Thursday, 29 September 2011

My first ever trip to the Chinese Supermarket - Fish Fragrant Beef and Aubergine

I have been spending an awful lot of time with my mother recently. It's driving me insane. But has also been quite nice (or at least interesting) sometimes. We've 'bonded'. She's been using me as her source of knowledge about the youth of today. I get asked questions such as 'what do boys look like these days?' and 'are they usually attractive?' So I showed her a picture of someone who I thought she'd think was attractive. This is a big step because it reveals to her that I a) use Facebook and b) know some males. Her reaction was to immediately ask what his parents do and suggest that I ditch my current whatever to marry this person who I barely know. She's biased though, she was always destined to hate current whatever from the day she encountered him sneaking out of my house during study leave. She was SO ANGRY. But then later changed her opinion to 'I feel so sorry for him, he looks like an orphan, perhaps he'd like to come over for dinner?' No, mother, the person you chased down the driveway this morning would not like to come over for dinner. Ever. I hope the various pieces of irrelevant information in this paragraph have illustrated to you how much of a mentalist my mother is.

Anyway, the most recent episode of the mother-daughter mini-series had us visiting the chinese supermarket. I needed ingredients to make spicy beef and aubergine. The first time I had spicy beef and aubergine was at Sojo in Oxford. It was so so good. All of the food there was so, so good. When I go back there (it will be soon) I will write about how good it was properly. Anyway, what with my recent constant craving for food that spicy, I thought it's about time that I actually make it for myself. That meant MY FIRST EVER TRIP TO THE CHINESE SUPERMARKET. Actually, that's not quite true. I once went with an ex-friend on the way to the slightly suspicious off-licence which does dubiously good deals on spirits. The off-licence man also gives you free plastic cups! Even if you're not buying anything from his shop and just need plastic cups to drink champagne (and eat cookies) in a field.

Anyway, this was the first time I went to a Chinese supermarket and bought something.  More specifically, I went to Wing Yip in Nechells of Birmingham. I love the fake canopy thing at the entrance of the car park. I do not love the awful smell on the inside of the supermarket. Vomit inducing smell aside, this place is great. Every variety of chinese (and japanese) anything you could want. I left there with soy sauce, black rice vinegar, chilli bean paste, sichuan peppercorns and chinese cooking wine. I'm particularly impressed with how I managed to convince my mother that chinese cooking wine isn't actually alcoholic. 

I couldn't find a recipe that seemed right for what I wanted. I ended up combining two Sunflower recipes. So I suppose what I ended up with is most accurately termed as fish fragrant beef and aubergine. I will remember to get a recipe for Sojo's beef and aubergine on my next visit: this was good but not quite right. Hopefully, by the end of this year, I will be down with the Sichuan cooking. 
Fish Fragrant Beef and Aubergine
500g rump steak, cut into strips
2 tbsp light soy
1 tbsp dark soy
1.5 tbsp Chinese cooking wine
1 medium to small egg white (beaten)
1 heap tbsp cornflour

4 small aubergines, cut into thick fingers.

5 cloves garlic, chopped
1 thumb sized piece ginger, grated
1 medium onion
5 spring onions, chopped with white and stalks separated.
2 fresh green chillis
3 red chilis, toasted then ground
1 tbsp sichuan peppercorns, lightly rinsed
4 tsp chilli bean paste
2 tsp light soy

2 tbsp chinese cooking wine

2 tbsp chinese black rice vinegar

2 tsp of sugar

Marinade beef in ingredients listed just below it for at least an hour. Once marinaded, heat some oil in a wok until it is SMOKING. Tip the beef in and fry until coloured, about a minute, keeping it moving to stop it sticking together. Remove from wok. Let the oil get REALLY hot again. Add the beef again and this time fry for around two minutes. Set aside.
Fry the aubergines in the wok until browned. Set aside.
Wipe wok clean. Heat oil until very hot then add sichuan peppercorns and chilli for a couple of seconds. Add garlic, ginger, 1 chilli and onion and fry for a few seconds. 
Add the chilli bean sauce and fry 'til fragrant. Add the wine, vinegar and sugar. Add aubergine, coat. Add enough water to cover and cook on a medium heat until the aubergine is soft. 
When just turned soft, add the spring onion stalks and beef for a minute. To finish, sprinkle with chilli and spring onion whites.
A daddy long legs was killed in the making of this blog post.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Cheeeeese - Meatball and Squash Spaghetti

I need to go to the post office but it's raining and windy. But I have to go, I'm sending clothes. Selling clothes has been part of my 'I like having money because it enables me to do things which are fun' scheme. So far, I've spent around £40 on registering, posting and buying other peoples' stuff. I have no self control and have yet to actually make any money. On the plus side, I have acquired some clothes (two dresses, a black lacy top, flat Urban Outfitters boots). It seems that writing out that last paragraph has made me feel as mis as the weather looks. I will take this as a sign that summer's officially over.

Autumn food is necessary to counter the awful weather. By autumn food, I mean cheese and squash and meat. I'm craving a sausage pasta bake. Not earth-shattering, I know, but the heart wants what it wants. Unfortunately my plan was scuppered by the no-pork rule (I'm the Persephone of pork and pork products. And alcohol. And staying out late. Home is fun.) and nowhere near me has started stocking beef sausages yet which is annoying because they're delicious. In the process of trying to find interesting things to do with squash and cheese and meat, I discovered that sausage and squash stew is a thing in America. As is meatball stuffed squash. While I was looking at meatball and squash recipes, I found this. The first time I ever had meatballs it was in Sweden so I thought it was appropriate to be inspired into meatball making by a Swedish recipe. Meatballs then made me think of pasta. Last time I had squash with pasta it was chicken milanese with lemon and roasted squash spaghetti. Mmm. So I thought I'd do squash pasta but add mini-meatballs to the mix.

Meatballs were an interesting choice for me since my most frequently occurring cooking mistakes are underseasoning and failing to make things bind. Usually, things that you need to make bind can't easily be checked for seasoning (normal people fry a little of the mixture to check the seasoning, my mother touches the mixture, licks her finger then gargles furiously) so those particular recipes sometimes end up doubly disgusting. The most catastrophic example of this was my attempt at making gnocchi. This ended in me and five hungry friends frantically covering all possible work surfaces with flour and potato. The gnocchi did get made but when I bit into the first one, I realised that what I'd ended up making were underseasoned balls of dough. You know how underseasoned potato tastes really gross? Yeah.

Thankfully, these meatballs were properly formed and properly seasoned. I'm going to take this to mean that I'm a better cook than I was a year ago.

250g beef mince
1 slice toasted bread, blitzed into breadcrumbs
Half an onion, chopped really really reallyyy finely
1 clove garlic, again chopped super-finely
A pinch of cumin. Srsly. Half a teaspoon or so.
A teaspoon of thyme
A teaspoon of oregano
Salt and pepper

Mix all the ingredients together really well to make one big homogenised mincy mush. Shape into mini meatballs. The mixture was quite fatty and consequently quite sticky so I didn't need to use any egg to make the mixture bind.
Bake the meatballs in the oven for about 15 minutes, until they're golden and delicious.

Squash spaghetti
Medium squash
2 tbsp tomato puree
1 tbsp chilli flakes
40g sage
500g spaghetti
Pinch of nutmeg
75g mature cheddar
Salt and pepper

Prepare the squash - peel and chop into bitesize pieces. Put them on a baking tray, sprinkled with olive oil, salt, pepper and a tablespoon of finely chopped sage and stick in the oven until tender (about 30 mins at 220)
When roasted, turn half of the squash into a puree. Put this puree in a saucepan with a touch of olive oil and the tomato puree and chilli flakes. Mix and heat through. Check/adjust seasoning.
Cook spaghetti as per package instructions.
Drain, reserving a cup or so of cooking water. Toss the pasta with cheese, a pinch of nutmeg, salt and pepper. Toss again with the puree, squash and meatballs.
It tastes better than it looks: I forgot to take a photo when it was freshly made so this is a photo of the leftovers.
This wasn't as good as chicken milanese with lemon and squash spaghetti but it was a damn sight more autumnal. And it satisfied my craving so I count this as a win.

Additional note (yeah, I schedule posts, what of it?): turns out you can get beef sausages in the Royal Town, they were just out of stock when I went a-looking. Sausage, carrot and cheese sauce pasta with sage, onion and breadcrumb topping went down a treat except it's against the rules to have two too-simple-to-really-be-a-recipes in a row. I still really miss pork though  - I keep thinking about pork belly with root vegetable mash. OH BABY.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Review - Red n Hot, Shangri La (not so red n hot)

I hate travelling. I hate hate hate it. I like the idea of seeing lots of places in a big whirlwind of foreign culture but I know in actuality, I'd hate it. Even the twelve hour long, short haul, not-delayed, only-slightly-inconvenient journey from Dubrovnik to Birmz stressed me out no end. This was mainly because there was a lot of walking to and from inns of courts to borrow keys, followed by dragging a suitcase with my things/life from the past month in it. I'm very bad at being competent with baggage. My travelling companion dragged my suitcase at the same time as carrying his bag over his shoulder because I looked so pathetic struggling with it. In the middle of the twelve hour mission, we had a wait of about two hours where I wanted to be near Euston station. THE PERFECT TIME TO TRY OUT RED N HOT.

There my love of dan dan noodles began. I was torn between those and the twice cooked pork belly when I ordered. When the noodles came looking rather limp and forlorn in a bowl of watery orange broth, I was sad. But then I took my first few bites. Struggling, again. I only recently learnt to use chopsticks and up until this visit I hadn't dared try eating noodles with them. It was messy and hot. That sounds dirty. But it was! And the soup was FIERY. My chin was flecked with patches of sting by the time I was done. I understand why dan dan noodles are so popular. Although I don't remember my mouth tasting of much but numb, it was such good numb. Addictive and sour. I suppose that's the feeling of the chemicals rushing to repair my tongue or something.

Anyway, I loved Red n Hot in Euston and have made a mental note to go back when I next have to wait for a train. The reason that I bring this up is because when I googled 'sichuan Birmingham', another Red n Hot comes up. My obsession with oriental food plus my good experience at Charlton Street made it the perfect choice for a meal with my family. My family are a stressful bunch. From my mother, I inherit my stubbornness and shrillness. From papa, I inherit my short fuse and boundless ability to make passive aggressive comments. Of course, we're all lovely really and these traits only reveal themselves in any particularly troublesome way around each other. The only thing we have in common is that we all love spicy food. So I figured that if our tongues were too numb to move, we'd manage to enjoy a meal together. Unfortunately, Red n Hot don't do takeaway and this review coupled with my 'neche' means that I didn't want to go there to eat. The only other result that comes up for sichuan food in Birmingham is Shangri La on Hurst Street. So we settled for there.
Dan dan noodles - not so hot. Literally. Also, I know cucumber doesn't taste of much at the best of times but this was ridiculous.
Sichuan special beef - I could see the chilli seeds in the sauce yet this barely touched me. It was so bland in that horrid MSG generic crappy Chinese kind of way.
Fish flavoured aubergine - see above.
Shredded potato and peppers - interesting. I liked the texture and the waxiness of the potato. I often see recipes calling for waxy potatoes and can always imagine at the time the waxiness of that potato but later, when eating the finished product, I always mean to watch out for the waxiness and forget. This was super waxy. They were like very strange noodles. I think I keep talking about the waxiness because this dish was all about texture, not so much about taste. Isn't waxy a strange word?
Overall, this meal was a terrible disappointment. But hope is not yet lost. As a reward for spending two hours with mother dearest at the dressmaker's and not exploding even when she chipped in with unnecessary, unhelpful, unasked for comments about a dress she won't a) be wearing or b) be paying for, I asked her to take me to Red n Hot in Birmingham.
Every welt that will appear on my tongue from biting it (at the dressmaker's, not at the restaurant) is worth it. Dan dan noodles with braised beef were even better than the original Red n Hot experience. I was initially apprehensive at the sinewy appearance of the appetisingly titled 'boiled beef' but it was soft, tender and flavoursome. I will be going back to eat much more as soon as the trauma from the mother-daughter day has been forgotten.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Recipe - Mutton Biryani

When I was 6, I had a brief stint of living in America. My little brother was born there. For some reason, my mother thought it would be necessary for she and I to go there without my dad for my little brother to be born. To this day, I have no idea why. My parents hadn't fallen out - my dad took us to the airport and they spoke every day. I think he even had plans to come out to America. What a mystery. I suppose I could ask but at this moment, it seems like a lot of effort.

Anyway, we stayed with a family friend for a short while when we were out there and they came a-visitin' this week. That meant it was time for a Bengali dinner party. You know, those things which were the bane of my teenage years (apart from the few where me and a boy who I thought was really cool because he played guitar decided we'd try kissing) which always served food I hate? Well, although I still think boys who play guitar are really cool, I've changed my mind about hating biryani thanks to Dos Hermanos. Well done them. Incidentally, guitar-boy was half-Welsh, half-Bengali just as Dos Hermanos are.
This is the recipe I followed. Adjustments I made:
I used 2 chillis with the seeds left in - mother insisted that we couldn't make it 'jhal like an Indian biryani'.
I cooked the mutton for 2 hours before the layering as it's much tougher than lamb. I also added potatoes - just sprinkled a little salt on them then added them into the pan with the mutton 45 minutes from the end of the mutton cooking time.
I did away with colouring half of the rice. Also, I fried a little onion and the whole spices (cardamom, cloves etc) for two minutes before adding the rice and cooking water to bring the flavours out.
I fried the onions separately but instead of including them in the layering, I garnished the top with them at the end. This was mainly because I used less chilli - I didn't think the dish would be spicy enough to balance out the almost-treacliness of the onions surrounding it.
I promise to make something involving neither lamb or caramelised onions soon.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Food for the SOUL

I've been spending a lot of time avoiding working. This involved making mini-calzone stuffed with steak and deep frying them and also a lot of time on the Internet.

1. This,  followed by this (4th suggestion when you type in 'Louder than', well done them), leaving the best 'til last. I especially like that they took such offence at the Guardian article yet not so much with the much meaner Vice article. I assume that they read them both but that they think Vice is cooler.

2. Vaguely annoying couple blogging Americans? Oh Jesus, there goes all will to revise.

3. I hate things which are calf length and those stupid bowler hats that people seem to be wearing these days. A lot of people on here are wearing them. Perhaps if I saw those outfits in the street, I'd be all WOAH THAT'S COOL (no guarantees though) but seeing it all together makes me saaad. I can't quite articulate why. This girl on the other hand has become a new idol which is embarrassing because she's only 3 years older than me. She's so cool! I especially liked her answer about her jaw in the FAQ section. I thought this was just an amusing way for her to deal with people being all 'what's wrong with yo face?'  But no, it's all totally serious AND interesting to read.

4. I dislike twee when it's two hipsters blogging about their seemingly boringly lives. But in music I love it.  Twee Americans, I like even more. And the most twee band I know are due to release their album soon. Excellent.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Review - Thai Corner Cafe, Surma

My friends are turning 21! I find this so bizarre, I still feel 16. To celebrate, we ate and drank and danced a lot. The eating involved stuffing 40 chicken nuggets from McDonalds in Brixton at 3am and being abominably rude to a stranger (I'm really sorry, stranger) but the less said about that the better. The main birthday meal took place at Thai Corner Cafe. It was so good that we were genuinely considering going there for lunch again the next day. I had the jungle curry.
I initially thought this was a mistake. I was disappointed as the sauce looked watery and seemed to taste like nothing but tinnitus-inducing chilli. However, when mixed with an appropriate quantity of rice, it was much better. And very appropriately titled - it was WILD. The vegetables were practically raw and the flavours would usurp Zoe Ball as presenter of Live and Kicking if we were still in the hay-day of Saturday morning kids' TV. As fond of the jungle curry as I eventually became, when I tried the Pad Thai (the portions were massive so those who had Pad Thai found their meals hard to finish because they were already full of prosecco and cake) I realised that I had ordered SO WRONGLY. That was the main reason I wanted to go back there the next day. So I could go and read the menu properly, in sobriety, and choose one of the noodle dishes. My friend said she had one of the spicier Pad Thai type dishes and that I would've loved it. Basically, the noodles were so addictive that despite all the cake and prosecco and vegetable crisps and wine and brownies and strawberries, I kept going back for more. The atmosphere of Thai Corner Cafe is also worth mentioning. It's lots of fun! My friend described it as going to eat in someone's living room and she's right, it is a lot like that. The meal also reminded me of this article I read recently. I'm so sorry, fellow diners. We were just full of booze and mirth. We didn't mean to ruin your evening.
As much as I wanted to go back for lunch the next day, I'm glad we didn't. We went to Surma (I think) on Lordship Lane for a Sunday buffet. I was initially reluctant because I thought that the buffet would be metal containers reminiscent of school dinners filled with stagnant curry. But Surma take a little bit more pride in their food and care more about customer satisfaction than effort. They only have a little bit of curry in each vat and they keep making the curry fresh. Also the choices they have are more interesting than most indian buffets I've visited before. Not so much with their meat dishes (lamb passanda and chicken tikka balti) but with their vegetarian choices, they were winning. Potato and pea curry. The potatoes soaked up all the flavour and were perfectly tender. The peas were FRESH. Not frozen! And you could definitely taste these little details. The other vegetable curry was even better: okra and tomato. I'm not a huge okra fan, I don't like the weird slipperiness on the inside. The way they cooked this okra made me enjoy it! Another difference to other indian buffets was their provision of starters. Poppadoms followed by onion bhajis and chicken bites coated in batter. I was going to leave the chicken bites after my friend pointed out that they're not dissimilar from chicken nuggets and that reminded me of the night before and made me queasy. But they were so good I couldn't leave them.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Review - Zigni House

I read back on this and decided I hated it and that it made me sound like a douche. I am more aware of sounding like a douche now that I have a Twitter presence. But, the place was empty and I think that is sad since the food and service there is so good. This is my current favourite restaurant in London.
The food is wonderful and I like that you have to eat with your hands. I especially liked the potatoes since the best thing about the food was how it was spiced and the potatoes (bottom right) had soaked up all the flavour best of all.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011


Sam from Moro has shared how to make their AMAZING sourdough bread. Hands down best bread I've ever eaten.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Recipe - Spiced Tomato Soup

But not tomato soup how you know it. Its proper name is 'tomato-r tok' which translates to 'the sour of the tomato'. And it's Bengali peasant food. I hate 'posh' Bengali food. I find anything that you'd serve at a dinner party meat-heavy, ghee-heavy and an effort to eat. Home food on the other hand has lots of vegetables and fish and it's all red and yellow and green because of all the turmeric and chilli. And when there is meat, it's cooked in a very different style to Bengali 'gourmet'. Dinner-party chicken ends up looking pallid and anaemic and the brown of lamb doesn't come out in the strong way that gives the sauce a nice colour. Home-style chicken on the other hand comes out looking vibrant and appetising. It's also much tastier yet much simpler to cook. S'good.
Tomato-r Tok
1 large onion (preferable red), very finely sliced
1 tbsp heaped spoonful of turmeric
1 tbsp heaped spoonful of chilli powder
A punnet of plum tomatoes (325g), quartered (other kinds of tomatoes are usually used in Bangladesh and my parents usually use a can of chopped tomatoes but I find plum or cherry gives the best taste)
1 large potato cut into slightly larger than bite-sized pieces
Salt and sugar
Fry the onion lightly in vegetable oil until it's translucent.
When translucent, add the spices and fry for another minute or so whilst mixing it into the onion.
Add the tomatoes and potato and mix everything together so it's all coated in the spice.
Season with salt and sugar to taste. I used about 1tsp of salt and 0.25tsp of sugar. You should only add a little sugar to take the edge off the tartness of the tomatoes. You'll need to use more sugar if you're making it with canned tomatoes because that doesn't have the natural sweetness of cherry/plum tomatoes.
Add enough water to half-cover the mixture.
Cover and cook on a low heat until the potatoes are soft (around 15 minutes)
I probably would've stirred in some chopped fresh coriander if we'd had any too. Also I totally forgot that our house ALWAYS has chillis until the end where I chopped a green finger chilli in. I usually fry the chillis with the onion. I think from now on I will always chop fresh chilli into the end, it's better that way. In terms of yield, it's difficult to say how many this would feed. Bengali style of eating involves having a vat of rice and lots of little dishes and you eat a little rice with a little of each dish that you want. Then at the end people tend to finish with a little dahl and rice. Except my parents do this tomato soupy stuff with rice at the end too sometimes. But I usually cook this for lunch. Just this with rice would probably feed 2-3 people. I had mine with my favourite accompaniment for it, the much mentioned 'mother's garlicky spinach' and rice.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Dubrovnik Restaurant Review

I've noticed that I'm talking about how much food costs an awful lot. Remember how I mentioned that I'd decided to embrace the overdraft? Well, that's why money is on my mind so much. I'm close to maxing mine out with little prospect of being employed in the next month before term starts. This post was going to be about how I understand why people like non-greasy, proper-Italian pizza now. (People always misunderstand me. I don't dislike proper pizza, I just have no strong feelings towards it.) This post was also going to be about how little good food there was in Dubrovnik. I think I was wrong on this point. And that brings me back to what this post has really turned out to be about: Dubrovnik has good food but it's not cheap. Also, I was very much limited to restaurants which did pizzas and maybe some other things as my travelling buddy is a vegetarian who hates risotto. This is a problem since most Dubrovnik restaurants catered for vegetarians through the mysterious 'vegetarian platter' and vegetable risotto. I think the pizzerias tended to serve worse food than the other places. Also, I think the fish is the best thing to order out there. Unfortunately, the fish is pricy and since I ran out of money and then realised that my debit card was broken so I couldn't take out more, pricy was not an option available to me. I was initially using this list as a guide but it soon became clear that not many of them offered anything other than the vegetarian platter and risotto for vegetarians. The prices indicated are not accurate. Most things were equivalent to England's prices. But the beer was very cheap! So cheap that I now like (light) beer, in fact.

In the Old Town on one of the streets to your right as you enter Pile Gate. The tuna pate tasted fresh and lemony but it's just unfortunate that only one of us could enjoy it. Veal and prawn pasta, pasta vegeteriana. Both very bland and overly creamy. Not cheap - these two mains plus beer and water cost around 250 kuna.
By the harbour in the Old Town and pushed both by the Telegraph guide and the Hostelworld travel guide. I don't know why. I suppose it could have been a cheap eat but I don't feel as though it was. Mussels, four cheese pizza, chips, water and beer. With the sneaky 'cover' charge and a tip, in excess of 200 kuna again. The mussels were really wonderfully cooked but the tomato sauce they came in (Dubrovnik specialty, apparently) was inedibly salty and had a nasty bite of raw garlic. The pizza was 'just a pizza'.
Pizzeria Domenica
The best of all of the vegetarian pizzas eaten in Dubrovnik. On the cheaper side as well. But still not cheap, Old Town prices. This was the pizza that made me understand why people love pizza so much. Soft, light crust. Just the right consistency of cheese. Vegetables which were still juicy. I would recommend this place.
Surprisingly less expensive than expected. Risotto 'Dubravka' with prawns and yet another vegetarian pizza. Thinking of the risotto makes me want to reach for some water. It was headachingly salty. 
The pizza - better than Poklisar's but worse than Domenica's. I would recommend this restaurant for its location though, right by the city walls which look spectacular all lit up in the evening.
Mea Culpa
Damn right it's their fault. Vegetarian pizza was the worst of the bunch. After the first bite, I was very pleased with salmon and vodka pasta. It tasted creamy but still a little tart and rich but still fresh and well balanced and seasoned and just dandy. 
But subsequent bites taught me that no, I was wrong. This was even saltier than the risotto at Dubravka. I couldn't even manage to just wolf it down quickly like I had with the risotto of the night before ('No, I'm not eating it quickly because it's good. I'm eating it quickly because it's too salty but I'm really hungry.') but luckily, some stray cats were about so we fed them with bits of salmon from my pasta. They seemed to like it. 
This is a restaurant in Gruz, the modern harbour of the city. I'm not sure of the name of it but I think what I've put is close enough. Extensive googling didn't help me identify it either. The prices there are as cheap as the Telegraph indicated Dubrovnik would be. And you know what? The food was alright too. I was just pleased that my spaghetti bolognese wasn't overseasoned. It wasn't particularly wowing but it was an OK dish of pasta and by this point, I was pretty happy with that. The vegetarian pizza was second only to Domenica's. 
A change from a vegetarian pizza? My God. Only to a four cheese lasagne though. And calamari for me. I want so badly to rave about this place because the owner was a really cute old man who said 'please' after everything but the calamari was average to poor. Too heavy from the batter. But they had a nice crispness. My companion wouldn't stop raving about the four cheese lasagne though, the service was great and the prices were on the less expensive side of Old Town prices. Plus the tomatoes in the salad were the best I've tasted. Except I don't think we can put that down to the restaurant, I think that's Croatian tomatoes in general. Even tomatoes on pizza bread from their equivalent of Greggs are that good.
Another restaurant by the harbour. Not so good with the pizza this time. Burnt base. My fish (unidentified) was tasty though. And the potatoes that came with it! I think those potatoes will take a place amongst my best potato memories. The whole dish was much too oily though. As deliciously good quality as the olive oil floating at the bottom of my plate was, it didn't look particularly appetising. And the fish and potatoes only benefited from it because they lay on a bed of mangold which weren't so lucky and drowned like the third class passengers on the Titanic. 
Pizza Silok
We had probably the best meal we had in the old town here. Another four cheese lasagne (not as good as the first one apparently) and a bowl of pasta with veal ragu. I was trying to be adventurous and went for the 'Dubrovnik specialty' but it turned out to be just a bowl of pasta. It was a very good bowl of pasta, I must say. Although the ragu tasted not unlike the escapists' ragu of blog post number 3 so all the criticisms I had of that still apply. I think they used fresh Dalmatian tomatoes in the ragu though and that helped.
To summarise, if you plan on eating out in Dubrovnik and being happy with your experience, be prepared to spend a lot of money. Otherwise, don't expect too much and perhaps try places outside of the Old Town. And maybe don't go with a vegetarian (the menu at Lucin Kantun looked good but didn't have anything vegetarian on it). And don't order chips - I think most places serve deep fried chips from a packet. I only wish that I'd managed to find some restaurants with real Dalmatian home food on it. There was one menu with four 'Dubrovnik specialties' all of which sounded homely and were less than half the price of everything else on the menu (around 35 kuna) but that place didn't cater to vegetarians so we ran away. Sigh.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Recipe - Caramelised Onion Spiced Braised Lamb with Green Wild Rice Risotto

One of the best food memories I have is of duck. I was 7 (I think) and my parents and I visited their friends' house for a dinner party. We had duck. It was such good duck. I can't really elaborate much further than that apart from I remember it being really fatty in a delicious way. That friend of my parents came to visit this Tuesday and cooked that same duck and brought it to our house. Sadly, I was in Dubrovnik (more on that later maybe) but my mother saved me some. I just had some with rice and some spicy plum chutney my mother made. I realise now that what my mother's friend had done is confit duck but instead of using French spices, she'd used Asian ones. It didn't quite live up to the amazing heights that my mind had built up for it but then I suspect that's always the way when it comes to replicating good memories. It was still worth mentioning though. And also fits in with a food trend I've noticed in my cooking recently: taking European methods and mixing them with 'home' (Indian subcontinent) spices. That's exactly what I did for my 'I've been Ari, you've been flatmates' meal. Asian spiced braised lamb shanks with green wild rice risotto.
I've made a green risotto before. I made a plain risotto and added lots of green stuff to it. Finely chopped spinach, basil, parsley and mint. I think it tasted nice but I was disappointed (a recurring theme if anyone's been paying attention.) What had led me to making a green risotto was thinking of an accompaniment for some salmon fillets I was planning on grilling coupled with a craving for my mother's salmon with rice and spinach. I don't know why her salmon with rice and spinach tastes so good. Like most of her cooking, it involves mainly oil, onion, chilli and turmeric. But I think she might cook it in a certain way to make the onions caramelise which provides a really nice contrast to the garlicky, salty spinach. Anyway, in my head, grilled salmon with green risotto would satisfy these cravings whilst at the same time giving me the opportunity to cook something new.
I would've preferred to braise a shoulder of lamb but after failing to find any of a suitable size, I adapted this recipe.

2.5 large onions, sliced finely
1 tbsp dark brown sugar
4 cloves garlic, chopped roughly
1 tsp each ground ginger, turmeric, cumin and coriander
0.5 tsp each ground carraway seeds, cloves
125ml stock
125ml white wine
4 lamb shanks, sprinkled with salt all over
1 bay leaf

Brown lamb shanks all over in a bit of olive oil. Set aside on a plate.
Fry sliced onions on a low heat for 20 minutes. Stir in garlic, spices and sugar and fry for a further 7 minutes. 
Mix in stock and wine and add the bay leaf. Bring liquid to a simmer. Place the lamb shanks on top. Cover and cook for 2 hours.

125g risotto rice
125g mixed red rice, wild rice and brown rice (you can get it in packets of the three mixed)
1 onion
2 cloves garlic
chopped parsley (stalks and all)
chopped spinach
chopped mint (just leaves)
1 tsp turmeric

Make a risotto (adding in the other kinds of rice at the same time as you do the risotto rice). Because of the different types of rice used, make the risotto as you usually would and then 10 minutes before it's done, pour in whatever stock you have left and leave it with the lid on on a medium-high heat. Mix in finely chopped herbs, spinach and the turmeric at the end. Sorry that the quantities are often imprecise - my style of cooking rarely involves measuring. This might explain what led to the Great Banana Cake Disaster of 2010.