It does cost slightly more to get to my college from where I live because it is the boofoo of South London. But still!
After an insanely long Monday of classes, I spent Tuesday doing lots of walking around and working. Simply waiting in line…err…queuing at the post office is an adventure in itself. Little kids rolled across the floor and ignored the agitated scolds of their hard-ass grandmothers. The lady in front of me stared blankly out the window while eating a fried chicken leg. I learned a few things about the post office: the pain of waiting to do anything isn’t any different than the states. But once you finally get up to the counter, an office worker talks through a thick piece of plexiglass, which makes hearing nearly impossible. I tried lip-reading for a while, but when that failed, I resorted to inching my ear closer to the little hole for sliding money and stamps. It looked quite odd, I’m sure, but it was worth it. Turns out if you give people your address, they send you fun stuff — an amazing care package had traveled 4000 miles to be opened by moi!
Later I waited 20 minutes for a train, got on it, got off early after finding out the stop I needed had been canceled, walked in a circle as I tried to walk back home, then found my A-Z and tried again. Things worked out because I managed to get to No. 67, my haven, in time for a late afternoon coffee and Internet-peruse before catching a bus home.
Do you like Jamie Oliver? I happen to be a kind-of-fan. I was thoroughly entertained by his Food Revolution show on ABC, and he makes me want to grow a vegetable garden. For the morning lecture, we met at Clapham Junction and walked over to Jamie’s restaurant, Recipease, where we drank lattes and a few others indulged in savory and sweet, breafasty, nibbly bits. The restaurant is straight out of Jamie’s shows and cookbooks. Rustic and traditional products in luscious colors adorn plain, wooden tables and furniture. Fridges are filled with fresh, premade meals in pretty packaging, and everyone — everyone — who works at Recipease has a twinkle in their eye. After slowly getting into some heavy design theory, Tim Hayward stopped by to chat, and we made our way over to a Jamie Oliver-twisted cooking class on mushroom risotto.
Before Wednesday, the only kind of risotto I had made was a box of gluten-free, organic risotto, which did the job but the gloopy consistency turned me off of making something like it again. However, we were in the clean, trusting hands of Jimmy, an instructor at Recipease and schooled by the Naked Chef himself. We were about to make Mushroom Risotto the Jamie Oliver way, or as Jimmy put it, we were about to become “one with the food.” We worked at our own stations and used minimal ingredients, which waited in cute bowls, ready to be dropped into the mix.
I won’t repeat the step-by-step guide to making mushroom risotto, but I will relay a few key points:
1. I had forgotten the power of butter. Last year I spent a lot of time with Julia Child, but when I started to eat less dairy, I dropped the golden goodness and used more olive oil. Cooking with butter again was a feast for the senses.
2. According to Jimmy, Jamie Oliver starts most of his savory recipes out with two simple ingredients — celery and onions — and allows them to sweat in a pot or pan. I’ve always used garlic and onions (probably explains why I have to chew peppermint gum), but I think I might try Jamie’s way more often. It gives the dish a fresher, cleaner flavor.
3. You can never use too much stock. Just pour it in. Let the risotto plump up. And pour in some more. And then probably some more.
4. Don’t underestimate breadcrumbs. Jimmy made the class an alternative risotto to try with extra parmesan, crushed cherry tomatoes and a lovely, toasty breadcrumb mix. The crunchy/creamy juxtaposition was so more-ish, he had us coming back for second and third samplings.
There is a trick to knowing whether your risotto is the perfect al dente. Take one piece on the back of your wooden spoon and press your finger against it. If the risotto breaks into four pieces, it’s perfect; ready to go. If it breaks into two pieces, it needs more time. If it smooshes, it’s beyond repair, and you’d better plate it anyhow. This really works. I promise. Even Tim Hayward was in disbelief when the trick worked. The risotto was earthy, rich and not gloopy at all. With a little parmesan on top, it hit the spot as we picked Hayward’s brain, discussed the future of being a writer (it's a scary world, but I’m trying to be positive), and even delved into themes of wabi-sabi.