Battle of the Burgers

I almost forgot that I pretty much started this year waxing lyrical about the Meat Liquor burger, I had plans to keep ranting about burgers up and down the country, but so far I think I’ve only managed about three more in London and one in New York (oooh).  I was quite obsessed with Meat Liquor for a while and it kept drawing me back.  I can’t say the same for the Lucky Chip number.  Although I liked it and I’ve heard many a person swear by it, it just hasn’t managed to creep into my psyche and entice me back like Meat Liquor.

At the bottom of the four I’d like to tell you about here is the Bar Boulud one, which I know is loved by many and I don’t deny that it’s a damn fine meaty sandwich.  To me though, it’s a bit too fancy for a burger.  There’s all sorts going on and you can barely finish the thing.  Plus the atmosphere’s all wrong to be eating burgers, I felt like I had to use a knife and fork for instance, and to add insult to injury it’s got quite a price on it.  I had the Piggie which came in at £12.75 with fries at an additional £4.25.  I won’t deny that it was tasty and hats off to Bar Boulud for its deliciousness, it’s just not what I want from a burger nor what I want to pay.  To me they should be simple.

Coming in next would have to be The Three Compasses on Dalston Lane.  This was entirely unexpected – I’m not sure I even realised I was hungry until I saw people eating them.  They call them the Stephen (as in Fry) burgers and they are mighty tasty and only £6.  Love.  There’s no messing around, good burger, good bun and good fries.  They would perhaps rate higher, but they had sold out of the beef burger (they’re that good apparently) the night I was there and I settled for a porky-chorizo burger and very tasty it was.

Next is Burger Joint in the Parker Meridien Hotel in New York.  This place is fun.  You’re made to feel like it’s clandestine by them hiding it behind a massive red curtain in the foyer of a very smart looking hotel.  Once you’ve served your time in the queue you go round the corner to see a hipster style joint and very informal.  It’s a fun contrast.  It feels more fast food than the others I’ve talked about as you order from the counter and grab a seat where you can.  All in with fries it comes to just over $10 and was incredibly tasty – a welcome treat after a late night followed by a long morning of art galleries.

Last and quite the contrary to the least is the mighty Honest Burger.  They have two restaurants, the only one I’ve been to is the one in Brixton market and it was incredible, the other is in Soho.  Juicy, juicy burger – by far the tastiest meat of any burger I’ve ever committed to memory.  The bun was tasty, not quite as tasty as Meat Liquor, but seriously the meat makes up for it.  Their chips are rougher and more rustic than your typical fries – skin on and seasoned with plenty of salt and a little rosemary.  This  wouldn’t normally please me as I like a good fry, but they were amazing and I’d already been sold on their extraordinarily tasty burger.  They are great. Yum. Yum. Yum.  And great atmosphere with friendly staff to boot.  I’ll be going back.

So…this is how my 2012 list of burgers goes from best to worst (I know the year’s not over yet, but bride-diet shouldn’t really permit any more to be consumed, but I’m weak willed, so it might):

1. Honest Burger, Brixton

2. Meat Liquor, Bond Street

3.  Burger Joint, Manhattan

4. The Three Compasses, Dalston

5. Lucky Chip, Netil Market

6. Bar Boulud, Knightsbridge

Where do you think should be on my 2013 hit list?

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All day smoke out…

I’ve been quiet for far too long, I have a list of excuses but I won’t be boring you with them.  The garden proved to throw out some awesome things at the end of the summer, just when I was thinking I’d been a complete failure.  We had aubergines and green beans, beetroot, swiss chard, lettuces, yellow courgettes and more.  All from our tiny little mostly sunless garden.  I need to get my head round it next year so that it doesn’t all come at once and at the end of the summer.  More planning will be implemented and an earlier start.  2013 is going to be the year that I become an organised person.

Now…to the point of this post.  In September we went to stay with the wonderful Carneys in Virginia, one of the Carneys being Van of the pulled pork fame.  Some very good friends of ours had had an amazing wedding just up the east coast so we pootled down via New York to see them.  Arriving at their house in Virginia was so enormously welcome after a few hectic days in a hot sweaty city.  They live in what seems like the middle of nowhere surrounded by fields and stunning countryside.

I need to learn from them as they grow fruit and veg like I’ve never seen before – melons, squash, peppers, yellow beans, etc, etc.  They may have a favourable climate but they have another thing on their side which seems to be an inherent understanding of how it all works and also a shed load more knowledge.  Hats off to them.

While we were staying, it emerged that a good idea would be to have an all day chicken smoking session, this was only the day after we’d spent all day brewing beer, I’m hoping you’re starting to get a picture of how these guys roll…?

To start the smoking process you need wood.  Off we dutifully went to chop down some  dying trees, I didn’t exactly do any chopping, but at least I helped carry it.

There was much chat about how best to construct the bbq / smoking oven and several semi-architectural constructions were discussed, or even debated, then constructed and demolished and re-conconstructed.

In the end though it was settled that the BBQ was a good solution.  Importantly though, we had a small fire beside the BBQ heating up the wood (mostly hickory, some cherry and maple too) to add when needed.

We started by rubbing the chicken with a paprika, fennel and salt combination and then onto the BBQ it went, lid on and at a low temperature, I reckon about 100c – read by a little thermometer stuck into the air vent and watched with Jenning’s and Lain’s beady eyes.  It cooked for a good long five hours during which beers were drunk and the rest of the meal was constructed.

after two hours…

after about 3 and half hours…

done!

hard at work…

We went true southern style with macaroni and cheese (or perhaps mac n’ cheese) made by James, a coleslaw made by yours truly and Van whipped up some corn bread.  The whole thing together was truly absolutely incredible.  The most tender, juicy and fantastically smoky chicken I’ve ever eaten and all the other dishes worked perfectly with it.  I’ve said it before, but the Americans really do know how to BBQ (well this family does anyway).  I urge you to try this – maybe wait until spring and maybe you’ll need to buy the wood, but you can certainly do the rest just the same and it seriously is worth the five hour wait.


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Cucumbers!

I couldn’t believe it but it was possible to grow a cucumber in our tiny garden.  In fact it’s pretty much all we got this year apart from a couple of strawberries, some rainbow chard and lots of green beans.  Oh and some tomatoes yet to ripen.  And just before we left for holiday there were some very little aubergines looking quite perky, fingers crossed they’ll be good for when we get back.

Anyway, back to the cucumber.  This was an entirely different beast to the relatively watery tasteless supermarket specimen.  It really packed a powerful taste punch – we compared it to a normal one and there really was an almighty difference.  100% worth having a go at growing one yourself.  This one grew from a plug plant from Homebase – I’m learning with the small space and not much margin for error the plug plant option might be the best as you don’t have to worry so much about the seeds sprouting.

After waxing lyrical about how our cucumber was the best in the world I did my favourite thing to do with a cucumber which is a salad with dill, white wine vinegar, a good pinch of salt and a little olive oil.  You combine about 2 parts vinegar to one part oil, mix with the salt (and if with a supermarket cucumber add a pinch of sugar).  Toss this together with the chopped cucumber and let sit for 30 minutes or so.  Mix in a couple of tablespoons of chopped dill and eat.  This is particularly delicious with fish, we had it with some grilled dover sole.

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Elderflower Cupcakes

It’s been a busy old month of weddings and hen parties.  This recipe here is from the latest of the hen parties – hence the pinkness and some slightly unsavoury confetti littering the table.  There aren’t a huge amount of sweet recipes on my blog which is strange as my training is really as a pastry chef and I do love to bake.  So here’s a little nod to the happy baker inside me.

These are super simple, quick and easy to make – oh, and unless they’re for a hen party you don’t have to make the icing pink. I have decorated these ones with freeze dried strawberries and a little edible lustre spray.  A great place to get anything you want in the way of cake decorating is the amazing Jane Asher which stocks pretty much everything you could imagine (and more) in the cake world. The dried elderflower may be a little trickier to get your hands on, I got mine from  Just Ingredients but you can just leave them out if that’s a bit much effort.


Makes 10

180g unsalted butter,softened

3 eggs, beaten

2 tbsp elderflower cordial

zest of half a lemon

180g demerara sugar

2 tbsps dried elderflower

180g flour

1 tsp baking powder

Pinch salt

For the icing: 100g butter, 200g icing sugar, 2 tsps elderflower cordial

Preheat the oven to 180c (with fan) and line a muffin tray with ten cases.  Beat together the butter, sugar and dried elderflower until well combined.  Gradually beat in the eggs followed by the rest of the ingredients, beat well.  Divide the mixture between the cases and bake for 20 minutes until lightly golden and a skewer comes out clean if you prod them.  Remove and cool on a wire rack.

Meanwhile, make the icing by beating the ingredients together, adding whatever food colouring you choose.  Once the cakes are cool, top with the icing, dried strawberries and a little lustre spray.  Eat.

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Stuff the Rain, I’m making Ice Cream

If the weather won’t prove that it’s summer, I’ll just have to trick myself into believing it is and somehow achieve that nice warm summery glow. So first stop to this trickery was to make some ice cream, then to turn on the heating, shut my eyes and pretend I was in the glorious heights of summer as I merrily made my way through the tub of blackberry deliciousness. I’m not sure if you’ve spotted any blackberries in the shops recently, but they are whoppers. It’s a little early in the season for them so maybe they were forced to grow and went a bit mental, they’re pretty tasty nonetheless and all the better for the added cream and sugar of ice cream. I had to buy them for a job, but perhaps best to save this recipe for later in the summer when they’ll be packed full of flavour. For the time being, you could swap in strawberries or raspberries perhaps?

Ingredients

400ml milk

350ml double cream

1 vanilla pod

5 egg yolks

100g caster sugar

400g blackberries

Split the vanilla pod lengthways, scrape out the seeds and place (pod and seeds) in a pan with the milk and double cream. Gently bring up to the boil and then remove from the heat, allow to infuse for 20 minutes. Meanwhile blitz the blackberries until smooth. Remove the vanilla pod and in a large bowl whisk the egg yolks and sugar until pale and creamy. Slowly pour over the warmed milk, stirring as you pour. Stir through the blackberry puree. Allow to cool, then churn according to the machine’s instructions* and freeze until ready to use. Remove from the freezer about 10 minutes before serving so it softens a little.

*I appear to have lost an all important part to my ice cream machine so churning wasn’t possible on this occasion. I stirred it every so often while it was freezing, but that wasn’t really enough as it was still a bit grainy, tasty but grainy. So, I do recommend using a machine. If you don’t have one, it’s still possible to make ice cream, just stir it around every 30 mins while it’s freezing to break down the ice crystals.

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Get It While It’s Hot

With only a couple of weeks left of the Asparagus season you don’t want to miss out on the delicious freshness of the home grown stuff.  Go to a greengrocer where it’s likely to be fresher than the supermarket and do what you while with it.  Simply boil it for 2-3 mins to tender perfection and eat it straight up or my favourite is to coat it in a little oil and griddle it for 3-4 mins until lightly charred and then serve it with a poached egg, salt, pepper and a little grating of parmesan.  Oh and the other day I wrapped some in pancetta, griddled that and then dipped in a boiled egg.  YUM.

However you want to eat it, I recommend getting involved before we return to the stuff that gets flown in from miles away.  There ain’t nothing out there like British asparagus.

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I can’t believe it’s BUTTER

I didn’t ever think that I’d come back from a music festival waxing lyrical about how ridiculously easy it is to make butter, but guess what…I’m going to… Did you know how ridiculously easy it is to make butter?  Ridiculously easy.  That’s how easy.

At the lovely No Direction Home Festival there were several talks, demos and tastings given by the School of Artisan Food.  The one that we managed to catch was a little intro into butter making and as soon as I got home I decided to give it a go – all you need is some double cream, a jam jar and some salt (optional).  You can do it in a food mixer or obviously a special churning machine, but I don’t have either of those so a jam jar it was and here’s how:

Fill the jam jar one third full of double cream – don’t be tempted to add more as it needs the space to bash around in there.  Then start shaking and keep shaking until your arm gets very sore, then swap arms and shake some more and keep switching arms until the cream separates into a solid and a liquid.  It will go through several stages from a cream, to a whipped cream, to an over-whipped cream and then this solid vs liquid state which is when you stop.

Then place a sieve over a bowl and tip your butter out, the liquid that comes off is buttermilk which you can keep for your soda bread / scones / pancakes or whatever else you might use it for.

Now get some ice cold water and pour it over the butter to rinse off any buttermilk that may still be on the surface, this also cools the butter down which makes it a little easier to handle.  When the liquid coming off the butter runs clear, turn it out onto a surface.

The next step I slightly left out as I don’t have any Scotch Hands (butter beaters) – but I bashed it around a bit on greaseproof paper with a wooden spoon as I introduced a good pinch of sea salt and this seems to have worked fine.  I then wrapped it up in a fresh piece of greaseproof and put it in the fridge to have on my toast this morning.  It was delicious, a little too salty (will adjust next time) but really tasty.  Also you could flavour it with anything, a nice herby butter perhaps?  Obviously the better the cream, the better the butter – so for the best possible butter it’s time for me to find a raw milk supplier who feeds their cows on delicious grass – this could be a little tricky in London…

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