Monday, 30 December 2013

Recipe - Mustard Cream Chicken Thighs

Hey hey we hosted a Christmas dinner! Haters were always gonna hate but ultimately, it turned out to be a success. We were well fed and watered and everything was reasonably stress free. Like a proper Nigella celebration! It didn't seem like it would run so smoothly as our social cohesion as a flat was perhaps at its lowest ebb on the Friday before Christmas. Conflicting schedules and thin walls led to a frayed patiences (temper would be to overstate it) and then the smoke alarm went off for around 40
minutes and I ripped my coat pocket in the process of running up the stairs to fail to deal with it. But somehow, despite the premonition of stress, it all came together. A special thanks to the Artist for her invaluable help. The recipe with this entry won't be for any food made since that was really a joint effort (and not particularly interesting) but the dinner I cooked on Thursday of which an unruly house guest gnawed the leftovers.

Mustard and creme fraiche chicken
6 rashers smoked bacon, chopped
1 onion, chopped
4 garlic, chopped
6 chicken thighs and drumsticks, seasoned with salt 
2 tbsp of wholegrain mustard
300ml creme fraiche 
A few sprigs of thyme
Half a teaspoon fried tarragon 

In a non stick pan, let the bacon fat render over a medium heat.
Add the onion and garlic and let the bacon and aromatics start to brown. 
Let the mixture cool slightly then add the mustard, creme fraiche and herbs.
Place the chicken in a baking dish and pour over the sauce.
Bake for 40 minutes.

Friday, 27 December 2013

Recipe - Roasted Broccoli and Prawns

I've returned to the #singlelife. By that I mean that I've been much more proactive about doing my chores and seeing my friends, not that I've been sleeping with strangers. Not that I did that before. ANYWAY. The crucial difference that I should talk about on this 'food blog' is the fact that I've returned to eating on my own. I avoided it for a while what with leftover Zain's and then my new favourite pasta dish (aubergine and anchovy) with Stompy. But then, on Tuesday, it was time. I chose a 'midweek supper' that I could make for lunch whilst teaching a Skype lesson. I'm told that it's Amateur Gourmet's most popular dish/all time favourite.

Roasted broccoli and shrimp
Cut up broccoli and lay on a baking tray.
Sprinkle with salt, about half a teaspoon of ground coriander and half a teaspoon of chilli chilli powder.
Place in oven for ten minutes.
Remove from oven and scatter over prawns.
Sprinkle prawns with lemon juice, salt and 1 fresh chilli and a little vegetable oil.
Place some whole garlic cloves on the tray.
Return to oven for 5 - 10 minutes, however long it take the prawns to turn pink.
Serve with some rice and a touch of soy sauce. Really, really delicious.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Review - Zain's

It's the Explorer's last night in town for a month and everything's gone to shit. No, really, not melodrama, our boiler broke in the morning just after he left. The night before he left, we spent as we always spend last nights. We use it as an excuse to get somewhat disgusting food and fancy drinks and spend the night indoors. Wait, I'm getting severe deja vu. This is what I ALWAYS talk about when I talk about him leaving. It's really not very interesting. But hey, that's a good thing. If my relationship with the Explorer was an interesting talking point, it would probably indicate that it'd gone to the dogs (no pun intended). And no one wants that.

Zain's were very understanding about the fact that I had only a fifty. Exactly what you'd expect from a restaurant with this adorable blurb: 'The restaurant itself is named after our eldest son, Zain Yusuf Islam, who at the inception of the restaurant was only 4 years old. We take immense care and effort in the preparation of the food and service we provide at Zain’s, as much care and effort as we put in to looking after Zain.'  Anyway, the food is difficult to remember at this point but I remember the standouts: lamb biryani coloured brightly with warm, sunset colours. Everything was well seasoned. The naan tasted fresher than most. The spinach with potatoes was SO flavoursome. The prawns were tasty but a little too achari (sour but in a chutney way) for my liking. I think this was Aziz-level good.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Review - Roti King (Kopi Tiam, Asia Twist Delicious)

I went to the ballet! It turns out that what I was expecting from the opera was actually what the ballet is. The ballet has proved to be yet another English Christmas tradition that I've missed out on my whole life. Seriously, you guys get such a great deal. Well, this year will be my Christmas-iest yet (except for Christmas aged 16 but that was marred by bleakness and depression). Flatmates of Sidney House (the house that never was) have decided to throw a friend-family Christmas. (Not friends and family but just close friends.) Never mind the fact that we don't have a table or enough chairs and Contrary is sceptical about our ability to cook for so many. We'll all be together and, crucially, we'll mostly be drunk. Anyway, the ballet filled me with Christmas cheer too and before we went, we ate at Roti King/Kopi Tiam/Asia Twist Delicious (it's unclear what the proper name is).

The decor is sparse. When waiting for friends to meet us afterwards, I decided to wait outside just to get out. But the food is cheap and high quality. Very basic: a pot of lamb and a roti. The roti was freshly made and slightly chewy but also bouncy and absorbed the gravy to the lamb wonderfully. The lamb was laced with lime and lemongrass and it was so tender. It reminded me of breakfasts in Bangladesh. The rendang was less impressive. Tasty but lacking the fire and kick of Rasa Sayang. Still, it came to £20 with beers.

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Review - Kaosarn

It's that time of month again. A university friend and I eat good food and get drunk. We were going to go to Elephant but it turned out to be closed. We ended up at Kaosarn for little other reason except the fact that it's BYOB. As we were waiting for our spring rolls starter, I learnt about his life. It's in such a different place to mine that my mind BOGGLES. He's buying a HOUSE. He's getting MARRIED (probably at some point soon, let's be honest once you're indebted together there isn't much stopping you). And he's just so HAPPY. It's so cute. I don't think they're too young. I think it's just right.

AS WERE THE SPRING ROLLS. Fresh, hot, with a side of sticky chilli sauce. But this was nothing compared to the mains. I went for the pad thai remembering my poor choice at Thai Corner Cafe. The noodles were almost see through with their translucency. The chicken was moist and had absorbed the flavour of the wonderful sticky dressing. The peanuts and chillies which were considerately put on one side were actually the perfect amounts to season the dish. The vegetable curry had, as the best Thai curries do, BITE. And spice and slight cream. I enjoyed it at the time and even more when I was waiting for the plumber to come round the next day.

Monday, 16 December 2013

Recipe - Minestrone

Some days, the Explorer doesn't feel like visiting Pilates as he's hungover and it's reasonable as it was his birthday meal the night before. On those days, the Explorer disassembles the vacuum cleaner that my parents kindly brought down as penance. Meanwhile, I set to making minestrone from the cookbook that Contrary bought me for my last birthday. (It's called Gather but I always think it's called Forage. Close enough.) Two days in advance so that it will have time to meld together and develop. (Or possibly because the Explorer's parents are coming round for dinner the next day and it's the only time I have to make lunches for the first half of the week.) But then some days, you get on a DLR train and then, in your fury at what a previous landlord is choosing to withhold from a deposit, you forget to ask your lunch to alight with you. It lives on the train now.

Minestrone
200g smoked bacon, chopped into lardons
2 red onions, peeled and roughly chopped
2 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed

In a casserole, over a medium heat, place the bacon.
Let the fat render and fry the bacon in this.
Add the onions, carrots and garlic. Let the vegetables fry in the bacon fat (and add a touch of olive oil if necessary) for around 20 minutes until golden.

400g green beans
1 can plum tomatoes
1 tbsp tomato puree
1 chicken stock cube

Add the green beans, tomatoes, puree and stock. Fill the empty tomato can with water and add to the pot.
Simmer, half covered, on a low heat for about an hour and a half.

2 heads cavalo nero
1 can cannelini beans, drained

Add the greens and beans. Cook for a further 30 minutes.
Season to taste at the end with salt and pepper. 

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Recipe - Braised Leeks and Skordalia

I bloody love leeks. The Magician and Contrary (by the way, what ridiculous monikers) would both count leeks as their favourite vegetable. I'm coming round to their way of thinking despite being broccoli 'til I die. I went and bought loads of leeks to put in a pie, a galette and also to serve up as a side dish to the Explorer's parents. Whenever I host a dinner where I have to try to make something not in one pot, I trawl the Internet for dishes which are simple but look more impressive than they are complicated. Smitten Kitchen is good for that. So I decided to braise some leeks and mix up some skordalia (glorified Greek mashed potato) and grill a salmon side. I think it was a success.

Skordalia
100ml milk
100ml olive oil
2 large baking potatoes, peeled and chopped
Salt and pepper, to season
Lemon juice
Parsley, finely chopped

In a saucepan, bring the seasoned milk, oil and potatoes to a simmer over a medium heat. 
Simmer for around 20 minutes, until the potatoes are tender.
Drain the potatoes over a measuring jug, allowing you to catch the cooking liquid.
Mash up the potatoes until smooth, adding a little reserved liquid to loosen.
Add the parsley and lemon juice and stir well to combine.

I used the remainder of the reserved liquid in a tarragon cream sauce. In another saucepan, I heated the cooking liquid and added a tablespoon of double cream. To this, I added a half teaspoon of dried tarragon and seasoned well. For the braised leeks, I followed this recipe as closely as possible. They were the most delicious.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Review - Bocca di Lupo

The Explorer's family were visiting as mini-splorer has an interview. I had decided, in advance of their visit, that it was time to get them GIFTS. Not gifts just for being them, you understand. Christmas gifts. You know last year's John Lewis advert which was really lame and had that small boy getting really excited for Christmas as he got to give his parents a gift? Well, as unrealistic an depiction of any child as that is, I do understand the sentiment! Giving presents is REALLY nice (if they're well received). And I hardly ever get to do it what with not incorporating the presents and alcohol bit into the Haque family Christmas. So, anyway, I got his mother a scarf which is almost certainly not to her taste, the brother a wallet and the family a book about wine and maps. I think I did well. I did especially well on the choice of restaurant. Bocca di Lupo which I've been trying to go to ever since I started young blog. We had attempted to book a table before but apparently two weeks notice isn't enough. Even three weeks notice means eating at 5.30 (but that's OK because they were going to a mince pie party afterwards). (I took only one photo because I was hungry and I didn't want to have to keep reaching for my phone.)

We started with a selection of six. The raw seafood (prawns, bream and scallop) were like little ice cubes of sea. So fresh that they tasted barely like fish, just sweet. The sea bream was slightly saltier and, in my opinion, that made it slightly more moreish. (Ha.) The pumpkin and amaretti filled pasta was almost like a pudding with the autumnal, almost nutty creaminess. The pasta still had bite to it and that really helped define every element of the dish. The tagliatelle with venison stracotto had less bite to it but it was still beautifully cooked. The Explorer doesn't understand why it was my favourite dish as it did taste largely like bolognese. But I think classic dishes done really well almost always trump peculiar new concoctions. That's probably why roast potatoes and red onion were my second favourite dish. The onions were so slippery and glistening with oil yet the potatoes were crisp and soft. Probably the best roasted vegetables I've tried. My least favourite dish was the foie gras sausage: I found it a little too salty for my liking. The texture of the accompanying farro more than made up for my nitpicking with the sausage. The cotechino was the opposite of the lunga. Here, the lentils were saltier but that rather suited them. They were almost crunchy with their bite but still chalkily smooth. The sausage was the most delicious of the sausage dishes we tasted. The spicy sausage was a bit more basic but the side of tomato and rosemary polenta was wonderful. I've never tried polenta before and I think this was the right place to pop the cherry. I'd describe it as being halfway between a risotto and mashed potato. And I love both of those things! We had this sausage dish as part of our seconds. We also ordered the roasted pumpkin with sage and balsamic and the wild boar ragu. The pasta with the ragu had almost too much bite to it. The acidity in the ragu was stronger than with the venison which made it less mellow but it was still very enjoyable. The star of the meal was the roast pumpkin with balsamic. I often describe things as 'heady' and 'addictive'. Like the boy who cried wolf, I'm in trouble because this actually WAS exactly both those things.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Recipe - Chicken, Leek and Mushroom Pie

I think Friday reflects well my two conflicting sides that leads to roughly two groups of friends who often might not gel. I woke up, went to pilates (alas not a one on one session this time), went to the market to get some vegetables, returned home, cooked for four hours (with varying degrees of success) and then had a small 'pseudo' dinner party. Then I proceeded to (in the words of Jamie Laing) party with a d such that I was throwing up the next day. Hooray. Oh, also, my parents were visiting and they don't know I live with the Explorer so between bouts of vomit I was de-exploring my room. Fun.
Chicken, leek and mushroom pie
250g smoked bacon, chopped into lardons
10 skinless, boneless chicken thighs, chopped into bitesize pieces
2 leeks, washed and sliced
300g mushrooms, quartered
Half tsp dried thyme
2 tbsp double cream
2 tsp dijon mustard
Half tsp tarragon
About 100g butter in total
30g flour
300ml milk
Shortcrust pastry

In a frying pan over a medium heat, let the bacon lardons render their fat and crisp up.
Place the crisped lardons in a baking dish suitable for carrying the pie.
Season the chicken thighs with salt. Crush 2 cloves garlic over the chicken and then fry, in batches, in the frying pan to brown, adding a little butter if necessary.
Place the chicken pieces in the pie dish.
To the rendered fat, add a dessert spoon more butter. 
Once melted, stir in the flour. 
Add the milk and whisk to make a smooth white sauce.
Add the thyme, tarragon and black pepper.
Stir in the cream and Dijon mustard. 
Pour the sauce into the pie dish.
Melt a little more butter in a clean frying pan and over a medium heat, fry the leeks until very soft.
Place leeks in pie dish.
Melt more butter and fry the mushrooms, then transfer to the pie dish.

Top with shortcrust pastry. Wash with egg and make a couple of artfully placed slits at the top.
Place the pie in the oven for 45 minutes at 200C until browned. 

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Review - Shanghai

Aware that I have not been eating out much recently and that if anyone uses this blog for anything, it's for recommendations. (By the way, Earnest, asking Twitter for Cowley Road re commendations rather than me?! Mortally offended.) I had tickets to a thing at the Arcola (Lizzie Sidall, 4* for enjoyability and 3 for 'goodness') and thought it'd be a good time to visit Peppers n' Spice. BUT WAIT, the Explorer's eating there for his birthday only a few days later. Perhaps it's more interesting for the palate to go to Shanghai instead as I have no doubts that my fried rice from Tuesday will be not a patch on the real thing.

We ordered the mixed dim sum, pork and vegetable grilled buns, special dfid rice and plum sauce chicken. The filling on the grilled buns was addictive and mellow but I would've liked the outside to be more determined in sticking to its grilled description. The other dim sum were a mixed bunch, some a little watery. The seafood within was all just cooked and delicious though. Fried rice was pleasant but nothing special. The plum chicken was heady in its sweetness such that you had to let a little sauce drip off before stirring into rice. That being said, the crispy coating managed to stay crisp despite the liquid and I still very much enjoyed it. I'll be going here again but probably not for a special occasion. 

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Review - The Hackney Pearl

I'm having an old person time again. By that I mean that I'm back to avoiding raucousness and staying in and drinking wine. Sadly, that also means I have nothing to show for my weekend as I didn't do anything with anyone who I don't live/go out with. Even more sad was the fact that having avoided raucousness on Friday, I felt rather ill on Saturday and that meant I missed an opportunity to see some people I don't see very often who I was looking forward to seeing. Sigh. Well, at least I had a nice brunch on Sunday.

The menu is very short and I take that to be a good sign. Do little but do it well. We opted for the bubble and squeak with egg and the breakfast bap. I knew that the Explorer would want the breakfast bap as soon as I saw the menu. He asked why I have an 80% success rate for predicting what he'll choose. (He generally chooses the most tex-mex thing on the menu. Also, usually an item with more ingredients.) On this occasion, he chose well. The chilli jam was an unexpectedly tasty companion for the egg mayo. (More egg than mayo, again a positive.) I'm not sure that the bitter rocket added much but I'm still glad it was there. The bacon tasted just as high quality bacon should. I think my breakfast was better though. Soft patties which almost broke open to reveal somehow still crunchy kale and peppery potato. I was impressed especially by the yellowness of the yolk of the egg on top - you could taste the free range.

Recipe - Lamb Shanks with Lentils

Bloody hell, blog has really slowed down. Should I quit? Should I? I'm reading a book in which Alan Bennett says the only thing worth doing is keeping a diary. (I've totally paraphrased and in the process changed the sentiment. Sorry, Alan Bennett.) I sort of agree with all that crap about self-reflection being very important and necessary for improvement. However, speaking as someone who has kept REAMS of diaries in the past, I know self-reflecting can often just be too hard/cringe/terrible. Indeed, I have ripped up said diaries into millions and millions of pieces and they can never be looked back upon. Except that, they can. I have a very crisp memory which has documented all of my failures and darkest and most embarrassing moments and will never ever let me forget them. Sometimes, they haunt me in the form of dreams where you can even SMELL what that time of your life smelt like and you wake up all ARGJHJ;D WHAT WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS SUBCONSCIOUS and then it takes you a moment to realign. Anyway, basically, I'm not sure I agree with Alan Bennett. Diaries are only enjoyable to read back upon if you're a great playwright/similar where they're not really diaries, they're 'memoirs'. And with memoirs, you can somewhat filter what gets through and how you record things so it's more palatable for people to consume. JUST AS WITH THIS BLOG! So maybe I'll keep writing to keep AB happy. (The book is Love, Nina and I highly recommend that you all read it. Incidentally, the book is sort of like a set of diary entries from a time in her life except, again, a little less personal as you know someone else will read them.)


Lamb shanks with green lentils 
1 tbsp vegetable oil
4 lamb shanks 
2 small onions, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
6 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1 sprig fresh rosemary
2 bay leaves
1 tsp dried thyme
250ml white wine
200ml chicken stock
1 cup green lentils
1 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
Salt and black pepper

Season shanks all over.

Brown in veg oil over a high heat.
Set aside to a plate.
Turn the heat to medium.
Add the onions, garlic and carrots to the pan.
Let brown gently.
Add lentils and fry for a minute.
Add a sprig of rosemary, chopped, 1 tsp dried thyme, 2 bay leaves
Add white wine to deglaze the pan.
Return the shanks to the pan.
Add enough stock to cover the meat of the lamb.
Place in an oven for 2 hours.
Scatter over the chopped parsley and season to taste.