Saturday, 31 May 2014

Recipe - Courgette Fritters, Menemen (Turkish Eggs)

My vegetable fish and bean initiative has begun. The only snag is that it's such a contrast with my previous 'let's eat dem pies' diet that it results in me continuing to be ravenously hungry after eating at lunch at work and then buying more food. (Or, as the case may be, my manager buying me more food as I didn't have my purse with me.) However, the cooking that's resulted from this initiative is worth talking about. Take a look:

First we had courgette fritters. I followed this recipe pretty closely but then threw in about half a cup of parmesan. I don't understand how we're not all eating courgette fritters all the time. They are so delicious. I paired mine with tarragon and thyme roasted carrots and parsnips and a roasted red pepper sauce (roast some peppers, add some basil, and a little ketchup and blitz in a minipimer) and an egg because I couldn't resist. Eggs are my current favourite.
As you can see I've gone egg-crazy. Menemen is so simple and tasty for brunch. It's just frying onions and peppers until soft and sweet, adding a can of tomatoes then cracking in eggs to poach in the thickened sauce. I served this with some toasted chappati. Flat breads lead me to the unphotographed ones. Roasted squash and red onion quesadillas (cumin, coriander, nutmeg, paprika on the vegetables, served with cheese, creme fraiche, spring onions, red pepper and fresh herbs) were so quick that I couldn't resist eating two, therefore meaning I had to buy (meaty, unhealthy) lunch the next day. These lentils were delicious alone but irresistible with some salty roasted ham.

Review - Duck Egg Cafe

Yeah! The bank holiday! I can only imagine how excited I'll get when I take my first real life holiday. Anyway, somehow having three days instead of two miraculously makes me make more of my weekend. I went to Brighton! It's great! I will be taking a weekend away there again shortly. OH WAIT I'VE FILLED UP ALL THE REMAINING BANK HOLIDAYS WITH OTHER THINGS. Sigh. Anyway, I came back and still had time to meet other friends for food. I went to a surprisingly great Greek place but since we only shared a mezze platter, I think it would be fairer to eat more there before reviewing. However, I can review Duck Egg Cafe, our brunch spot the next day. I think my attitude to ordering brunch epitomises how paralysed with fear I feel whenever I take an opportunity. How can I know it's the best one?! I remember while tutoring teaching a SATs paper where the comprehension was exactly that (with undertones of how capitalist society is ruining all our lives) - too much choice leads to much more worry. Seriously, deciding when to take holidays off this year has been hell. How do I know that I won't be feeling realllly in need of a break sometime in October? Which reminds me: I'm going to Bangladesh this year. Remembering that has really taken the wind out of my sails. Let's review the food.
So, the indecision had me stretched like one of those medieval torture things between the Tuscan beans, bubble and squeak with egg and Catalan scrambled eggs. I went for Catalan eggs and immediately wanted to change to the Tuscan beans but then I was too late and I had a stern mental talking to myself about how I'm not a child and I can deal with eating whatever food comes my way. Also, my brunch buddy made the legitimate point that Duck Egg Cafe is not going anywhere. Although I'm definitely not in Brixton often enough to repeat places just yet. MOVING ON. My god, these eggs were good. They were so smooth and so creamy but without diluting any of that moreish egginess. The chorizo was spicy and salty and heavy in contrast and the crispy potatoes were halfway between the two - crispy but also some more soft velvetiness. Peppers and spring onions added a little sweetness to the proceedings and the bread was clearly very posh. See, that wasn't so hard.

Review - Cay Tre

I did fun on a Tuesday! It was totally spontaneous as well. I usually do all my plan making all at once on the bus in the morning or at a lull in the weekend. It's always clear to people when that's happening too since they get a flurry of correspondence all at once. Being a creature of habit and ritual means that both doing something fun on a Tuesday and not planning it until the day in question are remarkable. (I literally mean worth remarking on.) But that's the benefit of having friends who work near ya. We went to a crap bar with many beers followed by Cay Tre.

I am so boring - every time I have Keu lunch pot I have lemongrass chicken curry. But I had it again! It's just that it's so warm yet with a kick to it and the potato takes on all the lovely flavour. Managing to be warm and lively concurrently is pretty impressive for food (not so much in a person). We got some spring rolls to share as well - they had a crisp texture but perhaps not all that much going on within. The bill came to around £20 a head which is very reasonable but I was paying for two to hold up my end of the 'come for food on your way home now!' bargain so I felt very irresponsible and guilty again the next morning.

Saturday, 17 May 2014

More Ottolenghi

The recent themes (relevant to this blog) in my life have been Ottolenghi and guilt. I mentioned the guilt briefly before when I talked about eating out but that hasn't been the only place it's cropped up. I don't know what's prompted the Ottolenghi flurry. I remember that I had chicken sofrito on the mind for a while but that I ended up making jambalaya in a post that I never published instead. I was then convinced by his take on chicken marbella but then felt like I ought to diversify in terms of meat and ended up making the lamb dish in the chicken sofrito entry for Sunday night supper instead. 

Then another week passed in a haze and all of a sudden it was time for date night and I wanted the Explorer to cook for me these meatballs. He didn't start cooking on time and then I got very hungry and very cross and took over to expedite things and then got into my big tiz about always taking over because I want something done and done quickly but really I hate being in charge and would love nothing more than to feel so at ease that I don't feel compelled to interrupt. It was delicious though and then I felt guilty because I could have handled the whole situation by turning it into a couples' cooking activity instead of getting annoyed. Next time!

Then Ottolenghi became relevant again a few days later when I was feeling guilty and tense about my massively increased outgoings of late. I thought the best way to handle it would be to really commit to the 'veggie in the week' diet and use up my lentils. And that I did in the most delicious dahl I've ever made that was inspired by this recipe. My amendments involved using a little harissa I'd made for something else previously as a base and also adding some punchpooran (which I am SO EXCITED at having found by the way) and spinach. I had loads of cucumber and mint from before that I made into a raita-esque yoghut thing. Yes - yoghurt - I'm into that as well at the moment. Especially with jam - the legacy of me exercising REALLY poor judgement when I was 19 and drunk.

Another week passed and we decided to entertain as a house and I thought this chicken dish looked most appealing. Maybe I should have said that chicken, Ottoleghi and guilt have been the themes running through my life at the moment. There's been a lot of chicken. That reminds me - me and my boss keep talking about how many chickens we go through a week. It's become an in-joke. Which demonstrates a) that we're at the point of in jokes and b) how weird conversations become when you're shackled by the 'NSFW' acronym. Anyway,  that conversation and the general prevalence of chicken in my life made me feel guilty about not eating a wider variety of food. Yes, I am mental. But I just like to make sure it's all evenly spaced out! I couldn't find any Jerusalem artichokes so ended up getting a variety of 'tubers'. I think these included yams (from different countries of different varieties) and tava root. I threw in some regular potato and sweet potato just to be safe though. (Entertaining is stressful.) The whole shopping trip led me to feel very close to my otherwise forgotten heritage because I was cooking things that I've previously seen my parents cook but never bothered myself. It probably helped that to expedite my identification of the vegetables, I spoke to the guy in Bengali. I don't usually let that cat out of the bag. But then I didn't have any cash to pay for them and the cash machine was out and the guy was all 'forget about it' and I wanted/needed my tubers but felt so terrible for keeping this £2 from a lovely local business that I appreciate and want to support where the employees 100% appreciate that £2 more than me. Sigh. (I have now resettled this.)

I was then craving a pie but my guilt finally came to some use when I decided not to make pie and book into Zumba. Seeing a photo of myself from only a year and a half ago on a day when I was throwing out the dress that I was wearing in said photo because it doesn't fit anymore has that effect. However, some of the efficacy of that was nullified by the effect of having a slice of Contrary's delicious cheesecake with some mango. Mmm. 

Similarly, the 'hey let's save money by eating vegetables' is somewhat lost when you eat all the vegetables at once in a colourful array of 'salads'. Including this Ottolenghi dish that I was inspired to cook by my boss asking me to pick up some kohlrabi. (I am such a suck up.) There was also lentils with roasted cauliflower, egg dopiaza, roasted squash with red onion and sesame seed. I think there was possibly another slaw too but I can't remember. Anyway, it made me feel fresh and accomplished (as well as making me appreciate getting home in time to not get straight into pyjama).
Sadly, this was followed by a relapse into pie territory. I was just really craving pie, OK. And yes, I know the phrase relating to having no self control with food evokes pies and that this is unfortunate given that recently I've stepped out of the 'ah I'm too stressed and filled with adrenaline to eat' into 'chomp chomp chomp' phase. But it makes me happy. And perhaps soon I will feel miserable enough about my body image to exercise/walk to work (maybe). It was a really good pie, used up some more of my tarragon and I made up for it by eating salmon with loads of herbs (I needed to use them up before they rotted further) and beetroot the next day. (I was so hungry by dinner time). Now, that's a comprehensive round up of what Ari's eaten recently. Hopefully, you weren't too bored. 

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Recipe - Busaba Eatthai

The mystery is solved – the reason I have nothing new to say even though my already unremarkable life has not become (drastically) less interesting is because all my anecdotes are now work related. And I don’t ever want to talk about work outside of working hours. And I certainly shall not be talking about it on a web log. Anyway, one such mystery work anecdote arose on Wednesday. Let’s just say – it was a small deal that no one but me would be interested in. And appearing at dinner with a harried composure was completely unnecessary. As was the apologising for said stressfulness. SOME THINGS NEVER CHANGE (…and then I went to dinner.)

Smoky chicken noodles contrasted with fresh broccoli. Very good. Crab cakes - exceptional flavour, perfect level of heat. The peanut sauce that came with it had all the quality that a good relish should: a dancing partner for the main event that doesn't steal the limelight. My only criticism is that my noodles were a little lukewarm. But also, this was now four days ago so maybe I'm remembering incorrectly.

Review - Nen Sin

I am getting major eating out guilt. A condition of my taking on a shiny corporate job is that I would not change my lifestyle to suit. However, it hasn’t quite worked out that way. Oh god, I just realised what this is turning into: whining about privilege. I really don’t want to do that – I'm not that guy. Anyway, the gist of this is that the guilt did not stop me going for teppinyaki on Sunday.

Teppinyaki is an interesting concept. Sort of like theatre food. However, I think if the food will be at the expense of the theatre, the performance has to be excellent. Sadly, this was not. Our chef’s performance just solidified that for me, teppanyaki conjures up images of dark, flamy rooms in Japan in the early hours. Camden before twilight doesn’t quite cut it. And eggs isntaed of.. whatever they would use instead… doesn’t quite work either. The food was unremarkable and average. While the fish was tasty enough, it was a piece of grilled fish that I could’ve done at home. For a third of the price. A sixth of the price if we’d been paying fully. Look at me doing maths!

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Recipe - Chicken Sofrito, Spiced Lamb Shoulder

I have taken to making Sunday night roasts. The beef was a disaster that was hastily recovered and that led me to moving towards some middle eastern recipes where the success relies on the flavours rather than the timings. (I'll get timings right one day. I must.) Also, I'm having a bit of an Ottolenghi phase at the moment and these flavours are appropriate. The theme has been to braise a hunk of spiced meet and accompany it with herb-strewn salads and slaws. Rather more successful than the beef.
Chicken sofrito by Ottolenghi - I followed the recipe pretty closely except that I used chicken legs instead of a spatchcocked whole hen. With this, I served a salad of roasted peppers, cherry tomatoes and basil, another of cabbage, red onion, mint and coriander and this sweet rice dish.

Cardamom rice with caramelised onion
25g sultanas
2 tablespoons caramelised onions
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
50 cardamom pods
Rounded 1/4 teaspoon whole cloves
2 long cinnamon sticks, broken in two
300g basmati rice
600ml water
Large handful of coriander and mint, finely chopped
Heat half a tablespoon of vegetable oil in a large saucepan.
Add the rice, caramelized onion, 1 teaspoon salt and plenty of black pepper.
Add sultanas.
Pour the boiling water over the rice, cover the pan, and cook over very low heat for 30 minutes. Take the pan off the heat, remove the lid, quickly place a clean tea towel over the pan, and seal again with the lid.
Leave the dish undisturbed for another 10 minutes.
Finally, add the herbs and use a fork to stir them in and fluff up the rice.
Taste and add more salt and pepper if needed.

The following week, I think I took on too much. I was feeling indecisive as I had ingredients that could have been put together in too many different combinations. I was initially planning on making Ottolenghi's take on chicken marbella but then I remembered that I had been big on chicken last week and so decided to lamb it.

700g shoulder of lamb
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tbsp ground coriander
1 tbsp paprika
6 cloves garlic
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt and pepper

Marinade the lamb in the ingredients stated above for as long as you have. Add enough water to half cover the lamb and 2 bay leaves. Place in an oven preheated to 140 for 3 hours.

Add the following:

3 tablespoons caramelised onions
8 prunes, chopped
Handful of raisins
1 tbsp capers

Return to oven for a further hour. Remove the lamb from the sauce and set aside, covered in foil. Strain away the fat and add a large handful of chopped coriander and chopped fresh mint.

I served this with cabbage and turmeric pilaf, patatas a la pobre (which were not as delicious as I had hoped), a slaw of carrot and cabbage and a yoghurt, mint and beetroot salad. I think I should have made less and concentrated more.

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Review - Japanese Canteen, Ruby

It's been a week of lunching out instead of sticking to my happy tupperware boxes. Actually, it's been a week of eating out generally and eating really quite rich food. Oh no, I just counted the number of times I ate out and then considered my bank balance. To kick it off, I had a business lunch on Wednesday. We talked about our filofaxes and conference room B. Now that I'm over agonising where to choose and worrying about whether it's too formal/casual/bad/expensive, I can just enjoy the food! I chose Japanese Canteen this time - like a slightly upscaled Wasabi. (Side note - I had a wasa-pea for the first time a couple of days ago. Never again.) I ordered my usual katsu curry but regretted not choosing fish once my colleague's lunch came. Still, my lunch came with little pots of salad. A juicy, wet cucumber and sesame thing as well as a grated carrot and radish concoction. Both very fresh but I perhaps would've appreciated less dressing and more crunch. The sauce was unexceptional but not unpleasant. I think I prefer pumpkin to potato in a katsu though. The chicken was plump and crispy but had a hint of fish oil aroma to it. That's my only criticism. A very reasonable, quick Liverpool Street lunch.

The following day, I thought I'd meet a real life friend for lunch. I took a whole forty minute break! We went to Ruby where I thought 'chicken again, really, Ari?' but I just really fancied a grilled chicken sandwich. It was lovely - a griddled, juicy fillet on crusty, rosemary foccacia. The salad it came with was seasoned too which I appreciate. It significantly improved my mood for the afternoon.

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Review - The Jones Family Project

Do you remember when I wrote about going for brunch and being hungover and lightly mocked myself for having nothing new or interesting to say? Well, I accidentally deleted that post! (I feel much better about the whole 'once something's online you can never get rid of it' thing - this might be true but I'm sure not that many people can find it. ) Anyway, in a very Groundhog Day-esque turn of events, I ended up going again. It was as if the gods had designed it so that it would become acutely clear that I probably need to mix things up a bit or I'll never have anything new to say again. We went to Jones Family Project where I ate the exact same food (unoriginal, I know) and had a hangover (boring). The only difference was that I ate more of it. Must try harder.
More of those salty matchstick fries (although I don't think I'm imagining I when I say they weren't as good as last time). The fish was as crisp and just flaking as last time. The tartare sauce was as pleasantly pungent as before. The service was, sadly, much less competent but just as friendly.