Saturday, 12 July 2014

Picnic in Regent's Park: Picnic loaf and raspberry & white chocolate cake

K organised a picnic in Regent's Park today as part of her birthday celebrations. Given it was a bring your own affair and a fair-sized gang was expected, I thought I'd take "big" things to share.

This also gave me an opportunity to finally make a picnic loaf, which I have been wanting to make for an age (most probably inspired by James Martin on Saturday Kitchen). Basically you hollow out a whole loaf of bread and fill it with tasty stuff, so each slice (and indeed bite) is an explosion of tastes.

As it was a birthday celebration, I was compelled to make a birthday cake so went for a seasonal raspberry and white chocolate affair.

The picnic loaf lived up to expectation. It was stuffed with layers of chilli red onion marmalade, avocado, mozzarella, griddled chicken thigh, and tomato. It was immensely satisfying with each mouthful including a little but savoury, sweet, bitter, salty and sour: a completely rounded flavour profile. The variety of fresh vegetables made sure it wasn't too heavy.

The picture is of one I made the next day with feta instead of mozzarella, grated carrot and an attempt at giardiniera. This goes to show the flexibility of the recipe. Equally as epic as the first. 

These are known as "pan bagnat" in Nice or as "muffaletta" in New Orleans. Both much more romantic terms than the prosaic "picnic loaf". 

The cake was a success despite my worries of transporting it on the Tube and the searing afternoon sunshine which K had somehow managed to conjure up. The sponge was very moist with a delicate crumb. The lemon and raspberry offset the rich sweetness of the white chocolate buttercream very well.

The cake not only went down well, with practically everyone hoovering up a slice, but also acted as a strong bartering tool in the cake for wine scheme K had set up resulting in a rather smart glass of fleurie for me. Given the sunshine and the general relaxed nature of the afternoon, I completely forgot to take a picture of a slice until the sun had done its work and the cake was a little past its best. It turns out butter cream melts when placed in direct sunshine for hours on end. Who knew?

I tried a crazy two ingredient buttercream for the white chocolate icing. As easy as it was to make, I think it probably needs some icing sugar to keep it stable.

Recipe for a Picnic Loaf

1 ripe avocado
Lime juice
Red onion marmalade
3 chicken thighs
Beef tomato, thinly sliced
Mozzarella, sliced
Loaf of bread

1. Take the skin off the chicken thighs and de-bone. Sandwich between two layers of cling film and batter out.
2. Oil and season the chicken and cook on a griddle. Allow to cool.
3. Peel, de-stone and slice the avocado. Douse gently in lime juice to and tang and prevent discolouration.
4. Cut the top off the loaf of bread and hollow out the inside leaving a layer below the crust of approximately 1/2". You can also scoop a little of the bread from the lid.
5. Generously spread onion marmalade on the bottom of the loaf
NOTE: You can make this yourself. Or just buy. I made mine with four thinly sliced red onion, a finely diced red chilli (seeds removed) and soft brown sugar. Simply throw in a pan with a slug of olive oil and leave over very low heat until the onions are tender and caramelised. Finish with a glug of balsamic vinegar.
6. Layer up the ingredients until the loaf is full, not forgetting to season each layer liberally. I think my layers were: avocado, tomato, chicken, tomato, mozzarella, avocado.
7. Slather the lid with more onion marmalade and press back on the filled loaf.
8. Tightly wrap the loaf in cling film (you may need three or four layers).
9. Place the loaf on a tray, put another tray on top, weigh down and leave. An hour will do but overnight will result in an even more compressed loaf which will be easier to slice.

For the second loaf, I ran out of onion marmalade so made a quick giardiniera, which went amazingly well.

Stick celery, peeled and finely sliced 
1tbsp capers, rinsed
Garlic clove, crushed, 3tbsp olive oil
1tbsp red wine vinegar
1tbsp dried chives
(You should also add 100g green olives (stuffed with pimento, ideally) and shallots would be better than the chives. I had neither of these in the cupboard so went without) 

Method:  Mix and leave to mingle!

Recipe for Raspberry and White Chocolate Cake

4 eggs
8oz plain flour
2tsp baking powder
8oz butter
8oz caster sugar
1oz ground almonds
100ml raspberry purée (from ~150g raspberries)
Zest of one lemon
Juice half a lemon
For the buttercream:
212g white chocolate
281g butter
A few raspberries, crushed
To decorate:
White chocolate buttons, ~150g

1. Cream the butter and sugar together until pale.
2. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, alternating with a spoon of sieved flour (to prevent curdling).
3. Beat in the lemon juice, zest and raspberry purée. Stir in the ground almonds.
4. Sieve the plain flour and baking powder together and fold into the batter.
5. Divide the batter between two lined and greased 8" round cake tins.
6. Bake at 180°C for approximately 25mins. Bake until a skewer comes out clean.
7. To make the butter cream, melt the butter and white chocolate together in a pan over a low heat until melted.
8. Allow to cool then refrigerate until solid.
9. Put the solidified mixture into a bowl and then beat until fluffy and light.
10. To put the cake together, spread approximately a quarter of the icing on top of one of the cakes. Then spread over some crushed raspberries. Sandwich the cakes together.
11. Thinly ice the cake all over (the crumb layer) and refrigerate until set.
12. Spread the remainder of the icing over the cake, again refrigerate to set
13. To decorate, insert buttons vertically around the rim of the cake then carefully place raspberries to fill the top. Use more buttons to decorate the sides of the cake.

Friday, 4 July 2014

All American 4th July

I had my first Edible Experience tonight care of a Monkey and Molasses pop-up:
Deep South (London) hospitality, good ole home style cooking, three lip smacking courses and a pitcher of homemade spiked Tennessee sweet tea to lighten the mood!

Come on down to Blue Mountain Cafe in Penge to celebrate the 4th of July with us Southern Style. Think cornbread, Southern fried chicken....there'll be mountains of food and plenty of Mississippi charm to keep everyone entertained all night....we might even throw a banjo or two in to the mix!

Well I do declare, all this for just £25 and BYOB too!
K was convinced to join me by the delight of a night in Penge. We had a sweet tea to kick the evening off which was a welcome beverage on a warm summer's evening. It put me in the mood for some Long Island ice-tea, but we made do with a nice bottle of red that K had brought along.

The food started with creamed corn and ham hock with a pineapple and chilli chutney and a Parmesan crisp. The corn was incredibly sweet but the ham and Parmesan served as suitable foils. The chilli offering a pleasant kick.

The main event was fried chicken, mac 'n' cheese, collard greens with chilli, and corn bread with onion and jalapeno. The chicken was phenomenally crisp and yet succulent. Simply superb. The macaroni cheese was bit dry for me but that's just my taste; I like it saucy! The collard greens were good (I think they were spring greens, but I could be very wrong) and were a welcome vegetable side. The corn bread was very sweet and dense. The onions and jalapeno went some way to making it more enticing, but ultimately it proved too much for both me and K.

The pudding was sweet potato pie with key lime cream. The best thing about this was the cream. Unfortunately the pie was just a one-note blandness of sweet potato with a bit too much cinnamon. The cream helped invigorate things but neither of us had the enthusiasm to finish our generous slices.

The food did seem to represent what I know of deep South cooking. Plenty of carbs and plenty of sugar. However, the execution was excellent.  The Cafe had bags of character and despite packing the tables in the atmosphere was friendly and hospitable. I'd definitely go back to sample some of the Monkey and Molasses magic.

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