a Wed. and he’d lived here all his life! When I mentioned the farm was in Fallbrook and maybe I should head for there he was encouraging.” Fallbrook’s a lovely little town,” he said. Anxious to find myself in somewhere a little more charming than Temecula I decided I would head there.

So back on the freeway for five miles than off at the sign: Another seven winding miles took me to Fallbrook. It was a small town:
“Easy” I thought “People here will know about Cunningham Farms.”
Well, the florist didn’t so I continued onto the centre of town which had been closed off for a Veteran’s Parade.
“ I’ve never seen a veteran’s Day Parade’ I thought. “ I’ll give this a try.” So grabbing my camera I headed for the main street. I got there in time to photograph the end of the parade.

The people watching looked like genuine inhabitants so I asked them. No one had heard of Cunningham Farms. I found a bookshop and asked to borrow a phone directory. I looked through it. Not only no Cunningham Farms but the three numbers of similar businesses all gave me that disconnected message that is so disheartening. This was one out-of-date directory!
Now time was marching on and I got nervous. I wondered if my memory was playing tricks and I had the name wrong. I drove around town and found another fruit distributor. They couldn’t help me either. I was getting very seriously worried now.

In my time of need I pulled up outside a local bar and decided this was auspicious. They served me a beer after I struggled to convey that Miller Draft was not a draft but a bottled beer- :Oh Miller Genuine Draft you mean”- the missing word genuine being the clue- and no they hadn’t heard of Cunningham Farms either.

I sat in the corner and wondered why this was so difficult. I looked at my phone. “Help me”, I said.
Brain said Directory Enquiries, so I dial 411. After a minute of automated recordings when I feel this is another blind alley, a human voice comes on the line. “Cunningham Farms in Fallbrook?” “Yes” I say. “Here we are; Cunningham Organic Farms “. And in no time I had the address and phone number in my hands, or at least in my phone’s memory. Relief. I look out onto the Rite-Aid parking lot and give up a little prayer.

The beer and this new information revived me. I finished my bottle and jumped in the car. I got directions from the man standing next to his pick-up truck and I was off.

Well, this wasn’t a simple trip. I left Fallbrook on De Luz Road and immediately entered a pristine wilderness. This was a park or reserve I thought as I drove through the unspoilt canyons with no habitation at all.

It was slow, twisting road but very beautiful. Then I come to a summit and start descending. The scenery changes and there are some farms with fruit trees. I have my lunch parked in the driveway of a persimmon farm with heavy fruit on many trees. The owner drives past me as he leaves the road and enters the property but ignores my wave.” What’s with these people?” I think.

More driving . It seems the numbers will never climb to the one I need. Then the numbers do get close. I see one just a little smaller than the address I am seeking and get excited. I drive round a corner and pas t a couple of driveways and then find another farm, I look eagerly at the number. Its too large! I have gone past the one I want.
I retrace my tracks and go up the unmarked driveway. There are houses up here but none look right. There’s no sign and no one to ask.

Disappointed I return to the road and drive to the too-large number. I look at some strange large objects on the ground. Are these gourds I ask myself? Maybe…and in fact I had found Welburn’s Gourd Farm.
A pick-up truck enters the property a little ways away and I wave. The driver comes round to talk to me.
“ Do you know Cunningham Farms?” I ask. He does. The tension of the day dissolves a little bit.” You have to go back that way to the Calle Roxanne and follow that side road”. Amazed, I turn the car round for one more time and head the way he indicates. I turn off onto Calle Roanne and I see an electric cart coming down the road towards me. By this time I have no problem in waving wildly to get the guy’s attention.
“ Are you from Cunningham Farms?” He is and it seems my luck has changed. He tells me to wait there a minute. He goes on and in a minute returns with a passenger. “Follow me” he says and I do.

Up the street and soon it becomes an unpaved road. A little further we go over a crest and I see my Mecca. A sign with COF on it and beyond it a vista of green. Fruit trees, more trees and growth and what looks like a couple of houses. It covers a small valley and it’s a welcome scene.

And in a minute under the shade of an oak tree I meet George Cunningham, the owner of this spread. George to his credit accepts me as genuine after I pour out my story of missed contacts.
“ My wife is a the farmer’s market in Temecula today.” Wow, so there was one. I felt stupid.
But we talked about fruit and citrus fruit in particular and it was clear George was an expert. I found out about new fruits like finger limes and commercial fruit.

I gave George some of my products and he ferried me inside the family home. Luckily his wife and grand-daughter had just returned and I was introduced.
Then off to the top of the hill and I got to see my first Buddha Hands tree. It was impressive and worth the long search. I tasted Meyer Lemons, exquisitely tangy. I told George I was not impressed by persimmons and he gave me some of his crop to try. I liked them better but George thought I was just trying to humor him. I was on firmer ground with his dried persimmons which were really tasty and just right for one of my fruit-cakes. But what was really intriguing me were the long and strange-shaped vegetables, a creamy brown color, lying on the ground just behind the cases of fruit stacked up. “Tahitian pumpkin” he said and this was a first for me.
“Best pumpkin ever- only raise it for the family. They use it grated raw in Tahiti.” Again, I don’t think I have come across raw pumpkin use.
But I was unable to persuade George to part with one of his pumpkins so bearing the bags containing Meyer Lemons and the hard-won Buddha Hands I returned to my car.
“Just one more thing George, I would like to take a few pictures for my blog.”
“ Go ahead ,” he said and with that we parted company and my visit to the Farm was over. I left in a bit of a daze and returned to the main road. There was still a spectacular drive ahead of me to connect with the freeway and I enjoyed passing through this remote corner of San Diego County with its spectacular fruit orchards. And unfathomable street numbers.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Raspberry Jam

Raspberry jam

Turned out to be very straightforward, and unlike many other fruit the berries gave a very good set.

I picked up two boxes of nice raspberries at the downtown market. It must be the end of the season for raspberries but nowadays who knows? It seems there is a year-round supply of strawberries coming to us from Mexico.

I took 18 6oz punnets ( clam-shells) of the berries for a total of about 7lbs of fruit. I added 5 pounds of non-refined sugar and away we went.

It looked very good simmering in the pot.

The berries broke down very quickly and there was no need to add water. A beautiful, rose-like perfume, filled the house and Rina ,drawn to the kitchen, spent many minutes stirring.

Now having cooked a good many jams I knew that patience was required. I put the pot on a low simmer and gave it a good hour’s cooking. Then after checking it I gave it another 45 minutes. By that time the colour had got darker. When I pat the side of the pot it is really hot

The skin that forms on surface when it nears readiness was clearly visible. Just to check I took out a dollop and put it in the freezer on a plate. Sure enough after a couple of minutes the liquid had semi-gelled and as you moved it with a finger the surface wrinkled. Ready!!

I sieved half of it to make jelly. It will be more convenient when its time to make a sorbet or a delicious sauce for duck!

Here’s the jam and the jelly in jars.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

I'm back!

After a truly frightening summer and a bizarre vacation in San Clemente California: i am back. I will be writing a new blog immediately.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

This week I got my first follower! It's an accomplished feeling. Thanks Daphne!!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Giant and extra-big lobster....

The giant crustacean

A few months ago I was in Koreatown visiting the HK Supermarket. I have bought some good seafood there in the past.

They have some tanks with live fish in them and usually there’s some Korean Halibut in there. Large, flat, green guys about 10-12 lbs each. There’s other tanks and they usually have Crabs-Dungeness- and lobster. Well, today I had come in to look a the crabs ,and they looked pretty nice all crammed together in their tank in their brown splendor,legs agitating the water. But when I looked at the blackboard with the prices on it I noticed that the crab and lobster were the same price- at $11.99/ lb. So I thought that the lobster was a bit more special. I started looking in the tank a bit more carefully and got the attention of the fish-counter person.

It was a pretty long tank- about 12 foot I would guess- and over on the left side I noticed one I liked. I chose him because he had a really large left claw and I like claw meat. As you probably know lobsters have one claw quite larger than the other.

“I’ll have that one", I said ,pointing to the guy I had chosen. So the man takes the wooden implement they use to hook out the lobster and starts fishing. First try was no good. He was trying to manoeuver from the right side along the tank but he didn’t have the right angle. Then the head fish-guy joins in and suggests he use the step ladder. So he sets up the step ladder and tried again. It took him three more tries before he got it and even then it was touch-and -go as the lobster seemed to be stronger!

Finally he fishes it out and I see the whole glorious thing. And it is a big one! He gets it onto the scales with some difficulty and the pointer reads 5 lbs 12 oz. WOW!! That’s the biggest lobster I have ever bought .

Then came the packaging . At first they want to put it in a big plastic bag but I am having none of that. I want to make sure that he arrives home still alive. Working in restaurant I knew that they transport them in boxes usually with some wet newspaper on top. So I issue the order and they go and find a suitable box. They take the lobster out of the black trash bag and put it in the box. Then, by some gesturing, I show them the paper towels on the wall. Finally they get it!

They peel some off and get them wet and put them over my lobster. They bring the box around to my cart and I wheel it carefully to the check-out. I am so proud of my purchase that I open the box to show it to the checker and the bagger. They murmur appropriately complimentary phrases in Korean. Like “what a beauty”.

Then it’s in the back of the car and I am on my way home. Driving fast: quite an adrenaline buzz this lobster buying!!

I had texted Rina ; “ Put some hot water on”. When I got home there was a kettle singing and another pan of hot water boiling. Perfect!!

Well it took a while to organize things but finally I had my biggest pot on with boiling water . I had added salt, peppercorns and a squeezed lemon. Then; the moment of truth: I opened the box and let the big boy loose. He squirmed around on my counter as if he knew what was coming. I turned off my sensitive-feelings knob and just grabbed the beast. I put him in the water but at first it seemed he wouldn’t go in. He had one claw outside, or the body wanted to back out or another scenario. But finally I had the giant crustacean in the water, making his last contortions.

I cooked the lad for ten to fifteen minutes. I was sure by now that he had cooked through. Quite relieved and glad this ordeal was over I hooked him out and put him on a platter. I was ready for a break and a beer!

Later I attacked the lobster and it was a job. I got the head off the tail and half a gallon of fluid came out. Then I took of the claws and the legs.

Lobsters have ten legs which include the claws.

So finally I get the tail itself out of the shell and plump it down on a scale. It weighs a meagre 12 oz!! But I know those frozen tails you buy can cost upwards of $9 each and they only weigh a mere 2 oz. So doing the calculation I reckon I got a bargain.

Man we feasted on that lobster! It was one meal over two days and required a lot of butter! I melt my butter and add in a sliced jalapeno, as well as lemon juice and salt,pepper. Then I let the butter sit in a low oven for half and hour to let the flavors infuse and evaporate excess moisture.

When I had given up on our crustacean Rina hauled the carcass out of the fridge and, attacking the body where the legs attach, managed to extract a full extra plate of meat.


Giant and delicious lobster we salute you!!