Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Recipe - Bacon and Red Wine Risotto

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

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

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Cooking with Boursin

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

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

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

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

Friday, 26 October 2012

Review - La Porchetta

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

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Review - Ginger Pig Cafe

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

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Review - Yazu Sushi

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

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Review - The Larder

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

Monday, 15 October 2012

Recipe - Beef Stifado

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

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

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

I served this with pittas and roasted sweet potatoes.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Review - Allpresso

As I write this, I feel nauseous and thirsty on a train that smells of piss. London is a treat. No, really, it is. There's so much to do and see and there's no whiff of suburbia anywhere. Only piss. Jokes about piss aside, I am enjoying it. Or rather, I'm enjoying it more than I've enjoyed anywhere else. There's a price (aside from the smell) to be paid for all the London wonders and independence. Everything is very busy and tiring and hectic. I don't feel very at peace or settled yet. On occasion, this manifests itself as a brief feeling of wanting to crawl back into the womb where there's no lack of Internet or bill paying or tutoring or cleaning to think about. Only placenta. Mm, placenta. On the other hand, there are no Shoreditch roasteries in the womb either. The first delicious Shoreditch coffee I tried was at Nude Espresso after Cafe 1001. Back then I was worried our flat would be hideous on the inside. QUITE THE OPPOSITE. It's big and lovely and (usually) clean. And still barely a ten minute walk from the flower markets and bustle of Colombia Street and various markets. We went out to soak up the atmosphere on Sunday and stopped at Allpresso.

The coffee was phenomenal, strong and heady but without any trace of bitterness. As smooth as Bond. I can't say the same for the sandwich. It looked delicious, pork falling apart enveloped by bright sweet potato purée and spinach in a focaccia bin. Punchy sweet with iron let down only by the pork. The pork was cold and had a rather stale, off putting aroma to it. So much so that I couldn't bring myself to finish it, not even for the delicious vegetables. I almost blame it for the second wave of horrifia which befell me and Housemate. That or residual illness from Friday's nightmare. London life is very unhealthy.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Recipe - Cauliflower Cheese

It's time for some store cupboard living. Now that our house is a home complete with a coffee machine, decorations and prosecco, I've begun Living Normally and cooking normal food. Except that I can't remember what it is that I usually cook. It's OK because WE HAVE A FREEZER. A whole new world of ingredient storage has opened up. To celebrate, I went mad buying frozen vegetables. And then made some cauliflower cheese. Look!
Cauliflower cheese
500g cauliflower florets (I used frozen because I CAN)
50g butter
50g flour
200ml whole milk
2 cloves
1 bay leaf
1 peppercorn
100g cheddar cheese, grated
Half teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 slices bread, toasted
Handful of parsley

Boil the cauliflower in an ovenproof saucepan/casserole, in enough water to cover and half a teaspoon of salt for about 6 minutes. Drain well.
Meanwhile, melt the butter on a medium heat.
Mix in the flour to form a golden paste.
Slowly add the milk constantly stirring until smooth.
Add the cloves, bay leaves and peppercorns then simmer for ten minutes.
Add the cheese, nutmeg and a good grinding of black pepper.
Pick out the aromatics and pour the cheese sauce over the cauliflower.
In a food processor, blend together the bread and parsley. Sprinkle this over the cauliflower cheese mixture.
Pop into the oven at 150 degrees Celsius for twenty minutes.

I served this with a bacon garlic mushroom fry thing. Nourishing and homely.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Review - Nusa Dua

I know I've talked about both beef rendang and Rasa Sayeng Express on this blog. I'm in the process of writing a feature about the tube diversions I have taken in order to go to a restaurant for the London Student (I'm food editor, it's a means of making friends and maybe eating for free). I have been most guilty of this with Rasa Sayeng express. It's on the Tottenham Court Road side of Oxford Street abs instead of stepping off the tube at Marble Arch, I frequently got off there to grab some deliciously cheap Malag food. With a heavy heart, I tell you that Rasa Sayeng Express has rebranded itself. It's now Noodle Oodles and doesn't do £4.95 rendang. After the tiny portions of lunch number one, we decided it would be appropriate to split a rendang for second lunch. Rendang has played a significant part in our food-relationship history since he's almost as fond of it as I am. It was one of the first things I cooked all the way back when I was still pretending nothing was happening. Then it was what we had when he took me to Makan La for my birthday. And then for second birthday aka the Presentation of the Pearl Earrings. Both times, he said it's not as good as mine. (He doesn't realise that's just because I made caramelised onions as a side dish to mine.) What a good egg! Anyway, all I'm trying to illustrate is that taking him to Rasa Sayeng Express was a Big Deal which is why I was so disappointed to see it gone. A little of our desolation disappeared when we saw that a little Indonesian in Soho with rendang on the menu. The two courses for £7.95 set menu in fact so we got some breadcrumbed prawns for our first course for good measure. They were average. Prawns in slightly over seasoned breadcrumbs. Nothing special. Between that and the rendang came a clear cabbage soup. I think there was miso in it and it was surprisingly delicious. The main event was tasty but lacked the fiery kick which I associate with rendang. It has the cream and the umami and the right level of seasoning. It was very prettily presented too, significantly classier than Rasa Sayeng. With the adoption of class accompanied a slight loss of of flavour. Nusa Dua lacked Rasa Sayeng's street foody coarse strength. Still, it's hard to go wrong with rendang and they almost had it exactly right.