Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Review - Kalamata

I mentioned Santorini in one of my very first blog posts in a very attention (and reader) seeking manner. But actually hadn't been there all year until the very very last week of the last term. How things change, eh? Like how I've now made the moral indiscrepancy which I'd previously condemned and swore never to do. Lesson learnt! Either don't do bad things or show some compassion when bad things are done to you. Anyway, sticking to the theme of change, I thought it'd be nice to compare how I feel about Santorini now that it's called Kalamata and how I write about food have progressed. Some challenges face the (intrepid) food blogger. Firstly, describing food. It's challenging. Things were either nice or they weren't but that's hardly illuminating. But even the most valiant descriptive efforts frequently fall flat. Things are sweet or they're salty or they're spicy or they're bland. This becomes even harder when it seems that the mezze ordered have all been cooked in ostensibly the same sauce.
A nice sauce but it's still all a bit samey. (And suspiciously cold.) the prawn saganaki didn't have the childhood memory inspiring quality that it did before and was a significantly less terracotta and more red colour. The meatballs tasted the same as always in their tender, meaty goodness (I think) and the sausages tasted better. We also ordered a new addition to the menu, lamb slow cooked in spices. While the meats were thoroughly enjoyable, I couldn't ignore the fact that they were all the same 'blend of herbs and spices' as described on the menu. And that combination was good but not astounding. I remember it being astounding. It just smacked a little of a lack of effort. As if they'd lost their previous vigour and forced by practicalities to devote less time than they'd like to. Much like this blog! See how I tied that in neatly there? Still got it (sometimes). For the rest, the chicken phyllo pie was too cheesy, not as mild and delicately flavoured as I remembered it being. The kleftiko sauce was a little worse than the first beautiful tasting but better than the second time I'd had it. Still worth a visit but now it seems a little overpriced.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Review - My Sichuan

The thing with Sichuan food is that it really tests my food blogger mettle. I really want to try tripe and pickled eggs and all that jazz but my limited funds and unadventurous companions preclude it. I had heard a lot about this place before I went here. While I concede that the food writers at the Guardian have probably eaten more both at My Sichuan and other restaurants than I have and probably written about it beautifully, I'll go ahead and stick to my differing opinion. I just didn't think it was that great. I was not enthused. It was fine but no more than fine. And I can find some holes. Chengdu noodles went crazy with the sesame oil and soy. And I love both of those things. Yang chow fried rice was a little bland but reasonable. House specialty chicken and vegetables went too far with the metallic Sichuan pepper and aniseed. The textures were all just right apart from the chicken which was sometimes a bit gristly. And that's coming from a girl who loves gristle. The beef was almost perfect but a little too soy heavy. Was I tired? Was I not particularly hungry? Why didn't I get it? Perhaps it's my lack of adventure and the tripe was the really good stuff. I'll be returning to see since the place had a lot to recommend itself: beautiful setting, excellent service but perhaps a little overhyped. Oh wait, I don't live in/go to Oxford anymore. Oh well, I was given a Time Out guide to London eating for my birthday. Bigger and better things (I hope).

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Review - Cous Cous Cafe

Cous Cous Cafe was a regular lunch place of first year. I lived in a building over the bridge from college with eighty other stupid, vulnerable freshers. As such, I ran around screaming and being stupid but thought I was being really grown up. If I had to do it over, I don't know if I'd choose to be put in the children pen. I feel like I wasted lots of my first year in that building instead of bothering to investigate what lay over the bridge. My aversion to bridge crossing and tasteless canteen food became so extreme that I started cooking. Good in the long run but not good for exploring. I didn't even find the little sandwich shop next door to college, Olives, until the end of the last term. Cooking also meant I discovered the glory of pork. And cooked breakfast. All day every day. That led to my favourite jeans not fitting anymore which in turn led to the chain of events which meant that I had less than optimum enjoyment of the following eighteen months. Sigh. Anyway, Cous Cous. I was initially unimpressed because they were mean with their tuna and also worse value than Olives over the bridge. But then I cottoned onto the fact that Cous Cous did its Moroccan fillings the best. And so I discovered their merguez sausage. Mmm. When I moved to the other side of the bridge, I stopped visiting Cous Cous. Not because I hated the bridge. But because I ate out more and if I wanted tried and trusted baguettes, I'd go to the significantly closer Olives. Still, I've had reason to visit it a few times this year. Once with a friend for a second lunch. Remembering my experience of their Moroccan food, I had the lentil soup. Mistake. It was bitter and watery and not all the pepper and lemon in the world could save it. So next time I lunched with that friend, I followed his advice and had the saffron chicken and harissa. Their puddings came in handy too; finals got to us but the mint tea and. baklava offered temporary relief. All these tips didn't go forgotten. When my mother made her final (sob) trip to Oxford to get my stuff, we went there for lunch. We had the mixed tapas with bread and a saffron chicken wrap and baklava and briwaat for dessert.
Thankfully, it wasn't like the lentil soup disaster. The shakshuka and zaalouk were both moist and soft and had that lovely sweetness that comes from the caramelisation on roasted vegetables l. The cous cous had (appropriately) just the right texture- not too slippery. The stuffed cabbage leaves were the real treat. They might have appeared pallid and slightly like battered prawns but were actually slightly acidic but with a velvety, moreish filling. The falafel was equally as addictive, not too salty or crumbly, almost matte in flavour. I enjoyed it all thoroughly. The real treat was the saffron chicken though. This time heated and properly dressed, the spiced chicken was accompanied with a fiery juicy harissa. The simple salad accompanying it was the perfect anecdote to the heat. Dessert was very enjoyable too. I don't think there's anymore to say apart from that I was pleasantly surprised by the whole experience.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Review - Pie Minister

Whatever I might have said in the previous post, some days, you just can't even cook. Some days, you crave pie and mash and gravy. But your lunch companion wants something healthier. But then it turns out that you're lucky enough to live in a place where both of these options are a five minute walk away in this thing called 'The Covered Market'. Which is very near to a green expanse which goes by the name of Christchurch Meadow where you can sit in the blustery wind and talk about how wonderfully awful Game of Thrones is. I will miss Oxford. On a less sentimental note, Pie Minister disappointed me.

I'm still generally pro-Pie but I think perhaps this time, I wanted it too badly. And then I got what I wanted and it just wasn't as good as expected. I HATE IT WHEN THAT HAPPENS. I had the mini chicken pie with ham, peas and cheese with mash and gravy and minted mushy peas. It's just that the pie was a little overpowered by what I think was tarragon and the mushy peas were a little too minty. A little heavy handed with the herbs. That's a nice phrase. Still, I polished it all off and didn't feel hard done by. The mash was creamy, the gravy was wonderfully rich and it all went really nicely with the cheesy creamy chickeny filling. Almost there but not quite.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Recipe - Spanish Omelette, Quesadillas, Philadelphia Pasta

Mindlessly consuming really takes it out of you. The next day is a chore. I just want to be in a clean, cold place where I can think about what I've done in peace. And I really want to be looked after and have my dad bring my tea and my mother make me food but oh wait I'm 'a grown up' now so that's not allowed. Or if it is allowed, it's not very viable. Despite my parents' reluctance to give me the recipes for their cooking (they denied me even when I argued 'what if you die before you get to give it to me?'), I've managed to glean what they do just by watching. I'm tricksy like that. So their absence doesn't screw me over. Well, I still have to get ingredients and go through the pain and effort of cooking. But then I remember that I really enjoy cooking and also that lying in bed feeling sorry and in a daze doesn't help anything. This is what I crave the most on these morning-afters. I had that the evening after my exam celebrations. Except I didn't get out of bed 'til four (ergh, slovenly) so that was my 'lunch' on that day. I thought I'd write up some of the other simple foods I've made recently. Unfortunately, in their very nature they are not very complicated or interesting at all. But they taste pretty good. Also, it's been handy for teaching my 'new friend' Stephen to cook. I initially decided to teach him when I decided it would be a good way of distracting myself from doing Other things with Stephen. But then I realised that was a silly idea and also that it wasn't a binary choice between cooking and 'being friends'. Maybe you can teach your Stephen to cook these things.

Spanish Omelette
Really whatever you want can go in this. But you need to cook the onions longly and slowly and make sure the potatoes are soft. For this particular omelette, this is what I used/did.

1 onion, sliced
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 red chilli, finely chopped
1 yellow pepper, sliced into strips
50g mushrooms, chopped
1 potato, peeled and chopped into thin slices
6 eggs
Handful of parsley
Handful of grated cheddar
Salt and pepper

Fry the onion, garlic, chilli, pepper, potato and mushrooms on a medium heat in a frying pan. Use a liberal dose of olive oil and fry for about 20 minutes with a lid on until the potatoes are tender. Remember to stir frequently to prevent sticking.
Season with salt.
Meanwhile, whisk the eggs in a bowl. Add a pinch of salt and lots of pepper.
Stir in the parsley and cheese.
Once the vegetable mixture is cooked, pour in the egg mixture, ensuring it spreads out evenly in the pan.
Cook on a low heat for about 5 minutes until set all the way through.
At the last minute, put the omelette under the grill to cook/brown the top.

Eat on its own or serve with salad. Or bread. Or in a sandwich. Or with patatas bravas. Or as part of a selection of tapas. You understand. Look at my blender flowers!

Quesadillas
Again, can be anything you want really. The key is just to make the filling taste nice (aka remember to fry the onions for long enough if you're using onions) and add that and lots of cheese to a tortilla. Then fry.
I tend to fry some vegetables (and maybe bacon if I'm using it) and then a little of the fried mixture onto the middle of a tortilla. Then, I grate lots and lots of cheese on top and fold the tortilla up. Then I fry the tortilla in a touch of butter/oil to seal the opening and crisp the tortillas. This week I had one with peppers, onions, garlic, chilli and bacon. The other time I had peppers, onions, chorizo, garlic, chilli and potatoes. Both had lots and lots of red leicester cheese added to them. Mmm.

Leek and Pancetta Pasta
This came to be because I saw a friend eating this meal. She loves leeks. They're her favourite vegetable. I didn't think it possible to be as passionate about leeks as she is. Anyway, she offered me a bite of her pasta and I don't know if it was because I was hungry or something (actually, I'd been at an all day free BBQ so I definitely shouldn't have been hungry) but it tasted really great. Her sauce was made of Philadelphia cheese! That sounds like something I would usually have been snobby and suspicious about but it was so good. So when a friend returned from Italy, I decided to fry some pancetta (10 slices, in fact), some garlic (three cloves, finely chopped) and a leek (sliced finely) on a medium heat until the pancetta crisped and the leeks were tender. Then I mixed that and a tub of Philly into 500g of cooked spaghetti. I also added quite a lot of other cheese but if I were to re-run that meal, I'd probably skip out the extra cheese. Oh, remember to add lots and lots of black pepper. Otherwise it cloys like you would not believe.

Friday, 15 June 2012

Review - The Vaults

Having absolutely no obligations has been glorious. It is lovely waking up and checking the time purely to see if it's the time you want to get up, not because you have to get up for anything. One negative about it is the fact that it has highlighted that all I do is consume. I have attempted to do more relaxed and cultured things like going to all the museums I've wanted to visit in Oxford. Unfortunately, my feet hurt so much from dancing (read: jumping up and down like a maniac) in the highest shoes I own at my birthday party that I had to go home after walking around a mere two rooms. In my defence, it was partly the result of a wholesome activity too; we walked the very long way to the Ashmolean through the pseudo-countryside. Generally, all I have been doing is eating and drinking (and dancing sometimes too) and sleeping. That's why blog quality has deteriorated recently. Possibly the most hedonistic day was the day of the aforementioned birthday party. I woke up feeling relatively healthy to a phone call from my mother saying she'd be here in twenty minutes. My room was, as it has been every morning for the past week, a state, so the tidy up and shower took up that time. Then we went for lunch, bought lots and lots of cake ingredients, baked for four hours and drank. And danced. And ate again. And slept. You get the idea. Oh well, it's been a week and I finished a degree. There's plenty of time left for thoughtful activities. And lunch was sort of wholesome anyway. The Vaults is a cute little cafe underneath the church opposite the rad cam. It's very popular amongst students but I've only been twice. The first time I had some sort of chicken dish which spilled despite no external force attacking it (except that it might have been my cape). It was disastrous. I was very miserable watching my friends eat their meals and bitter while I thought they weren't going to replace my meal. But they were just busy, eventually they came and gave me another portion with some bread. This time I went with my parents and ordered tuna nicoise, carrot soup and carrot cake. I only remembered to photograph the tuna though and that made my parents think I'm odd since they have no idea about the existence of this blog. Or maybe they do, I always get struck with terror when I see hits from Bangladesh.
The soup was a touch too sweet (or perhaps not salty enough) but that wasn't too much of an issue when you dipped the bouncy bread that came with it into it. The tuna was a mish mash of flavours, almost in the same way as when you make a one pot dish to use up leftovers. I don't mean that as an insult, though. It had a simple homeliness about it which suited the laid back atmosphere and canteen style trays. And all the vegetables tasted fresh, the parsley was especially zingy. The real treat were the salads, one simple leafy thing and another coleslaw of shredded cabbage. Again, incredibly fresh and wholesome tasting. It might not be the most refined place in the world but it's not supposed to be and the food is reasonably priced. Strong portions too! My only real criticism is that their chai latte is a bit weak and overly reliant on the teabag. But that's no big deal, they serve lots of none chai drinks.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Review - Edamame sushi night

I'm not refined enough for sushi. My sushi experience is limited to nibbling at friend's vegetarian sushi from Tesco and going out for sushi one time. But that time was after a long, late lunch at Moro so I nibbled on a couple of tempura and tried a piece of tuna sashimi. I wasn't blown away. It was nice enough but didn't inspire me to go for sushi again until now, a year later. After having sobered up from post-exam lunch, we decided to go to Edamame for sushi. They do sushi once a week and there is always a large queue. We got there quite early to avoid that queue but not early enough. There were ten people ahead of us but it only took twenty minutes to be seated and we spent the time waiting deciding what to eat. But when we got inside, it all changed.
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We wanted two of the specials, you see. They were makizushi (salmon avocado and cucumber) and spicy tuna gunkanzushi rolls. We also got a set of nigirizushi which had salmon, tuna, prawns, squid and octopus. I'm not well placed to comment on whether the sushi was good. I thought it was tasty and found everything to be various degrees of enjoyable. (The salmon was my favourite.) But then I have limited experience of these things. The seaweed and cucumber salad which was dressed in sweetened vinegar I feel better placed to comment upon. So wonderful. Perfect contrast of sweet and sharp with the cucumber acting as the perfect, clean vessel for the flavours. Really very good. I kept dipping my sushi in the dressing which demonstrates both the fact that I'm a sushi heathen and the fact that the salad was amazing. Basically, I think Edamame is good for sushi but I am not suitably qualified to say.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Review - The Rusty Bicycle

I finished everything. Ever. All the time. Well done me. As is traditional at this silly university, I was covered in things after I came out of my final exam. These things included fake blood, flour and eggs. This turned into cake mixture when I got in the shower (fully clothed) which I then had to spend a long time brushing out of my hair. I had wanted to sit on a boat eating sausages off a disposable BBQ but in a strange turn of events, the weather didn't reflect my mood and it was all rainy. Most odd. So we decided to go to the pub! We had initially planned to go to the Victoria Arms but after some confusion about which Victoria we meant we decided to change tack altogether. As we walked up Cowley Road in the rain, I considered how on another day, indecision and rain might turn a nice lunch into hunger and irritation and not-fun. But then I remembered that I'd finished my degree and never had to study law again and this worry faded. Then I saw that the Venue Formerly Known As The Regal had turned from a scummy club where people dance to drum and bass to a Christian centre and thought about how much had changed. Not really, I was actually thinking about nothing. Blissful. Also not that much has changed. Anyway, we eventually arrived at The Rusty Bicycle.
It's a really lovely pub with nice wallpaper and a rusty bicycle as a sign. A nice touch. The menus were printed on wooden boards. Our food also came on wooden boards. Very 'rustic' but I imagine probably a pain to carry. I had been craving a burger but then I saw pulled pork and coleslaw on the menu and I was confused. So I ended up ordering macaroni cheese. Others went for lamb burgers and mixed meze and wraps. It all came very nicely presented on the little boards. The macaroni cheese came in a little pot with a little bowl of salad next to it. The salad was fresh and simple - rocket and red onion mostly. Not too acidic or overly dressed which is exactly what I want from a salad accompanying macaroni cheese. The macaroni cheese was quite good and had a lovely yellow creamy texture to the sauce. And little mushrooms. The pasta was similarly a great texture. Ibut the flavour lacked a little something. Possibly some more cheese (although there was a lot of cheese) or perhaps a little pepper. Anyway, it was quite good but just a little off perfect. I also had the opportunity to have half a lamb burger but turned it down after two bites. Which is surprising because the bread looked good and it had been carefully dressed. But the actual lamb itself tasted a little lacklustre. But maybe I just found the mac and cheese more enjoyable and didn't want to relinquish my claim to it. I took my half of the chips though. I'm not sorry - they were perfect. And I'll only ever finish my degree once.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Review - Magdalen Arms

I've been to the Magdalen Arms approximately twice before, once for food and once for wine and chess. The third occasion was on my twenty first birthday. But not for my birthday, you understand. Just so I had something nice to remember for when I'm decrepit and twenty one feels like a world away. Otherwise I'd just remember having my worst exam on that morning and that feeling of watching the clock and thinking 'should I leave? Staying will just make me feel worried about how little I have said/to say. But I can't be the dick who left early twice I JUST CAN'T.' As it turns out my worst exam was actually the day after my twenty first birthday, an occurrence I attribute to the fact that I ate so much food and delicious pastry (and overpriced pistachios and undercooked frozen pizza) that I was too sleepy to work. It'll be fine, quoth the raven. I'll get up at six and work, quoth she. I got up at seven and I worked but apparently one of these 'final exams' needs more than six hours work. Who knew! (Everyone but me. Even I knew but I thought I didn't care until it was much too late.) Still, the fourth of June was lovely. The Magdalen Arms did a 'summer kitchen' and the specials were all barbecued. I had the leg of lamb which came with a colourful plate of salad. The artichoke globe with olive crumb came with the same liberal dose of salad. The burger came with chips and coleslaw. All looked and tasted divine. Look! I didn't even instagram this!
My lamb had a glazed, crisp skin and the slightest hint of pink within. It tasted healthy despite the fat. Excellent. It went really well with all of the salads lying underneath it. Griddled courgette, soft cous cous hiding chunks of cucumber and mint. A tart tomatoey peppery dip of some description and a joyful little pickled yellow thing. Possibly more that I've forgotten too. Wonderfully fresh and light and perfectly balanced. The vegetarians described it as the best and second best things they've found as a vegetarian offering in a restaurant. (The one who deemed it second best said it had only been beaten by St John.) I didn't try any of the burger but it looked excellent and came with caramelised onions and chips. All were gone but the coleslaw. Even that went when I decided to Hoover it up though. Creamy and rich and homemade. The Eton mess made me keep wanting to return for more meringue even though I don't like meringue. The cream and strawberries cut through the sweetness whilst still remaining sweet.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Review - Makan La

Today is my last day of being twenty. To celebrate, we went out for lunch. It wasn't really to celebrate. HOLY FUCK I JUST THOUGHT THERE WAS A GIANT PIGEON AT THE WINDOW. It's OK, it's just a normal sized pigeon. Anyway, it wasn't really to celebrate my last day of being twenty because that's an even more tenuous thing to celebrate than a birthday. People don't really do birthdays in Bangladesh. My parents do though, my (crazy) mother sent me a very sweet text saying 'do you know why Monday is a special day for us?' To which I replied 'Jubilee, LOL'. (I didn't really, my mother doesn't know what 'LOL' means. And she probably doesn't know that it's Lizzie's diamond tomorrow either.) We were supposed to go out for dinner yesterday evening to celebrate my first day with no exams (today) in a while but then the sensible two glasses of Pimms I'd had to wash down my hog roast at the infamous party in combination with Hell Week of exams meant that I fell asleep at 7. It is just glorious waking up at 6.30 still feeling refreshed because you've still had twelve hours of sleep. Just glorious. I was really craving sushi from Edamame since a friend mentioned she'd had it a few days before. But they only do that on Thursdays. As my Nemesis pointed out, Edamame have the art of supply and demand DOWN. But that was not a possibility and I kind of wanted to go to the Jericho Cafe but I thought I should maybe try out somewhere new but then I've eaten at seventy six different places in Oxford and it's silly to just go somewhere new for the sake of it. My companion's contribution to the whole thing was, helpfully, 'I want Chinese or pizza but I always want those two things'. Anyway, it was raining, we started walking towards Bangkok House via Heroes to look at the menu. Along the High Street I considered just saying 'look, I'm hungry and damp, let's go to Chiang Mai'. But I didn't, I don't know why. Anyway, we ended up at Makan La which I have been to before but it was many moons ago and it was with my parents except they came to visit two hours late and that meant that I had about twenty minutes to get lunch with them before going to a tutorial with the Forty Year Old Virgin. (Cruel. Sorry.) We ordered beef rendang and nasi goreng and shrimp dumplings.
It was all SO good. The beef was punchy from the little red chillies running through it. My companion said that mine was better (aww) but he was definitely lying, they'd definitely managed to get the beef more tender and better packed with flavour in their take. The nasi goreng was pleasantly sweet and had little tender slices of chicken running through it. It was really moreish. It was great even without the satay skewers it came with. But the satay sauce was really spicy and salty and just mmm. The chicken on the skewers was glazed and toasty on the outside and that contrasted well with the plain but soft interior. I ordered the shrimp dumplings before we got our food since I was worried we'd still be hungry. This was an error of judgement, there was plenty. But I enjoyed the dumplings all the same, even if I did enjoy them less than the other things. When they first came, I was dubious since they looked reminiscent of those frozen fish balls that you find at the Chinese supermarket. But it was nothing like that. The peculiar white batter was inoffensive and just like normal batter really and it broke open to reveal a hot, sweet prawn inside. Anyway, I very much enjoyed this meal. And I found out at the end that this place is a sister restaurant of the fabulous Chiang Mai Kitchen. V good.