Sunday, 29 January 2012

Review - Kalamari

Before I started this blog, I wrote some drafts and asked the two people (let's call them A and B) who knew me best (hence no fear of judgement) to read over them. Just over a month ago, two separate but interlinked arguments resulted in me not speaking to either of them anymore. Now, harsh as it may sound, I'm not regretful at not speaking to most of the people I'm not speaking to anymore. We haven't been friends in the true sense of the word for over three years. Taking the tone even harsher, I don't (and probably won't) miss B since he had become something of a gangrenous limb who was only hard to cut off because he was there at the right place at the right time several years ago when some other part of my life was going to hell. However, I have definitely started missing A a lot. A is the person who I could tell everything ever to, however embarrassing or uncharitable or awkward it might be. He is also the person who gave the soundest advice and had a knack for knowing how things would turn out. It also helps that we would never in a million years be romantically involved. Most importantly, he delivers criticism incredibly kindly. And he's very well read. All qualities you'd find in someone who could help you on your way to becoming a failed novelist. Then I started thinking about how he said he's left me his extensive library in his will and then I started worrying that he was dead and how would I know if he was and how regretful I would feel if that happened while we were still not speaking. Rationally, I know our friendship is not defined by our last conversation but that is not how it would feel. Unfortunately, picking up where we left off is not merely a matter of swallowing pride; it's prevented by the fact that he is crucially linked to lots of things I would like to stay far, far away from. These were all the thoughts swimming around when I went to London. I was deliberating just manning up and dropping him an email and convincing myself that it wouldn't be as bad as I imagined. However, after the material buying, I met a friend who is not at all intrinsically connected with lots of crap (but is tangentially so, kind of) and I still felt a bit prickly over lunch. And that brings (not very smoothly) me to the food. We were at Kalamari on Chiswick High Road. We'd been walking for what felt like hours (we were very hungry and any place we both agreed on was shut or shutting.) So we settled on this Greek place and our hopes were high. Mainly because my companion kept saying she had a feeling we were going to find somewhere REALLY good.
First came the olives and carrots. The carrots had definitely been out for some time. The olives were far too heavily marinated. The bread was soft and warm and we asked for hummus to go with it. The hummus was amongst the best I've tasted with a lovely undertone of lemon.
Mains: veal steak with a cream sauce and fries and beef stifado. I would have expected from the hummus that they'd be good at using lemon. Unfortunately not, the stifado sauce was far too acidic and also strangely dry. The flavour had permeated through to the tender beef so I ended up leaving half of it despite the enjoyable texture. The carrots and green beans within the sauce provided brief respite from the hideous sauce. Where the stifado sauce was too tangy, the mushroom sauce was far, far too creamy. The 'asparagus' were courgettes (and not very well cooked ones at that) and the veal was not tender enough. On top of all this, they pissed me off by already adding service to the bill and charging us for the bread (which we had not requested) which meant that the total came to almost £20 each for one course and only one soft drink. Unimpressed.

Friday, 27 January 2012

Review - Aziz

I watched three films this week. The Skin I Live In, Shame and The Artist. As I emerged from the cinema for the third time with my 'incredibly good looking friend' who owns only one pair of non-suede shoes (I appreciate this in a friend, it legitimises the fact that about half of my shoes are suede), we talked about which of them I'd liked best. They were all really good and I highly recommend them all but they were so different, it's quite difficult to compare. The Artist was probably the most enjoyable. The Skin I Live In was (for want of a better word) the most mind-fucky and imaginative. Shame was the best put together, just. But that doesn't help to form an opinion on which is the best film. The same applies for food. How do you compare Nopi (not that I've been yet) to Zigni House? After dinner, we were planning on getting ingredients and cooking but a wave of cba washed over us and we decided to eat out. Then it turns out that some other friends were planning on getting £5 pizza from Fire & Stone. Going there to eat would have been very good for this post since I could have been all 'the best opportunity to truly compare is to put them on the same medium, a pizza base'. Yes, I definitely had this thought when 'Incredibly Good Looking' (he requested this nickname for anyone who hasn't got that yet) asked where I'd rather go. But we ended up at Aziz and although that denies me a neat blog structure, I'm glad. I've heard only bad things about F&S and also, I'm not keen on pizza. Getting drunk on chilli (and wine) was much more fun.
Poppadums came with fresh, presumably home made chutneys and pickles. The hot chilli pickle manages to straddle the fine line between mellow and spicy. Nice! They set up an extra little side table for all our mains which I thought was a nice touch. Chicken dhansak, lamb methi, chicken biryani (although we ordered lamb, -1), sag aloo, rice, naan and shobzi bhaji (for free, +1).
The dhansak had a sharp chilli kick cutting through the creaminess of the lentils. The chicken breast was tender and not a jot overdone. The lamb was dark and rich and the fenugreek didn't overwhelm. I'm thinking about the sauce I was too full to finish and feel sad now. Lamb again, meltingly tender but still a little fibrous. Biryani had lovely bherestha (caramelised crispy onions) on top although I think that would've gone better with lamb but that's just personal preference. The vegetable sauce which accompanied it was a little heavy handed with the lob. The other vegetable dishes more than made up for it - the sag aloo tasted both fresh and soft lacked the excess oil drowning it that so many Indians make the mistake of adding. The cauliflower in the fried vegetables emitted a sweetness that the potatoes alongside it had taken on. All this went really well with the great added touch of a garnish of cucumber and red onion. And we didn't need to add any finger chilli to our food, everything was plenty hot enough. For the three of us (although it would easily have fed four) with a bottle of wine, two beers and a student discount and a tip (which they didn't add on without asking which I appreciate) this all came to £18 each. Delicious. Without a doubt the best Indian I've eaten at in Oxford.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Review - Oxford's Grill

I'm going to attempt to generate some hype about this place because I really think you should all go there. I was walking up Cowley Road at the beginning of this academic year and noticed that a restaurant which used to be called RJ@21 had been replaced with a tacky looking italicised (mistake) white-on-red sign reading 'Turkish Restaurant'. It called itself 'Oxford Grill. I will not lie: my first reaction was to think 'I'm never going to eat there even if it is £5.95 for two courses at lunch time because I WILL get food poisoning'. Keen not to judge a book by its cover/to look at more of its cover before I pre-judge, I had a peer inside and saw that it was fit almost exactly like RJ@21 and looked quite calm, relaxed and classy. So, when my parents came to bring me my backgammon board and suede wedges this weekend, I suggested that we go to Oxford's Grill. My suggestion came because when they'd dropped me off with all my things, we'd gone to a cafe and ordered coffee and then my dad was very disappointed at what he'd ordered when he realised he could order Turkish coffee instead. I'm gonna try to be clever and now set up a comparison between the improvement on RJ@21 that is Oxford's Grill with the improvement in how well I get on with my parents from my first day at university and now. They took me to RJ@21 for lunch after they dropped all my stuff off for the first time. I had the burger then went to the loos to throw up. Not because I'm bulimic or because the food made me ill but because I have a tendency when very, very stressed to throw up and my parents were very, very stressful people. Actually, they still are because when we sat down at Oxford's Grill they started their  usual 'are you going to be sick? don't stress out order whatever stop stressing out just calm down' from the moment we sat down. It is this that stresses me out. Anyway, they began their usual routine but when I said 'can you just stfu please, I'm not at all stressed but this is stressing me out', unlike all the other times, they actually did. We ordered two mains and three meze to share: lamb shish, lamb kofte, soup, the meze sharing platter and deep fried potato balls. And then an extra treat arrived: free bread and olives at the beginning. The bread got me so excited for the rest of the meal. It was soft and warm and light and so delicious I had to actively stop myself filling up on that and the creamy (but not too creamy) hummus that it had come with. Then came everything else. The meze platter included little sticky aubergines, kisir, imam bayildi and more hummus. The soup was a lightly spiced lentil treat which had alongside some more of that delicious bread but this time fried in olive oil. OH BABY. The two types of lamb came with rice and salad.
Everything was so, so, so good that I don't know where to begin. The lamb was succulent and tender, as well marinated lamb should be. And you could taste a slight smokiness from the grill. All the grains (kisir, imam bayildi, rice) were packed full of flavour but with no one too overpowering. And it all tasted so fresh! Especially the salad (as you'd expect). That was offset nicely with the more heavy elements of hummus and the little breadcrumbed potato fritters. But they were in no way too heavy, they were almost Aero-like light. If we had to choose a star of the show (I'm going to), the aubergine would win. It had a glaze on it reminiscent of Szechuan-style aubergines except much less heady and the sweetness on them was perfect. Basically, this place is amazing and definitely ranks as one of the best meals I've had in Oxford and I would hate for its bad sign to dissuade people from trying it. Oh, and to wrap off the parent-restaurant analogy: in a moment of unprecedented honesty, I revealed to my father that I was still worried I'd given myself sinus problems 4 lyf (see previous post) because I had been sporadically smoking over the past few months. He laughed, said me he wouldn't pay for my teeth to be whitened and told me to stop being a hypochondriac. Progress! Oh and then said 'don't breathe word of this to your mother.' Some things will never change.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Recipe - Cheese, Onion and Potato Pie

Over this dinner, my friends were joking about what I'd say in my first paragraph. Since nothing inflammatory or gossip worthy had happened, my friend suggested I make something up. Now, far be it for me to deny Patrick Marber's words of wisdom ('lying's the most fun a girl can have without taking her clothes off'), but I quite like my nose but fear I'm on the cusp of sprouting a Pinocchio beak because of how much (necessary) lying I did as an adolescent. So instead, some boring and faintly ridiculous truths from this week:

1. I convinced myself I'd given myself sinus problems 4 lyf but then I took some antibiotics and everything was fine.
2. I went to the Bodleian library for the first time ever this week. It is AMAZING and I don't know why more people don't sound excited about going.
3. I finally watched The Breakfast Club and think the kiss between Molly Ringwald and the cool guy is the hottest on screen kiss ever.

Cheese Potato and Onion Pie with a kind of pan-gratin 
This fed five.
1 ready rolled sheet of puff pastry
2 really big potatoes, peeled and chopped into small cubes and sprinkled with salt
2 really big onions, very finely sliced
1 tsp thyme
300g grated mature cheddar cheese
5 tbsp milk
Black pepper

Fry the onions on a medium heat in plenty of oil until soft and melty but not coloured (about 15 minutes).
Remove from heat and add the cheese, milk and potatoes and mix to combine.
Sprinkle over the thyme and a liberal grinding of black pepper and stir well.
Place half the mixture on one side of the puff pastry and fold the pastry over the top. Seal the edges by folding over and make a couple of slits on the top.
Place in the oven for half an hour at 200 until crisp and brown.
Return the remaining mixture to a medium heat and cover. Stir very frequently to prevent sticking or burning but always re-cover after doing so.
Add a little water to loosen half way through cooking (after about 15 minutes if necessary.
Once the potatoes are done, remove from heat (about 30 minutes). It will look like a creamy, cheesy, browned but still quite dry mixture.

I served this with some green beans, peas and red pepper dressed in wholegrain mustard and honey.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Review - (Rock the) Kazbar

I love puns! Kazbar is a place I frequented a fair amount in summer of first year because the food was really good and very good value when the half price deal was on. One time (at band camp), I wore a very pretty yellow dress and debated whether to wear pretty blue heels to match the pretty yellow dress and pretty denim shirt and decided to go for sandals (which my mother threw away at the end of that summer and I cried) and then afterwards, I was supposed to be seeing Dangerous Liaisons but bumped into someone who I really didn't want to bump into and then flaked on the play because watching something about how everyone fucks each other over was the last thing I wanted to do. All this definitely wouldn't have happened had I been wearing the slammin' blue heels. Oh God and the other time which springs to mind is when I went there for dessert and then went and met someone afterwards and argued and cried for 3 hours. This time, post-Kazbar was relaxed and calm and the most eventful thing which happened was adding honey to my camomile tea. However, Kazbar itself has deteriorated a little in quality. Firstly, the deal is no longer half price tapas at certain times. Now, it's £2 tapas (which is very good) but only from a selection of tapas. That selection did not include my favourite dish (lamb with butternut squash in a lemon and pea sauce) there but I insisted that we order it anyway because it's so good. The rest we ordered from the tapas menu: seafood salad, slow cooked potatoes and chorizo, falafel and babaganoush.
I did not think much of the seafood salad - it needed a lot more lemon despite the fact that the dressing was almost overpoweringly covered in lemon/vinegar and the texture of the seafood was rather unpleasant. The falafel were good, not over seasoned as I find most falafel to be. The tzatziki with the falafel and babaganoush were delicious though the babaganoush was a little tarter than I'd have liked. Potatoes and chorizo were really, really good. Crispy and dark and almost sweet. The lamb, my favourite, was a let down. The lamb wasn't as tender as it could've been at the sauce didn't have that same moreishness about it that I remember. Overall, it's still a cosy place to eat and great value(ish) during deal time but not as good as it used to be. Or perhaps they were just having an off day?

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Recipe - Squashed Squash with Prawns

As I write this I'm lying in bed revelling in how much an iPhone facilitates my laziness. Yesterday I went to a hippie meditation class where we had to complete 10 phrases beginning 'I am'. My third one I completed with 'lazy'. The next bit of the exercise which I definitely didn't get was crossing out the word and registering your reaction. The teacher (who was decked out all in purple) didn't understand that there was little to no chance of me cutting out the indolence and replacing it with peace, love and harmony. The class was still fun despite being of little utility. My plan to hold onto the calm that 2012 began with and not go crazy for finals is do lots of new stuff that I before would've rolled my eyes at even if I don't take it all strictly seriously. Like in Friends when Ross gets the leather trousers! Continuing on the 'eat pray love' theme, I plan to cook lots more vegetables with turmeric. But I'm not turning veggie or anything, like I said, I'm doing new stuff but not necessarily buying into it all. Oh, I'm also gonna start going to all the lectures I've missed (all of them since first week of first year no exaggeration) so I don't fail my degree.
Squashed Squash with Prawns
2 medium onions, sliced finely
2 dried red chillies
1 green finger chilli, sliced
1 pack raw peeled prawns
Chilli powder
Ground coriander
2 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into bitesize pieces
1 small squash, peeled, seeds and membrane discarded, cut into bitesize cubes

Fry half the onion in one saucepan on a low heat in about 1 tbsp vegetable oil until very soft but not browned.
Add about 3/4 tbsp each of turmeric, coriander and chilli powder and stir into a paste. Add more oil if necessary.
Cook for a minute then add the prawns and potatoes, season and fry for a further minute, coating in spices.
Add 4 tbsp water, cover and simmer for about 10 minutes until the potatoes are cooked.
For a further 5 minutes, uncover and let the mixture dry out on a higher heat.
Meanwhile, fry the other half of the onion and the dried red chillies in a similar amount of vegetable oil.
Add 1/2 tbsp each of chilli powder and turmeric.
Add the squash, season and fry for a minute.
Add enough water to half cover the mixture and simmer and stir on a medium heat until the squash disintegrates to a mush, about 40 minutes.
At the very end, add the prawns and fresh green chilli and heat the mixture through together.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Review - Cape of Good Hope

I have nothing new to report. I didn't manage to sleep for a very long time until such a time that I feel normal again so am still in a haze. Advantages: zen, uncritical(ish), chilled mood remains. Disadvantages: no motivation (or ability) to do anything or concentrate. Most of my days have been trying to work then trying to sleep interspersed with 'sorting my life out' meetings. I had been doing the trying to sleep bit before my FREE LUNCH at Cape of Good Hope, a pub with the hardest pub quiz ever on Cowley Road in Oxford. What I like best about it is that it's called Cape of Good Hope and it's at a junction so the shape of the building looks like the actual Cape of Good Hope. So, I got to eat there for free. Advantages of having a food blog: friends asking you to be their +1 when they win a free meal. Disadvantages: being really annoying and posting it everywhere all the time to get more hits because seeing that people read it gives you a bigger than it should. The deal was that we'd each get a free main. I went for the sausages, kale colcannon and gravy because I'd been craving sausages the day before. Prize Winner went for the pork belly salad with beetroot and sweet potato.
Sausages and mash were quite bland. The sausages were good quality and the mash was smooth but the kale didn't seem to really add much. It all sort of tasted the same. The gravy would've been their chance to shine. It was supposed to be a red onion gravy but I didn't get any of the sweetness that the red onions led me to expect. Oh and there was a superfluous bit of parsley on top and I HATE that. It wasn't bad, it was just very boring.
Pork belly was nicely cooked although they were a little meagre with it. The accompaniments, while each individually delicious, together they didn't work. They were all quite strong flavours (in particular the beetroot) and the pork couldn't be tasted through it all. So, one tasted of too much and one of too little. The portion sizes were good though and the price is cheap enough (for Oxford) and the atmosphere is lovely.

Monday, 9 January 2012

Restaurants in Amsterdam

Toilets in Amsterdam: they're weird. I think they well encapsulate the weird vibe about the whole city. Especially the ones in the 'sexmuseum' on Damrak. Not in the way that you'd think though. The whole place is like the room of requirement in city form. As soon as you think of something, it appears as if from nowhere. You find yourself sitting down to look at a map without turning and fortuitously end up on a bench. You ask for doubles in backgammon and get 6s. On top of that, there are all of the canals and tall, narrow houses with spiral staircases ensuring that you never quite feel that you have your bearings. Oh, and I guess all the weed doesn't help. The first time I ever played Articulate my answer to one of the clues ('Where you always want to go') was 'tulip place.' Obviously the actual answer to the clue was Amsterdam. In the song 'Calculation Theme' by Metric, there's a bit where Emily's all 'I wish we were farmers/I wish we knew how/To grow sweet potatoes/And milk cows.' Whenever I want to escape, I think of that line and wish to go to the place where that line exists. So that's where the concept of 'tulip place' comes from. Which indicates that subconsciously I always connected 'escape to a happy place' with Amsterdam despite having never been. Anyway, Amsterdam IS tulip place. There are lots of tulips there but also it correlates exactly with my El-Dorado-esque vision of the place I want to escape to when my first world, white-wine problems are getting me down. I loved it there. Somehow the combination of confused and relaxed led to the most carefree I've felt in aaages. And everything was objectively really pretty/interesting/fun/whatever it was supposed to be. Including the food.
Heffer Cafe, Red Light District, Amsterdam
On our first night, we stumbled upon this quite mainstream looking bar near where we lived. Oh, also there were no women in there. When more women came, we left. Coincidence? I hope so. Anyway, as I went up to order, I spied some bar snacks which looked like arancini. I made the mistake of asking the waitress what they were. They're a dutch specialty and very hard to describe and her English wasn't great. So she enlisted the help of the creepy guys next to us to explain. He insisted we try a ball each (ha) and also order a beer from Jupon. He proceeded to bore us with an account of how this beer was called 'Impossible Thomas' and the brewery was near him and how they called it silent death because it was so strong but he could still manage six in a night (lad). All of this would have been very interesting had it not been for the fact that I have little to no interest in beer and he was clearly on number four of his six. But that was the only downer. I had wrongly assumed this place would be a super-expensive tourist trap where the quality was poor. But everything (pork chop, chips, a dressed salad and these bitterballen) was perfectly cooked and perfectly seasoned. A pleasing surprise.
Breakfast from some breakfast/cafe place next door to St Christopher on Warmoesstraat, Red Light District, Amsterdam
I failed to get the name of this breakfast place. I also failed to get a photo of the Grasshopper all lit up in green at night and a photo of the trippy spiral stairs in one of the Bulldog cafes. But on the first morning, we ate here. I had a chai latte and a madeleine.
Then, as I raised to my lips a spoonful of the cake...a shudder ran through my whole body and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary changes that were taking place. JUST KIDDING. But it was a good madeleine. The latte could've done with a little more chai than latte but was still enjoyable. And cheap!
Festiva Lente, Jordaan, Amsterdam
That day we lunched at a quaint little cafe in the Jordaan district. It had lots of books and board games and even though there are lots of places in the UK which are similar, this place seemed somehow more real. Holiday brain? Probably. The food was again incredibly good value, I had the pasta puttanesca and my friend had one of their bread platters with cheese and sun-dried tomato tapenade and salad. And beers. And coffee. All for just over €20. Everything was bursting with flavour but, like everything else in Amsterdam, being very casual about it. So we tried to fit in by playing backgammon. This is when I needed doubles on the die.
Carne Argentina, Red Light District, Amsterdam
Having ditched the clingy man from Bahrain from the night before, that evening we ate with B, a (gossip) girl from our hostel and some Italian guy. We ended up in an Argentinian restaurant just because everyone kept remarking that there were lots about and also because we were very hungry by this point. Like on the first night, I wasn't expecting much from this restaurant. Again, pleasantly surprised. We all had the daily special - steak and chips. Nothing earth shattering. This was my first steak since the one I had at Gaucho which made me decide to avoid steak in future. Not because Gaucho's steak wasn't good but because despite the acclaim, I still felt more fondly towards the little side dishes. The chips at Carne Argentina weren't very good. They were fine but could've done with being a little crisper. But the steak I remember as being better than at Gaucho's. This was the point at which I started feeling like an unreliable narrator whose senses may have been somewhat deadened.
Bagels & Beans, Oud-Zuid, just beyond Vondelpark, Amsterdam
That feeling didn't continue to lunch the next day. Apparently this Bagel & Beans place is a chain all over Holland. I once read an article that the thing which 'foodies' (do I count as one?) everywhere all hold in contempt is the chain restaurant. They need to eat at Bagel & Beans. We both ordered the BLT. I have not eaten many bagels in my life but I find it hard to imagine one which could beat this one. Crisp, slightly sweet bacon with fresh tomatoes which almost tasted as though they'd been grown locally but that local was Italy/Croatia. The salad leaves were perfectly cut (it annoys me so much when salad leaves are too big to eat efficiently) and added taste and texture rather than just being a bit of green to make it look pretty. And they added pine nuts for more texture which added another level of savoury which went so well with the meat and the tartness of the (probably home made) mayonnaise-y dressing.
Lion Noir, Reguliersdwarsstraat, Amsterdam
This meal was both the priciest and least good of the lot, in my mind. We were taken here by the boy who I started talking to at the airport because he was well dressed, reading a Penguin classic and listening to good music. Shallow? Yes. But it's OK because he was lots of fun despite being nothing like I'd imagined. (I didn't see the Justin Bieber at the airport.) Lion Noir was recommended because it has some link to the denim company he works for. An aside: they're also planning on sending the first ever pair of jeans into space. I had the pheasant. It was lovely to look at and all of the trimmings were very tasty (particularly the little fondant potatoes) but the sauerkraut totally overpowered the pheasant. Also the pheasant was ever so slightly over-seasoned. I wouldn't point it out if it weren't for the fact that this was the only over-seasoned anything I had in Amsterdam. Also one little bit of it tasted as though it hadn't been gutted properly which made me lose my appetite somewhat. Airport Boy ordered the steak which was very, very good even despite having been charred to a medium/well-done so perhaps I just ordered wrongly. 
De Bruine Boon, Leiden
Our last meal took place in Leiden just before a quick look at the National Geographic photograph exhibition at Volkenkunde Museum. I hate the word 'hanging' but that's what I was. That morning I had found myself in the Hague with the mission of having to get back to Amsterdam in time to check out. As much as I will tell this story as if I was tricked into it, if I am honest it was two parts trickery and three parts stupidity/inebriation on my part. I kept thinking 'Den Haag' meant some suburb not a whole different city. Anyway, it was confusing. And after three days of no rest and general disorientation, I was in a bad way. Getting to Leiden proved troublesome as well. Again, two parts trickery/three disorientation. But the 12 o'clock fried egg, croquette, bread and onion soup really, really helped. Thank you. The egg was somehow almost crispy yet with a sunny yolk. The croquette had a lovely crumb exposing a gooey cheese and bacon treat where the mellowness of the cheese complimented the salty bacon perfectly. The soup was nourishing and 'deeply savoury.' I've used that Nigel Slater emulating term before as a joke since my friend insisted but this actually was deeply savoury. There's no other phrase for it.
As I write this, I am unsure whether I am in a haze from not sleeping, a hangover or perhaps I'm even not yet sober so I'll have to look over this before publishing. And all the unreliable narrator stuff again means I can't be sure that my accounts are accurate because I was in such a zen, calm, uncritical mood the whole time. But for now, the conclusion is that Amsterdam = very, very good for food. I'm now going to sleep until I feel something approaching normal again.

Friday, 6 January 2012

Recipe - Slow Roasted Kind of Confit Duck

I finally told someone to find their horizon and fuck off over it. I would love to take credit for that catchphrase but unfortunately, it's a quote from 15 Million Merits from Charlie Brooker's Black Mirror mini-series. He co-wrote that episode with Konnie Huq but somehow, I can't imagine an ex-Blue Peter presenter coming up with something so sassy. Anyway, it was about time (ha, it's a homonym) that I did that. And I cooked celebratory duck. I could swear I took a photo of it but apparently not.

Slow Roasted Duck Legs
4 duck legs
1 large bay leaf, crumbled
4 sprigs of thyme
Salt and pepper

Pre-heat the oven to 170
Place a large frying pan on a medium high heat and add the duck legs in a single layer, at first skin side down, 5 minutes and then half-way through, turning them over to finish with skin side up 5 minutes. Reserve the frying pan to make the gravy.
Transfer the legs and all the rendered fat and marinade to a large roasting pan, arranging the legs skin side up in a single layer.  Cover the pan with foil and place in the oven. 
Cook for 2 hours. 
Remove the foil, leaving the legs skin side up, and return to the oven and roast for an additional 30 minutes. 
Drain the fat out of the roasting pan back into the frying pan leaving about 1 tablespoon of fat in the roasting pan. 
Return the legs to the roasting pan, again skin side up.  Return the pan to the oven for a last 30 minutes of roasting to crisp the skin.
To make the gravy, heat up the duck fat in the frying pan. Add 2 cloves finely chopped garlic.
Add a tablespoon of flour and mix thoroughly to make a paste. 
Add a teaspoon of Marmite and a dash of water then simmer on a medium heat until a thick gravy is formed.

2 large carrots, peeled and chopped into similar sized pieces
2 large parsnips, peeled and chopped into similar sized pieces
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tbsp goose fat
Fresh thyme leaves
Salt and pepper

Parboil the carrots and parsnips for 5 minutes.
Toss with the goose fat, cinnamon, thyme salt and pepper.
Place in the oven for 40 minutes at 170.

4 large potatoes, peeled and chopped into large-ish pieces
2 tbsp goose fat
Salt and pepper

Parboil the potatoes for 7 minutes.
Drain and fluff up the edges in a colander. Season with salt and pepper.
Heat the goose fat in a baking tray and tip the potatoes into the hot fat.
Place in the oven for an hour at 170.

240g brussel sprouts, outer leaves removed and trimmed
1 small onion, cut into 8 pieces
1 tsp caraway seed
Salt and pepper
1 tbsp goose fat

Toss the brussel sprouts in the caraway seed, salt, pepper and fat.
Bake for at least 40 minutes until crispy on the outside and tender on the inside.

1 onion, diced finely
A knob of butter
1 small apple, cored, peeled and diced
1 pack Scottish beef sausages, removed from casing
Handful of sage, chopped finely
2 slices white bread, toasted and turned to breadcrumbs

Fry the onion in the butter for 5 minutes on a medium heat. 
Add the apple and fry for a further 2 minutes.
Take off the heat and allow to cool.
Mix all the ingredients in a bowl and place in an ovenproof dish.
Make it look pretty by adding some whole sage leaves on top.
Bake for 40 minutes at 170.

Monday, 2 January 2012

Review - Clippers

Isn't Brick Lane a nice place? Yes, it is. I remember once saying that it was my 'spiritual home' because it was host to all the Bengalis and dickheads. This was a) one of the more twattish things I've said and b) inaccurate. I'm never going to be cool enough to a hipster. Also most of the Bengalis are actually Sylhetis which is in Bangladesh but it's culturally very different. As in, people would say they're Sylheti rather than Bengali. But only to people who know the difference. But still, I like sparkly things and bright lights so I was always going to like a place that has lights up every day of the year. I also like curry and drinking. And I feel a little bit impressed with myself to see that I can still read the Bengali road signs. But then if ever I have a conversation in Bengali with any of the restaurant patrons, I curse just how much Bengali I've forgotten. You can still tell I'm a native speaker but I've begun making silly mistakes. 'Amah-keh cha bah-now' instead of 'Amar-jon-noh cha ban-now.' Mixing up my cases, see. Why would I start speaking to the patrons in Bengali? To try and get a discount. Of course, it never works. But then I get the opportunity to speak Bengali so rarely (my own fault for not calling/visiting my fam enough) that I like to practise when I can. We still managed to get a discount from Clippers (104 Brick Lane) though. Not because of my (lack of) Bengali skillz but just because that's how they enticed us in. £10 for a starter, main, rice and naan. Except it transpired that it was  rice OR naan. Even though I'm pretty sure it was rice AND naan but whatever. My friend still managed to beat the system by ordering a biryani and naan. I'm very pleased for her because she often spills things and breaks things and ends up in an unlucky state so beating the system twice in one day is a big deal. The other time was managing to save more on a Boots meal deal than she spent. This is what Charlie Sheen imagined when he invented bi-winning.

To start we had mushrooms in garlic, onion bhajis and prawn puree. I forgot to taste the mushrooms but my friend said they were good. 
I know puree to be flat deep fried stuffed pancake type things. This was actually prawns in a small roti. Also, my mother's prawns are better. This was a little too heavy-handed with the coriander and a little bland. More spice and a little more salt needed. Once the lemon was sprinkled over it, it tasted less bland.  
Onion bhajis inspired a similar 'my mother could do better' reaction. They weren't sweet enough, an indication that the onions hadn't been fried for long enough. Also the batter was again a bit bland and had burnt a little on the edges.
As mains, we ended up with vegetable rogan josh, korai lamb, lamb biryani and lamb bhuna.
The rogan josh was ordered to be a little bit spicier than usual. Unfortunately, it was made a little too spicy. My friend got her second chilli hiccough from eating it. It's the first time I've ever seen someone have a chilli hiccough in real life! The only other time I've heard of it is when Gregg got one on Masterchef. Ahhh, Greg. The tomato sauce was juicy and well seasoned and the vegetables seemed like they had been well cooked.
My korai lamb was ordered to be a bit spicier than usual. It was just on the verge of being too spicy but really good. The lamb was just cooked so still soft and full of flavour. The peppers were fresh and the sauce a good consistency. It was good but it didn't set my world alight. I don't know what it was lacking but I could tell it wasn't amazing. The lamb biryani garnered a similar reaction. I didn't get to taste the bhuna because my friend's boyfriend demolished it in all of 5 minutes.
This place was unspectacular. We enjoyed our meals and cleaned our plates but I won't remember it in years to come. I would go there again but I wouldn't rave about it.