Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Christmas #3 (real)

It was finally time for Christmas proper. Off I trotted to the shops full of ideas about confit turkey legs and with the full intention of sticking to tradition. But then I considered how it's always an effort for my parents to eat food lacking in spice and how much more they'd enjoy lamb to turkey. And then I considered how in my four turkey Christmas dinners (one that I cooked, one from a nice gastropub, one microwaved in a Wetherspoons, one 'Incredibly Good Looking' cooked) and how every time, I was thoroughly bored by the turkey. It was succulent and well cooked both at the gastropub and by my dazzling friend but I was still bored. Then I considered a conversation I had with my Lebanon-loving friend where she said she might do Lebanese Christmas food for dinner this year. Then I googled Lebanese Christmas and how this lady discussed doing a roast with stuffing but with highly seasoned rice and perhaps not even turkey. With all of these thoughts swirling around my mind and a slight craving for pomegranate, I decided to Middle Eastern-ise the Christmas roast. I thought it'd be fun to take the components of traditional Christmas and jazz them up a bit. I thought I'd focus in particular on dried fruits as they're a staple of Christmas but also a frequently occurring ingredient in Middle Eastern savoury. It would also add a slightly Iftar-ish vibe to the affair. (Iftar is the fast-breaking meal during Ramadan and that season/Eid is the closest I've seen Bangladesh having to a celebration.) I settled upon lamb for the meat with a honey glaze, 'stuffing' influenced by a Nigel Slater recipe involving chickpeas which initially horrified me, a carrot and parsnip salad and a host of other trimmings which were spin-offs of tradition.
Honey and herb roasted lamb shoulder (instead of turkey)
1kg lamb shoulder
Fresh thyme
Fresh mint
Fresh parsley
Fresh coriander
6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 onions, thickly sliced
2 tbsp harissa
2 tbsp honey
Juice of 1 lemon
Enough water to cover 2/3 of the lamb

Place the sliced garlic and onion at the bottom of a casserole.
Chop a handful of thyme and mint. Scatter half of the herbs on top of the onions and garlic.
Season the lamb all over with salt and pepper.
Place the lamb in the casserole on top of the onions.
Pour over the water.
Scatter the remainder of the thyme and mint on top.
Cook, covered, for about 3 hours at 150.
Chop a handful of parsley and coriander.
Combine the parsley and coriander with the harissa, honey and lemon juice.
Spread the honey mixture over the lamb and return to the oven for 30 minutes at 190.
Remove the lamb from the casserole and leave to rest.
Heat the juices and onions in the casserole on the stove over a low heat.
Add 2 bay leaves, 2 cardamom pods and 3 cloves and simmer until it turns into a thick, onion-y gravy.
Chermoula marinade (instead of salmon)
1 tsp ginger
1 tsp cumin
A few strands of saffron
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 tbsp paprika
3 cloves garlic
1 small onion
Large handful coriander
Juice of half a lemon

Simply blend all the ingredients together in a food processer with 1.5 tsp salt. 
I marinaded a sea bream in this and then baked it in the oven at 200 for 20 minutes.


Iranian chickpeas (instead of stuffing)
1 onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 red chilli, chopped

1 tsp cumin
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp turmeric


1 stick cinnamon
2 cardamom pods

1 aubergine

1 green pepper, diced finely
60 ml orange juice


1 can cooked chickpeas
100g(ish) dates, chopped
6 ripe tomatoes, peeled and chopped



135g roasted, salted cashews



1 tbsp lemon juice
Fresh coriander, chopped
Fresh parsley, chopped
Fresh mint, chopped
Salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper

Chop the aubergine into bitesized pieces. 
Season with salt and drizzle with olive oil and roast in the oven at 220 for about half an hour until lovely and soft.

Fry the onion for about 5 minutes in olive oil until beginning to brown.
Add the garlic and chilli.

After a couple of minutes, add the spices and fry for another minute.


Add the green pepper and orange juice and cook until the pepper is softened.
Mix the chickpeas, dates and tomatoes in a bowl then add to the onion mix. 
Season with salt.
Add the roasted aubergine to the onion mix.
Add the cashews to the onion mix.
Season with lots of black pepper and lemon juice then stir in the fresh herbs.
Tabbouleh (instead of... stuffing/roast potatoes/generic trimmings I guess)
Mint, finely chopped
Parsley, finely chopped
1 red pepper, finely chopped
1 red onion, finely chopped
2 tomatoes, peeled and chopped
100g bulgar wheat
Approx 200ml boiling water
Salt, pepper, olive oil, lemon juice

Place the bulgar wheat in a bowl and pour over the boiling water and a touch of salt.
Cover and leave for 20 - 30 minutes, until all the water is absorbed and the bulgar wheat is cooked.
Once cooked, mix in the tomatoes, parsley, mint, red pepper and onion.
Season to taste with salt, pepper and lemon.
Drizzle with a little olive oil (extra virgin if you're not a student).

Moroccan Carrot Salad (instead of carrots and parsnips)
4 carrots and 2 parsnips cut into sticks
Handful of coriander
2 green chillies, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves
A handful mixed dried fruit, finely chopped
Juice of half a lemon

Heat 3 tbsp olive oil on a medium heat. Add the cloves of garlic, whole. Cook the carrots with the whole garlic cloves until almost tender (so they still have a bit of crunch to them)
Finely chop the chilli, mixed dried fruit and coriander. 
When the vegetables are done, toss with coriander-fruit-chilli mixture and drizzle with the oil it was cooked in. Squeeze lemon juice over it.

Zaalouk (instead of... cranberry sauce?)
1 aubergine
1 tin plum tomatoes
2 tbsp oil
1 tbsp cumin
1 tbsp chilli powder 
1 tsp cayenne pepper
Salt (to taste)
A handful of parsley finely chopped
A handful of coriander finely chopped

Chop the aubergine into bitesize piees.
Put the aubergine, tomatoes, cumin, chilli powder, cayenne, salt, and half of the chopped herbs in a big heavy bottomed saucepan. 
Low heat, 45 minutes, occasional stirring (less occasional towards the end of the time, it will start to stick). The aubergine will go all mushy and mmm.

Turmeric savoy cabbage (instead of brussel sprouts)
1 savoy cabbage, shredded
1 large onion, sliced
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 green chillies, left whole and slit down the middle
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 tbsp turmeric
A little water
Salt

In a large wok/frying pan, fry the onion on a long, slow heat until soft. 
Add the garlic and turmeric and stir. 
Add the cabbage and cover with the spice paste.
Add the fennel seeds, salt and water.
Fry until the cabbage is cooked.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Recipe - Slow Roast Pork with White Beans

One of my favourites returned from Italy. This called for fanfare and celebration so we had a dinner. Our first dinner together for six months! I was very sentimental about it all and determined not to screw up dinner. I thought the safest bet would be to cook a meat really, really slowly so that there was no chance of dinner being either horribly late or dry or a total disaster (like the rabbit incident). Pork seemed like the most appropriate slow roast venture. And to make things a little less boring, I thought I'd choose a cut I'd never tried before and cook it in a style I'd never tried before. Shoulder! Italian style! (By Italian style I really just mean with tomato and rosemary and white beans.) I was a little disappointed with the result, I think the pork could've benefitted from a little honey glaze for the last hour of cooking. Or perhaps a bit more onion simmered slowly in the beans to add more sweetness. Still, the crackling was crackly and people finished their beans so it can't have been too bad.

Slow roasted pork shoulder with simmered white beans
Pork shoulder
Salt
Pepper
Sage, chopped
7 cloves garlic, finely chopped
4 tomatoes, quartered

Score the fatty side of the pork shoulder with a knife.
Rub scores with salt and pepper.
Place in the oven at gas mark 7 for half an hour.
Wrap in two sheets of foil and roast for a further four and a half hours at gas mark 4 for a further four and a half hours.
After the cooking time, skim off all fat, remove oil, scatter over the garlic, sage and tomatoes then return to the oven, uncovered, for a further hour.

1 onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
Few sprigs thyme
Handful sage, chopped
Dried rosemary
1 can cherry tomatoes
White wine
Cannellini beans


In a little of the oil skimmed off from the pork, fry the onion and garlic for fifteen minutes on a low heat.
Add the beans, herbs, wine and tinned tomatoes and simmer for thirty mins.

I served this with crusty bread and fresh salad.

Monday, 17 December 2012

Review - City Spice

I've lived a fifteen minute walk from Brick Lane for three months now. Yet in that time I've not once been to Beigel Bake to get a hot salt beef sandwich. There's just too much to do and try! My list is growing much more quickly than I can contain. Alas. Possibly even more of a travesty than the fact I hadn't been to Beigel Bake is the fact that I hadn't been for cheap BYO curry either. This has now been rectified since a friend from Oxford came to visit so we could actually converse instead of me flailing my arms and asking it was a good idea to tell people guilty secrets. (It wasn't, it never is.) That is what we did. We ate, drank sensibly and talked about Zionists. Oh and also this guy used us as a prop in a magic trick. That was probably the most fun bit. We haggled and got a starter, main, rice AND naan for £12. I went for the sev purée and sag lamb (extra spicy). I did not get drunk and talk in Bengali to the waiters.
I did, however, get too drunk to photograph my main so you'll just have to enjoy that spring roll like picture. Crispy and hot and dry with oil, the filling contained the familiar taste of home: turmeric. Slight chilli heat nicely offset by the mango chutney which I suspect was from a jar. The main was just the right level of spicy; sinus clearing but not scorching. Lamb was tender and stringy. The spinach didn't glow like I wanted it to. All in all a decidedly average curry. That's why I made this post so average. I enjoy matching.

Friday, 14 December 2012

Christmas #2

I frequently think all this higher education I've enjoyed (experienced, enjoyed is too much) is wasted since what I would most like to do is try out new recipes and cook for a willing audience. That sounds a lot like being a housewife, doesn't it? (A housewife with a cleaner though. I despise cleaning. But not as much as I despise/am scared of dirt.) Anyway, in the meanwhile, I have to play pretend with less willing friends. That's why I organised Christmas #2. A traditional Christmas dinner except that there was no family and no presents and also it wasn't as opulent since I am constricted by my very overdrawn funds. It still had much more festive cheer than Christmas #1. I insisted that my guests bring cake and festive spirit. I almost required Christmas jumpers but then I realised I didn't have one so I just wore a green dress again and then lamented the loss of my lovely red bowed band which a douche who can't let go of his university days broke back in third year. We also made a trip to Poundland for various tacky decorations and then I spent a while inexpertly tying baubles with red ribbon. On the day itself, I planned everything to account for oven space and our sparse utensils cupboard. I LOVE PLANNING. Not everything worked out and quite a few last minute improvisational had to be made but I stayed calm, held my nerve and some other clichés. IT ALL WORKED OUT. Perhaps even a little too well, I decided that before serving dinner we should make our way through some half price cava. That meant reheating things before serving which resulted in everything ending up a sub-optimal temperature. I should've warmed the plates! Alas. Anyway, I'm quite pleased with myself. My first attempt at Christmas dinner with all of the trimmings and I did it single handedly with leftovers! And it was only lukewarm.

Roasted turkey legs
25g butter

Turkey legs (they are huge, four fed six people amply with lots of leftovers)
Salt
Pepper
3 bay leaves, crumbled
8 sprigs of thyme
A few sage leaves, chopped
6 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 onion, finely chopped
4 carrots, peeled and chopped into chunks
4 parsnips, peeled and chopped into chunks
1 turnip, peeled and chopped into chunks

Marinade the turkey legs in salt, pepper, bay, thyme, garlic and sage.
Melt half of the butter in a pan and brown the turkey legs all over. Turkey legs are massive and I did this very poorly.
Remove and set aside.
Melt the rest of the butter in the same pan.
Fry the onion in the melted butter until translucent, about five minutes.
Add the other vegetables and fry for around five minutes, stirring frequently.
Season the vegetables with salt and pepper.
(Instead of washing the pan, it became the baking tray for the pigs in blankets and so formed part of the flavour for the honey-soy-ketchup-thyme glaze I made for them. They were the best bit of the dinner.)

Place the vegetables onto baking tray.
Place the turkey legs atop the vegetables.

Bake for 2 hours at gas mark 6. I basted the turkey three times over the two hours and used the cooking juices in the gravy.

All the trimmings recipes (or approximations of them) can be found elsewhere on blog. I actually ended up frying the sprouts with bacon, caraway and lemon juice. I prefer them roasted though!

Friday, 7 December 2012

Review - The Fox & Anchor

One time, I had fish fingers for Christmas dinner at the Haque family. We try to do Christmas but it just doesn't usually work out because we go to buy food too late and (crucially) no one drinks. Well, I drink, but not in front of my parents. Never in front of my parents. If I ever get married, I'm going to have to elope because the alcohol-friends-parents combination will be a logistical NIGHTMARE. Anyway, since Christmas doesn't really happen for me but one time I got to do Christmas proper so I know what I'm missing, I am keen to try and do proper Christmas (or at least a half decent attempt at it) with as many people as possible. So far, I have four organised already. I don't usually have time to cook time-investment meals anymore so many of these will have to be bought. Christmas menus are expensive. All I wanted was a place which did vaguely Christmassy food which I didn't have to have in a three course structure with at least five other people. It seems that that's quite hard to come by in central London. Nevertheless, three hours of googling revealed one such place. The Fox & Anchor. We went there for a last meal. CHRISTMAS DINNER NUMBER ONE WOOOOO.
The turkey was moist (if a little boring) although I would've preferred a leg or a thigh. I love thigh. The stuffing was sweet but salty with sausage and had artfully arranged cabbage. The roast potatoes were crispy but not quite fluffy enough and a little overseasoned. Red cabbage was tart but sticky, as were the parsnips and carrots. The gravy was dark and glossy, the chestnuts were divine! The mulled wine was spicy and full of orange and anise, mm. Pretty satisfying overall although at £60 for two (with a bottle of red), it might've been a little more satisfying. Still, the pub has a sparkly, festive atmosphere while at the same time retaining the sombre, conservative English pub mood. I'll be returning to try their rabbit pie. 

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Review - E Pellicci

I was going to write a blog about resourceful recipes. Since I was in financial dire straits, I had to be incredibly thrifty and did this by buying ten ingredients and make them make 9 meals. I'm very smug and pleased with myself but in a 'I darned some socks' way not in a 'Look at my Goldman Sachs Christmas bonus' way. Anyway, partly to reward myself and partly because I'd run out of ingredients, I treated myself to lunch on Friday. I can't remember why E Pellicci caught my eye. I think I read about it before I saw it; I remember the crisp sign with clean lettering outside surprising me as it seemed quite at odds with the Italian mama's cooking in massive portions it was reputed to serve. I remember the phrase 'gem of East London' coming up too. I also remember reading that phrase on some yuppie blog and then being surprised to see one of the first things on the menu as grilled liver with onions for around £5. Whatever it was that intrigued me, it went on the list a while ago. Unfortunately, its evasive opening hours made it tricky to find open. It's only ever open until 4 and not at all on Sundays. We had plans to go After The Party but we functioned so late that we went to Cafe 338 instead. I've found that my lists of places to go and things to do only get shorter if I make concrete plans and set a day to do them. Friday was set aside for E Pellicci and Death. Why do I keep going to these lovely, big-portioned cafes on days when I can barely eat? It's very silly of me. Also, I had little decision making ability so it took over ten minutes to choose something from the lengthy and various menu. This was particularly crappy because I was already ten minutes late meeting my lunchure (lunch-and-culture) buddy and not in a particularly together conversation making state. This was made all the worse later at the Wellcome Trust when a minorly bad phone call totally set me off kilter and spaced me out EVEN MORE. SORRY BECKY. Anyway, eventually I ordered the chicken rusticana to go with the liver and onions she'd settled on ages ago.
I'm pleased with my choice! The breast was succulent and tangy with lemon. The topping was SUBLIME. Waxy and zingy with lemon and parsley. The broccoli was a little waterlogged but who cares when it's coated in mellow yellow (cheese) sauce? Chips were crisp and lovely to soak in gravy. I'm so sad I didn't finish this. 

Review - Lupita

It's very difficult to judge things objectively, isn't it? (Is it annoying when I make statements but frame them as rhetorical questions?) So many factors will influence an opinion: mood, company, hunger who a recommendation came from. I discussed this in detail in a blog post that I was too kind (or worried) to post but I'm bringing this up again because I had a crap experience at a restaurant which I went to with the boring person who suggested it. I thought I'd stopped being enamoured by people who turn out to be awful. I thought that my people-palate had developed with my food-palate. Evidently not. The first time, I was drunk and filled with new friend enthusiasm and coincidentally, we went to an excellent pasta place. The second time, I was slightly less in the mood for new friends and his company didn't do much to extinguish that mood since he told an awful, unfunny anecdote about bodily gas. KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE AND YOUR SURROUNDINGS. I didn't think as much of the food the second time. This time, we went somewhere at his suggestion. Another 'lunchure' day. I enjoyed neither the food nor the gallery. I don't know whether that was because the company was so poor that the time dragged or because the restaurant was suggested by company so poor. I think that's enough bitching for now, let's talk about the food. I ordered the pork pibil taco and rice. He ordered the roasted vegetable enchilada and it was presented to look like a bowl of pasta.
It's strange to receive food which is perfectly textured but tastes off kilter. The taste was primarily bitter and as though it had been burnt. I'm struggling to give any other descriptions because the bitterness was so overpowering. The mellowness of the cheese made the bites with cheese in quite pleasant but there wasn't much cheese around. The rice was lacklustre and tasted barely of anything. Overall, I wasn't very pleased or satisfied or even very full. To make things worse, the service was slow, my food didn't come until Boring had almost finished his and it wasn't as cheap as it should've been.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Rome

I went to Rome! I'm so surprised this happened. We'd talked about going to Rome but time and money (mainly money) and other commitments had meant that it never seemed like it was going to happen. I can't really remember booking it. I was in one of my moods. One of those moods where I do something impulsive that involves spending lots of money and later regret it. I don't regret this though! Dave is a classics geek which is handy since that's what his degree is in. In fact, the main purpose of the trip was for him to go and see the Arch of Constantine and have some thoughts about it. He made me pretend to be a Roman peasant seeing the Arch for the first time to bounce ideas off me. Kinky. I went along for the ride. I like going to see things which I've seen in pictures and read about before. The Ugly Sisters said that's me grappling for cultural currency (ch-ching!) but I think they were joking so I won't get too defensive about that comment. I also like food. And apparently Italy's quite good for food. Of course, Rome is a popular tourist destination so I made a point to look up some places which were cheap but good. The Guardian had lots of articles on it and on a day when I was supposed to be writing my coursework, I trawled through the suggestions and drew them on a map. So I could see what landmarks they were near, of course. Of the twenty different places on my little lame map, we visited three. We did try to visit five but one was far too full and one had just finished its lunch service. I must say, I was underwhelmed by the three that we did visit. The first we visited on the first night. Since we arrived quite late, we decided to do an evening stroll through Rome to give me some opportunity to keep reiterating 'Look! We're in Rome!' and also to see some of the sights by night time. My companion got so excited by the baths of Dioclesian. It was cute. We then walked across the river (after getting very lost and disagreeing in a very gender-stereotyped way about whether to ask for directions) into Trastevere and finally found Freni e Frizioni. It had a relaxed and slightly chic atmosphere, the decor was sparse and industrial. Most people were Italian and sipped their drinks casually sitting on the wall outside while enjoying aperitivo on little paper plates. We were tired after a day of travelling and wanted to have a little sit down so we decided to head somewhere else. Over the river we went in search of Il Ditirambo on the Piazza della Cancelleria. Again, we got very lost and confused and almost stopped at a bar modelled on a library for a drink except then my stomach grumbled and I requested that we move on to find the food. Eventually, against all odds, we found it. Or at least, maybe we found it. The waiter said 'Ditirambo?' to us, implying that the restaurant that we saw was that self same restaurant. However, it had a different name. And indeed, looking at the photos and menu on the website now, I don't think it was the same restaurant. WE WERE SCAMMED. Oh well, the place we went to was cheap and decent. But only that. I had the tortellini with ham and cream while Dave had the first of many pizzas.
Dave was keen to stress that the pizza was really nothing special. He found it bland. As did I in the one mouthful I had of it. The tortellini was an improvement as the prosciutto was of a high standard and the creamy gloopy and thick. The filling was moist and almost powdery. Still, uninspiring. The second day we hit the forum. Dave spent about an hour photographing the arch and then we spent another two hours wandering the forums and the Palatine and the Senate House and that big basilica that's all ruined and of course, the Colosseum. My companion stressed how the Colosseum was really a horrific building as it made death a sport and really empathised with all those gladiators. I thought that was cute. We'd worked up quite the appetite despite the expensive salami panino we'd shared for breakfast. Li Rioni was just down the road from the Colosseum so off we trotted to there. It looked open and there were a few stragglers in there but the friendly, relaxed Italian patron told us he was closed. He recommended a place called Na Machia down the road. Apparently that means sea battle in Greek and is a reference to how the Romans would flood the Colosseum and enact sea battles for people to watch. Dave <3 Greek. I was again uninspired by the menu but we opted for cheesy mushroom luganica sausage pizza with some courgette fritti and liver bruschetta on the side.
The liver bruschetta was a little too irony and thick for me, it kind of clung to my nose in a not very pleasant way. The courgette fritti had an overly thick batter around it and had the inside spoilt by too much anchovy which detracted from the fresh courgette which is what I really wanted. The pizza was the best bit of the meal and the sausage retained its moist texture through oven cooking. The mushrooms were bursting with flavour. Again, it all had a slightly off aroma that clung and made the thing less than pleasant. Still, it refuelled us for an afternoon of church viewing as we walked through the park like area very close to the Colosseum to the Santa Maria Degli Angelli since we'd heard there was a Galileo exhibition there but it was really just some large placards talking about how he connected science with God. Again, the ornateness of our surroundings made up for that disappointment. After a short nap to drain the lactic acid from our museum legs, we ambled down by the Trevi fountain and by the Pantheon. An awkward chat with a guy who wanted to take our photograph later, we escaped to Armando Al Pantheon, the only place around there which made a big deal of its name. An unassuming exterior revealed a homely restaurant full of slightly older Italians. Everyone had more than one course and sipped their bottles of wine. We were not classy enough for this place. Still, they treated us just as nicely as their other patrons. We opted for the spaghetti al' oglio which my companion mistakenly thought had meat in it and I went for the spaghetti all' ammatriciana.
                                                
Thick and slightly clinging to the al dente pasta, I realised that the tortellini from the previous night had definitely been overcooked. And also that I had overcooked every dish of pasta I've ever made. It was a treat. The spaghetti with olive oil let the natural flavours sing more. It all felt very healthy so we didn't (overly) mind the 30 euros we paid for that with still water. I was starting to feel a little bit underwhelmed by the whole experience though. I could recognise that I'd eaten one of the technically best bowls of pasta I'll ever eat but a little bit of me had that niggling thought that I quite enjoy the English take where we throw what the Italians would term too many ingredients into the pan. Still, I had the atmosphere of Rome and wine to distract me so I didn't give this much thought.

The next morning held more distraction after we went on a wonderful walk, retracing our steps from the previous evening and then going up the Via del Corso to the Spanish steps, eventually ending up at the Piazza del Popoli. At this point, I really wanted to explore the Villa Borghese and its art gallery but it was already one and we had a pressing engagement at the Vatican. We had a meeting arranged with the Pope, you see. That's just not true but we wanted to fully explore the Vatican Museum. On the walk to Vatican City lay La Campana tucked away in a little alley off the Via del Ripetta. It looked a little pricy but I persuaded my companion that it would be a good idea by offering to pay. He should have stood his ground, this place will not receive a great review from me. The menu was simple (as all Italian menus are) but also made us realise that we forgive this simplicity more on a pizza. When applied to cuts of meat, the descriptions of one technique applied to a dish sounded much less appealing. I opted for the meatballs with peas and he went for the veal with ham, sage and mushrooms.
                                      
Don't misunderstand me, the meatballs were soft and perfectly textured and probably some of the best I'd ever tasted. The tomato sauce was mellow and rich and thoroughly enjoyable to mop up with the bread. It was just all a little boring. That tomato was the same tomato I'd tasted in the spaghetti the night before and I would come to learn that it was very similar to the boar bolognese that I tried the next night. The veal was more interesting, instead of tasting of that homogenous Italian tomato and cheese combo, it was sharp and acidic and heady. Still, a little too salty for me. Although interesting, I still preferred the dish I've just slated as boring. I'm probably just disgruntled because it seems like we're paying patrician prices for peasant dishes. We were back to the usual meat and cheese by evening though; I inadvertently caused us to walk around the Vatican Museum twice and our poor feet were aching like nothing on Earth. This is what caused us to choose Il Chianti, a vineria opposite the souvenir shops we'd just frequented. I ordered the boar bolognese with the misogynistic waiter and Dave opted for yet another cheese and bacon pizza.
                                             
I found that pizza too cheesy and the bacon not quite crisp enough. The boar bolognese lacked the mellowness in the sauce I'd grown accustomed to expecting but had a meatier kick. I liked the low hum of clove and bay with the meat though. Still, as I remarked over dinner, I was thoroughly bored by Italian food. I enjoy Italian food. I'd been thinking about all the pasta that I'd be eating all of last week. But I just didn't find any food anywhere near as good as what I'd been expecting. Yes, the charm of Italian food is that they can make three ingredients taste pretty great. And the free olive oil and rosemary pizza that we got at the last place was good enough to make me consider evangelising about the Italian approach. But they still don't need to be so stubborn about it! Imagine what they could do with even more ingredients. I think what I'm trying to say is that I actually appreciate our bastardised English take on Italian food rather than Italian food itself. That, or I need more money and time to explore it. The best food memory I have of this trip are of a cafe which does pizza by slice next to the Trevi fountain. I thought it'd be a tourist trap but the 2 euro slice filled with juicy tomato, rocket and prosciutto proved me wrong.
Most of the toppings in that cafe were a lot busier than those we'd seen in the other pizzerias and I think that's why I enjoyed them so much. I'll be trying to find more gems like that next time I'm in Italy.

Review - Birleys

On practically my first day of school (not actually my first day of school, school is what I call King's because I think it's a little amusing that I've been in formal education for eighteen years), I bumped into someone from college. Apparently he works in Somerset House now. I don't know what he does but it sounds cool and more importantly he usually gets to go home at 6. As a result, mystery career was my career of choice for a while. I digress. Birleys! We were going to go last week but then I was busy having a dark day so my classmates went without me. I was upset and heartbroken and considered never forgiving them but then did when they agreed to go again. Also because they stopped me from accidentally going to the wrong sandwich shop (there is one on the corner opposite Birleys which also begins with B). I'm glad they steered me the other way because Birleys is amazing in a way the other shop probably isn't. I haven't been inside the other shop but Birleys is one of the best sandwich shops I've ever been inside. So much choice! Great hunks of roasts which is where they get their roast turkey/beef/whatever from. Tureens full of multicoloured, creamy soups which make you feel a little cosier to look at. 

Best of all, the soup and sandwich combo deal - large soup and 'half' sandwich for £4.95. I opted for minestrone and roast beef and salad the first time I went. I was too hungry to photograph the minestrone. I wanted something peppery with tomatoes and that's exactly what this was, subtle, slightly sweet, almost spicy tomatoes with flecks of pasta and carrots and other wholesome nourishing morsels. It was pretty great. And I was too excited about my beef sandwich to photograph that properly. Did I want butter and mayo and horseradish with my beef? Yes I did. It was medium rare and done perfectly and I wanted the heat and cream and fat to set it alight. It did but the meatiness remained central. And the salad wasn't a touch bitter, the tomato was juicy and the leaves crisp. Next time, I opted for the tuscan bean and sausage soup and turkey salad sandwich. I had initially been intending on going for the tuna sandwich but the soup combo just got it again. When I saw the tuna melt on barbary bread I questioned my choice.
One sip of that deep, pulsy stew let me know everything was right. Rich with provençal flavour and meaty pieces of lightly spiced sausage, I was pleased. And also surprisingly full. I saved my turkey sandwich for later. Again, it was meltingly buttery and tart but sweet with cranberry which went perfectly with the carved, salty turkey. This place is the Olives of London. 

Friday, 23 November 2012

Review - Thai Garden

I love lists. Really, they're my fave. I keep lots. One is for general things I need to remember to do, one is for places I need to remember to go ('a calendar') but others are things people don't often keep in lists. Books I want to read, films I want to see. Well, maybe they are quite common lists to keep. Lists of places I might want to (and be able to afford to) live in London is another, perhaps less common. Another is 'things I want to do in London'. Being constantly surrounded by museums and galleries and posters advertising things on at these museums and galleries means this list is constantly growing. How do I go about going through the list? Do I start with the free things? Do I do it by location? I rarely have the hindsight to think 'oh I'll just pop to the Natural History Museum before going to tutor the Gilbertsons'. Indeed, I haven't even managed to go to the things near me that I want to go to. I was talking about how I live around the corner from the Museum of Childhood and someone remarked that I won't go there all year. I WILL. I just haven't yet. Although they do have a point, the places closest are overlooked. Like the Thai Garden. In my first conversation with our landlord, he mentioned that it was a great place to eat and that it had won an award for best vegetarian restaurant (according to Time Out) a few years back. Yet I didn't manage to go there until last weekend. In fact, I didn't even go there.  I got a visitor to pick up food from there on the way from the train station. We had a brief argument about whether to order the lobster or not. 'Thai restaurants rarely do lobster! And this is only £12!' quoth the raven. 'But that's still more expensive than anything else we'd order' the bear replied. The raven compromised because she was taking lessons in compromise. The compromise was ordering the marinaded tuna. The other dish was supposed to be a prawn-noodle thing but it came with rice instead.
The rice was so lovely and sticky that we could hardly be disappointed. Heavy with flavour but still well balanced with succulent little pieces of king prawn. Glossy pak choi and fresh chilli peppered the mixture and the whole thing was topped off with ripe, sweet tomato. So good. The tuna was a little disappointing. I think it was more that it didn't suit my tastes than it wasn't done well. Made entirely with raw ingredients, carrot, tomato, chilli and lots of other wonders and doused in vinegary sharp marinade. The tuna was rare in the middle but had been cooked on the outside (it's hard to tell whether it was from the acid or it was cooked over heat) and retained a slight bitterness. I preferred the more base, simple prawn dish but I think that was just me failing to have grown up tastes. Sigh.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Review - The Lemon Tree

I have recently been hanging out with a new old friend. That is, a friend I met long ago who I have been seen more in the past three weeks than I have in the six years before that that we've known each other. I suppose we're having a frennaisance. (I love Friends.) On the most recent of these meetings, we went to our first ever opera. Well, our first opera together but also my first opera at all and possibly his first opera. I'm unsure. Anyway, before we went to the opera we thought we'd get some very cheap dinner with our no money. Instead of walking towards a polished Soho marketing success (delicious but still cheap), we walked to the ever more expensive Covent Garden. Miiiistaaaaaaake. (I've decided this is an American sitcom references entry.) Still, I had the grand idea that we should go to a pub. And Simple had the grand idea that we just wander into somewhere. And I said 'hey that's a great idea, I've reviewed too many places favourably recently and that's because everywhere I go comes highly recommended'. So that's how we found The Lemon Tree. We picked it because it was cheaper than its contemporaries. I was also enthused by the Thai pub food thing. I've been trying to go to a pub which does Thai food for about six months since I first learnt of their existence. And now I've been to one. I ordered pad thai with pork.
The first issue was that the scampi came well before the noodles. Simple tried valiantly to keep his hands off his dinner but I assented to him eating before it went cold. No one wants cold chips. But he almost finished before mine even came. I suspect they forgot about my order and only remembered when they brought a lemon wedge for the scampi. Still, my food did eventually come. TOO MUCH OYSTER SAUCE. Or perhaps fish sauce. I don't know which but probably fish. It was bad. Overpowering and just unpleasant. You know how Thai flavours and sauces are incredibly strong and smell pretty awful in their bottles? Yeah, it tasted much too much like you expected it to taste. When I got to the other side of the plate, the slightly off fishy smell had dissipated a little but still, the food was both nothing special and had a slight aroma of something unpleasant. It wasn't very well balanced or very delicious. This place might want to stick to doing British pub fare; I tried a chip and it was delicious.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Review - Cafe 338

On Saturday morning, the house was a state. Nothing was broken but it was in need of the deep clean level of cleaning where just doing the superficial barely makes anything better. Of course, the last state you want to be in when doing this kind of grind is hungover, tired, agitated and tasting of sloe-gin-cum-dead-rodent. Nevertheless, needs must and many hands make light work. And some more cliches. We got everything done by half three which sounds like it took a long time but no one roused until two. It is still late in the day though and extinguished our pre-existing plan of going to the very famous E Pellici because it closes at four. Bethnal Green Road is full of little worker's cafes, some gentrified and some not so we went to another, Cafe 338.
It's so titled because it's number 338 which is a bit boring. We probably wouldn't think it was boring if the exterior didn't have such a gentrified vibe to it though. That's why I was  surprised to see that the menu and the staff strictly followed the stereotypical workers' cafe rather than Larder-esque coffee house. The menu was full of classics and had a jack of all trades feel to it - breakfasts, omelettes, fish and chips, traditional English, Italian. Curry too. Portion size followed suit: massive. There's a tendency to think that places which try to do everything do none of them well (Jimmy Spices) and that large portions try to compensate for quality. Maybe those two assumptions are very slightly true here but by that I mean at the moment they produce good, solid food whereas if they made their menu smaller they would be producing truly exceptional food. The mega breakfast included fried bread and black pudding with everything accurately and deliciously cooked. The baked potato was the biggest I've ever seen and the tuna was mixed with the right ratio of mayonnaise. What stood out about it though were the little touches - the lemon wedge, the salad which included lemon and red onion. The little pots of slightly fancier salad, a sort of tartare relish and a vinegary pickle. They weren't chosen at random, they were carefully put together and selected because they'd go well with the tuna. The lasagne was similarly stodgy and had heart but with carefully constructed salad reigning next to it. The veggie breakfast had grilled halloumi and beautifully fried mushrooms. My shepherds pie was as hearty as the rest, accompanied by perfectly crisp, turned roast potatoes and slightly overlooked but still tasty vegetables. Of course, everything was covered in thick, smooth gravy. I am so sad that we were all worse for wear and couldn't finish our food. On a hungrier day, I would've finished off mine and piled in everyone's leftovers. I have and will think about what we wasted in the future when I'm peckish. Oh, I should also add that the most anyone paid (including drinks) was £8.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Review - Jerk City

The plan was (as the plan always is) to meet and go to Leong's Legends. But we both felt a little worse for wear and a rare affair occurred; my partner did not want food of the Far East. So, partly to dispel rumours that I always get my own way and partly because I just didn't care, we decided to look for somewhere more bland on the palate. Perhaps we're fated never to visit Leong's Legends. Perhaps I'll never try dim sum and die a lonely, dim sum barren virgin. Actually, we didn't end up going bland on the palate. It was comfort food but in a different way. The Cayman Islands are in the Caribbean, not actually near Jersey or Guernsey as I initially thought. So the food obviously has lots of Caribbean influences. In out in out jerk it all about, you know. I'm hip and happening so I knew just the place. Jerk City! Its unassuming door makes it look a bit scabby but I love finding hidden gems. Like in Bridesmaids when they all get food poisoning and she craps on the street. Except without the crapping. This is not appetising chat. I'll start a new paragraph so you don't associate that scene with Jerk City.
I ordered the mutton roti and Friend ordered jerk chicken. He was sad that they didn't have jerk pork, that's his absolute favourite. But jerk chicken is almost as good. We also ordered fried plantain and coleslaw. And rum punch! My pineapple punch was far superior to the fruit punch, it was all creamy and milky but also a little tangy. Dreamy. Plantain was simple but crisp and sweet. Coleslaw could've done with being a touch sharper but was still very pleasant. The mutton filling inside the roti was so delicately spiced and warm that I actually said 'oh my god this is amazing'. (That's not something I usually say.) But it really was! Umami in that way only slow cooked meat could be. The roti itself was ever so slightly too salty for me but had a wonderful texture. I think in this case I ordered wrongly unfortunately. Not because the mutton wasn't excellent but because the jerk was better. Initially I just tried some flesh. I enjoyed it, lightly infused with allspice and smoke. I commented that it wasn't spicy enough for me. Then I tried a bit of the skin and was hit with almost tough fearsome flavour. Perfectly balanced! I could make out all the different flavours but they sang as one.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Review - Mangal Ocakbasi

I don't really eat anywhere bad anymore. It's because I always go to places which are supposed to be good but still reasonably priced. Still, while there might be lots of incredibly hyped up restaurants in London, occasionally, one lives up to all the hype. Mangal Ocakbasi is one such restaurant. My dear friend Petal (also known as Earnest) turned twenty two. To celebrate, she wanted to go to the cinema but I had class all day the next day so couldn't commit to a whole film. Funnily enough, I got so drunk that the next day was entirely written off ('a dark day') so we could've gone to the cinema but I'm glad we went for dinner here instead. As we were trotting along Stoke Newington Road discussing the relative attractiveness of various tube lines (Northern hottest, Overground butterest) we found that the map was directing us down a sketchy alley. With heightened spidey senses we sauntered bravely (but not that bravely, we were in hipster central after all) down said alley. At the end was a luminescent sign reading 'Mangal'. The bravest adventures always pay off. We were greeted by stacks and stacks of tender young meats. After a very brief wait, we were seated. Most things on the menu involve meat and grilling. (They do all come with salad and bread though.) There are some more vegetably looking mezzes and also about four bigger vegetarian mains. We opted for the mixed grill and an aubergine based mezze.

First came a glorious fluffy basket of bread. The bread actually BOUNCED. And you could taste the grill on it. It was amazing. We mopped up the Mediterranean vegetables dripping attractively in olive oil with this bread. There was natural yoghurt whose culture cut through the strength of the oil and aubergine.
Then came the mixed grill. I'm glad we only went for one; it was the perfect amount for two greedy girls. Quail, lamb chop, kofta, chicken. Everything uniformly scored and charred. The delicious mountain of meat obscured the vale of carefully cut salad: radish, lettuce, tomato (grilled), pickled chilli, shredded carrot. It looked almost regal. Now, in honour of the girl that I shared this meal with, I'm going to straddle the food/sex blog boundary. The meat was firm, a towering erection of glistening flesh. Everything was juicy and moist, tender and succulent. I'm not just saying that to gross you out. It really was. The skin was crisp and smoky and to reveal the piping hot inside. A hum of chilli came from the marinaded kofta and that combined with the pickled chilli to give a real kick to the dish. The gaminess of the quail was an interesting diversion but worked just as well. Their method really let the natural ingredients sing. The kebabs were all bursting with meatiness and the salad epitomised its health and vitality. Let's all move to Turkey.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Review - Hiba

Another free meal with daddy. I initially thought I was going to be eating with an old family friend but we didn't want to put her out. Her husband is recently deceased and it makes me sad to see her all lonely in her lovely little flat which she struggles to manage since she has all those ailments that make it hard to get by on your own when you're a little older. I will stop talking about this now partly because it's irrelevant and partly because it's making me feel so sad for her. Anyway, to dinner. A little Lebanese fast food place opposite Holborn station. A grilled lamb wrap, a sweet potato wrap, two portions of fries and two Cokes for £13. Very cheap.
Also very tasty. The bread is of a high standard, the lamb was JUST right. Tenderised by yoghurt with that charred smokiness on the outside but softness within. The sweet potatoes were covered in an interesting coriander/garlic marinade. The salads and sauces common to both wraps were what really made it worth it. Slightly spicy creamy sauce speckled with hints of juice from the red pepper and tomatoes and acid tones from the fine slivers of onion and gherkin and nicely tied together by crisp lettuce. I use the word crisp to describe food too much. The chips were well done too and were particularly improved by the exciting spicy dip they came with. Much better than ketchup (although they gave you that as an option too). This place is one of those rare finds of cheap street food which is neither too scummy nor too gentrified.

Friday, 9 November 2012

Review - Konaki

I've frequently wondered where in London represents the tourist trap area that most places I've visited have. I mean the Wenceslas Squares of Prague or the 'strip' accompanying most Sun, Sex and Suspicious Parents locations. I suppose Covent Garden can't be very fun for a tourist but when do I ever try to eat there? That's the point though, locals would know better. Since my dad has been doctor conferencing and staying very near Russell Square, I've gained some more insight into places aimed at unsuspecting tourists. All along Southampton Row are shabby looking cafes, some even with those 'we speak all the languages' signs written in different languages. But on account of his poor arthritic foot we risked going to many of just these places. Like the selfish young woman I am, I persuaded him to avoid the hotel restaurant and walk ten minutes. I was planning on going to an acceptable looking Japanese place near the British Museum but my dad spotted this Greek place and this reminded him of this time when I was four and we ate at a Turkish place near Goodge Street and Greek and Turkish food are vaguely similar. I was firstly worried it would be crap and secondly worried it would be superexpensive. I was wrong on both counts. We ordered revitosalara (hummus), bread, olives, rabbit stifado, keftedes (spicy lamb meatballs), green salad, galaktaburico (custard pie) and ice cream. I love paying parents! (Although this came into less than £40 for two so actually I wouldn't mind paying for this myself.)
I eat at a fair few averagely food restaurants, something I put down to the fact that I pretty much refuse to go somewhere which someone somewhere doesn't think is good, so I need to find a way of distinguishing reviews of the genuinely spectacular places. The bread was soft, warm and tasted home baked. The olives punchy with vinegar, offsetting the creamy chickpea dip. The carrots provided a sweet palate cleanser, as did the pickled chillies. The mains were where things really got good. The stifado put mine to absolute shame. The hearty pieces of rabbit were coated in a glossy, onion rich sauce. I don't know how to convey how good it was. I'm a crap food writer. Who cares? I love eating and I loved eating this especially. The keftedes I was less fond of, found them slightly too acidic, but my dad preferred them and they were still pretty great. Orzo rice and salad accompanied everything. The rice was almost creamy in texture, the salad dressed so well that you could almost taste the virgins in the oil. The green salad wasn't the usual ill thought out leaves on a plate crap, there was onion and parsley and dill and peppers and it was singing with dressing. My only regret is that I didn't finish the rich custard filling of the tart with the lovely sticky filo skin on the top.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Review - Yeti Nepalese

Despite my protests, I was dragged back to Oxford. Apparently it's good to compromise and be not-selfish even in the face of a double bed. Going back to Oxford held the treat of everything seeming really cheap. Upon arrival, I got a decent coffee and a slab of baklava for £3! For dinner that evening, we went to Yeti Nepalese. We'd been planning on going there before but then we were hungry and it seemed really far, especially when compared with the distance to Makan La. We were expected at a party down those endz anyway and this time, the hunger was the result of our own tardiness rather than because I was on a smelly bus. I was still really hungry though and not at all impressed to see that our table wasn't ready when we got there. Indeed, another couple who clearly hadn't booked were sat before us. After a fifteen minute wait, we sat and ordered straight away since we'd had plenty of time to iron out all in decisions. The food still took another twenty minutes to come. I was so grouchy. I started by bringing up volatile topics, seemingly for the purpose of being unpleasant. I then went on to decide that I was just too hungry to speak and so all I could do was look. Dave was not impressed. I think he was about to leave when our rim jhim duck, sherpaali lamb and prawns came.
'They say hunger is the best relish but I'm not sure it was the hunger making this taste so good.' That's what I'd say if I lacked self awareness and enjoyed talking in cliches. But I accept that my hunger probably made me enjoy it even more than I otherwise would. That's not to say I wouldn't have enjoyed it if I hadn't been hungry. I most certainly would have. The duck was a flurry of colour, fiery reds and umbers which reflected the spice. There were crunchy bits of green pepper throughout which provided fresh relief. The lamb was more recognisably influenced by Indian cooking, it had the deep brown of the delicious stewed meats I'm accustomed to eating at home. And the potatoes had done the glorious flavour sponge thing that I always mention again. The prawns were crisp but wet and accompanied by a carefully chosen array of leaves and chutney. All really good (and less than £30) but not quite worth the wait.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Review - Jamon, Jamon

Whilst out to dinner at La Porchetta, I was informed of the existence of 'a really great tapas place' and a date was arranged to try it out. Monday was suggested since all tapas are half price then. So between Wednesday and Monday I occasionally got the words 'jamon, jamon' stuck in my head to the tune of that crap song that goes 'come on, come on'. As I write this blog entry a week after the restaurant visit, I'm eavesdropping upon a American-Korean guy on his year abroad chirpsing an Austrian girl who studies in London and took about thirty seconds to mention (presumably aa a caution) her boyfriend. So far, he's talked about how education is very different here from in different countries, doesn't she agree, and how he really likes travelling and has found that most Europeans can speak two languages and hate Americans. Everything he's said has been phrased as a truism which even someone who's never travelled, studied or met an American could chime in with. It's uninspiring, empty small talk and the only thing I hate more than it stopping me from sleeping on a bus is having to participate in it. I find it a struggle even when I'm in a good mood so I wasn't particularly enthused by the prospect of it accompanying a late dinner after twelve hours of commuting from one rich student's house to the next. As it turns out, I had fun and that's at least a little bit down to the restaurant itself. The atmosphere is almost tacky but manages to be kitsch and relaxing, just. There's lots of atmospheric candlelight and a menu made for sharing. Some might say it's a good place to go on a date. I'd probably hate dates though because of hating the types of conversation discussed above. We ordered six dishes, two each and two to share. Three tapas each doesn't sound like very much but these portions do not skimp. Also, it was half price so there's no excuse not to try as much as could reasonably be afforded. So that we did. Blue cheese croquettes, patatas bravas, vegetarian stuffed peppers, beef mince stuffed peppers (because they fucked up the order initially), chicken croquettes, tortilla and chickpea and chorizo casserole.
The croquette dishes were both nicely battered and light which was surprising given the heavy filling in each. Heavy in the good, warming, hearty way of course. I think I preferred the blue cheese filling to the chicken just because it had that extra salty kick whereas the chicken was a little more mellow. Perhaps even bland? Both of the croquette dishes came with a saccharine, syrupy tomato relish which cut through the cheese perfectly. The patatas had the right idea too. Crisp in the outside but soft on the inside as all deep fried wonders are with little contrasting pools of aioli and spicy tomato on top. As if Freddie Kruger hit ski season or something. The tortilla was similarly well done (but not especially well done). The star of the show was probably the beef stuffed peppers which were brought to us by mistake. Juicy peppers offset by umami beef and creamy, hardened, melty cheese. Particularly good when you haven't eaten red meat in a while. The chickpeas, themselves nicely textured so they were soft but retained a bit of bite, were let down by the burnt onions. The smokiness of the chorizo combined with the bitterness if the onions totally overpowered everything else and just wasn't very tasty. Overall pretty satisfying although not as amazing as it had been billed to me. Had it not been half price, I might have felt ripped off.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Review - Rasa Sayeng Express

Hey, remember my when I was waxing lyrical about the significance of beef rendang and how I was really sad Rasa Sayeng had shut down? Well, the Oxford Street branch might have closed down but THERE'S ONE IN CHINATOWN. We'd planned to get dim sum in Leong's Legends but then there was a queue and we were really hungry and there was an essay to be written so we were in a rush. It was all a bit antsy. But then we ran out and satisfied our real desire. RENDANG. He said it was one of the best things he's ever tasted. This is one of the few things we agree on. 
I'm exaggerating for effect. We also usually manage to agree on two things we both like enough from a menu to share. (Not being able to share food is a deal breaker for me.) Our first choice was of course rendang. Always rendang. Choosing the second dish was difficult since there was so much that sounded appetising. Canai roti, some kind of delicious spicy seafood? Eventually we opted for hokkien mee as it had noodles (rendang comes with rice) and a mix of chicken, seafood and pork (as opposed to beef). Let's start with that since I started with that. The noodles were slippery and dark with soy and peppered with morsels of delicious protein and thinly sliced vegetable. It had a slight aniseed flavour to it which set it aside from other, boring noodle dishes. I'm glad I finished with the rendang because I love leaving the best until last. It really is the best. It resembles being slapped in the face by a chilli and citrus glove. That might not sound very pleasant to you but that's the kind of thing I'm really into.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Recipe - Beef Enchiladas

As with every time I go clubbing, I've rediscovered that I hate clubbing. The main reason for this is that I can only dance and consequently only think clubbing is fun if I put my body through absolute hell. (Other people would think it was moderate abuse, I'm a pussy.) Anyway, it's not happening again for a long time because this past Saturday I wasted my intended reading day lying in bed until five. There was a point at which I thought I was dying, I considered calling NHS direct. I felt so bad I considered calling my visitor to tell him not to make the trip, I felt too ill. I had promised him beef enchiladas and after a long lie down (after I'd got out of bed officially at 5) I decided to brave the kitchen. I'm glad I did, this greasy, cheesy, uncouth tex mex thing tasted base but pretty good.
Beef enchiladas
250g beef mince
1 onion, finely diced
4 cloves garlic, finely diced
2 chillies, finely chopped
1 tsp cumin
1 tbsp oregano
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tbsp tomato purée
2 green peppers, sliced

2 tbsp flour
250ml beef stock
Handful chopped spinach.

4 tortillas
A few handfuls cheddar cheese

Fry the onion on a low heat in plenty of oil until brown.
Add the chillies and garlic and fry for a further minute.
Add the spices.
At the point, split the onion mixture into a third and two thirds.
In the pot with the third, add the beef mince, peppers, tomato purée and salt and pepper. Simmer for about ten minutes.
In the other pot of onion mixture, add the flour and stir to make a paste.
Slowly stir in the beef stock to make a rich gravy and simmer for ten minutes.
Stir in the chopped spinach.
Add a couple of tablespoons of the gravy to the beef mince.
Assemble the enchiladas: place a quarter of the beef mixture into each tortilla with a sprinkling of cheese and roll up.
Place the assembled tortillas on a baking tray, pour over the sauce and sprinkle with cheese.
Cook for about fifteen minutes until hot and melted.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Recipe - Bacon and Red Wine Risotto

Now, I may have made veiled (not really that veiled) allusions to not staying in touch with any Birmingham kids anymore but that's not strictly true. I saw one of them just the other day! He survived the Big Cull of '11 because he wasn't a part of my big, treacherous friendship group and as someone who I've never seen that regularly, he missed all the teenage trauma that made me hate the place and the people so. Anyway, I saw him again after almost two years. We had dinner. He said he read my blog occasionally, I was obviously chuffed (to use an up north term). I made him a supper not involving lamb or seafood (Saturday kitchen food hell for him) but instead made a risotto based upon the traditional trimming dish, bacony cabbage stewed in red wine.
Bacon, cabbage and red wine risotto
250g risotto rice
8 rashers streaky bacon, finely chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
250ml red wine
200g curly kale
1l chicken stock
50g Parmesan
1 tbsp Boursin

Fry the bacon, onion and garlic together in a tablespoon of olive oil on a medium heat until the bacon is crisp and the onion is brown, about ten minutes.
Add the risotto rice and coat in oil, cook for a minute.
Stir in the kale.
Turn the heat up and add the wine, let the alcohol burn off.
Turn the heat down slightly to medium high and add the stock, ladle by ladle, stirring constantly.
Once the rice is cooked, stir in the cheeses and a good grinding of black pepper and serve.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Cooking with Boursin

I'm becoming quite the fan of no-cook pasta sauces. I've diverged from my usual tuna pesto affair to discover the miracle of Boursin. The first time I used Boursin was when I made spaghetti bolognese. This was back when I was seventeen and still spoke to the people I went to school with. Back then, I thought it was legitimate to make spaghetti bolognese with coriander and other insane ingredients. I remember having an argument with someone in my first year of university when I insisted he was just being pedantic about his pasta. YOU WERE RIGHT, JOE. Anyway, Boursin was one of the less insane ingredients to go into the non-bolognese. Since then, lots has changed. Boursin-introducer is regretfully long gone from my less than elegant (not like Emily Thorne from Revenge) 'you're all dead to me' episode. And now I don't have long Wednesday afternoons skipping gym to cook. Now, cooking is confined to Monday and Thursday evening and eating usually happens from Tupperware. For the times that I'm not organised enough to plan what I'll eat and too poor to afford a meal out? I cook up a no-cook pasta delight. This is where the garlicky creamy cheesy Boursin comes in.

Ham and pea pasta
4 portions pasta
Two heaped tablespoons Boursin
50g cheddar cheese
50g frozen peas
6 slices ham, chopped

Cook the pasta as per cooking instructions.
Add the peas three minutes to the end of cooking time.
Drain but leave a cup of the pasta cooking water.
Stir in the Boursin, cheese and ham.

Boursin isn't only good for the base of a no cook sauce. I've used it for various things I've cooked this week. I added it to the filling of this cheese pie and mashed a little with some broccoli and new potatoes to go with this beef goulash. It's almost like sour cream, after all.

Friday, 26 October 2012

Review - La Porchetta

Last week, when I met my dad for lunch, I looked up good places to eat in the WC2 area. I read good things about La Porchetta but my dad's tired, haggard, flu ridden state didn't seem like it could manage the walk. Instead we ended up at the terrible Antalya. It was horrid and overly salty and the staff were rude to my poor old dad. Thankfully, I was feeling pretty crap must so barely ate anything. I recounted this story to the lovely patron of La Porchetta and said I would've been saddened if I'd not managed to finish my meal here.
And that I was when I failed to finish my mammoth portion. I tried and tried and kept going back to it to nibble but to no avail. A fifth of my delicious food was sadly thrown away. The linguine was light and clearly fresh, slippery and still a little al dente. The purply black cuttlefish ink somehow still managed to look appetising. The seafood was hot and steaming and spicy with pepper. My companion's gnocchi was light yet heavy with cheese. Everything was simple but done incredibly well. And we got a free shot of limoncello to wash it all down. It reminded me that when done well, pasta is in no way a convenience food.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Review - Ginger Pig Cafe

In stark contrast with the meal of the night before, Ginger Pig does massive portions of rich, stick American breakfast. After getting out of bed at 1, we decided an appropriately lazy Sunday would be to take a leisurely stroll to The Breakfast Club followed by a trip to the Geffrye museum. We got to The Breakfast Club in Hoxton at 2 because we were waylaid by the wonders of Columbia Road Flower Market. We were met with a really long queue which our exponentially increasing appetites were not willing to stand. So we walked along the eerily deserted Hoxton Street in search of somewhere delicious to brunch or even lunch. Ginger Pig glimmered as a beacon of breakfasts amongst the scores of closed salons and fried chicken shops.
The menu had that same 'OH GOD I WANT EVERYTHING I WISH I WAS RICH AND ALSO MORE HUNGRY' effect that had made us choose the Breakfast Club. And there was BREAKFAST BOOZE. Bloody Mary's and Buck's Fizz and prosecco galore. I feel like brunch is the most indulgent meal and it should go all out instead of pretending. Ginger Pig appears to agree with me, particularly in its assessment of portion size. We, the hungries, couldn't manage to finish our meals. Whereas we'd previously been commenting on how wasteful people were being, we became the wasters. There was just too much to finish. Particularly in the lumberjack breakfast which I'd ordered- Scottish pancakes, maple syrup, bacon, sausage, ham eggs and chips. My companion suggested that I attack it as two meals, first the savoury then the sweet. I preferred to go for everything at once. Distinctly, everything was just right and together it still worked. Truly exceptional. Perfectly creamy scrambled eggs, sweetened salty pork, garlic sausage, oh I am so regretting not forcing through the stomach ache to finish it. I had no problems finishing my spicy Bloody Mary though, a peppery, perfect contrast to the sweetness of the syrup. My companion's superstacked Mexican themed burger was equally well considered and massive. Simple, excellently matched flavour combinations, all done well. And bottled Coke! All this for £21 and I could easily have managed with that as my only meal of the day.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Review - Yazu Sushi

After we went for sushi on Friday night, my companion commented on how the Japanese attitude to consuming was markedly different to the English. It reminded me of another time when someone was talking about how they were trying to get Mr. Edamame to befriend them by spending £40 each on sushi night but he was unimpressed by their divulging in excess. At Yazu, we had fourteen plates. I don't know if that counts as excess but we left with how our uncouth Western palates had condemned us to feeling: unsatisfied
We weren't still hungry but we certainty weren't the kind of full a £30 meal would usually leave you feeling Learning about consequentialism recently also brings to mind something an old friend once said about finishing a meal which you've paid for. It maximises your utility and makes most sense to eat as much as you're comfortable with because you're paying for the experience of eating out, not for the portion of food i.e. it's a better use of your money to eat only as much as you want to. Similarly, I know that price is associated with taste and quality, not portion size, but my shallow, overdrawn pockets still want me to feel like I've eaten well. In the full sense. In terms of quality, this place was really top notch. All eleven of the dishes we'd tried were really, really delicious. A cut above all other sushi I've tried. The flavours harmonised with nothing too strong but everything distinct, it was wonderful. Unfortunately, since it was a conveyor belt system, I'm not entirely sure which eleven dishes they were. Particular highlights were the seabass sashimi. It was ALIVE with flavour. Unfortunately I can't be more specific about the other dishes so this looks like it'll be a crap blog entry. I really enjoyed the roe peppering the outside of the rice on some of the rolls though. And surprisingly, I didn't really enjoy the salmon sashimi. A look at the menu makes me feel a little disappointed at all the things we didn't get to try because of the conveyer belt set up. But at least everything I tried was good to excellent. And we did try a lot. We afforded to go here because I'd bought a Living Social deal which made the fourteen dishes and two beers less than half price. If we'd paid full price, dinner would have been a lot more expensive. I suppose the Mayfair location should've let slip the lesson I'm to learn from this meal: sushi is a luxury for the rich. And good incentive to become rich too.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Review - The Larder

Meeting my parents has taken a subtly different tone. Maybe it's because I'm confined to a flat and not a room or because I'm less financially dependent on them or maybe I've just grown up. (I struggled to complete that group of three.) When we meet now, I definitely feel slightly more like their grown up daughter meeting them in the same way you'd meet a friend. Well, not quite. We still struggle to talk about much but food and other domestic matters. I met papa twice this week since he's been in London for various courses. The first time I met him on my lunch break and we went to a god awful Turkish restaurant in Holborn. He looked tired and old and it was sad. He looked much perkier on the weekend when he came to drop a Hoover off. (OK, maybe I do still regress around my parents.) While I vacuumed, he sat and had a cup of tea and commented on how I need to do some exercise. Then afterwards, we went for our traditional 'let's feed you up' meal. Except this time, I paid. We went to the gentrified vegetarian cafe round the corner, The Larder.
It was expensive and disappointing. Everything looked wonderfully colourful but nothing tasted quite right. The vegetarian strudel was an array of oranges and greens with goats cheese and pine nuts but it lacked seasoning and flavour. The squash provided a nice sweet antidote to the blandness of the rest of the filling. The pastry was a great consistency though. The tarte tatin was exactly that: tart. So tart. As if it'd never seen a spoonful of sugar in its oveny life. Really not very pleasant. Even the creaminess of the white in the flat white didn't quite cut through it. £13 poorly spent.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Recipe - Beef Stifado

FINALLY, we've entertained. We had people over to the flat in a group for dinner and afterwards we half played after dinner arguments. That counts as entertaining! I was pleased to hear that everyone likes the flat and more pleased by the fact that one of our guests who I know less well read this blog. Unfortunately, the cooking didn't go quite to plan. Since I'm determined not to bore myself with pasta and remain dedicated to slow cooking things, the cooking had to take place in two batches. First, in the afternoon, when all the browning and the first bit of the stewing would take place then six hours later for the final stew, sides and vegetarian alternative. It wasn't actually this that slightly ruined dinner. I think it was that I didn't brown the onions for long enough. Also possibly that I used white wine rather than a mellow red. And choosing cherry tomatoes for their sweetness was also a bad move. So, I'm going to write out the recipe but write out the changes in the ingredient list because I'm helpful.

Beef stifado
1kg cubed stewing beef
1 onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 bay leaves
1 tsp dried rosemary
(I'd also add a cinnamon stick and a tsp of dried oregano next time)
2 tbsp tomato purée
10 cherry tomatoes (but I'd use 3 ripe plum tomatoes, deskinned and chopped next time)
250ml white wine (but I'd use red wine next time)
300g shallots (but I'd use 500g shallots next time)
300 ml stock (but I'd use water next time)

In olive oil, brown the meat in batches over a high heat.
Turn the heat down to medium and brown the onions for about fifteen minutes.
Add the garlic on a slightly higher heat for three minutes.
Return the meat to the pan and add the herbs and spices.
Stir the tomato purée in and cook for a minute.
Add the wine and let the alcohol simmer off for a couple of minutes.
Add the tomatoes and water/stock bring the whole thing to a boil then simmer, covered for an hour.
After an hour, add the shallots and more water if necessary.

I served this with pittas and roasted sweet potatoes.