>> Monday, 26 July 2010
Last week I took part in one of the most fun and interesting blogger events I've ever been invited to. Nom Nom Nom, or "The Bloggers' Masterchef', is a cook-off organised in aid of Action Against Hunger by the ever-enthusiastic and energetic Annie Mole (of Going Underground fame), held at the fantastic Cookery School on Little Portland Street in central London.
I felt a bit daunted before the event kicked off. I'm not a food blogger - I write about tech and politics and take the piss out of the Daily Mail; I'm someone who very much enjoys their cooking, but to be in the kitchen with "proper" food bloggers? I was intimidated. Luckily, my cooking partner (and flatmate) Tom (aka @flashboy) has done one of these before, and my nerves were (just about) calmed when he said it wasn't as competitive as I feared.
Like all good geeks, I made sure I read up and practiced beforehand, eventually settling on three dishes that were summery. Tagliata, seared Italian beef with rocket & tarragon to start; sea bass baked on vine tomatoes with spinach, pine nuts and raisins for the main, and an English summer berry trifle as our dessert (and also our compulsory cold dish). We can't claim originality - the starter & main came from Tom Norrington-Davies' Eagle Cookbook, the trifle from Nigel Slater's Appetite.
The blessing with nearly all of what we cooked is that we could get UK-based ingredients in season - the beef English, the sea bass from Anglesey, the fruit & vegetables from local farmers' market - it was only the small things like the olive oil and raisins that would have to come from further afield. Furthermore, all the dishes were relatively easy to make and not too daunting, especially in a high-pressure environment.
The tagliata went like a dream - a really nice cut of Hereford sirloin, seared on grillpan and then thinly sliced. Tarragon is an odd choice of herb to go with beef, but there was something about the aniseediness which works well with the rocket. The recipe we had also called for new potatoes - in retrospect though they were probably a distraction from the dish and didn't add much.
The fish was perhaps the simplest of the three dishes to cook, just season well, slash the flesh open to help it cook a bit quicker, and lay down on a bed of juicy sweet tomatoes & sliced garlic. I might have overdone it with sloshing the white wine on, which ended up making the toms being a bit soggy, but it still tasted fantastic. You might worry sea bass is a bit delicate to be overburdened by tomatoes, but it actually works out fine.
Tom took charge of the dessert - alas in order to conform with the no cooking rule we had to use ready-made custard. A chance encounter in the newsagents led us to find some sherbert flying saucers, so he adorned each of the sundae glasses of trifle with them, which ended up as a really nice quirky little touch.
The upside of all of our dishes was that they didn't require that much preparation. The downside is that they didn't take much time to cook either, so after a lull in the middle after all the prep, the final few minutes were a real stress. We didn't have a big enough pan for the spinach, so we had to do it in batches, without ruining by burning the pine nuts (something I was very careful not to do). By the time it came to plating up I was in a rush, so it wasn't as neat as it could have been.
We were' expecting to win, yet... well it turned out we were right, 'cos we didn't. But I was happy with what we cooked - especially when it was clear there were some genuinely talented cooks in the competition. Nevertheless we did get some lovely plaudits about our sea bass, and the trifle, including from the winners, which I'm going to to take as a top-grade compliment. Best of all, it was a real pleasure working in a proper kitchen, and with proper staff - the Cookery School's staff were absolute angels from start to finish, tirelessly helping us with our every whim, and not minding when pressure meant there was no time for "please" and "thank you".
It was also really good getting to know other bloggers, and indeed getting to know my own flatmate better - Tom tends to downplay his own culinary skills but at the cookup, but after that I now know he is a perfectly good
Many thanks go to the Cookery School (whose kitchen really is excellent), and the many people who made it happen, including Rosalind, Annie and Chris Osburn (who took all the pictures above, and I'm very grateful for him doing so, as I had no time to take proper pics). The event's not quite over yet - the sponsors have donated prizes to a charity raffle in aid of Action Against Hunger - go buy a ticket now to help make a difference.