Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Review - The Elephant House

Before I left, we got brunch at the Elephant House. Partly because my companion loves elephants, partly because he'd enjoyed a delicious bagel from its sister cafe, Elephants and Bagels and mostly because I'd read about it on Time Out. The night before, we'd eaten out but again, no traditional Scottish fare. We had takeaway from Bangla Kitchen, much appreciated because I was as hungry as me when I'm hungry and it was an appropriate precursor to gin and tonic jelly. But it wasn't traditionally Scottish. Nor was it traditionally Bangladeshi for that matter but that's a good thing since the memory of Hell 'Holiday' 2012 has yet to fade. Anyway, I suspected Elephant House would offer a Scottish breakfast (with haggis and the word tattie appearing somewhere) since I'd seen many a breakfast place offer that. I was wrong. They had an extensive breakfast menu but no haggis was to be seen anywhere. I thought of ordering the scrambled eggs and smoked salmon (that's good in Scotland, right?) but really I wanted something meatier. Haggis on the brain or whatever. But I didn't fancy the full breakfast so went for beans on toast (with a couple of sausages on the side).
Elephant House has a sit by strangers policy and somehow, my companion managed to make friends with the middle aged couple we were sharing a table with. They were nice enough but I'm not much of a talker in the mornings and also sometimes irrationally just don't want to make an effort with strangers so this fact didn't please me. The man had however ordered the scrambled eggs which I'd considered. It didn't look great. Apparently it didn't taste it either, their response to our questioning how the food was was a mere 'alright'. That encompasses well how I felt about my food. It wasn't bad but also not actively good. It was just fine. The sausages were interesting, possibly spiced since they were a curious reddish colour. On the plus side, the coffee was good, the orange juice freshly squeezed, the bread was good quality (but they were meagre with their butter) and the atmosphere/decor lovely. Many and varied pictures of elephants. Also I enjoyed the toilets. Initially I winced since it looked grubby but then I realised that all the graffiti were odes to JK Rowling. Apparently the Elephant House has a reputation for being popular with her back in her non-millionaire days. Oh, as an aside, I love Harry Potter and appreciate the fact that she's kept all her money in the UK. Yay JK. Anyway, I'd probably have said that the food was absolutely nothing special but the cafe is still worth visiting for the vibe but then I noticed unidentified black particles swimming around in the dregs of my water so I had to dock a star.

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Recipe - Gin and Tonic Jelly

My wanting loneliness was quickly dispelled after I realised that I didn't know when I'd see my host again. MAYBE NOT EVER. (That's definitely not true.) So the rest of the time was spent joint at the hip apart from a brief period where my normal-degree-daring friends went to the top of a crag whilst I sat in my slippery shoes and dusty coat writing this entry. Since I'd pretty much run out of money (and we'd argued about this fact), we stuck to doing simple, countryside things with nice views instead of going to plays. We also reverted to eating in again. I made a makeshift jambalaya which I'll talk about when I tell you about my less makeshift gumbo recipe. Somewhat noteworthy was the jelly I made for dessert on another night. Now, I have some advice that you should all note. If someone likes gin and you want them to like you (not in an annoying, Monica from friends, sycophantic way, just in the way it's good to be allied with countries with oil), you make gin and tonic jelly. Gin and tonic jelly which I'd previously failed to make with 'Incredibly Good Looking'. (Incidentally, he's now going out with a girl impressive enough to deserve that nickname.) It didn't set. He swore profusively at and about Nigella as a result. This one set though! I followed this recipe except used one lemon and one lime and 9 sheets of gelatine. Still needed a bit more though since 'set' is exaggerating a bit. Also since I couldn't find weighing scales or measuring jugs, I estimated the rest of the quantities. Consequently, I used a touch too much sugar and it was a bit headachingly sweet. But with properly measured quantities, this is a dream.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Review - Henderson's

Seven continuous days with anyone is a long time. I don't recognise myself as someone who likes to be alone but when I go on holidays with people I realise I probably like being alone more than I recognise. So I was grateful that my companion hadn't showered in good enough time to make it to lunch. I was also grateful for the supposedly twenty minute bus journey taking longer and even for the queue at the box office snaking all the way down the High Street. Not that I was doing anything which my companion would have interfered or that he was being annoying. I just wanted a little time with just me and head-voice. Space to ruminate about the completely trivial stuff I tend to focus on. I was so enjoying my own company that I didn't even mind that my friend was late for lunch.
She'd chosen our lunching destination, Henderson's, on the recommendation of her grandmother.
It used to be the place to take your parents on visiting day and remains popular. It had a Vaults sort of quality to it with bowls of interesting salads. Even more Vaults-like than the Vaults, it was vegetarian. I was a little disappointed at not getting to try neeps and tatties yet again but not enough to order vegetarian haggis. Instead I was taken in by a croquette which reminded me of a slightly scary but mainly cute soft toy/animated creature that I don't remember the name of right now. To go with it, I got an olive oil (and also just olive) soaked green bean thing and shredded carrot. The croquette was nice enough but spoiled by the coriander. I feel as though healthy eateries frequently just add herbs to dishes because herbs are fresh and healthy and green. That they are but that doesn't mean they go with any dish. And coriander does not go with cheese. I can see what they were trying to do; the coriander cut through the creamy mellow cheese. But not necessarily in a pleasant way, it left a harsh, citrusy rawness to your throat. The salads were similarly adorned with herbs but that just added to the harsh, gingery roughness. I'm placing perhaps too much emphasis on that though, the salads were well constructed and interesting if somehow oddly samey. I'd definitely go here again, it's cheap (£6.35 for what I had), has a variety of choices and good service.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Review - The Star Sea

FINALLY a meal out. I really wanted to go and find some proper Scottish fare (why else would I reheat risotto in broth?) but since I wasn't paying, I didn't complain about being taken for Chinese food. In an unfamiliar setting with no recommendations, Chinese food is a good call. While it might be difficult to stumble across a particularly good one, all the salt and fat and MSG of a bad Chinese makes it its own kind of enjoyable even if it's not worthy of a commendation from my more discerning (pretentious) food blogging self. After rejecting the one we'd settled upon because it smelt of toilet (not naming for fear of a libel accusation), we wandered towards Grassmarket and came across The Sea Star. Not impressive looking from the outside but my companion was hungry and I know better than most that hunger quickly leads to crankiness. And people (me) are predisposed to cranky after almost 168 hours together. Turns out we chose pretty well though. I insisted we chose mainly from the 'home style' dishes which were accompanied with unappetising pictures from the back. So we settled upon kung pao chicken (home style) and pork belly braised with sweet potato. The mixed seafood with rice 'in a sauce' was our only nod to the front of the menu. I might be berated for choosing poorly but I find going for a seafood based rice dish means you tick the prawn and rice boxes in one swoop. Two birds with one stone. And it's nice to try new things but still remember that you must be economical because that's only polite when you're spending someone else's money. (And makes good sense when you're spending your own.)
I think we did well. Kung pao was still a bit sweet and sticky for my liking but the home style whole red chillies and fresh peanuts endeared me towards it. The pork was the dish of the day, dark and soft and almost charred. I might have confused it for beef if it hadn't been for the unmistakeable texture of the belly fat glowing with the mix of flavours. Very enjoyable. Even the seafood didn't let us down - just cooked prawns, scallops and razor clams. The only criticism I might make is the fact that the white seafood had a bit of a texture issue going on. But everything worked cohesively and the mysterious sauce had a mellow quality which nicely brought together the vegetables (still with bite), rice and seafood. I regretted not eating more of it and woke up craving it the next morning. An altogether pleasing experience. It didn't blow my mind but that might've been messy.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Recipe - Cauliflower Risotto (and what it did next)

You know I was saying that I love playing house? Nothing is more house-playing-like than using up leftovers. I love being resourceful. It makes me feel better about the fact that most of my money is spent of fanciful, whimsical crap. Like teapots and cage heart necklaces that give me opportunity to say things like 'my heart's in a cage'.

Cauliflower risotto
500g risotto rice
25g butter
1 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
250ml wine
1.5l vegetable stock
1 cauliflower, chopped into small florets
50g parmesan, finely grated
1 slice white bread, toasted and turned into breadcrumbs
1 tsp chilli flakes

Fry the onion and garlic in the butter until the onion is translucent on a medium high heat.
Add the rice and coat in butter so it looks glossy.
Turn the heat up a little and add the wine. Let the alcohol evaporate away for a minute.
Turn the hear down to medium and add about 300ml stock and stir.
Continue adding stock by the ladleful and stirring continuously until the rice is just cooked.
Five minutes before the end of this process, add the cauliflower.
Stir in the cheese at the end.
Meanwhile, heat a tablespoon of police oil in a pan.
Add the chilli flakes and fry for a minute then add the breadcrumbs and fry until golden.
Top the risotto with the breadcrumbs.

The next day the remaining risotto was reboiled in a tin of Scottish broth with some fried bacon lardons. Sounds gross but was actually quite nice (if a bit stodgy). And I delighted in reminding my friend of how I made him eat broth.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Picnic recipes

I spoke too soon when I said I'd post in real time instead of on a three day lapse. It's unnecessary pressure. I've lost my vim. My blogging vim, that is. It appears that two weeks away from it has deadened my senses and skill. Or maybe it's because I've been trying to write other things too. Theatre reviews and short stories mainly. Maybe it's because there I have no segue into talking about my own life so I've become rusty. It doesn't help that my monetary situation means minimal eating out. It's very frustrating, Edinburgh is full of cute looking bistros peddling 'neeps and tatties'. Also other foods, of course. But they all cost money (even though some of those charge very reasonable sums). What is free are the grounds of Lauriston Castle. That is where we went to picnic. I love picnics, probably because I love playing house. There's something so domestic about assembling food and remembering other useful equipment to brace yourself for eating outdoors. It's a celebration to good organisation. Also making an interesting, summery spread instead of sticking to dank bread wetted with boring fillings is a challenge. Well, it's not. But it seems like it might be. I think ours passed the test.

I'd love to tell you that we candied the bacon like I was planning to but we were short on time. We still managed these treats though. And there was tiger bread and cava and the best crisps in the world which I've only managed to find in two Tescos and interrupted a very serious conversation to rave about. But these are the recipes.

Chilli and Lime Mango Salad
Juice of 1 lime
1 tsp crushed chilli flakes
1 mango, cubed
1 handful coriander, finely chopped
Half an avocado, defleshed and cubed

Simply mix the ingredients and season with salt and pepper to your taste. A nice addition are prawns but we has a vegetarian in our midst.

Courgette frittata
1 courgette, cubed
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 eggs

Fry the garlic and courgette in a small frying pan in olive oil until tender.
Season with salt and pepper.
Beat the eggs and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Pour the eggs into the courgette mixture.
Place under the grill until solidified.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Recipe - Roasted Squash and Lemon Spaghetti

Yesterday, I learnt two things about cookery. Firstly, that to really get good, it might help to have a little (lot) money. Secondly, I need to buck up my ideas and be less lazy. The first lesson I learnt at the Edinburgh Foodies Festival and the second I learnt cooking for 'the parents' (not mine, you understand).

We went to Inverleith Park and found the relevant tents. We were probably the youngest people not accompanied by adults. We should've clocked that it'd be fruitless from the price tags on the Groupon tickets we neglected to steal. I don't know how much £10 sounds to you all. But as my dog-loving ('aw look at all the dogs, how can you hate them?') companion pointed out 'think of it as a fraction of £100, then it hurts'. And as an unemployed Masters student who still hasn't secured funding for the actual tuition fee bit, it's a lot. It's not nice to discover that you receive very few free samples and are really paying for the pleasure of window shopping with things I won't be able to afford for a decade. Sigh. Still, we enjoyed some teaspoons of tasty chutneys and flavoured oils and some interesting alcohols. Caramel vodka? Delicious. As is the golden Spanish rum I can't remember the name of and angustora bitters as marinade ingredient. I left disappointed at my lack of funds. I didn't even get (to buy) any lunch since I was feeling a big peaky. The whole thing taught me that I have a lot to learn and lots of ingredients to test out. Yet no money (yet) to do it with. Sigh again.

This despondency stuck with me to dinner. After my Bangladesh drought, I was still aching to cook. In particular, I wanted to make chicken Milanese with squash and lemon spaghetti, a recipe I last (and only) cooked two years ago. But then blah blah blah I can't remember why but I ditched the Milanese bit. Just roasted chicken pieces from me. Things were further complicated by the fact that it was my first time using a gas oven. Shoddy workmen blaming tools etc. The chicken was roasted to pallid and then grilled so of course it was slightly dry and still not very well browned ones at that. MY LAZINESS. I can't prepare meat (that's what butchers are for) or chop properly (someone stronger had to negotiate the squash) or make pastry (the disasters are too disastrous to blog about). Perhaps I should be less aggressive about my disdain of Jamie when really he's aiming his recipes at can't be bothered types like me. This photograph is particularly poor, it tasted much better than it looked.

Roasted squash (credits to Ashleigh Wheeler)
1 squash, skin left on, seeds left out, cut into bite size chunks
About half a teaspoon of salt
A teaspoon of crushed chilli flaked
A good grinding of black pepper

Place squash in baking dish, sprinkle with condiments, place in a preheated oven at 220 for about an hour.

Lemon spaghetti
500g spaghetti
4 large handfuls of rocket
Zest of 1 lemon
Juice of 2 lemons
50g Parmesan
Lots of black pepper

Boil the pasta as per cooking instructions.
Once cooked, drain, reserving about a cup of cooking water. Quickly throw the rest of the ingredients into the pasta and mix thoroughly.
Season with black pepper.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

I return

It's not that I haven't eaten in two weeks, it's that I've been in Bangladesh. The food there was great (and thank God for that because nothing else was) but one of the restrictions of my quasi house arrest was that I be denied any opportunity to eat out. Not because I'll get food poisoning (which I concede that I probably would) but because I'll get hepatitis, apparently. There's something special that differentiates me from all the other Western tourists who visit which makes me particularly susceptible to the 'evils' of Bangladesh, you see. I suspect it's that as soon as I'm there, I'm treated for the most part like a Bengali girl (no freedom until marriage and even then not really because then it's a bit like that film Monster-in-Law except there's poor electricity, lots of hard work, no fun and probably a child within a year) except for where I might stand to do something vaguely interesting in which case the barriers of 'no, you don't live here, you wouldn't be able to handle it' step in. It's been a fun trip. My favourite bit was the complete lack of privacy from having to share a room with my whole family. Oh, and being required to sit there while people talked about me in third person as if I wasn't there or couldn't understand or something. I CAN UNDERSTAND, THE LANGUAGE IS ONE OF THE FEW THINGS I'VE CHOSEN TO MAINTAIN. But anyway, the food was good! But as I said, no eating out. I'd have posted some recipes but it'd be futile to ask for them since all cooks rely on 'andhajj' and so it'd be nigh on impossible to glean quantities or even a full list of ingredients. Or names. But hopefully you trust me that it's good!

I'm sure it doesn't surprise you that as soon as I touched down in England (after seeing some lovely low flying plane views of London on a clear, sunny day), I was filled with absolute glee. Unadulterated, almost in tears, insulting to my parents and home country GLEE. And I hummed along merrily while I used the Internet and wore what I wanted to wear and cooked (4 dishes in 30 minutes, not a food processor in sight. Fuck you, Jamie Oliver). Anyway, happy as I was (as a beaver), there was still the issue of the complete Haque overload I've had. So after a poor night's sleep, I ignored my bank balance and got a train to Edinburgh where there is (to my knowledge) no one in the slightest bit related to me. And there are people who I have things in common with. And plays and shows and exhibitions and a great bus service. And of course, lots of food. I will try to limit myself to only reviewing food though. This is about what I ate, not the theatre I've formed ill-informed opinions about, after all. And instead of doing one entry like I did last year, I'll post as and when I do something interesting with food instead of every ~3 days. I wonder if you'd noticed that's how frequently I post.