Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Review - Loong Kee Cafe

I've previously talked about how it's hard to tell if I like (or dislike) a place because of the food or the whole experience, including the company. That is the theme again in this post. The company was stellar this time but I wasn't in the best of moods. I was tired and hungry and I'd spent the last two hours having a slightly more arduous than usual lesson with a kid who hates maths. Although then I made him a hot chocolate and he seemed pleased and I felt guilty for having resented him for the previous two hours. I'm just in a particularly bitter, disappointed and jealous place at the moment. All this applying for jobs is making me really resentful of the people I know who walk into things because they're rich and well connected. Some of the websites make me want to cry at all the hurdles I have to jump. All the tutoring is making me similarly resentful of all these kids who have literally everything but still need someone to coax them to do their homework. I recognise that these are incredibly childish attitudes to have and that envy is an ugly shade on me so I'm hoping this passes quickly. I also recognise that on the luck and privilege bell curve I'm doing really well and so I'm just as ungrateful as the others I'm judging. But while I was sitting in Loong Kee being awful company for Contrary, I just felt too disheartened to talk or taste. I need a holiday. So bear this in mind when I discuss the food here.
We had some prawn rolls to start and I was really disappointed by them. They were soggy and sticky with the casing and though the prawn within was delicious, there was so little of it that it only increased my despondency. The mixed meat platter I'd shared with a visiting New-Yorker on the previous visit was much more enjoyable - smoky satay, crisp rolls, sticky garnish. The beef was fresh but the whole thing was a little lacklustre. The noodles were a little limp and not quite dressed enough. The beef was ever so slightly on the too-tough side (this is definitely me being picky though) and I'm not sure how I feel about the fresh vegetables. I enjoyed the pak choi but the fresh tomato and the almost metallic amount of coriander just wasn't impressing me. But the question is, was it the food, my mood or maybe just a personal taste about Vietnamese food that coloured my judgement on this visit?

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Review - Rosa's

After going on about how I'm all sensible and adult now, I made a spectacular return to first-year form on Tuesday/Wednesday. I could blame a variety of reasons but really what I'm trying to say is that I overdid it by accident. And that was a mistake. And then after having already overdone it, I made an even bigger mistake and that was ill advised too. But then I made the mistake of drinking some more and as it turns out that served to stop anything worse happening. I woke up on Wednesday thinking 'oh Lord what has happened what is this you're a joke you're failure how did this happen'. I had to cancel all my commitments and I just felt like the worst person in the world. I achieved nothing (except fainting in the shower) and felt like the best advert for not binge-drinking that ever was. After I'd managed to resurface and wash, I still felt dark and dizzy but I thought that maybe being forced to get out of bed and be sensible and sober at a dinner would be a good idea. I was right! And I got to review Rosa's. As is polite when you're eating with someone else's family, I followed their lead. Fish cakes, summer rolls, soft shell crab, vegetarian green curry, stir fried aubergine, pineapple rice and stir fried Highland venison. Mmm. Rosa's has a system where all their specialties appear in red on the menu and most of these were scarlet.
Of the starters, the fish cakes stole the show. They had a terrific texture, hard but somehow still a little flaky, warm and meaty. The summer rolls were cold and filled with a delightfully spiced vegetable filling, fresh but not overpoweringly zesty. The soft shell crab were enjoyable but the batter somewhat overpowered the delicate crab. Sweet, peanuty, heady sauces accompanied every dish and they were maybe most delicious of all. That same headiness made an appearance in the aubergine, it was more like what I recognise as Sichuan rather than Thai. But obviously, I am not as informed on this matter as Rosa. I don't know if it was because it reminded me of last night's wine or what but one piece of the sweltering dizziness was enough for me. The venison was tender and juicy but did make me wonder whether it added anything to be cooked with venison rather than beef as the gaminess was lost somewhat. The pineapple rice was a treat - jewelled with sultanas and soft, sweet prawns. Absolutely great. The green curry was creamy but lively and probably the third best that I've enjoyed after Thai Garden and Chiang Mai. Overall - impressive but not as impressive as I remember.

Friday, 24 May 2013

Recipe - Kedgeree

Often, I don't think I'm a good cook. But I feel really satisfied and smug whenever I manage to throw things together in a positive way. I had kipper leftover from my pie, I had three papers to read and some convictions of which to remind myself. So I set to work without a recipe, working methodically and without mess, because that's the sort of cooking I find calming. Kedgeree in Bangladesh is yellow lentil rice. Never with fish in it, occasionally with meat in it. My family hosts a festival every August where they serve massive vats of lentil kedgeree with lamb to strangers. It's bloody delicious and probably the only thing about Bangladesh I enjoy. It's definitely the only thing about the festival I enjoy - I'm not permitted to go outside as 'there are strangers' and 'it's dangerous' and other vague, unsubstantiated threats. Anyway, here is the recipe for kedgeree that the colonialists took back with them. Well, my take on it.
1 tbsp butter
2 smoked kipper fillets
2 bay leaves
1 clove
3 portions rice
1 onion, chopped
3 garlic, chopped 
1 chilli, chopper 
1 thumb sized piece of ginger
1 dessert spoon turmeric
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp coriander
1 tsp paprika
1 spring onion, chopped 
100g peas
Lemon juice
Chopped coriander

Boil water with bay leaves and clove in about 300ml water. 
Simmer and cook kipper for about five minutes.
Flake kipper and reserve the water.
Boil eggs.
Cook rice.
Fry garlic, ginger, onion and chilli in butter and a tough of oil. (It was the butter that came in the kipper packet.)
Add coriander, turmeric, paprika and cumin.
Stir in rice and fry for a minute.
Add the water and bring to a simmer.
Cover and cook for about 12 minutes.
Add the spring onion, flaked fish and peas on top of the rice and cover again.
Cook for a further 3 minutes and take off the heat.
Stir through the coriander, vegetables and fish. 
Season with salt and lemon juice.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Recipe - Beef Adobo

The Explorer has exams and I saw him for the last time before they're over. People have raised eyebrows at how finely we're cutting it even though this was two weeks before the first exam and I was only going for an evening. Oxford people are cray about this kind of thing. Nevertheless, I was hesitant about it not because of others questioning the prudency but because I thought it seemed fine and I recognise that I didn't have the right attitude to exams but it didn't matter for me because I didn't have to get a particularly high mark to do what I wanted to do. Still, to reduce the time commitment involved and generally relax my companion, I thought it would be kind to cook in London and carry the food over. I must have been having a particularly high self esteem day - I was impressed by both my cookery and the graciousness which sort of reduces the altruistic side of this good deed. Still, while preparing I was somewhat regretting having committed to it as I was tailspinning at the preparation I had to do for my own exams and some things more important than exams. Whatever, they're done now. I don't know how they went but I know this meal was tasty so maybe it was worth it because maybe I'll end up doing something to do with food with my life. (This is so unlikely that I regret having written it.) Look at our little mugs of sherry!

Beef adobo
1 large onion, finely sliced 
1 inch ginger
5 cloves garlic
1 chilli, sliced
500g beef
750g potatoes
2 carrots
50ml vinegar 
75ml soy sauce
25ml kecap manis
200ml stock
2 bay leaves 
1 tbsp sugar
Steamed rice and broccoli, to serve

Fry onion, garlic, chilli and ginger until browned.
Add beef and brown.
Add vinegar, soy sauce, kecap manis, stock and bay leaves. 
Bring to a simmer.
Simmer until beef is tender, about two hours.
Add potatoes and carrots and simmer for a further half an hour.
Season to taste with salt and sugar at the end.
Serve with rice and steamed broccoli.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Recipe - Goat's Cheese, Mushroom Pasta

I don't know what's happened. I've got nothing to say because I'm busy. But not busy with my old 'ergh what is my life?' times but with boring, sensible things. I wake up, I send millions of emails, I have some unpleasant conversations with tutoring agencies, I (make and) eat lunch, I watch Mad Men/Breaking Bad/whatever I'm into at the time, I send more emails, I teach some kids, I speak to this guy, sometimes I see these girls, but mostly I just read and prepare and apply and eat. That's why it's been so food orientated on here recently. Ha, look at me apologising for writing about food in my food blog. (Incidentally, the Campaigner makes me put money in a big, green Heineken bottle every time I apologise for no reason.) But my leisure time is limited. Usually I'm so drained I just want to be. Not talk or think about being witty or asking questions or anything else. So in the absence of wanting company, I like to think about food. On this particular day, I'd spent all day thinking about garlicky, iron rich spinach. While marking papers and trudging along and reading my things, all I could think about was green, green, green. So you'll understand why this meal was so satisfying.
Goat's cheese, mushroom and garlic spinach pasta
Pasta, cooked in salted water
A touch of cooking water
A dessert spoon of goat's cheese per person

5 cloves garlic, crushed
A handful of spinach per person
100g mushrooms, chopped
A dessert spoon of butter

Melt the butter.
Add mushrooms, garlic and spinach and sauté for 5 minutes until the spinach is wilted and the mushrooms are cooked.
Once the pasta is cooked, quickly stir in the cheese and vegetables.
Season well with black pepper.

Friday, 17 May 2013

Recipe - Fish Pie

I'm being painted! Not because I'm vain and love pictures of myself - because my artist friend needs free sitters. We had plans to slow cook something while she painted but we were both craving fish pie. I was the one to cook this time which I was somewhat nervous about. I'm not finessed at all and cooking three courses is HARD. But I did it! (Well, I did two and the Artist made a tarte aux fruits.) Crusty baguette topped with tomato chutney, cheese and chorizo. They might have been store bought elements but I thought to put them together! Even if it was obvious. And then with the assembling of the pie and the elaborately simple starter meant that there was no time to be painted or eat pudding so we just ended up getting a bit drunk, cutting me a new fringe (brave) and eating some pie. Wonderful. 

Fish pie
2 salmon fillets
2 cod fillets
2 smoked kipper fillets
2 smoked haddock fillets
Handful of prawns 
300ml milk
1 bay leaf
2 peppercorns
2 cloves
2 sprigs thyme

Place the aromatics in with the milk and bring to a simmer. 
Poach the fish in the milk for about three minutes.
Reserve the milk.

50g butter
50g flour
Reserved milk
Big handful of parsley, finely chopped
Half tsp nutmeg
Good grinding of black pepper

Melt the butter. 
Stir in the four and cook until light brown.
Add the reserved milk, slowly, whisking constantly.
Add the nutmeg, parsley and black pepper.

2 leeks, sliced and fried in butter
1kg potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 tsp Dijon mustard
75g Cheddar
1 tsp salted butter

Boil the potatoes in salted water.
Mash, stir in the cheese, leeks, butter and mustard.
Season with black pepper.

Place the fish in a baking dish, flake and season with salt, pepper and the slightest hint of lemon juice.
Pour over the parsley sauce.
Top evenly with the mash.
Place in a medium oven for about half an hour until the top is bubbling and crisp.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Tapas recipes

When I moved into the flat, I was really keen to do regular dinner parties where I could spend a silly amount of money putting on a spread and then get too merry to manage the mountain of cleaning up. So far, this has only happened once before. Oh wait, maybe twice actually. But last Friday I graduated (a sad story in itself) and that plus new housemates plus former housemates plus future housemates all in the same place at the same time gave me an occasion to hijack pre-drinks on Saturday. I wanted tapas but not my bastardisations that are quick for lunch, proper recipe-following tapas! This is what eventuated: tomato bruschetta, smoked mackerel pate (thanks Wheeler), patatas bravas, white bean stew, garlicky mushrooms, tortilla and salad. There are some recipes for some of these things below.
Patatas bravas
500g potatoes, peeled and cut into small pieces.
300ml olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 red chilli, finely chopped
400g tin chopped tomatoes
½ tsp sugar
½ tsp salt
1 tsp smoked paprika
2 tbsp sherry vinegar
1. Preheat the oven to 200C. 
2. Put a roasting tray with 2 tbsp olive oil into the oven and leave to heat for 5 minutes, then take out, toss the potatoes in the hot oil, and bake for about 45 minutes until crisp and golden.
3. Put 2 tbsp oil into a heavy-bottomed pan on a medium heat, and cook the onion until golden and soft. 
4. Put in the chilli, and cook for another couple of minutes, then add the tomatoes, sugar, salt and smoked paprika and stir well. 
5. Bring to the boil, and then turn down the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes until thick and dark. 6. Take off the heat, add 1 tbsp sherry vinegar, and adjust the seasoning if necessary.
1 medium onion, finely sliced600g waxy potatoes such as Jersey Royals or Charlottes, peeled, halved and cut into thin slices (like thick crisps)6 medium eggs, beaten
Salt and pepper
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan over a medium flame, add the onion and cook gently for 20 minutes until soft and brown.
Add the potato to the pan. Cook until tender and on the point of falling apart, then drain well.
Add the potato and onion to the beaten eggs, season well, and leave to stand for 10 minutes, or longer if you prefer a stronger onion flavour. 

Return to pan and cook until almost set.
Place under a hot grill for two minutes to set the top.
Chorizo and smoked ham butter bean stew (fabadas)
1 onion, diced
1 bell pepper, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
Smoked sausage/mushrooms, chopped1 can white beans
200ml chicken stock
Half tablespoon smoked paprika
1 tsp dried thyme1 bay leaf
Salt to taste

Fry onion, pepper and garlic in olive oil until the onions are very soft and starting to brown.
Add the sausages or mushrooms and fry for a further 2 - 3 minutes.
Add the beans, stock, paprika, thyme and bay.
Bring to a simmer and stew on a low heat for about an hour (or longer if you have it).
Season with salt at the end, to taste.

Tomato bruschetta
6 ripe tomatoes, chopped
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 large handful parsley
1 tbsp olive oil
0.5 tbsp vinegar
Salt and pepper

Mix the tomatoes, garlic and parsley. Add the oil and vinegar then season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Friday, 10 May 2013

Review - Roye's Kitchen

I know most of you don't read this for the musings on food. Don't think I don't know, I see the stats. I recognise that I've been writing a lot about food recently so as a special treat, I'll make this intro all about some thoughts entirely unrelated to food I had while sitting in a garden in Lambeth somewhere. It's related to the food because I had a lot of these thoughts whilst enjoying a goat curry from Lower Marsh Market. These thoughts were triggered by me having handed in my coursework. All that I've got left to do now is an open book exam. It's a bizarre concept to me, the open book exam. I'm rather worried that it means they're expecting a lot more from me than I can give them. I won't go as far to say that it's more stressful than a closed book exam but it's not as unstressful as you'd expect. And I have been revising! Probably more than for some of my Oxford finals. But it's leaving me thinking that perhaps I'm just not as clever as I once thought I was. That's the main thing which frightens me away from trying - WHAT IF I FAIL? I thought it would be no big deal if I just did fine (it's quite hard to actually fail) but it turns out that being a high achiever was a bigger deal to me than I thought it was. Of course, I realised this only after getting my first degree and starting a new one. The standard of teaching at my current, prestigious university has nothing on Oxford. And this fills me with so much regret that I didn't make the most of my first degree. Alas. But then I am altering the past a little bit. I seem to be neglecting the fact that my degree made me so, so miserable. And when I tried to read, I couldn't. It was reading words on a page without absorbing. I put that partly down to boredom but mostly down to misery - I think I found it difficult to absorb even things I wanted to read because my head would wander off into depressing, dusty corners. But obviously doing a degree I had little interest in didn't help. I used to want to do English but then my A level English teacher beat that out of me with her talk of assessment objectives. So I ended up doing law because it seemed like a thing that would be sensible to do. I think a lot of people going for law go for it for a similar reason. The lawyers I've met often like having stepping stones and a ready made life path. That's why it's easy to recruit them for the next jump into corporate law. It's reassuring to have something set up for you to go into once you're done at university. (I'm not suggesting that every lawyer does law because of this!) And I was tempted but I knew I'd hate it so I had to burn my bridges before leaving. This really surprised some of my friends and they made that known by joking that I would definitely go into law which was somewhat disheartening. But what makes me feel even more hopeless is when I mention to friends now what sorts of careers I'm looking at and they're all very encouraging but then they make a point of stressing that I will almost certainly get one of my back up careers. But I don't WANT one of them. I'll just have to get one if everything else goes to shit because I want to live in London and money is very important for enjoying London. These are all thoughts that accompanied my goat.
The goat was oily but I mean that as a compliment: it had been stewed for long enough that the fattiness had been converted into soft mouthfuls of delicious. It was all wild with turmeric, slightly spicy and achingly salty. The peppers and cool lettuce of the salad were a welcome contrast. I would've preferred for the stew itself to go a little easier on the vegetable oil: no one enjoys seeing little puddles of spiced oil on the surface. Rice and beans were nothing special but I really enjoyed the bite to the beans. I need a job so I can keep buying £5 lunches like this.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Review - Little Georgia

You know how sometimes you plan on something and it exceeds all your expectations? That happened with Little Georgia. So much so that I had to send an email mid-meal about it. Before the meal, I was reconsidering my Georgian food choice and sort of craving turmeric since I'd had a turmeric free week. I'm really glad I didn't though because this place is a hidden gem. I know it's lame to use that phrase in most contexts and also a bit creepy since we watched Notes on a Scandal after dinner but that's what it is! Well, it is to me. It's pretty big on the Internet. We got there, we marvelled: he at the fun Georgian map and me at a strange rag doll. We chose the mixed mezze and the lamb kebab.
The mixed mezze is beautiful. It's served on a platter and is so colourful that it looks like a paint palette. But not one f those cartoon paint palettes with the tiniest squeeze of a circular blob, a real one with all the colours running into one another but never homogenising. The purple, creamy slaw was my favourite. Or maybe the almost fruity potato salad. Or the rich, dark aubergine goulash. Oh, I can't choose. It was all so spectacular. Even the garnishes were well thought out: ripe, luscious tomatoes tucked between the little patches of heaven. The lobiani which accompanied it was springy like a mattress and hid smoky, deep pork. The lamb felt almost unnecessary but it was so tender and intricately spiced that I didn't care. An exceptional meal.

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Recipe - Gratin

I like to try new recipes. (I actually have a food blog in case you hadn't heard?) They're always edible, usually somewhat tasty, sometimes really tasty and very occasionally, bloody phenomenal. What happens to make things bloody phenomenal I don't know. Or at least, I don't know when it comes to recipes I'm trying for the first time. The things which I cook a lot, I've nailed. Unfortunately, they're not usually very interesting so only I get to eat them. (I enjoy some pretty gourmet lunches.) This was one such meal. I don't know if it was because I was concentrating particularly hard or if it's because my housemate brought strange kitchen synergy but this was good. My one mistake was forgetting to fish out the bay leaves. Incredibly once remarked that he's unsure of what bay adds. I admit that I too wonder that sometimes. Not anymore. I know very well the taste of bay. And I know that it's not pleasant to fish out of mouthfuls.
Leek and mushroom gratin
6 rashers smoked bacon, sliced into lardons (optional)
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
4 leeks, chopped and washed
Handful of button mushrooms, chopped
3 large potatoes, unpeeled, thinly sliced and parboiled in salted water
30g butter
30g flour
300ml milk
1 bay leaf
2 cloves
1/2 tsp nutmeg
75g butter
Black pepper
1.5 tsp Dijon mustard
Breadcrumbs mixed with 25g cheese

In a casserole, melt a tbsp of butter, fry the onion, bacon, mushrooms, garlic, and leeks for about ten minutes on a medium heat then turn the heat up for the last five minutes so the liquid evaporates and the bacon crisps.
Meanwhile, make the cheese sauce - melt butter, stir in flour, add milk slowly with the bay, cloves and nutmeg and stir until smooth.
Add the cheese and black pepper.
Pour the cheese sauce, dijon mustard and potatoes into the casserole.
Season with black pepper and stir well, arranging the potatoes evenly.
Top the mixture with breadcrumbs and bake in the oven for thirty - forty minutes at gas mark five until cheese is bubbling and the topping is browned.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Review - The Well

Hey, I ticked a place off my list! I was supposed to be making my long-promised rendang for a friend but then The Well was on offer and it seemed silly not to go there instead. We were to go after a private view near Old Street but it turns out that we got the dates mixed up. After a quick drink in an old man pub (whiskey and soda, too much Mad Men) adorned with what looked like GCSE art, we sat down in The Well. It was dark, there were candles but also fans. It definitely had the air of gastro rather than pub. (Isn't it interesting that the contraction usually refers to nice food when it could just as legitimately be referring to a horrible stomach bug or a weight loss band?) We, the omnivores, ordered sea bass with gnocchi and rabbit in a mustard and bacon sauce. The vegetarian option was rather lazy - tortellini. We decided to get some garlicky mushrooms and mashed potato too.
Let's start with the good bits. The mash was smooth and luxe and gorgeous although I realise that's probably because it had a whole pat of butter in it. Everything was typically but well presented. The sea bass which I tried was UH-MAY-ZING. Such crispy skin. The crispiest! Such moreish flesh! And the gnocchi - literally perfect. It was as close to 10/10 as you can reasonably expect. The rabbit was enjoyable but not to the same degree. It was, dare I say it, ever so slightly dry. The sauce it came with was reasonably delicious but the saltiness of the bacon rather overpowered and there was a harshness to the whole thing which I think was caused by mustard and not-quite-evaporated wine. It was tasty but I'm pleased I had the mashed potato to comfort my palate. Also, I don't think it helped that I had a similar sauce at The Magdalen Arms recently and that one was simply better. I'm being pernickety really though, I enjoyed the atmosphere and the food. When half price, this came to £16 per head with wine and service. I probably won't be returning to eat there full price until I'm rolling in dolla.