Birthday dinner at The Ledbury

I turned 27 last week. As for every birthday since I turned 25, it has been more and more important to me to make the day more special (in a sad way it is to divert from the fact I am inching even closer to the 30s). I know this will sound really daft and possibly immature to people over 30 reading this, but we all know that the 20s is full of angst and resistance towards getting ‘old’. This year, I decided to go all-out and dine at The Ledbury in London for dinner. I feel as though I am cheating slightly as this is in no way a review of the dinner or attempt to make this blog more about eating out as it is supposed to be all about the food I make, but as it was so great and such a once a year event, I feel compelled to put some photos up and describe the great experience. Also, my friends are probably a tad sick of seeing all my photos on facebook about this!

We went quite early, at 6.30pm to be precise. It was great waltzing down Ledbury Road around that time, observing all the Nottinghill types making the trip home to their ultra beautiful town houses in their equally stunning attire. I witnessed a very stylish pair of Phillip Lim silk pants on a shop assistant locking up Matches and purred with envy. I must say though, that boyfriend and I made our best efforts to present ourselves before going to The Ledbury—it is dinner afterall darlin.

The staff were ultra friendly, not pretentious or snobby at all. They seemed genuinely interested and motivated to ensure that we have the best service and food experience.

First we were served an amazing canape for which I can not remember what it was. I will just say it was melt in the mouth delicious but let me move on to what I can remember and what I have photos of.

My main was ‘shoulder of Pyrenean milk fed lamb cooked for twenty four hours with baked jerusalem artichokes and winter savory milk. This was the tenderest lamb I have ever had in my life, and the baked artichoke underneath was almost like a very soft and gentle on the tongue kind of mash.

The main course was followed by this amazing phenomenon called a ‘palate cleanser’. I had heard of the term before but had never actually had one (yes, you could take from this I do not eat out much at Michelin starred establishments) but this was almost the best thing about my entire birthday. The palate cleanser was served in a tiny little glass bulb of a bowl and contained some sweetened almost compote-like berries with a berry praline and some creme friache concoction. Two actual tiny spoonfuls and it was gone. I was practically licking the bowl with my face. Then came the dessert! This was a caramelised banana galette with salted caramel and peanut ice cream. I really love the idea of salted caramel. Who came up with this idea?? it is genius. A favourite food blog of mine (David Lebovitz) has a salted butter caramel icecream recipe that is on the top of my must try icecream lists. This food blog has all the best icecream recipes that Heston Blumenthal would almost rival such as candied bacon icecream, pumpkin icecream.

I might have mentioned it was my birthday to the sommelier who must have Chinese whispered it to the chef. Then came out this magnificent plate with ‘happy birthday’ written in chocolate. It was such a surprise and I felt really special 🙂  My only concern was the use of a full stop – why was this used? why not an exclamation mark or two?

Ultimately, my conclusion is that The Ledbury is one of those places you eat at that you remember for not only the crazily delicious taste sensations but for the atmosphere, the service and the way you went away feeling at the end of it—pleasantly full, inspired to eat and cook. I can say with nothing but honesty that I will always remember my 27th birthday.

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Lavender shortbread

When I encountered Clotilde Dusoulier’s fantastic blog ‘Chocolate and Zucchini’ I was full of good ideas and fresh inspiration. The best thing about Clotilde’s blog is that in the simplicity of the recipes. You also have quality ingredients meaning maximum taste. I tried the shortbread recipe and this was an instant hit. We all need to have those baking favourites that we return to time and time again, adjusting the recipes each time and also experimenting with new ones. Shortbread is my all time favourite biscuit. Ever since I had the Scottish Highland variety (which was probably not authentic as such), shop-bought dipped in a glass of milk, I was hooked. Since then many different recipes have been tried and tested. My favourite before encountering Clotilde’s would have to be Delia Smiths’s Scottish shortbread that uses semolina and flour. I recently read that you could also use ground rice in replacement of semolina for a crunchy, almost sandlike texture. I made Clotilde’s recipe but adapted it slightly by using semolina and adding lavender. I constantly find myself drawn to all ingredients with all or any of the following: lavender, cardamom, edible gold leaf, lemon. Something about lavender shortbread reminds me of potpurri! it is almost very eighties and only became ‘fashionable’ within the culinary world recently. I look forward in rejoicing in the return of lavender to our kitchens.

Lavender shortbread

150g unsalted butter (best quality European butter), softened

70g golden caster sugar (or vanilla caster sugar if you like)

70g semolina

150g refined spelt flour or white flour

1 teaspoon culinary lavender

Preheat the oven to 150C°.

Beat the butter and sugar together till light and fluffy. Add the semolina and mix till combined. Add the flour and mix till just combined. Put the lavender in. Turn the dough out to a lightly floured surface and knead for a few seconds till smooth, then gather into a large ball and press the dough into the fluted pan. Using a fork, prick holes in the dough. Bake for 50 minutes until lightly golden or firm. Whilst still warm, make cuts in the shortbread so that it can be broken up. Cool on a rack and separate into pieces when cooled completely.

Monkfish curry with coconut, lime and curry leaves

Skye Gyngell is my absolute food hero. Her flavour combinations are divine, every single one of her recipes are full-proof and the end result truly delicious. Sophisticated, uncomplicated, with taste and textures which will amaze, her cookbooks are at the top of my shelf and throughly leafed-through. I have already pre-ordered my copy of her new cookbook due out later in 2010 titled How I cook. As the weather shifts into full-on autumnal, I have turned to her book My Favourite Ingredients for some inspiration on curries and winter warmers. I have made a couple curries from this book now and this one is my favourite. The flavours are very quite intense and if you manage to get the balance between the salty fish sauce, palm sugar and lime juice right the result is a bowl full of loveliness.

It is a fact that in Oxford, it is quite hard to find fresh curry leaves. I went on a mission out to Cowley Road to the Indian spice shop there and found them. There is no point really using dried curry leaves as they are pretty much sad stale remnants of what used to be. I was also picking up some other ingredients and remembered I needed chickpea flour for making pakoras and bhajis. Little did I know that chickpea flour is the same as gram flour! amazing. I didn’t have a clue.

The base of the curry is a genius blend of softened, almost caramelised till sweet red onion, curry leaves, lime. The base of the curry is the most important aspect, doing this part right will put the intensity you need into the curry.  Instead of coconut milk I am sure it would work with cream as well.

Monkfish curry with coconut, lime and curry leaves

1 Tbsp unsalted butter

2 red onions, peeled and sliced

2 tsp mustard seeds

2 tsp fennel seeds

1 tsp coriander seeds

large bunch of coriander, stems chopped and leaves reserved

3 garlic cloves, crushed with a pinch of salt

2 red chillies, chopped (seeds kept)

10 fresh curry leaves

2 kaffir lime leaves

juice of 2 limes

2 Tbsp fish sauce

1 Tbsp palm sugar

2 x 340g tinned plum tomatoes

800g monkfish fillet

400ml tin coconut milk

In a heavy based saucepan, over a medium-low heat, add the butter and once this melts, add the onions. Cook over a low heat for about 15 minutes. In a separate small frying pan, toast the mustard, fennel and coriander seeds over a medium head till they release a slight aroma. Check to make sure that you do not over roast otherwise this will give the curry a bitter taste. Remove from heat, and while still warm, grind to a rough powder in a mortar and pestle.

Add the spices to the cooked, sweet onions along with the chopped coriander root and stems, garlic, chillies and curry leaves. Tear the kaffir lime leaves into rough pieces and add to the pan. Cook for 10 minutes. Add the lime juice, fish sauce and sugar, stir once or twice and turn up the heat a little. Add the tomatoes and cook for a further 15 minutes. Stir occasionally. Taste for flavouring: the curry base should be warm, slightly sweet but also sour. Add more lime or fish sauce to adjust to taste. To finish, add the coconut milk and then add the monkfish. Bring to the boil, cook for 3-4 minutes until the fish is just cooked (if it feels firm to the touch it is done). Scatter the coriander leaves and serve in bowls with rice or flat breads.

This recipe is from My favourite ingredients (Quadrille).

Honey wholemeal cake

Although wholemeal in anything sweet-based makes me run a mile in fear that it will lack alll the best qualities—sweetness, buttery and richness—I was intrigued to try this recipe as it just looked so utterly tasty on TV. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall had his usual River Cottage series on Channel 4. I made the honey wholemeal cake for a work do and it was a great success— little did everyone know it was so easy and didn’t require complicated ingredients at all. This cake has a really moist taste and it is sweet, but not overly so. The more honey on top of the cake the better if you ask me, as when the cake cools, the honey turns into a sticky outer coating that adds another dimension to the cake overall. This recipe was actually printed in the Observer Food Monthly (my favourite monthly foodie supplement) and since trying the recipes from this, I went and got myself a copy of Hugh’s River Cottage Everyday. The main concept of the book is simply what the title suggests: River Cottage style food everyday. It has a brilliant lunch section entitled ‘weekday lunch (box)’ – the recipes are so easy yet very tasty and as always you can rely on that River Cottage rustic feel. You couldn’t get sick of the recipes as they are also seasonal and family-kitchen favourites. I am sure I will have more to say on this book to come, the next one on my list is the roast plum and sticky chocolate brownies.

This recipe is from River Cottage Everyday (Bloomsbury).

Honey wholemeal cake

300g unsalted butter (softened)

250g golden caster sugar

4 medium eggs

150g wholemeal self-raising flour

150g ground almonds

1 tsp baking powder

50g flaked almonds

4 Tbsp runny honey

Beat the butter and sugar together until very light and fluffy. Beat in one egg at a time and add 3 spoonfuls of flour as you go, then fold in the almonds. Sift the remaining flour into the mixture with the baking powder and fold in gently. Prepare a 23 cm springform cake tin and line the base with baking paper. Place the tin on a baking tray as some mixture may leak out during the baking process. Pour your cake mix into the cake tin and place in a preheated 170C° oven and bake for 45 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.

When the cake is ready, take it out of the oven and while it is still hot, evenly trickle the honey over the top of the cake. Place on a wire rack and leave to cool completely before turning out.

This is excellent served with greek style honey yoghurt or creme friache. Hugh says to serve it with some runny cream.

Serves 10.