Thursday, 28 March 2013

Recipe - Beef and Aubergine Shakshuka

On Thursday, I really felt like I needed to realign my chakras. I was walking home after having tutored a girl who loves to chat and asks me if I'm sure whenever I tell her she's got something wrong. I was exhausted and tired and felt like I needed to bed down for a really long time. Nothing bad had happened and I'd had a week of doing nothing much at all. But on my walk home from the tube station I was just hit with a horrible feeling of wanting to give up and sleep forever. To rectify this, I planned a day full of calming, non-essential activity. This started with a needlessly expensive but delicious brunch followed with some stacking up of some 'cultural currency' and then succeeded by more unnecessarily expensive salted caramel ice cream. These leisurely activities had nothing on what came after them all. MARKET TIME. I love the markets near where I live even more than I love Whitechapel Sainsbury's. I rave about them and every time I remember how good they are, I feel a rare rush of affection for my little-brother-cum-housemate and feel inclined to do something nice. (On this occasion, I bought him a couple of bagels. He's undernourished.) It feels so wholesome making a list (an Ottolenghi list) and then trotting down the road to grope some supercheap fruit. I bought some great quality aubergines, juicy ripe tomatoes and the cheapest avocados I've ever seen. Mango too but that made me a little sad because one was all mucky and rotten. Still, 50p!

Beef and aubergine shakshuka
8 small aubergines, pierced in several places

Place the aubergines under a hot grill for an hour, turning occasionally.
Once removed from the oven and cooled, cut open the aubergines and scoop out the flesh.

1 large onion, finely chopped
6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 red chillies, finely chopped
1 green pepper, finely chopped
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tbsp ground paprika
300g minced beef
2 large tomatoes, chopped
2 tbsp tomato purée
4 eggs
Salt and pepper
1 handful parsley

Fry the onion, garlic, chilli and ground spices on a medium–high heat until it begins to colour.
Add the minced beef, salt and some black pepper and brown well on high heat.
Mix in the tomatoes, tomato puree and aubergine flesh and cook for a further 5 minutes.
Add a cup of water.
Make 4 small wells in the mix and break an egg into each.
Cook the eggs on low heat for about 10 minutes, until the egg whites are cooked but the yolks are still runny.
Sprinkle over parsley.

Avocado salad
4 large tomatoes, sliced
1/2 red onion, sliced
2 avocados, peeled and cut into bite-sized chunks
Handful chopped fresh parsley
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

Monday, 25 March 2013

Review - The Breakfast Club

 Forget this gal, I love brunch. I wholeheartedly disagree with her article. I'm tempted to find brunch annoying because it's what 'londonistas' and hipsters who take photos of food like to do and of course, as a possessor of many londonista/hwtpof traits, I loathe those people. But 'beginning' the day with far too much brightly coloured food and possibly even some ill advised alcohol is glorious. We went to The Breakfast Club, a place which tries really hard to be quirky, always has long queues and is hyped like nothing on earth. The kind of place which the aforementioned londonistas must love. And hey, I guess I have even more in common with them than I thought because I too love it.
Even with the handicap of being the kid of place which I try to hate because it's exactly the kind of place I'm expected to like, I had no choice but to melt to the superior flavour of the Boston baked beans. I oozed like the perfectly runny yolk on the solitary fried egg and was immediately comforted by the mellow, smoky, intricate beans. So delicate but with the perfect dose of stringy, umami porkiness. I would've been perfectly pleased with normal toast under this magestic topping but the French bread was inspired. It added an extra sweet rubberiness (in a good way) and made a pretty great meal stand out even further.

Friday, 22 March 2013

Recipe - Coconut Shrimp, Mango and Avocado Salad

I have realised that many of the traits that I recognise as blameworthy in others I possess myself. I mean, obviously I knew that before. But I highlighted a particular trait peculiar to me and one other. Trying to make up for not being a sunny person by occasionally doing a beaming thing. I attempted to cook a favourite meal. Coconut shrimp. Not my usual ilk of dish; it involves deep frying and making things bind. I have neither the skill nor the resources to do it well. And that's why it went awry. See, that's the problem with harnessing your kindness to overblown gestures. When they go wrong, it's like oh you're a moody dick and you didn't even get my favourite meal right. Sigh.

Mango and Avocado Salad
1 ripe mango, peeled and cubed
1 ripe avocado, peeled and cubed
Large handful mixed leaves
Large handful fresh coriander, chopped
1 tablespoon lime zest
2 tablespoons lime juice
4 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2  teaspoon ground cayenne
Grinding of pepper

Coconut shrimp
Vegetable oil, for frying
75g plain bread crumbs
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 pinches ground cayenne pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons Chinese five-spice powder
50g dessicated coconut
2 eggs, beaten
500g prawns, peeled 

Season breadcrumbs with cayenne, five spice and salt.
Mix coconut with seasoned breadcrumbs.
Dip prawns in egg then the breadcrumb mixture.
Deep fry in hot oil. 

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Review - Pavillion Cafe

I awoke on Monday with the obligation to buy someone breakfast. Sometimes, unpleasant truths are revealed and they're never easy to digest. Breakfast is easy to digest and going out to find it epitomises luxury and opulence to me. Especially when it happens at 1pm. I was sneaky about this breakfast. I knew it would right all the wrongs of the previous evening because of the location. My partner in crime likes going out for meals but more in an agreeably not minding way, not because it's his favourite thing like it is for me. But I knew he'd enjoy this meal a lot more since the diner of choice was the pavillion cafe, a lakeside cafe in Victoria Park.
We both went for the Pavillion breakfast. Me, because it had no black pudding on it. Him, because he's a copycat. It came with sausage, bacon, egg, toast, bubble and squeak, beans and a fat portobello mushroom. The sausage was beautifully browned (I have new found appreciation for good sausage cooking after a recent grilling experience) but left you aching for liquid. The creaminess of the homemade beans and their soft texture were a reasonable substitute for the juice it really left you wanting. The egg had a yolk so precariously melting that I'm surprised it didn't crack on the way over to our table. The mushroom was meaty and a little watery and the bacon had the same salty richness of the sausage. The bubble and squeak was the only disappointing element, a little too sweet and unpleasantly over-parsleyed. All in all, a good breakfast but the price you pay is for the setting and quality of ingredients rather than the excitement.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Review - Meatliquor

I've had some disappointing burger experiences recently. I read a review by Rocket and Squash about this burger place and all the talk of the aftertaste, oh, the aftertaste got me craving. Then I got really drunk one night in the local Wetherspoons and needed something to soak up the booze so much so that I couldn't wait for my sad little Tupperware box at home so I decided to go for the almost forgotten burger and beer deal. I didn't need the beer and the burger was forgettable except for the fact that I remember it wasn't what I was hoping for. Of course not. When has Wetherspoons ever been what I'm hoping for? McDonalds, on the other hand, doesn't disappoint me in the same way. But, as I learnt in the early hours after this meal, it leaves me feeling disgusted at myself and with my body. Sometimes it's fun to indulge though. I thought that on a Wednesday at Marylebone. I hoped it would be the whopper's day of the week. I was wrong, it was double rodeo. But the misleading advertising indicated to me that there was no such thing as the burger of the day in this train station. So I went for the less elaborate but more expensive cheeseburger and thought I'd get some jalapeño cheese bites. What a fool I am. The person behind me showed me that the burger of the day is available after all and, more significantly, it was shit. So that's what piqued my burger enthusiasm recently. Meatliquor was the first contender. We went and ordered a bacon cheeseburger and the Swiss mushroom thing. Chilli cheese fries too.
I think I preferred the cheeseburger. The cheese and bacon was sealed together, as if it had been engineered to resemble plastic cheese but with bacon instead of a plastic wrapped. The meat on both burgers had a good char, hard and meaty and full of umami. There was contrast from the pickled red onion and surprisingly mellow gherkin. The posher burger had bits of mushroom and subtler cheese. I would've liked a touch more fresh lettuce to cut through the heavy flavours packed into the little buns. Chilli cheese fries looked like mac and cheese. They came in little earthenware pot, low effort, simple presentation. I was expecting chilli peppers but instead was greeted with the carne kind. Salty and rich, it made me heady and I desperately needed water. And perhaps a different type of flavour cutting through the dizziness. Only afterwards did I realise the extra thing I was looking for was ketchup.

Monday, 18 March 2013

Review - Gourmet San

Gourmet San has long been on my list but every time I've tried to get food from there something's cropped up to prevent it. I was going to go on this evening and it was the restaurant that was the source of disagreement on this evening. Since the Explorer's been 'staycationing' in London to break term from revision hell, it seemed like a good time to eat out loads and maybe do some touristy things. (The eating out often left us too full for the accompanying tourist activity.) Gourmet San was the nominated takeaway for Tuesday dinner. I was so hungry I called and ordered without consulting. He didn't mind though, especially when he learnt that I'd ordered two prawn-encompassing dishes (hunanese style sea spices chilli prawn, Singapore vermicelli), meat (the lamb skewers they're famed for) and rice. Balanced and offering a semi-comprehensive sample of the menu.
Now that I've eaten the cheap, cheap offerings of Gourmet San, I no longer think Suey Hong is a good deal. This place is but a whisker dearer and the quality hands down no contest trumps. The just donenoodles were finely dressed in chilli and turmeric and contained a well proportioned balance of shredded, tender chicken, tiny prawns and juicy peppers. The prawn dish was red with deseeded chilli which added the ideal amount of heat. The prawns themselves were large, just cooked and retained their distinctive gorgeous flavour through the rest. The sauce was a little strong on the heaviness but easily combated by rice. The rice was jewelled with pak choi and fresh (not frozen!) broccoli. The lamb packed a cumin punch and managed to be smoky and soft all at once. All for £19.50 with free delivery.  

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Recipe - King Ranch Casserole

I've submerged myself in Deep South culture recently. By that I mean I've been marathon watching Breaking Bad and cooking a lot of tex mex treats. I hadn't got into Breaking Bad before but now I'm like this Family Guy clip and I'm determined to watch all 4.5 seasons before the last 0.5 season comes out. I know what happens in them all from extensive reading of all sources of Breaking Bad information on the Internet. This is partly because I get all obsessive about things for short periods of time and partly because otherwise I get too nervous watching scary things. My housemate learnt of this second trait and made a really big deal out of how weird it is. I think it's perfectly reasonable and sensible. Anyway, my tex mex inspired cuisine is probably down to the fact that I bought some jalapeños and then decided to cease the opportunity to cook Homesick Texan recipes. Also because I tend to have appropriates ingredients in my cupboard. This 'king of casseroles' caught my eye a while ago as it really stresses how all people like eating the same food but replacing ingredients with ones they have readily available. This is basically tortilla lasagne. I saw Jesse's mum making it in Breaking Bad so I thought I'd better stop fucking around and get on with it.

King Ranch Casserole
750g skinless, boneless chicken thighs
Few dashes of lime juice
2 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp cumin

Pour a few dashes of lime juice over the chicken thighs.
Sprinkle them with salt and chilli powder.
Fry in olive oil until cooked and then shred.

3 cloves of garlic, crushed
4 tablespoons of butter
1 onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 red chilli pepper, diced
2 green chillies, diced
1 can chopped tomatoes
4 teaspoons chilli powder
1 teaspoon of cumin
1 teaspoon of coriander
200ml chicken stock
2 tbsp of flour
1/2 tsp of cayenne pepper
50ml single cream
25ml of sour cream
Large handful coriander, chopped
200g grated cheddar
10 corn tortillas
Salt and pepper to taste

Melt the butter in a saucepan on medium, and add the onions, red bell pepper and chillies. Cook for 10 minutes.

Add the garlic, flour, cumin, coriander, cayenne pepper and chilli powder, and cook for 1 minute.
Add the chicken stock and cook on low until mixture is thickened, a few minutes. 
Stir in the cream, milk, tomatoes and cover the pot, and simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Uncover the pot, and add the sour cream and half of the coriander.
Add salt and pepper to taste. Turn off heat.
Stir in the shredded chicken.

Preheat the oven to gas mark 4.

I layered it like this:
Sauce - Tortillas - Cheese - Coriander

Cook uncovered for 30 minutes or until brown and bubbling. 

Monday, 11 March 2013

Review - Hazraj

It was time for our fourth outing as a class. Since I'd insisted we go for Christmas dinner and also chosen the venue for outing #2 (overbearing? me?), it definitely wasn't my turn to choose which is evident from the fact that the restaurant was in Kentish Town. I've only had one previous foray into north London and that was to solicit work (I'm not a prostitute) in Hampstead. Eager described Hampstead as smelling like rich people - the smell of croissants apparently. It reminded me of what actually nice places look like rather than 'nice as London goes'. Kentish Town isn't quite the same but still different to these parts. The location was Hazraj, an Indian 'tiffin' place. I thought it would be in the Dishoom strain of restaurants. Not quite. It wasn't by any means a standard curry but the menu didn't have the same finesse. It was still reassuring to see a restaurant trying to do something interesting without it being food-blogged to death and hailed as 'the next big thing'. And the menu was interesting - it avoided the curries which Chutney's termed 'unabashedly Indian'. The ordering method was to choose a curry, rice, side and veg. Of course, I wanted everything because I'm greedy. Usually I have the opportunity to try at least two of everything as I make the Explorer share with me as sharing is caring. (Even when it's clearly only because I chose the inferior option of tuna mayo when I should've gone for beef and horseradish.) I don't expect similar opportunities to arise when the Explorer isn't around but I was in luck on this occasion. The Modellawyer and I were without our +1s despite the organiser's insistence that we bring them so the obvious solution was to pair up and pretend we're dating for the purposes of food sharing. Between us we went for the achari lamb, prawn bhuna, black dahl makhani, Peshawara naan, lasooni naan, traditional pilau and nimbu pilau. 
I started with the achari lamb. Now it's not that I think it wasn't done well but I've concluded that I didn't really like the concept not the execution. It was too tart and salty for my liking even when combined with the various starches. The prawn bhuna had the unique seafood sweetness that only ground coriander and prawn together can produce - it reminded me of my mother's. it was only at swapping point that we remembered the existence of the side dishes. Makhani dahl and regular mixed vegetables. I have little to say about the mixed veg as I tried hardly any of it. The makhani dahl I made a better attempt at and I'm sorry that I didn't finish it. Earthy and living up to its name - it's difficult to translate makhani but trust me. The bill was £23 and that included several glasses of wine and service. They'd given us free poppadums with homemade chutneys to start and that made already good value even better.

Friday, 8 March 2013

Review - Bogayo

Instead of going to one of the countless other places on my list, I decided to revisit Bogayo. It was because I remembered the lustrous texture of the lamb and my food envy at those who'd ordered lamb tagine and the little fat boy in me couldn't resist. It helped that throughout February they're doing a 50% off food offer. Only if you order two courses though. We got a starter, two mains and a pudding and shared it all. Some diplomacy was necessary when deciding what to order; I submitted to prawns instead of scallops to start in return for a selection of Moroccan cakes to finish. (Secret: I ended up wanting the prawns more in the end anyway so really I got my own way twice.) The tagines were of lamb and quail.
The prawns were disappointing. Much too acidic and slightly too bitter. The tart tomato and peppery rocket that came alongside it provided no relief. The lamb was as tender and sticky as I'd remembered but the flavour was lacklustre. I mean, it tasted good but not the 'oh my god I've got to return here when I'm sober' good. However, I did still want to ask the chef how he did it and why my tagines don't end up as rich and mellow. The quail was soft yet still pink and encased in that unique citrus sweet of preserved lemon. The green olives were mellow and not too sour while the potatoes had soaked up the wonderful flavours from everything. Before dessert arrived, I felt really feverish and faint so we asked for it to go. I ate some later though: the baklava tasted as it should but I can't really comment further than that. Overall, I enjoyed the food but think I would've felt rather ripped off if I'd paid the original price.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Recipe - Jollof Rice

I miss the days when money was never an issue. Nowadays, spending hours on the phone trying to sort out your energy supply seems like a reasonable use of time to save money. Until you realise that being on hold for hours and hours costs money and apparently if you exceed your contract by enough money, your phone is restricted and you have to pay on that very day for your phone to be unrestricted. Then that has a knock on effect and you're all 'oh hey I can't come to this fun thing later in the week' and then you're all 'oh it's OK we can still have fun and get something nice to eat' but then the person you're doing those things with is all 'oh can you cook instead?' and then it's all 'but I want to eat out!' - 'but I need to save money for holiday!' - 'but so do I and I'm managing it more successfully than you!' and you have a silly fight about a really small thing and then you cook jollof rice and it's delicious and you don't understand why you had that fight in the first place. Staying in and eating jollof rice is a lovely way to spend an evening. Particularly when it's finished off not with a cold night bus journey but instead with twenty chicken nuggets and Wall-E.
8 chicken drumsticks and thighs
1 onion, finely sliced
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 thumb sized piece of ginger, peeled and chopped
1 scotch bonnet chilli, finely chopped
3 tbsp tomato purée
1 red pepper, chopped into chunks
1 green pepper, chopped into chunks
4 tomatoes, peeled and chopped
1 tsp cumin
1 tbsp ground coriander
1 tbsp paprika
400g basmati rice
600ml stock
2 bay leaves
Frozen peas

Season the thighs all over and fry over a high heat until brown all over. Remove and set aside.
Fry the onion, garlic, ginger and chilli on a medium heat.
Add the tomato purée, tomatoes, peppers and spices. Fry for a further five minutes.
Add the rice and fry for a further minute.
Return the chicken thighs to the pan.
Add the stock and bay leaves.
Cook for about 20 mins.
Add the frozen peas and cook for a further five minutes.

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Review - Yalla Yalla Pop Up

'Shall we sync iCals?' asked Earnest. Now, you might be wondering why this idea was suggested when we don't do business together. It was the conclusion of a very lengthy conversation about what we mean when we say 'this Saturday' and 'next Saturday'. It transpired that we both mean different days. This came to light on the Saturday in question when I was on a train to Stratford-upon-Avon and she was all 'err aren't you meant to be going to E Pellicci?' NO, that's NEXT Saturday. 'You mean a week on Saturday?' Exactly, next Saturday. We didn't sync iCals, partly because I choose to keep terrifying lists instead of using the calendar but mainly because it would be a wanky, unnecessary thing to do. But I have reconsidered since it would make organising social events much easier. I don't know why it's recently become so difficult but even when a date is decided weeks in advance, plans that reach fruition are rare. This one managed it but in skeleton form: the two 'main event' guests were missing. Nevertheless, at 10pm sat next to a glaring outside heater, we tucked into our respective platters at the Yalla Yalla Shoreditch pop-up.
I went for the street platter with the lamb shawarma while my companions both elected the Beirut platter (the same but with falafel). The hummus tasted like unadulterated salty chickpea, as hummus should. The bread which accompanied it was the right touch of floury but with a spring. The bread for the shawarma was paper thin and crisp and I enjoyed that a little more. The meat itself was delicate and soft with a strong punch of salt which heightened the experience without overpowering. My one gripe is at the tabbouleh. 'Oh, tabbouleh is that nondescript green stuff that doesn't taste of much.' Not this one, this tasted of bright citrus but a little too much. Too much lemon! Aside from that, everything was of a stand-up quality. My favourite part was the little pastry. So crumbly, matching the texture of the feta and mint within.