I was sipping a dubious cappuccino on the train to work last Tuesday when this landed in my inbox: “Hi, Renata, this is Anna. How would you like to come over and cook with Rachel Khoo words words words words recipes from her new show words words photos for your blog some more words and noise sit down for dinner?
At least these were the keywords that jumped up right in from of me before I rushed to hammer my reply:
“Dear Anna. Hell, yeah!”
And then I carried on with my day, told approximately 250 people I’d be hanging out with Ms Khoo, and eventually went back to the email, which is when I spotted some additional words that I swear were not part of the original text I’d seen that morning: the whole thing would be filmed and released in time for Rachel Khoo’s new cooking show on UK Good Food Channel this month. You see, I dislike cameras. They dislike me. It’s just not happening for me and cameras. I tend to freeze, panic and babble incoherently every time one of those intrusive weapons points at me.
After much fretting, the eternally wise Vegetarian Spouse reminded me to get a grip, get over myself and get on with it. Yet again, I am glad I listened to him. I got to meet a bunch of talented bloggers, had a great time cooking, and found out about Rachel Khoo’s favourite secret places in Paris.
When Rachel Khoo first appeared on people’s radar a few years ago with her Little Paris Kitchen show on BBC2, the tale of a Londoner feeding Parisians on their own turf was quickly snatched up as a great success story. What I really like about her is that she is a complete self-starter. She went and set herself up as a pastry chef in Paris, used the tiny space in her flat to run her petit supper club, pitched her books to publishers and knocked on producers doors with her idea until she got a deal. She is vocal about the rotten deal female chefs get from television producers. She has a point. Looking at the very Good Food Channel page, hosts of Khoo’s 2 new shows Kitchen Notebook: London and Cosmopolitan Cook (the rest of Europe), a gallery of 17 celebrity chefs has room for 6 women only.
On the Cook With Bloggers evening, my nerves were immediately soothed as I arrived: a couple of lovely smiles greeted me, and the words green room and prosecco uttered within 2 seconds of arrival. Here’s some of the highlights:
- stepping into the set of Saturday Kitchen – complete with omelette fridge!
- prosecco refills
- Frankie: from what I could gather, she works closely with Rachel Khoo, and is to be credited with rescuing potential mishaps and forgetful moments. During the evening, Frankie’s voice was frequently heard with helpful reminders such as: ‘have you removed those onions from the oven?’, and ‘don’t use all the garlic at once!’. My message to Frankie is a simple one: if you’re willing to be remunerated in boozy brownies, I need you in my life.
- What a treat to find the exact ingredients measured and organised in neat bowls on my very own workstation!
What did we cook? A couple of recipes from Khoo’s new Kitchen Notebook show, none of which I had considered making before – again, a reminder of why it is important to give new opportunities a go. Khoo’s maternal side of the family is Austrian, and it is clear she’s been influenced by her grandmother’s cooking – and love of butter, a feature I identify so well with, my own Piedmontese nonna’s cuisine consisting of butter, garlic, and double cream. We tried our hands at Austrian Spatzle – pasta dumplings which I had thought was German – and Swedish Smorgastarta.
The gossip: What’s Rachel Khoo like? Engaging, smart, funny, patient, really nice. And she clearly has control over her career. She talked passionately about what she enjoys in food, in television, and what she felt made a perfect restaurant (it was: homely food and a remote location).
Dinner with other bloggers to taste the food we had cooked together was fun and loud, and very social. We all had our own questions for Khoo, but it was also a lot of fun to meet the real life versions of people I follow on Twitter, and for once not having to limit communication to 140 characters. The eater behind The Food Urchin blog has what can be described as a healthy appetite (very impressive progress on the smorgastarta, well done!), and I enjoyed cooking next to Leyla of The Cutlery Chronicles because once in my life I was the least distracted one! She is also very funny. The spatzle was, quite simply, a delicious dish. I won’t spoil it by sharing the recipe before the show is out. For this blog post, however, I have made an adapted bite sized version of the Swedish smorgastarta we cooked there. With massive apologies to Swedish people reading this, since I used oat cakes in place of Swedish flatbread. Consider it an homage to a Scandinavian classic.
The next time I go to Paris, I can’t wait to visit Rachel Khoo’s secret little Vietnamese restaurant, complete with local ladies coming in and out of a trap door on the floor, hopefully to fetch me a tray of complimentary sweets.
I attended this event as a guest of the Good Food Channel. I was not required to write a positive review, and the opinions I have expressed are my own.
Oat Cakes Smorgastarta
Smorgastarta is a Scandinavian dish, somewhere between a large sandwich and a pie. I have made mine into individual starter portions, and have used oat cakes in place of the more commonly used rye bread or Swedish flatbread. Yes, oat cakes are drier, but I love them, and it gives me the perfect excuse to use twice as much cream and filling. It requires very little effort, but some planning ahead, mainly to coll down the brine to cure your salmon.
For 2 starter portions:
- 6 oat cakes
- 200ml double cream
- 100ml soured cream
- 1 tsp horseradish
- 50g fillet raw salmon
- 1 cucumber
- 2 beetroots
- 1 clove of garlic
- 1 tbsp black peppercorns
- 1/2 tbsp juniper berries
- 1 tsp caster sugar
- a handful of dill, chopped
- a handful of parsley, chopped
- salt and pepper
Prepare a brine to light cure the salmon:
Fill a small saucepan with 250 ml water, add the peppercorns, juniper berries, sugar and salt.
Peel 1 raw beetroot, chop it up and add it to the water. Bring it to the boil and let it cook in medium heat for a minute or two.Transfer it to the fridge and let it cool down completely. If too warm, you risk cooking the salmon in the water.
Prepare the filling and toppings:
Cook the other beetroot in water and leave it to cool. When cool, peel and slice or dice the beetroot. I sliced it thinly with a mandolin so it matched the salmon looks.
Using a sharp knife, mandolin or vegetable slicer, cut ling thin slices of cucumber. Depending on the length, you will need about 4 slices for 2 cakes.
If you have a tiny melon baller, cut out little cucumber ‘pearls’, about a handful per cake. I used the smallest (1/8 tsp) measuring spoon I had to do this.
Take the piece of salmon and slice it thinly. Allow 3 to 4 slices per cake. Add the slices to the bowl of cool brine and let it cure for at least 15 minutes.
Blitz the remaining salmon and sour cream in a food processor. Add salt and pepper to taste, and add more sour cream if needed. You need it to be not too runny so it stays put in between layers of oat cakes.
Whip the double cream until firm. Add a teaspoon of horseradish, and about 3 tablespoons of sour cream to it. Aim for a firm enough frosting.
Assemble the cakes:
Make a 3 layer sandwich with the oat cakes and creams: one oat cake – a good layer of sour cream-salmon mix – oat cake – sour cream-salmon – oat cake. Top it up with the double cream-sour cream mix. Frost the side of the cakes with the double cream-sour cream mixture.
Wrap the sides of the cake with the cucumber slices.
Top it up:
Arrange a few slices of salmon, the cooked beetroot, cucumber pearls and herbs on top of the cake.
Serve as a starter with a watercress salad.