Saturday, 31 March 2012

Review - East India

The problem with having a blog is that everyone can read it. Well, clearly that's the point of it. But it poses great difficulty to me sometimes. For example, recently I've had lots of tangentially relevant crap to write about. But unfortunately couldn't in case people concerned (including but not limited to potential employers) came across it. Oh crap, I definitely just got on the train at the wrong end. And I had a full five minutes to figure out where the optimum place to board for platform positioning would've been. I'm on a commuter train typing this on my glorious iPhone you see. Because I've been very busy and important at an advertising firm for the past week. I hate commuting. It brings out the most vicious, selfish, territorial side of me. It's like taking part in a war which everyone is losing. My battle scars include a bruised toe from a stilettoing, a bloody, reinfected ear from an accidental (possibly on purpose) beating and self inflicted luggage wounds to the legs. Oh yeah, you know the unexplained bruises on my legs post Prague? (Did I even write about them here?) probably from my little legs taking a bashing from my equally little but much sturdier suitcase. At the end of the journey, there's free porridge if you make it in by nine. As if to say 'You made it. Others fell and were fed to the dogs but you made it.' (In my down time I've been reading loads about The Hunger Games.) Here's some porridge. Anyway, waking up before 7, going through this twice a day as well as actually working for at least eight hours has given me new found respect for commuters (particularly those with children), filled me with refreshed iPhone love and meant I've been going to bed at 10. It is the last two of that list of three that becomes relevant to the food I'll tell you about. I haven't been much good as company for the friend I've been staying with, you see. I tend to get in, bitch a bit, eat dinner and then play Draw Something with him until absurdly early bedtime. Then wake him up two hours before he'd like to be woken with my alarm. So after the fun of rum Wednesday, I was determined to be good company on my last night at his. So we went to East India restaurant in Surbiton.
I'll be honest with you, the food was average to poor. Well, it was a very uninspiring lamb tikka biryani but everything was still cooked reasonably well. Just no magic with the spices which is really what you expect from a Good indian. Oh and it was way under seasoned apart from the marinade which was way over seasoned. But who cares when it costs £10 including wine? Well, I care a bit. But I'm too exhausted to keep complaining. Now, how does the phone come into this? Well, after sending an entirely unnecessary Facebook message at the beginning of the meal, we decided to do the thing where you put your phones in the middle of the table and whoever reaches for it first, pays. Except then my companion pointed out that it's easy not to touch your phone when it's obscured by other phones. So we did it with them on the table next to us. I got three texts and a missed call over dinner but I didn't succumb. I did cover my companion in wine when he reached for my phone to read my text though. The warrior instinct has been entrenched.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Recipe - Salmon and Vodka Pasta

There is a little bottle of rum and a little bottle of vodka in my recycle bin. But they are not traces of non-sensible. The first half of the vodka was used in the recipe I'll share later in this post. The first part of the rum was drunk with some hot milk and sugar. Like a grown up child's drink. Incidentally, it was that very drink that set about a chain of unexpected events that led me to be drinking rum and milk with the same companion some weeks later. The rest of the rum was promised to a friend who kindly let me sleep on a water bed on his floor for five nights despite the fact that it meant being rudely awoken at 6.55am every morning. Unfortunately, after finishing off the remains of the vodka over a game of Catan, that didn't seem so important anymore. Still, I insisted upon buying him more rum because 'we always drink rum when we're in London'. I probably said it in quite a posh way because my voice gets more posh when I drink. That lead to my Northern friend remarking upon how pretentious I sounded. She was so right. But we DO always drink rum when we spend time together in London! In Farringdon, it was with ginger beer and lime and Derek the housemate. Over Christmas, we failed to nog some and that led to the egg parlour. Here's what we did with it this time! I'm pretty sure we did different quantities though.
Salmon and Vodka Pasta Sauce, based upon this
1 onion, chopped
4 garlic, chopped
6 tomatoes, chopped
2 courgettes, sliced into half moons
100ml vodka
1 tbsp tomato purée
6 fillets of skinless, boneless salmon, chopped into bite size pieces
150ml double cream
Juice of half a lemon
Generous handful dill, finely chopped
Salt and pepper

Fry the onion, garlic and courgette in a generous amount of olive oil on a medium high heat until the onions are translucent and soft, about ten minutes.
Add the chopped tomatoes and fry for another five minutes.
Turn the heat up to high, add the vodka and let the alcohol evaporate off, about 3 minutes.
Add the tomato purée and cook for a further five minutes.
Add the cream and salmon and season generously.
Let simmer for five minutes or so, until the salmon is cooked.
Toss the sauce with the pasta, squeeze in the lemon and stir in the dill.
(Hey, look! It's one of the balls from my tent!)
This was served with a kilogram of farfalle that was intended to make eight portions and probably did except that by the third game of Catan, it was all gone.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

A very Czech feast

I may have extensively discussed the restaurants we went to in the last post but I didn't have much opportunity to mention the hostel. Which is a real shame because the hostel was GOLD. Really, really cheap, really central, really clean, nicely decorated, lovely staff, free wifi, free breakfast. It was perfect. Art Hole Hostel is the name in case anyone will actually take my word for it when they visit Prague. The hostel has given me a chance to talk about it because towards the end of our holiday, the heavy food and beer and lack of sleep had started taking its toll. We were still keen to do fun things and make the most of our time but the prospect of walking and reading maps when too tired to function was less than appealing. Fortuitously, our last night presented a fun opportunity to do something fun at the hostel without killing ourselves for the journey. And since we're both planning on going to Europe this summer (oh yeah, I really like being in foreign countries so I've decided to be in them for an extended period of time over summer), I'm sure another opportunity to visit the third best venue in Europe (the Cross Club, apparently) without destroying our bodies and bank balances will arise. So what was the alternative that stopped us feeling like we're missing out? A Czech cookery class with probably the coolest couple in the world followed by lots of beer and a card game that I made up. It wasn't a very good card game. So, what did we make/learn to make? Goulash, potato pancakes, bread dumplings and carrot cake. Mmm. The goulash had quite the kick but still retained the meatiness of those we'd tried at pubs. The potato pancakes were crisp and salty. Really, really moreish. The carrot cake was dense but moist with a creamy sugary icing. The quantities below made enough to feed four very well with some left over.
50g lard or beef dripping
3 onions, finely chopped
1kg beef or pork
2 tsp oregano
1 tbsp smoked paprika
4 cloves garlic, crushed
Salt and pepper

Melt the beef dripping and fry the onions in it on a medium heat until very soft and beginning to colour.
Add the meat, garlic and spices and season all over with salt and black pepper.
Brown the meat on a high heat.
Cover the mixture with water and lower to a simmer.
Cover and cook for around 45 minutes (or as long as you have).
At the end of the cooking time, check the consistency.
If you would like it a little thicker, grate a potato and add the grated potato to the mixture then check the seasoning.

Potato pancakes
1kg potatoes, grated
2 eggs
200g flour
Dash of milk
Salt and pepper

Place the grated potato in a large mixing bowl.
Crack in two eggs, add the 200g of flour and mix.
Add a little bit of milk if you think it requires it (you're looking for a pancake batter consistency).
Add the garlic, oregano and season well.
Fry as you would pancakes i.e. heat a little oil in a frying pan, add a ladleful of batter and spread to cover the pan, cook one side, flip, cook the other side.

Carrot Cake
2 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 tbsp cinnamon
2 cups flour
1 tbsp baking powder
2 cups grated carrot
A dash of vegetable oil

Beat the eggs with the sugar. 
Add the vanilla essence, cinnamon, flour and baking powder and mix.
Add the grated carrot and a touch of oil.
Pour the mixture into a greased cake tin and bake for 30mins at 175.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Barefoot in Bohemia - Restaurants in Prague

My little feet took a battering in Prague. As with all my previous holidays, I spent a lot of time walking to sightsee and soak up the atmosphere. Unlike with other trips, I took more than one pair of shoes and no sensible shoes. Indeed, after my £3 Primark satchel snapped (it had a good innings), the fruits of the bag replacing trip were two pairs of really hot, really pointy, really impractical shoes instead. Oh, and some sunglasses which make me feel like a cat! But anyway, all the new shoes and walking had my feet in tatters. Also my legs at various points sprouted purple broccoli like bruises. The kind that makes you really want to cut into them and let the blood pour out. Gross. Anyway, these factors added to my much less painful now piercings and the cold I've had since the 16th of January should've made me miserable. But you just can't be. Partly because of the sunshine and the beautiful buildings (general consensus is that if Prague was a person, you'd tap that) but mostly because of the rich, warming food. Everything I ate was exactly what an ill person would want to eat.
On the first night, we tried to get a table at Lokal, a place recommended by the hostel. It was full and we were super hungry so we ended up at a crap looking pizzeria, Pizzeria Mikulka, around the corner. We ordered San Paolo pasta (leeks cheese sirloin beef ham mushrooms), ham and pineapple pizza and salami pizza. The pizza seemed pretty good to me but I was informed that there was a soggy base issue. Now I'm about to make a really awful analogy with the pasta. A friend and I were recently talking about how it's strange that you can recognise that someone has all the component parts of a great person but you still sometimes just don't feel it. He described it as 'ineffable' and I really liked that description and have used that word in many a context since. Anyway, i used it to describe the effect of seasoning. Often, it's almost there and is adequate for you to describe a meal as good but when it's perfect, JESUS CHRIST. I had that rush of CHRIST I FORGOT HOW GOOD THIS CAN FEEL when I took the first bite of this pasta. Wonderfully garlicky, hitting the spot/bang on the money/can't think of a third cliche oh wait lists of three are cliches. I must admit that I wasn't expecting much so the breathtaking 'this is delicious' took me by surprise somewhat.
Of course, pizza isn't czech so the next day called for a proper czech lunch. After walking around Kampa and up Petrin tower, we went to Malastranska Beseda, another recommendation of the hostel. Inside, there were more locals than tourists and it had that almost posh vibe that I later came to expect from czech pubs. And we went to the cheapish ones! The guidebook we read on the way to Prague made a joke about czech food being either salty or fatty. Joking they were not. Both the salt and fat levels (honestly, how would you have felt if I'd instead referred to the sodium and lipid levels?) SOARED. In the most spectacular way. We ordered a half duck with crisp salty skin which contrasted with the red cabbage (the most expensive thing there but still less than £10) so nicely. I had potato dumplings which had been carefully filled with beautiful bacon on a bed of heady vinegar cabbage and then topped with more smoky, crisp lardons. That too topped the macaroni cheese like dish with a gloriously heavy cream and cheese sauce. One mouthful made you feel full but it was too good to resist having more.
Glorious though it was, for dinner we wanted something fresher to counter the meat and cheese. I'd read about a couple of Afghan restaurants that I was curious to try out, having never tried afghan food before. So we headed to Ariana ('are you choosing it because it sounds like your name?').
I wasn't filled with confidence when we got there and also was a little disheartened by the price list. It was still cheap but not czech pub cheap. We ordered biryani, falafel, falafel and kofte. All lovely and colourful enough to be able to see the tang of the tomatoes. One gripe I had is that they'd used frozen veg in the biryani. But everything was gently spiced and tender enough that you didnt care. The lamb in both the kofte and the lamb was outstandingly tender. The falafel were the best I've ever eaten, just the right texture of crumb with the right balance of salt. And it came with a very nice spicy salsa/chutney type thing.
The next day we walked along a different bridge and sat on an island and enjoyed the view for a while before heading to the Lennon wall. At first glance, I thought 'Oh, is this it?' but on closer inspection, it does have some great graffiti on it. Including a heart in front of which Earnest and I had a photo taken whilst discussing how she couldn't do this with a boyfriend because it would just be TOO much. This heart also proved useful later because it has some pretentious crap about having affection for people and things in your life even if they're not in it anymore. Look!
Overcome with 'Hey! I'm in Prague!', I'd sent a lengthy 'this is how I'm doing, I hope you're doing well too' email. But then felt strange and fragile and so sent a subsequent email saying 'soz changed my mind not yet but plz get someone to tell me if you die' with the pretentious heart attached. Anyway, after wandering some more along Charles Bridge and taking a look at Agent Provocateur in the hope that maybe things were cheaper in Prague (they're not), we headed to Krcma for lunch. It had been recommended by the hostel as the best place to eat. I agree with them wholeheartedly. It was my favourite place on entrance, an underground cellar with oak and barrels and bottles with candles in everywhere.
Even the menu had a withered tea stained look about it. The food was even better than the atmosphere. After much deliberation (the menu is mouthwatering), I went for the pork neck and baked potatoes, Earnest had the goulash and Batman had marinated beef and root vegetables with cranberry. After taking a bite of the luxuriously meaty goulash, I decided to take the maverick step of asking for some goulash sauce to go with my pork neck. The pork neck itself was perfectly tender, not at all dry despite the breadcrumbs and deep frying. The potatoes were crisp but wet and everything hit the flavour notes it was supposed to. With the goulash sauce (which they kindly gave to me for free), it was even better. The problem with a food blog is that often, words cannot describe how good something is. But yes, this goulash is a strong contender for one of the best things I've ever eaten.
We ended up doing lots of walking after lunch in search of proper ice cream. But still we wanted something a little lighter for dinner. We were feeling quite lazy from drinking gin and juice (the most amazing juice in the world called Cappy which I initially discovered in Croatia) and chatting to Tomas (not of Tereza and Tomas fame, he worked at the hostel) who suggested we get Pizzeria La Ventola to deliver to our hostel. Earnest and I shared a risotto with pork medallions and lots of vegetables in and also a chicken and asparagus pizza. The risotto was not a risotto, more like fried rice, but that's OK because I was craving chinese food. The pizza was so creamy and cheesy yet light with soft chicken and snappy asparagus. Really, really good.
Our mission for the next day was to find me a bag. Except I ended up with two new shoes and also some sunglasses instead. As I was feeling the guilt from spending money drip over me, we went for hot dogs from a fast food place near the Old Town Square. Twenty crowns, less than a pound! I'm sure I'd be horrified if I were to find out what actually went into the hot dog but it tasted great so I don't care. We then headed to the St. Matthew's Fair which we'd been intending on going to the previous night but it closed so we ended up at the very cool non-tourist friendly Klubovna no.2 instead. There was a huge queue outside the fair but it moved really quickly. Once we were inside, we decided to get yet more junk food.
The first round was essentially a stir fry, very MSG heavy but also addictive. My companion went for a more czech delicacy, a sort of doughnuty thing slathered in ketchup and cheese. Again so fatty that you can feel the spots growing but too satisfying to care. Dessert held a round doughnut/pastry type thing covered in sugar and flavoured with cinnamon. I wish they existed in the UK.
We went to Kolkovna for a light (and cheap) soup for dinner to counter the crap we'd eaten in the afternoon. The veal broth and goulash soup we ordered epitomises the 'this is food you want to eat when ill' thing I banged on about earlier. So hearty and nourishing. So well seasoned and with all the meat falling apart. Kolkovna has the great czech classy but cheap atmosphere as well. Although I did not care for being charged almost as much for water as I had for my soup. I just really didn't want beer before doing a lame, scummy (but still quite enjoyable since we met some cool Norwegians) 'all you can drink' crawl. That ended with us bailing after the second bar to share a bucket of KFC and sing on the way home. Oh dear.
Feeling disgusted at ourselves about everything we'd eaten the day before, we headed to the vegetarian cafe, Countrylife, for lunch the next day. At this point, I was covered in bruises, my feet were in pieces and I'd resorted to carrying my bloodstained shoes on the way to the mirror maze because it was less painful than wearing them. This was the most expensive meal I ate in Prague and still didn't exceed £10. They charge you based on weight, you see, and I went mental at the sight of all the green. They're not big on vegetables elsewhere. Worth every penny. Dinner that night was again heavy and czech but deserves its own blog post.
Despite being convinced I'd never be hungry again after my goulash and carrot cake breakfast (leftovers from the night before), after finding the padlock gate and souvenirs, we were ravenous and ended up at Lokal, the place we'd tried to go to twice previously with no success. We had the tenderloin meatloaf and garlic beef with unlimited spinach and buttered potatoes to share. As we'd come to expect from these places, the food was excellent. This place was better than Malastranska Beseda but not as good as Krcma. It was probably on a par with Kolkovna although it was much cheaper so it wins over there. I've talked many a time about how I love garlicky spinach but I really do. And this spinach was hella garlicky. The meatloaf was soft and tasted neither too bready or too meaty. I don't know what else to say apart from that you should go here if you go to Prague. But I suppose I could say that about any of the places mentioned in this post.
I'll finish (as we finished our trip) with a visit to Krasny Ztraty, a very arty student cafe/bar. The name translates to 'beautiful destruction' or something. In the spirit of the place, I ordered a drink called Russian Cocaine. It looked like this.
I had no idea how to drink it. So I just poured the fresh coffee granules into the unidentified spirit and squeezed some lemon into it. It was quite nice in a grown up 'I don't really like this but I've acquired the taste for such bitter things now' way and definitely gave you a kick. But I'd appreciate if someone could tell me how you actually drink that drink.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Review - The White Horse

It seems as though all I do these days is wake up at 9, eating a sugary sugary snack and head to the piercing place to go through a period of vomit-inducing pain. Ah, the lengths we go to to be indie-alternative, eh? (I wish I could take credit for that last sentence but it was actually one of my indie-alternative friends.) The third time I went through this routine was particularly unpleasant because I'm also ill (again). My immune system hates me. After I returned, all I wanted to do was collapse but Contrary was surprisingly still in my room printing her coursework so instead I made some very strong chai. And then there wasn't time to nap/roll around in my bed groaning about how many type sof pain I was in because the coursework had been handed in and I was due at celebratory lunch. It was initially going to be at The Plough but the weather was a bit scum and also my friend the very earnest Lusty Egg (she does voice work for GCSE Biology tapes, no lie) was due to do what she does best again. So instead we went to the White Horse, a pub famed for doing the best fish and chips in Oxford. As such, three of our group ordered them.
I can see why the dish is so famed. The batter was the most beautiful golden colour and had clearly been made there. It almost made little amber peaks around the just flaky fish within. The chips were similarly a lovely texture and with the right amount of crisp and salt. I went for the toad in the hole and Contrary wanted that too but she refused to make us a poker-full-house because she tries not to order the same as someone she's eating with (I really appreciate that in an eating companion) and instead went for the lamb shank roast dinner.
The portions were massive which is exactly what I expect from a pub lunch. The sausages were not-greasy to the point that they were almost dry and you could taste that they were great quality. The mash was smooth though a tad underseasoned but that was no problem while it was surrounded by a little moat of deep gravy. The vegetables were super fresh and clearly not from a packet of frozen ones. And they still had a little bit to them - i.e. they weren't cooked to death so all the vitamins had dissipated. The one complaint was that it wasn't reallllly toad in the hole, it was sausages on top of a yorkshire pudding. The yorkshire pudding lacked a little on the texture front - not quite crispy enough but that might have been the fault of the delicious gravy. This was the perfect pre-afternoon-feverish-nap meal.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Recipe - Spaghetti Amatriciana, Toastie Spaghetti, RoastedGarlic and Spinach Risotto

I don't understand this big deal that everyone makes about smelling of garlic. GUM AND PERFUME. Anyway, I usually smell of garlic because it goes in almost everything I cook and the kitchen that I use has a window which only opens by an inch since someone was caught climbing on the roof. The reason I have garlic on the mind is because I was left lots of leftovers at the end of term and had 5 days to use most of them up in. I think I was quite clever with it. Especially since most of what I was left was garlic. Six bulbs of it, in fact. So here are the recipes. Unfortunately I only bothered to photograph one of them. But they all tasted and looked quite good.
Spaghetti Amatriciana (3 large portions)
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
4 rashers streaky bacon, chopped into lardons
1 chilli, finely chopped
2 tbsp tomato purée
350g spaghetti
Black pepper
Juice of half a lemon
50g parmesan cheese
Handful parsley, finely chopped

Place the chilli, bacon and garlic in a frying pan on a medium heat and allow to fry in the fat of the bacon.
Boil the pasta in salted water.
Add the tomato purée and a few tablespoons of the starchy pasta water.
Simmer until the pasta is done.
Drain pasta, reserving a little water.
Add the bacon mixture, black pepper, lemon juice, Parmesan and parsley and toss well to combine.

With this, I had garlic bread which involved placing garlic parsley butter (made from 100g butter, 6 cloves crushed garlic) within a baguette then placing in an oven wrapped in foil for 15 minutes.

'Toastie' Spaghetti (3 large portions)
All the ingredients of a toastie but with a different carb.
350g spaghetti
200g cheshire cheese, grated
4 pieces thick, cured ham, chopped
75g frozen broad beans
A handful of frozen spinach
Black pepper
25g butter
1 red onion
5 cloves garlic

Chop the onion and garlic finely and drizzle with oil on a baking tray. Place in oven at 220 for 15 minutes.
Boil pasta in salted water as per cooking instructions.
Add the frozen beans and spinach for the last 5 minutes of cooking.
Drain the pasta and vegetables, reserving a little cooking water.
Combine with the ham, cheese, butter, roasted vegetables and pepper and stir well.

Roasted Garlic and Spinach Risotto
200g spinach, finely chopped
2 bulbs garlic
25g butter
1 onion, chopped
200g risotto rice
1 glass white wine
1l chicken stock
Lemon juice
Salt and pepper

Half the bulbs of garlic lengthways. Place the bulbs cut side up and drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper.
Place in the oven at 220 for 45 minutes.
Once done, remove from the skins and squeeze out into a plate and mash.
On a high heat, fry the onion until translucent in a little butter.
Add the risotto rice and roasted garlic and fry for a minute, coating the rice well in oil.
Add the wine and let the alcohol evaporate off for a minute.
Add the stock a little at a time, stirring the risotto constantly until the rice is cooked.
Once cooked, stir in the spinach and lemon juice. I would've added parmesan if I hadn't been eating it with seafood. Or rather, I did that anyway and regretted not taking the lemon route.
Check the seasoning and serve.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Recipe - Lamb Shank Tagine with Bulgar Wheat

After the night of hell when I was struck down horribly with something gross, I spent most of the next day reading in bed. At about 9pm when I was turning in for the evening (not lame, I was so ill), I heard a knocking on my door and assumed it was one of the five people who ever brave the eighty six stairs without forewarning. But actually, it was someone who I never arrange to meet and only ever see by chance, coming to apologise for his atrocious behaviour. Let's call him 'King of the Olive Oil'. Unfortunately, I wasn't witness to this behaviour although he was convinced I'd experienced some of it since I had my head in a bucket. But I totally empathise with the guilt he was feeling. Only earlier in the week, I'd gone on a round of apology Skips deliveries. Anyway, after some amused reassurances that I hadn't been wronged or even spoken to him the previous evening, I invited him to dinner because I thought it would be fun to cook for someone who I barely know. Also, two people I'm actually friends with know him pretty will so the whole experience was reasonably non-awkward and we all had a nice time. Or at least feigned it sufficiently that I didn't feel bad about arranging it. And now we'll all get to enjoy the skills he picked up at a cooking course he did in London. Lovely.
4 lamb shanks
2 onions, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1.5 tbsp ground ginger
1.5 tbsp turmeric
1.5 tbsp paprika
2 tsp ground cinnamon
20 stamens saffron
Bunch of fresh coriander, tied with a string
600ml chicken stock
2 large potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks
Lemon juice

Season the shanks all over with salt and then brown on a high heat until well browned all over.
Once browned, remove from heat.
Turn the heat down and add the onions and cook on a medium heat for a further 7 minutes.
Add the garlic and saute for a further 3 minutes.
Add the spices and cook for a further minute.
Add the stock and the and bring to a simmer.
Place in the oven, covered, for an hour.
Add the potatoes and bake for a further two hours, removing the lid for the final 30 minutes.
Adjust the seasoning and squeeze over the lemon.
Coriander, finely chopped
Parsley, finely chopped
1 green pepper, finely chopped
1 red onion, finely chopped
250g bulgar wheat
700ml water, boiled
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 30 minutes, until soft and cooked.
Once cooked, pour in the herbs, pepper and onion and mix.
Season to taste with salt, pepper and lemon.
Drizzle with a little olive oil (extra virgin if you're not a student).

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Review - Lan Kwai Fong

After being a generally miserable bitch and going home instead of manning up about my hairspray-screwed ear, I had a lovely productive morning since I woke up in no kind of self-inflicted pain with normal serotonin levels. Wonderfully refreshed as I was, I ran some errands I'd been putting off: travel money, luxury ingredients and returning some clothes. Then I went to the piercing place and spent twenty minutes crying out in pain and trying not to throw up. This was followed by a walk home on the phone to Stompy ('I need to speak to you so I don't pass out') and returning straight to bed in a wave of 'I hurt, I'm in too much pain, I hate everything'. So that's how the one shot I had at a productive day last week was ruined. Although I do appear to whine about my lack of productivity quite a left, I suppose it's meant I've done nice things as the last few grains slip through the egg timer. On this particular day, I'd planned to eat at a restaurant that I'd tried and failed to arrange lunch/dinner dates at last term. Again, this time I failed. But not because of a flaky companion this time. We even got to the place (Moya on St. Clement's, if anyone cares) but it was closed for lunch. Alas. Since we were all pretty hungry, we made a snap decision to eat somewhere close and ended up at Lan Kwai Fong on Cowley Road. I've been here in the pre-food blog days, supposedly paid for by the fast-dissipating inheritance of the super-creepy but generous boss man. I remember it being good but in an MSG and sake fuelled way. This time, the experience was a lot less raucous but still just as pleasant. We ordered from the lunch menu - chicken and sweetcorn soup, crispy spring rolls, chicken satay/tao pan king prawns, sweet and sour chicken/tofu with green pepper and black bean sauce.
The starters were all pleasant enough but not good. Well, they were enjoyable and there was nothing wrong with them but they definitely weren't even approaching the pinnacle. Basically, average but enjoyable.
Mains were significantly better. The sweet and sour was more delicate and less heady than most sweet and sours I've tried. The tofu, again enjoyable. I definitely ordered best though. Tao pan prawns were absolutely delicious. As sweet as it was spicy with plenty of just cooked, almost fluffy prawns. Overall, I was pretty happy with my meal. Especially my 'Fool's Gold' cocktail which involved some combination of spirits, coke and Tabasco. I love Tabasco in drinks! The only real criticisms of the dish were that the soup didn't have enough soy and that the rice wasn't sticky enough. So much so that the ex-pat child of the group didn't use chopsticks. Or at least, that's the reason he cited instead of 'I can't be bothered'.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Review - Trichy Dosa

So remember how I was supposed to eat dosa but then didn't? Well, that happened. Not from the same place. But it still happened. Dosas are cool! Unfortunately, the subsequent evening activity which I had also been excited for (lame as it is that I had planned an outfit for something which is not that fun and happens ALL of the time) was spoiled by a very bad reaction of one of my piercings to some hairspray. This bad reaction meant that I was in awful pain all day and that made waiting an hour for the takeaway to arrive even more difficult. Don't take painkillers on an empty stomach, kids. It also meant that I was particularly impatient and inarticulate when explaining where to deliver to. But my Northern friend stepped in and saved the day in her polite, soft-spoken way. The food was so worth waiting for. Having never ordered from here before, we were unsure of portion size so erred on the side of caution when ordering i.e. ordering lots just in case they were stingy. That meant we had waaay too much, but, as the Illusionist pointed out, better too much than too little. And we still managed to put most of it away.
We ordered lamb chettinadu, lamb madras, chicken biryani, chilli chicken, trichy special vegetable curry, trichy special dosa, green lentil dosa, masala dosa, bisibelebath, rice, chappatis and naan. That's not that much when you consider that there were five of us. Also I'm pretty sure the trichy special dosa didn't actually come. The only dosas I've encountered before Trichy were from Chutney's and they're about the right size for one person for lunch. Well, for one large-appetited person for lunch. These were almost two feet long! Everything was highly spiced and well seasoned with the mushy potato encased in the dosa providing a cloudy, palate-cleansing base. My personal favourites were the lamb madras, tear-inducingly fiery, the vegetable curry and the bisibelebath (a sort of vegetable medley within rice). The chicken was all moist and all of the breads and rices were of the right texture. The green lentil soup was a mistake. My only complaint aside from that was that all of the tastes were not particularly refined. A little samey almost. But then that's partly to do with the fact that they were all mushed together on my plate. I can forgive it because it all had a home-cooking, street-food vibe and I think that may have been lost if they'd tried to be more delicate.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Recipe - Lasagne, Carbonara

Hey, I have an actual food-related story to relay! How exciting. So I was making lasagne for a previous lasagne-flaker, the photographer of the new blog banner picture, someone who willingly handed over some stuff that had taken them probably several hours of hard work to compile and some others but it went a bit awry. I was roughly using Delia's recipe but then got waylaid by the great weather and went for a walk instead which left me not enough time to do it. And then it transpired that I didn't have enough lasagne sheets for even two layers, let alone the three that I was envisaging. So I thought 'quick, improvise!' and decided to make it lasagne meets ragu pasta bake. Then proceeded to throw the uncooked, dry pasta into the remaining ragu before remembering that you pre-cook pasta. So this was kind of an experiment/gamble but it all turned out OK. It did take double the time that I thought it would to cook but none of the guests really seemed to mind. I call it 'potentially fatally flawed in both concept and execution lasagne vs. ragu pasta bake experiment' but people seemed to prefer the name 'AJ' for some weird, untold reason. (For those who are not in on this in-joke, that name is actually being bandied around at the moment for the sole purpose of mocking me and making me feel awkward so I'm trying to reclaim it. Or something.) The lasagne recipe was initially supposed to be strictly followed since I'd decided to try a bit of traditional(ish) Italian stuff without making mistakes/making it my own. That made me even more determined to make carbonara PROPER, like the Italians would, without screwing up. Unfortunately, I couldn't find any guanciale. Alas.
Lasagne (kind of) (for 4 - 6)
For the ragu...
Olive oil
1 large carrot, finely chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
6 rashers smoked streaky bacon, cut into lardons
250g beef mince
250g pork mince
1 large glass red wine
1 tbsp tomato puree
1 can plum tomatoes
Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 180.
Fry the onion, garlic and carrot on a medium heat in a large, heavy based pan for about ten minutes, being careful not to colour.
Add the bacon pieces and cook until browned.
Remove the vegetables and bacon and set aside.
Turn the heat up to high and add all the mince to the pan and brown. Sprinkle salt over the mince.
Re-add the vegetables and bacon to the pan and lower the heat to medium-high. Mix thoroughly.
Add the wine and let the alcohol evaporate away for a minute.
Add the puree and tomatoes then mix and season well.
Put in the oven, uncovered for an hour and a half.

For the cheese sauce...
75g butter
75g flour
300ml milk
300g cheddar cheese, grated
Pinch of ground nutmeg
Black pepper

Melt the butter over a medium heat. Stir in the flour to make a roux.
Add the milk, stirring constantly, to make a smooth sauce. Simmer for about 10 minutes on a low heat to thicken.
Add the cheese, stirring to ensure it all melts and combines. Add a touch more milk to loosen if necessary.
Add the nutmeg and black pepper.

For the assembly...
Enough lasagne sheets for 1 layer.
250g macaroni
1 ball mozzarella, diced
3 kabanossi sausages (smoked Polish cured sausages), finely chopped

Place half of the ragu at the bottom of a lasagne dish.
Place a layer of lasagne sheets on top.
Add half of the cheese sauce evenly over the top of the lasagne sheets.
Scatter half of the sausages on top of the layer of cheese sauce.
Combine the remaining ragu with the macaroni and make that the next layer.
Add the remaining cheese sauce above the layer of ragu-macaroni, making sure every bit is thoroughly covered.
Scatter with the remaining sausages and mozzarella.
Place in the oven, covered with foil, at 200 for 45 minutes.
After 45 minutes, mix the mozzarella layer at the top, the cheese sauce layer underneath that and the macaroni-ragu layer underneath that to combine, being careful not to disturb the lasagne-proper layers underneath that.
Return to the oven, still covered for another 25 minutes.
Remove foil and return to the oven for a further 20 minutes.
Carbonara (for 2)
250g pasta
3 egg yolks and 1 egg
50g pecorino, grated
Smoked bacon lardons (best I could find in the absence of guanciale and pancetta)
1 clove garlic, peeled

Fry the bacon with the whole garlic clove. Get rid of the garlic clove.
Beat the eggs, add a pinch of salt and the cheese and stir.
Cook the pasta in boiling, salted water until al dente.
Drain the pasta, add the egg mixture immediately and stir.
Add the bacon. Season with black pepper and stir again.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Review - The Jam Factory

Whenever I think of that phrase, I think of a Jeffrey Archer novel. I think it might be Honour Among Thieves. This is irrelevant but the phrase is stuck in my mind since my plans kept going to hell this weekend. It is incredibly annoying to be struck down with an affliction when you've been looking forward to something (however lame that thing is) for a while. More so when being so afflicted was entirely the result of your own bitch-on-heat stupidity. Sigh. But that's what happened when I came down with a 24 hour vomiting bug. I tried to protest by putting on a pretty dress and eight earrings but to no avail. I was so sick that I couldn't even contain it for the three minute walk home. Lovely. Anyway, more annoyingly, the fact that there was interference with my stomach meant interference with another 'well put together' plan. (I should stop putting so many in-jokes in these posts.) Since Incredibly Good Looking kept denying me The Jam Factory, I decided to book a table for him, The Illusionist and I (title of my upcoming novel?) well in advance so they couldn't mumble excuses about work and going to Aziz instead. What folly.
To start, they had terrine and I had the smoked haddock soup. They were both rather bland and uninspiring. The soup was nice but I mean that in the same way that I do when I use the word 'nice' to describe people; it's not a compliment. There's nothing I could point to as objectionable (apart from that it could definitely do with a squeeze more lemon) but it did nothing to set my world alight. Speaking of light, the candles in the wine bottles on the tables were nice (this time I mean it as a compliment).
For mains, they had the pork rump with handcut chips and kale to share. I chose to order bizarrely and get a starter and a starchy side as a main. Incredibly Good Looking commented that this is the kind of thing that his mother would do that would piss him off. But that didn't deter me, I ordered the sauteed green beans with cured pork and parmesan and the 'monkey mash'. 
The waiter fucked up our order. He chose not to write anything down and this really did screw him over. The pork which was supposed to come with handcut chips came with fries instead so we received some handcuts on the house. Then, my 'monkey mash' came as the 'rootbake' instead so we got to keep that for free. It's good that these things were free since they were all riddled with errors. The fries were unevenly seasoned. The Illusionist offered me a 'salt stick' so I took one except I got an underseasoned one. Apparently that was the one non-seasoned stick of the bunch. The handcut chips were similarly laden with salt. A nice, crispy texture but barely edible for the salt. The monkey mash on the other hand was completely lacking in salt. We barely touched that. The rootbake was nicely seasoned except unfortunately, it was swimming in oil. I love greasy food but this was too much, even for me. The pork steak was dry and far too chewy to make for a pleasant eating experience. The kale was good though. The one saving grace was probably the beans, cured pork and parmesan. It was a really good flavour combination, zingy freshness in the just-cooked beans offset nicely with peppery pork (to go with our peppery wine) and creamy parmesan. Unfortunately, this too was swimming in oil and got less pleasant with every mouthful.
Overall, the food was not a resounding success. The evening was not spoilt though - enjoyable wine (half price on Mondays!) and brilliant company. The thing with the Jam Factory is that you can see what it's trying to do. It's trying to create a relaxed multi-purpose, arty space that's easy to relax in. And it's getting there. The decor is quite tasteful (except for the horrible canteen-esque chairs which try to be retro except just look like canteen chairs), the atmosphere is chilled (although a little spoilt by the banshee screeches of the open mic night from the next room) but somehow, it doesn't quite pull it off. If it didn't seem like it was trying so hard then it would probably be fine but unfortunately, it reeks of effort. A good place to drink, not to eat. 

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Review - Turl Street Kitchen

'If you know me or have come to know me through this Internet web log, you won't be at all surprised to learn that shortly after composing my last post, I fled, as I am wont to do when the going gets tough, with a little bag of tupperware in one hand and laundry in the other. Actually, thinking about the other times I've fled during my university career, I don't think this quite qualifies as fleeing. Since other occasions include That Time I Got Norovirus and That Time I Tried to Rearrange My Room After Having Been Out and Hit My Head on the Corner of the Desk (and all other occasions when something has gone awry and I've reverted to being Daddy's Little Girl at 3am, demanding 'YOU NEED TO COME AND GET ME NOW, MY LIFE IS FALLING APART') I don't think this time really counts as fleeing. This was more recognising that I'm not doing any work and not wanting to lose another week to No Work & Bad Decisions. I suspect you'll find out if it worked in the next post. Anyway, my return back to Oxford provided the perfect opportunity to visit Dosa Park which is by the train station i.e. too far to bother with unless you're already in the vicinity.'

Sometimes I write preambles before eating at a place because I know what I want to egotistically rant about before doing the eating. That post (which appeared on someone's google reader pre-publish, awk) was to be called 'Fleeing' and was to be published on Thursday. However, despite an extensive discussion about the relative merits of Trichy Dosa and Dosa Park, I didn't go there in the end. The best laid plans and all that. So this is really the 'next post' to which it refers. My progress? Take a guess. Of course I've done no work since returning. Instead, as always, I've worried about exams but not done any work, been out to eat, been a drunk mess, done some ridiculous crap (I have two new piercings now) and then whined about it. But I'm sure you're all bored to tears hearing about it now since that appears to be all I write about. I'm certainly bored of living it (at this point in time). Even a life of leisure becomes rather tiresome at a point. (Could I have phrased that in a more annoying manner? Probably not.) But then, as I write this I'm going through a serotonin low point so I imagine my attitude will probably change in a few hours. Anyway, enough of this. Turl Street Kitchen.
Two lamb hotpots and one fish soup. It was going to be a lamb hotpot, fish and chips and a fish soup but they'd run out of the whiting. It looked delicious though. Lamb hotpot was a tad underseasoned but had a lovely crispy potato top. I was dubious about the inclusion of black pudding and barley but it actually worked really nicely together and combined to give some warming textures. The kale was not properly drained and also not seasoned. The fish soup was full of fishy flavour (I mean that as a positive, it was lovely). I probably would have enjoyed it more if I wasn't wanting to die a little bit.