Friday, August 26, 2011

potatoes, potatoes

when making gnocchi, potatoes are key. the standard recipe for gnocchi that you will see in many cookbooks is about 1 kg of mashed potato, either achieved by baking or boiling with skin on etc., 300g of flour and a couple of eggs, or maybe one egg, one yolk. you see the problem lies in the potato itself; some are more floury than others, some are already most of the way to wall paper paste. the amount of water that is in your potato determines the amount of extra moisture that you may need to add via eggs, but also the amount of flour, and to get a good gnocchi you need to be as sparing as possible with the flour. the key to making good gnocchi is to make them often. i did most of my training with my children, who fell for the interactive element and like making a mess with flour. with a decent baking potato, and egg youlk and a little flour you can have homemade gnocchi in ten minutes. just microwave the potato, scoop the flesh, give it a mash and then add the egg yolk and enough flour to make a soft dough. alternatively you can make them in bulk and freeze after poaching because they freeze brilliantly. my tip for the additions would be that you add the flour first to the potato and use a fork to incorporate. they should form a nice breadcrumb consistency that you can pinch together to form a dough. then add your egg and work together. i shall be putting a video up on the website in september to show the next bit because it is probably the most difficult bit, you need to take your dough, work it and form it into long sausages that you then cut and shape using your thumb, very quick, or a fork, pretty but not so quick. poach, then cool and freeze, or cool and reheat by frying in olive oil or butter.

so why this missive. well this menu the gnocchi have been coeliac (gluten free flours) and vegan (no eggs). this can pose a problem; gluten feee flours tend to be powdery and have no wish to combine and the no egg exacerbates the first problem. the solution, it appears, lies with the potato. usually when making gnocchi you want a nice floury potato, just like the ones that i used yesterday. up until then we had used a potato that was a little more starchy and whilst the gnocchi were nice and easy to make (the sausages rolled perfectly) i wanted a floury potato. well i got them yesterday and to say that it was a nightmare would probably be over-stating it a little. it was certainly a pain in the proverbial. the problem was that once i had added the flour that i wanted, a combination of tapioca, potato, rice and buckwheat, and brought it together with my fork, the bloody dough refused to have any elasticity; as soon as i started to roll my sausages, they fell apart. i could have worked around this by adding water and more flour but then you end up with potato gnocchi where the star ceases to be the potato and can be gluey. the solution was to roll each gnocchi in my hand separately. i made round gnocchi, big gnocchi, small gnocchi, loads of forking gnocchi and that is why we have gnocchi on as infrequently as we do. so good bye gnocchi, until christmas, and potatoes, potatoes to you all.



Monday, August 22, 2011

beginnings and endings

a good week and a bad week. on thursday we said goodbye to andy at the castle chase burial grounds in usk and on the same day my niece achieved an A* and two As at A level and so moves on to a degree at Imperial College. one sad day, one happy day and one link between them.

the menu continues to evolve and we have changed the beetroot dish on the basis of reviews to include a horseradish and cashew cream. it doesn't add any more bulk but does add another flavour.

as you know, i'm a little bit obsessive about reviews. i cannot help but come out and ask if things were ok (anathema to AA Gill of the sunday times, apparently, you are asking people to lie) and also check out the web reviews. this week is the first time that the reviewer has complained that there was not enough food. usually our plates are a little too busy but if you were to order the ravioli, tartare and, horror, the gnocchi then i can understand the problem. our ravioli are always served in twos but the gnocchi are a little on the meaner side of generous. the portion is determined as much by aesthetics as a desire to fill up; it has to look good. i made this my aim after eating gnocchi alla nona in a restaurant in lyndhurst in the new forest. the sauce was one i made myself for the restaurant, a blue cheese and cream sauce. the problem was that the dish went for size over quality; it was massive and we didn't go home hungry but it was like eating at a trough, i hope that in some way the aesthetic slightly masks the empty(ish) stomach.

anyway this is the filling for the ravioli. it's ingredients that we have been recycling over the last few menus (the courgette canneloni, primavera ragu)

you will need vegan ricotta (make your own with cashew nuts, soy milk, salt pepper and lemon juice) or ricotta, peas, double shelled broad beans, mint and salt pepper and lemon juice to season.

work on one part ricotta to one and a half of peas and broad beans, by weight. blitz together with a handful of mint and season(if using ricotta, use an egg yolk to set your filling when it poaches). fill your pasta with the filling and poach in boiling water. serve with a brown butter and poppy seed sauce.



ps. i can't wait for this week to end, holidays, here we come.

Monday, August 15, 2011

menu review: thanks a lot angela

we are one week into the new menu and it is gratifying to see that it has been well-received, at least by one person ( As for me, i've found it a hard menu to prep and one that i'm not that happy with. the newsletter will have informed everyone that, for the first week, the gnocchi were not going to be made in house. this was the first time that we had gone down this route and it will probably be the last. i knew that we'd be under pressure on the first weekend, mainly because i was bicycling en famille in the new forest, so we decided to but in the gnocchi. we did so on the basis of a review of gnocchi by angela hartnett, of ramsay fame, but the product is in no way comparable with our own and i'll be making fresh this week.

at least one table did not enjoy the menu as much as i would have liked and for that i apologise. i shy away from pasta but in retrospect i should probably have put a pasta main course on the menu. this would have allowed more scope for getting the other mains just right. i'm pretty happy with the starters, especially the ravioli after we upped the broad bean content and the desserts are also very nice. i had a nightmare with pancakes for the crespelle, trying to make them all gluten free. this should not have been a problem because we had just come off a menu of gluten free galettes and the pan worked perfectly (analon). when i tried these, i'm not sure if it was the mix of flour that i was using but the pan would not behave, everything sticking. fortunately, leanne and tony pointed out that the menu said gluten free option and we tried some vegan pancakes with wheat flour and the pan started to behave again. why? i have no idea.

so this week we will aim to get everything to the proper standard. it's funny that the comment from the table that did not think that much of the food was that we should try the food at 'the gate' in london. two years ago when we were nominated in the vegetarian society awards we went to eat there because we were up against them in the best restaurant category. we didn't think that their food was as nice as our own but i guess that it's all down to taste; you can't please everybody but you have to try and be guided by what works for you.



Thursday, August 11, 2011


one of the best rewards that i have had since opening the restaurant is the number of incredible people that i have met through the shared interest in food, both cooking and eating. over three years ago when we were open in the day, we had finished the day service when we heard a bang at the door. we usually answered these bangs quite suspiciously and looked through the window, a rather scruffy looking guy (please, who am i to talk) on a mountain bike. we opened the door and this was the first time that we met andy. he hadn't been in to eat, threatened to do so soon and embarked on a wide-ranging conversation about the lack of good food in cardiff; he was coeliac. pretty soon he was coming in regularly, along with anne and sometimes gaz and sometimes a raggle taggle of others. always we'd end up in conversation, usually lamenting some problem with the political or social process. like me, andy's politics were left of left and whether discussing the politics of rosa luxemburg or the merits of tony blair, i always felt slightly better for his coming in. it is with unbelievable sadness that we are devoting this menu to his memory. anne rang us today to let us know that he had died last week, the exact details of which i do not know because if i heard, i did not comprehend. the world is a less interesting place today.