There were two big food bashs in London this weekend and enough excitement to entice me to give up my weekend in the countryside to head for the bright lights of the metropolis.

On Sunday evening Rose Grey and Ruth Rogers threw a terrific party to celebrate the launch of their newest cookbook –River Café Easy. Hundreds of friends, River Café fans, food and wine writers and devotees turned up. They celebrated enthusiastically with the two ‘belladonnas’, sipped lots of bubbly prosecco and nibbled a selection of gorgeous bruschetta on chargrilled sourdough bread. One was more delicious than the next, Tomato and black olive with rocket, Broad bean pecorino with fresh mint leaves, Sweet oven roasted cherry tomatoes with buffalo mozzarella, garlic and lemon, Crushed fava beans, mozzarella and black olives, drizzled with extra virgin olive oil. Stephen Parle, past student of the school who has been cooking at the River Café for over a year, was part of the busy kitchen brigade who were busy turning out bruschetta as fast as they were gobbled, and gobbled they were with indecent haste by the great and the good of the London food scene. Madhur Jaffrey was over from New York, Claudia Roden, Roly Leigh, Terry Durack, Monty Don…….

But so too was the chap who supplies the veg to the River Café, some of the farmhouse cheesemakers, wine suppliers – it was a wonderfully relaxed affair, lots of people brought their children who bebopped to the music of Pierre La Rue’s band and queued up with the rest of us for homemade ice-cream cornets.

The second bash - The Glenfiddich Food and Wine Awards, held this year in Vinopolis close to the Borough Market, have turned into the Oscars of the UK food scene. This was my first taste of this event which has been running for 33 years (I was nominated for an award in the Magazine Cookery Writer category for a series I wrote for Waitrose Food Illustrated Magazine, called ‘Pass it on’). 

Here the Glenfiddich whiskey flowed and leading style bar mixologists Alessandro Palzzi, Colin Appiah and Daniel Warner, dispensed cocktails from behind a counter made of ice- Glenfiddich Aurora, Glenfiddich Fifteen and Glenfiddich Zander - again the celebs were out in force. Antony Worrall Thompson, fresh from his stint on ‘I’m a Celebrity – get me out of here’ regaled us with stories. I hugely admire him for participating – such a gamble but they raised one million and seventy three thousand pounds for charity. 

Jamie Oliver won the Television award, narrowly pipping Rick Stein at the post. The programme ‘Jamie’s Kitchen’ was praised for its entertaining, inspiring and utterly compulsive viewing, covering the subject of food from a broad range of angles, and extending the appeal of the programme to non-foodies through its soap opera style. The programme enhanced Oliver’s credibility with the general public, a point reflected by the fact that he was also awarded the GQ/Glenfiddich Food and Drink Personality of the Year 2003.

The coveted Glenfiddich Trophy was awarded to drink writer and broadcaster Andrew Jefford, a veteran in the food and drink arena, who consistently produce incredible, intelligent, thought-provoking observation pieces, which challenge the readers’ and listeners’ perception. Jefford was also awarded the Drink Writer and Wine Writer Awards for 2003.

This year’s Glenfiddich Independent Spirit Award awarded in recognition of a piece of work or progressive individual or campaign that is thought to have made an outstanding contribution towards widening the understanding of food and drink in Britain was picked up by James Pavitt of the National Association of Farmers Markets, for his role in the establishment and launch of a farmers’ market certification scheme, which aims to preserve and protect the ethic of true farmers’ markets by identifying those markets that are local producers exclusively selling their own produce directly to the public. The Certification scheme was launched in June 2002.

The food there was wittily catered for by The Moving Venue Company, based in Deptford South East London. www.movingvenue.com 

A series of canapés and mini meals, first in cornets – Peking Duck, Salmon Cornets, Tandoori Lamb and Guacamole Pinto Tacos, then in bowls – Caesar Salad, Sausage & Mash with caramelized onion gravy, and Roasted Pimento & Courgette Risotto, on plates – Seared Tuna Loin with Sauce Vierge, Smoked Haddock Fish Cake, Steak & Chip with Bearnaise Sauce, and finally in shot glasses a choice of a boozy Glenfiddich trifle (Tipsy Laird) or a delicious Chocolate mousse with Spiced pear compote (Tartan Dream).
River Cookbook Easy by Rose Grey and Ruth Rogers, published by Ebury Press.

Asparagus and Anchovy Antipasta

800g/1 ¾ lbs asparagus
6 anchovy fillets
150g/5ozs unsalted butter
½ lemon
extra virgin olive oil
50g/2ozs parmesan

Soften the butter. Rinse, dry and roughly chop the anchovies. In a bowl mix the anchovies with lemon juice and black pepper, then with a fork mix with the butter.
Boil the asparagus in salted water until tender. Drain and season and drizzle with olive oil. Place the asparagus on warm plates. Spoon over the anchovy butter, and scatter with parmesan shavings.

Choose asparagus with tightly closed tips and firm stalks. Asparagus steamers are designed to protect the fragile tips as they cook standing upright. Alternatively, lay the asparagus flat in a large frying pan and cover with boiling salted water.

Beef Fillet with Thyme

500g/18ozs beef fillet
30g/1 ¼ oz black peppercorns
3 tablespoons thyme leaves
extra virgin olive oil
3 lemons
100g/3 ½ ozs parmesan
100g/3 ½ ozs wild rocket leaves

Grind the peppercorns and mix with ½ a tablespoon of salt and the thyme. Rub the fillet lightly with olive oil, then rub the pepper mixture into the beef. Heat a ridged griddle pan to very hot, and sear the beef on all sides. Cool.
Use a long, sharp-bladed knife to slice the beef as thinly as possible. Place the slices on a board and press with the flat blade of the knife to extend each slice.
Cover a cold plate with the beef. Season, and drizzle over the juice of ½ a lemon.
Shave the parmesan. Toss the rocket with olive oil and a little more lemon juice.
Scatter the leaves over the beef, then put the parmesan shavings on top. Drizzle over more olive oil, and serve with lemon.

Plum and Orange Cake

500g/18ozs ripe plums
1 orange
50g/2ozs caster sugar
1 vanilla pod
150g/5ozs unsalted butter
150g/5ozs caster sugar
2 organic, free range eggs
85g/3 ½ ozs self-raising flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
100g/3 ½ ozs blanched almonds
1 orange
30g/ 1 ¼ oz unsalted butter
25g/1 oz muscovado sugar
50g/2oz flaked almonds

Finely grate the rind and squeeze the juice of the orange. Grind the almonds in a food processor.
Preheat the oven to 350ºF/180ºC/Gas Mark 4.
Halve and stone the plums and put in an ovenproof dish with the sugar, the orange juice and rind. Add the split vanilla pod and bake for 20 minutes. Cool. Scrape in the vanilla seeds.

Grease a 25cm round spring-form tin, lined with parchment paper, with extra butter.
Soften the butter and beat with the sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one by one. Fold in the flour, baking powder and ground almonds.
Pour into the tin and push the plums and their juices into and over the cake. Bake in the oven for ½ hour.

For the topping, finely grate the orange rind. Melt the butter and stir in the sugar, zest and flaked almonds. Spread this over the half-baked cake, lower the heat to 320ºF/160ºC/Gas Mark 3 and bake for a further 20 minutes. Cool the cake in the tin.

Darina Allen’s back to basics -

I adore compotes and virtually always have a bowl of poached fruit in the fridge. It changes with and within each season, starting in January with the tongue twister, a Compote of Kumquats – which gives way in Spring to Poached Rhubarb. Just as soon as the tender young shoots of rhubarb appear in the forcing pots. Poaching rhubarb is a tricky business it can so easily dissolve into a mush, the secret is to put the rhubarb pieces with cold syrup, bring them gently to the boil, simmer for just 1 minute then turn off the heat and allow the rhubarb to continue to cook in the covered saucepan.

At the end of May we scan the hedgerows for the first of the elderflowers, just as soon as it blossoms, we know its time to search under the prickly branches of the gooseberry bushes. the fruit will be hard and green, but perfect for poaching. The elderflowers imbue the gooseberries with a wonderfully haunting muscat flavour. Unlike rhubarb, gooseberries must be allowed to burst in the cooking so the syrup can penetrate.

Most fruit compotes keep for several days in the fridge and in some cases even for even longer. They also freeze well. Making a fruit compote is a simple but very useful technique.

Strawberry & Rhubarb Compote

Rhubarb and strawberries are a wonderful combination and now that strawberries have a longer season we can enjoy them together.

Serves 4

1 lb (450g) red rhubarb, e.g. Timperely Early
16 fl ozs (scant 450ml) stock syrup (see below)
½ - 1 lb (225 - 450g) fresh strawberries, Cambridge Favourite, Elsanta or Rapella
To Serve
Pouring cream
Light biscuits 

Cut the rhubarb into 1 inch (2.5cm) pieces. Put the cold syrup into a stainless steel saucepan add the rhubarb, cover, bring to the boil and simmer for just 1 minute, then turn off the heat and leave the rhubarb in the covered saucepan until just cold. Hull the strawberries, slice lengthways and add to the rhubarb compote. Chill and serve with a little pouring cream and a light biscuit.

Stock Syrup
1 lb (450g) sugar
1 pint (600ml) water
To make the stock syrup: Dissolve the sugar in the water and bring to the boil. Boil for 2 minutes then allow it to cool. Store in the fridge until needed.

Green Gooseberry and Elderflower Compote

When I'm driving through country lanes in late May or early June, suddenly I spy the elderflower coming into bloom. Then I know its time to go and search on gooseberry bushes for the hard, green fruit, far too under-ripe at that stage to eat raw, but wonderful cooked in tarts or fools or in this delicious Compote.
Elderflowers have an extraordinary affinity with green gooseberries and by a happy arrangement of nature they are both in season at the same time.
Serves 6-8
2 lbs (900g) green gooseberries
2 or 3 elderflower heads
1 pint (600ml) cold water
1 lb (450g) sugar

First top and tail the gooseberries. Tie 2 or 3 elderflower heads in a little square of muslin, put in a stainless steel or enamelled saucepan, add the sugar and cover with cold water. Bring slowly to the boil and continue to boil for 2 minutes. Add the gooseberries and simmer just until the fruit bursts. Allow to get cold. Serve in a pretty bowl and decorate with fresh elderflowers.

Green Gooseberry and Elderflower Fool

Liquidise the compote, mix with softly whipped cream to taste - about 2 volume of whipped cream to fruit puree. Serve chilled with shortbread biscuits.

Top Tips

Focus on Fruit – 

This is the name of a joint promotion just launched by the Health Promotion Unit and Bord Glas – the object is to try to instil the message of the importance of eating ‘Four or More’ fruit and vegetable a day, with an emphasis on the convenience, versatility and great taste of fruit.

BIM are currently producing a series of recipe cards with quick and delicious ideas to promote fish in our everyday diets – what about Seafood Wraps – using soft tortillas filled with salmon or prawns or other tasty fish - look out for these cards on the fish counter or at your fishmonger. www.bim.ie 

The Food Safety Authority of Ireland recently announced a public consultation process on proposed changes in food safety legislation now available through its website. www.fsai.ie This new ‘consultations’ section of the website is seen by the FSAI as a valuable tool in giving people an arena to have their say on upcoming legislation and for the Authority to gauge both consumer and industry views on key food issues. Views are currently being sought on Flavourings and Food Ingredients with Flavouring Properties for use in and on Food – so make your opinions known. 

Coming up soon at Ballymaloe Cookery School –

Australian Guest Chef Maggie Beer – 9-11 June
Ballymaloe Buffet Course – 15-18 June
Barbecue Course Part 1 - 26th June. Part 2 – 27th June
For details of these and other courses tel 021-4646785 www.cookingisfun.ie

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen


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