Monday, 30 September 2013

Recipe - Roasted Cobbler, Fennel and Tomato

Guys, big news. (Bigger than the fact that I live with my boyfriend now.) Sainsbury's Whitechapel has a competitor! Tesco in Bow. It's great. I've been feasting on reduced fish and fresh fruit. (I have also bitten into three pieces of fruit that had already gone off today but we won't dwell on that.) This is particularly good news since I did my usual 'ok now the stress is over, let's get ill' bit. The stress also meant little time for fun so when it came to the end of the week when all I wanted to do was collapse, I felt compelled to go out and 'live it large' so I wouldn't have absolutely nothing to report from this week. Mistake - I ended up queuing for the oversubscribed club for an hour, a further twenty minutes waiting for the loo then fell asleep on the night bus. By Saturday, I was so ready for some rest and some cobbler (the fish variety, not the American pudding).

Roasted cobbler, fennel and tomatoes 
2 cobbler fillets (any white fish would do)
Half a fennel bulb, finely sliced
4 tomatoes, finely sliced
1 tsp dried thyme
1 onion, finely sliced
1 cloves garlic, left whole
Salt and pepper
1 glass white wine
Juice of half a lemon

Place the fennel, onion and tomatoes in a deep baking dish. Sprinkle with thyme, salt and pepper.
Place in an oven preheated to 200 degrees Celsius for about ten minutes.
Pour over the white wine.
Place the fish and garlic cloves on top of the vegetables.
Season thoroughly and sprinkle with lemon juice.
Place in the oven for a further 10 minutes until the fish is opaque and flakey.

Friday, 20 September 2013

Review - Hache

When I started this blog, I had no real responsibilities to speak of. (Yet I spent a lot of time being miserable and upset at things which I recognise as supremely idiotic now.) That left plenty of time to have thoughts and write those thoughts down and tenuously linked them to something I ate. It even left time to EDIT. Those days are gone. I considered shutting down the blog but I think that would be sad and, from a completely selfish point of view, I like having a record of where I eat and what I cook. But over this past week, I've been madly trying to get people to complete references for me at the same time as tutoring and applying for every job I can stomach. (Potential employers - I've thrived on the pressure and have succeeded in all of my undertakings this week.) During the down time, I didn't really want to blog. I just wanted some mindless time. But now that the mad rush is over and I'm just applying for jobs, there's a little scope to procrastinate now. I think it would be appropriate to talk about the first time I've felt truly relaxed over the past three weeks: drinks and a meal after having signed for the new house. HOORAY.
Dinner wasn't planned. We went for drinks at a crappy, hyper-polished, after-work bar on Curtain Road to celebrate house signing and after two beers, I didn't feel like cooking. I felt like eating a greasy, sloppy burger. Hache was down the road and had previously been recommended to me so there we went. I thought the Explorer would prefer this place to the other burger joints we've visited primarily because they load their burgers with toppings. (I've taken to predicting what he'll get from every menu and I haven't yet been wrong.) We ordered the mexican burger (of course), the steak blue cheese and for sides, sweet potato fries and coleslaw. The blue cheese was a little bit too heavy for the burger in my opinion. I wasn't too disappointed that some of it had gone all melty and floated out of the burger and made no move to rebuild it. The burger itself was moist and meaty and difficult to describe because how do you describe that glorious savoury sensation? I mopped up the cheese with some sweet potato fries and coleslaw. I regret to inform you that the first few bites of the sweet potato (or maybe the coleslaw, I couldn't tell which) had a strange fishy taste. As if it had been fried in the same oil as the fish burgers. I used the strength of the stilton to glide past that though and I was relieved to find that the weird fishiness disappeared. Strange. Anyway, I don't think that's a particularly good reflection on the restaurant because of what Smitten Kitchen said about the sides at a meat place supposedly being top class. I'm being overly critical though, after the strange first taste disappeared, the sweet potatoes were dry and crisp, as fries should be, and the coleslaw was acidic but sweet with onion juice. The mexican burger was better than the steak blue cheese: I was pleased to see the toppings came in a little pot for you to add. They worked really well together but also with the red meat. The mexican burger works better with the ciabatta bun but I think if we're to compare just buns, brioche wins. Pretty good, but at £35 for two with beers, slightly more expensive than the other (better) burger places.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Recipe - Fat Cat Cafe

The whole house debacle left us in a quagmire. The best solution seemed to be to live in a bigger house with more people than rooms. In other words, I'm SHACKING UP with the Explorer. Now, you might wonder why I'm not totally paralysed by fear (I am) at someone with an already huge share of my life expanding that share. It's only for six months and the thought of upgrading to a nicer house for less money is just too tempting. And anyway, I'll be out a lot and he'll be at the lib so really we're only sharing a bed at night which we'd probably do anyway. So it's allllll fine. And I enjoy playing house with the Explorer most of the time anyway. Brunching in Stoke Newington (at Fat Cat Cafe) is the archetypal example of one of those times.
I thought 'organic' would translate to small portions. Incorrect! It means massive portions of delicately prepared, wholesome nourishment. A salty slab of bacon, a sausage which was certainly more herb than salt and wedges of thick cut bread with those things that look like nuts in the crust. I haven't even mentioned the HOME MADE BAKED BEANS. They warmed me up even though I was forgot both a jumper and a coat. (I miss summer.) If I had to criticise anything, it would be the mushrooms which were a little more watery than I would've liked. But I had to think real hard for a criticism just then.

Friday, 13 September 2013

Eating out in Budapest

As I write this, I'm sitting in a square at a nice Hungarian cafe. Except that the cafe doesn't serve Hungarian food. I'm not being antisocial, the Explorer cheekily forgot his wallet and has had to rush back to the hostel to get it. We could just pay by card but it looks like we'll have money left over anyway and so that seems really silly. Let's pretend you're doing a verbal reasoning test for some job. What have you learnt from that paragraph? Budapest is cheap and was warm when we visited, the hostel was located near a nice square with cute cafes and the Explorer continues to be a forgetful little soul who often inconveniences us but in a way that we can't hate him for. Although sometimes it's really hard not to (like on the train to Stansted when he insisted I have a bite of his steaming hot wasabi only to burn my tongue so brutally that it hurt to eat schnitzel for days). The other main theme running through the holiday was that at times, it didn't feel like a holiday. This had nothing to do with the city or the company or money, it was to do with my complete inability to compartmentalise or relax when anything is going on. And boy, was stuff going on. I will pepper the food descriptions of this entry with hints and clues rather than spelling it out all at once as that's more fun for everyone.
So, we got to the city late on Monday evening. Then (BIG NEWS) we skipped dinner. It wasn't intentional but we were wandering and thinking 'hmm my tongue's all burnt and also I'm full from lunch'. We had a snack from a bakery, a peculiar 'potato' pastry which in no way shape or form tasted like potato. We then failed even to find a bar to have a drink in (all closing, big Monday night) and so ended up asleep at a very reasonable hour ready for a day of touristing on Tuesday.
We began Tuesday in more of a holiday spirit, breakfasting at a bakery serving fresh ham filled croissants (it was just a chain) before going to Central for breakfast mark 2: coffee and pastry. Coffee comes with a macaroon; a crisp, sugary thing. The fruit tart had spectacularly crumbly pastry and a rich yet light filling. I would've preferred for the 'seasonal fruits' to include something other than grape but that's a very small gripe indeed. Oh, and Central is a lovely place to sit for an hour or two, very fancy. We had planned to walk around the castle district before lunch but then Central carried us away with its solemn waiting staff. We decided to lunch before sightseeing at Central Market Hall. I was flummoxed by all the choice and insisted we walk around every single stall before deciding. But there were so many options that I forgot everything that was on offer and what looked good. There were also so many tourists there that it became challenging to walk back so we ended up getting morbidly unhealthy snacks: a sausage wrapped in bacon and grilled cheese. We got some salad (coleslaw included of course) for good measure too. It wasn't special or interesting but it was enjoyable. And it was definitely filling enough to leave us energised for the museum walk. Thoroughly exhausted by the inclines of Buda, we headed back for a nap. And by nap, I mean frantic phone calls and stresses and email checking which was ultimately futile since what can you do to get money back from a fraudulent estate agent from a time zone away? After which it was dinner time! We headed to Castro Bistro as that's where the hostel staff recommended. We ordered rabbit goulash and some chicken beetroot dish. All of a similar heaviness to lunch but rather saltier. Maybe I'd have enjoyed it more if I felt like eating with the stress of 'oh god I've lost us £4000'. This meant that afterwards, I wasn't much in ruin bar flow so we headed back for some red wine and quiet time with the intention of relaxing.
It didn't really work and I slept poorly. I wasn't much in the mood for Hungary or its food but I had to persist for the Explorer's sake. We headed to Frici Papa where we were once more served meaty delights. A meat and potato soup which warned the cockles of my little heart. I was so disappointed which I realised I'd totally missed a big basket of bouncy bread which would have been so good for mopping up that soup. The 'green bean' side dish we ordered appeared not to have much bean going on - a cheesy, curdy plate lay in front of us. Tangy and rich but only good in small doses. The chicken with mash provided a buttery, bland landscape to counteract the curd sourness. This was by far the most enjoyable traditional meal of the trip but still left us craving something a little fresher. Then off we wandered to the tree island in order to try relaxing tack number two: maintain a healthy level of drunk all day. I think it worked better: we dined on fast food pizza slices and then went bar hopping before realising that bar hopping can be futile as a couple with no interest in making friends. They were all so beautifully decorated though. I feel like a bit of an idiot for not having realised earlier that ruin bars are so named because they're built in ruins. (Hashtag Oxford educated.) 
The next day was devoted to the children's railway and our over indulgence from the night before led to a calm lunch at Cafe Alibi. After so much meat and cheese, I was glad for the respite to be found in the fresh salad alongside a chicken club and a croque Madame. Well crafted sandwiches so often go under appreciated. The bread was almost nutty. The sauce sharp yet creamy. The salad, which I have to mention again, wonderfully put together. This meal put me in a really bright mood so I was on better form for the (hilarious) children's railway. Convinced that the lack of meat and cheese was key, we headed to Due Spaghi for dinner.
One of the 'due' explained to us what the various luscious ravioli were filled with. I wanted it all. But then they told me that the only ones ready to eat and take away were the least appetising looking. And then of those two, we picked the worse-looking one. It's as if we didn't want to enjoy it. Still, the pomodoro was tangy and vibrant and the pasta was just the right al dente even after the microwave trip it enjoyed. We had intended to get some of the tuna pasta they had on offer but the first dish didn't leave me that enthused. But I was still hungry so we plumped for the 'tapas' place around the corner. Tapas and Mexican. I often judge places for diversifying too much: do little but do it well. We ordered steak quesadillas and two tapas dishes: potatoes with bacon and roasted garlic mushrooms. The mushrooms never came. We weren't too disappointed though as the other two portions were huge. Unfortunately, it was still decidedly average. The potatoes were crispy and had clearly had a long soak in olive oil which had seeped through to flavour it all. Unfortunately, no salt had done the same. The saltiness of the bacon didn't counteract it. The cheesy, salad topped quesadillas I can't even remember which isn't exactly high praise.
Our last meal of the week was taken in a rush, again at the Central Market Hall. Like we'd decided to bookend the trip. I enjoyed this meal most of all which leads me to think maybe my palate was coloured by the prospect of losing money. This lunch was eaten after having discovered that the house was all sorted and we'd been refunded our money. Crispy goose leg with vinegary cabbage and creamy, mustardy mash. Mmm. And LANGOS! Langos is my favourite and I went mad with the toppings: cheese, sour cream, dill sauce, salad, sausage, mushrooms. Every single topping was necessary even though the langos became impossible to eat. If I could go back and have my time again (I hope I return at a time when I'm better placed to enjoy the experience), I would go to town on langos every lunch.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Recipe - Jerk Swordfish with Pineapple Salsa

The Explorer's injury has not only meant that we couldn't go to Edinburgh but also that my idea of 'hey let's staycation to detract from the awfulness of the situation' has also fallen apart. He struggles to walk for more than fifteen minutes and renewing bandage time is the most stressful point of our morning. It did lead to some cute bonding time with my parents though (who still obviously don't know anything sensitive our secret about our relationship) when they came and fixed him and showed concern and a knowledge of skin grafts though. But that's the one good injury-related moment there has been. The rest of the time, it has meant impotence and pain for him, carrying all the heavy things on my own for me and missing out on fun, often rooftop-related fun for both of us. We've been couch potatoes like the scroungers on Him & Her. Except we don't live in a bedsit and live off crisps. We have guests who don't bring us blow up chairs too. Sometimes we play Articulate after eating way too spicy jerk shrimp.

Pineapple salsa

1 pineapple, diced
1 red pepper, cut into short, thin strips
1 small red chilli, de-seeded and finely chopped
1/2 medium red onion, finely chopped
Juice of 1/2 lime
Salt and black pepper
Fresh coriander, roughly chopped

Combine the fruit and vegetables then dress with coriander, lime and seasoning..

Leftover slaw
1/2 red onion, finely sliced
Half Savoy cabbage, shredded
Thyme leaves
Coriander leaves, chopped
1/2 lime juice 
1 tablespoon mayonnaise

Combine the vegetables then dress with olive oil, lime juice, coriander, salt and mayo.

Jerk marinade (Helen Graves)
(This was WAY TOO MUCH for 2 swordfish steaks and a pack of prawns. It made it mad spicy. And that's coming from someone who is good at spice.)
1.5 tablespoons allspice 
50g dark packed brown sugar 
4 garlic cloves 
1 tablespoon thyme leaves 
1 bunch large spring onions (about 5) 
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon 
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg 
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger 
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves 
3 scotch bonnet chillies, deseeded 
Juice of 2 large limes 
1 tsp salt 
Black pepper