Sunday, 22 January 2012

Asian-style salmon noodle soup

It's January - and what better to stave off the chilly gloomy weather than a bowl of spicy noodle soup with Chinese-spiced salmon? This is Jamie Oliver's Asian-style salmon, from his 30 Minute Meals book, which is excellent I have to say for meal ideas. It's probably the one cook book I tend to use the most, cooking for two people. And while it isn't a 30-minute wonder, it is pretty quick on the kitchen timer.
The slurpy nature of the broth and the saltiness of the soy sauce is gorgeous against the meatiness of the salmon and the crunchy veg, you just have to attack this bowl with a fork/chopsticks and prepare yourself to get it everywhere. Ideally eaten while watching Sherlock on the sofa (as long as you don't spill anything.) I tend to over-do the soy sauce, because I'm a flavour-addict but feel free to vary this depending on how much like!
Adapted for 2 people - lots of sauce to cook the salmon and big flavour for the broth. 

Asian-style salmon noodle soup
The salmon

  • 2 pieces of salmon (or other fish)
  • 2cm piece of ginger (peeled and chopped - use a teaspoon to peel ginger, way easier than anything else!)
  • 2 cloves of garlic (peeled)
  • 1 small red onion (roughly chopped)
  • 1/2 red chilli (roughly chopped)
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 limes
  • Chinese five-spice (at the herbs/spices section)
The broth
  • 4 spring onions (chopped)
  • 1 red chilli (diced)
  • 1 cm piece of ginger (peeled and chopped)
  • 1 tsp five spice
  • 1 tbsp cornflour - normal flour will also do, but cornflour is an excellent thickener. 
  • 1 clove garlic (peeled)
  • 450ml (ish) vegetable stock
  • 150g sugar snap peas or mange tout
  • 100g egg noodles (one of those noodle nests would do well - use 200g if you're both ravenous)
  • Soy sauce (to taste)
Salmon ready for the oven
First, you need to make the syrupy sauce that the salmon gets coated in, which is then baked in the oven. Preheat your oven to 200C, and then add into a food processer or blender the roughly chopped onion and ginger. Crush in the garlic, and the roughly chopped chilli, the juice of the two limes and the soy sauce. Whizz it all up till it looks pinky and gloopy.

Put the salmon on a chopping board and score it lightly, and rub in some Chinese five-spice with some salt and pepper, then put skin side up in a small oven-proof dish so they fit snugly. Pour over the gloopy sauce, and put in the oven for 20m.

You can start on the broth now - heat a little olive oil in a big saucepan, and add your chopped spring onion and red chilli, and crush your two cloves of garlic into the pan. Add the ginger, then fry lightly, stirring often and keeping an eye on your garlic to ensure it won't burn. Get your vegetable stock ready.

With your vegetable stock on hand, add one tsp of Chinese five-spice, and three tsp of cornflour. Stir, so it gets a little paste-y, then add your vegetable stock and stir so that it melts the blobs of flour. Then add your sugar-snap peas. Bring to a boil, taste, and then add a glug soy sauce - keep tasting, as you add. Add the noodles, then put the lid on and leave on a simmer for five minutes. Check the salmon - it should be cooked through and smelling delicious.
And you're done - divide the noodles and broth between bowls, and add a piece of salmon on top, spooning over that pink gloopy loveliness to finish. Enjoy!

Credit: Jamie Oliver's 30 Minute Meals

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Yum Cha Silk and Spice, Camden, NW1

Dim sum! God I love some dim sum. I must have gone past this place hundreds of times without a second thought on my way to the bars towards Chalk Farm, as it blends into the haggerdy background of discount shoes and £10-for-any-piercing shops that line Camden High Street. But luckily another review drew my attention to it and since then I've returned three times, and will be back again no doubt. Give it a chance. The main thing draw, apart from the delicious food, is the 50% off Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday evening slot. It is quite chaotic and rough-and-ready; we went on a Tuesday night and it was very full, and the waitresses were practically falling over rushing about and one almost tripped over our table.
It is a little badly organised if I'm honest; every time we've been, it's taken a very long time to get drinks. This visit, we had five servers asking us if we are ready to order food in as many minutes, even though we are still desperately waiting for our drinks before we wanted to consider the menu. Spotted a couple nearby dying of neck-crane to try to get someone's attention. So yeah, a bit of a blot.
But I love Yum Cha. It's brilliant really for last minute 'god, dim sum, right now, please' cravings, hungover lunches, and good for groups as well. En route to the Roundhouse for a gig, or going out in Camden generally, this is a great place for a stomach-liner as well. My one disclaimer here is that I should say I am quite new to dim sum, and I haven't widely sampled it, so I may be speaking more from the heart here but Yum Cha really hits the spot for me (and goes down much nicer than our standard gutbuster delivery orders from a Chinese takeaway in Holloway road).
Char sui pork buns
Steamed greens in Oyster sauce
So what did we have? Our old favourite, spicy salt and pepper tofu scattered with chilli and spring onion, which is so moreish that the last time I went, my friends went slightly mad ordered a second plate of it after the meal was done, even though we were literally unbuttoning our jeans we were so stuffed. And pork buns! The must-order of any dim sum experience, for £3.50, were most decent, arrived steaming hot, beautifully soft with the dough melting in the mouth like it should. Awesome.
We were given Chinese vinegar on the side with all the dishes, plus soy sauce and a lovely unsweet chilli dip which was spicy without being too hot. Salty Chinese greens in oyster sauce provided a nice counterpoint to the richness of the fried food. And as for dumplings, the prawn and chive dumplings had a lovely texture while the sieu long bao were juicy and delicious. We ordered nine dishes in total, and the only one that was really quite disappointing was the crispy duck roll which was tough and dry. There was so much more we wanted to try. The entire menu is online here, if you're interested.
And after 50% off? £33 for all that, and service, and three beers which were probably £10 on their own! I love it, and I'll be back soon. Do check it out. 

Yum Cha Silk and Spice, 27-28 Chalk Farm Road, Camden Town, NW1 8AG,020 7482 2228

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Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Flourless chocolate cake with lemon creme fraiche

Chocolate chocolate chocolate! I know there's other types of cakes out there but despite my best efforts to cook something else, chocolate beats everything for me, (unless it's coffee-chocolate in which case, I go into a frenzy of caffeine and need to be stopped.)
This cake is rich, grown-up dessert. It's low in sugar, wheat-free and gluten-free, and extremely quick to make requiring only 15 minutes in the oven! And the filling is a very smooth process as well, requiring no icing sugar.
It's a squidgy, moussey, truffley dream with a consistency that means you will leave teeth marks in, which I love. It might need a bit more sugar to make it palatable to everyone, but if you are a fan of dark, bitter cocoa flavours then give it a shot unchanged. The most challenging part of making this is seperating the eggs - so it is a cinch! It also survived going to a picnic in Hampstead Heath without any trouble, as even if it gets a bit squished, it's still just fine. It's even nicer, if I dare say it...
Ready to be baked

Flourless chocolate cake with lemon creme fraiche
  • 8 medium eggs
  • 400g chocolate (the more cocoa the better, 70% is suggested)
  • 150g butter
  • 2 tbsp caster sugar
  • 300ml creme fraiche
  • 1 lemon (zested)
  • Pinch of sea salt
Mine never looks as good as the picture :(
You're going to eventually mix everything in the bowl that you melt the chocolate in, so bear this in mind when mixing and cracking.
Pre-heat your oven to 180C and line the base of your cake tins with greaseproof paper. I have to stress this - greasing is good too, but importantly the lining will save you a disaster with a cake like this. Separate your eggs into two clean bowls, with yolks in one and whites in another, and quickly whisk the yolks with the salt. Meanwhile, put a heatproof bowl over some simmering water and melt the chocolate and the butter together. If you're careful, you can just do this directly in the pan, but I think the double-boiler method is better. Be wary of the chocolate burning - stir often and don't forget about it, then take off the head and leave to cool (or transfer to a cooler mixing bowl if melted directly in the pot.)
While it's cooling down, beat the egg whites with an electric whisk until stiff, then fold in the sugar. You can double or even triple the amount you use to make the cake sweeter, depending on who you're cooking for. Then fold the egg yolks into the chocolate and butter mix, followed by the egg whites. 
And you're done! Divide the mixture into a large cake tin, or two or three smaller ones. The original recipe suggests 2x18cm. I did 3x14cm I think. Put in your oven, and take out after 15 minutes or so, or when cooked through. To make the filling, put the creme fraiche and lemon zest and mix, using it to sandwich the cakes together when cool. Finally, If you feel fancy, cut out a shape in paper and scatter icing sugar over so it leaves a nice picture on top. 

Credit: Leon - Naturally Fast Food (Book 2)

Friday, 22 July 2011

The Assembly House, Kentish Town, NW5

Just a quick one from me on the Assembly House, another possible food option in Kentish Town (I've been a bit more hungry in Kentish Town recently!). The entire pub was shut for ages this summer for a refit, and inside now it is even more gorgeous than before. It was always beautiful, as it's a huge old building, all mirrors and high ceilings, huge windows, wooden bars, but now it just feels like a super fancy, extremely swish sort of place to have a pint. And Kirin beer on tap! And the all important ale-selection for the ale lovers, as I have many friends who have demonstrated to me the importance of a pub having at least one good ale. But this wasn't about the drinks -  this was about the food.
So alongside this plush interior overhaul comes the fancy-pants pseudo-gastro pub menu. You know exactly what I mean - it's not sausage and mash, it's Suffolk Farmers pork sausage with West Country cheddar mash and red onion gravy. Fair enough I suppose, detail is useful, but it's disappointing when the food doesn't nearly taste as good as the description sounds.
The dining area in the back

Halloumi and chips with side salad
Tempted in by the two meals for £11.95 offer which will run indefinitely, my friend and I both went for veggie options. I had the "Hand-battered Halloumi with skin-on chips, dressed salad and red pepper and chilli dip." whereas my mate had "Caremlised shallot, Croxton Manor cheddar & Ruddles rarebit tart in thyme pastry with a caremlised red onion chutney, served with new potatoes and a dressed salad." Whew, long names! 
Occasionally pub food is greasy but just hits the spot in the right way, but this utterly missed the mark. My halloumi was an oily deep-fried mess and I would have preferred supermarket-bought halloumi dry-fried at home. It had more of the consistency of mozzarella, rather than that squeaky plasticiness I had hoped for. The chilli sauce was a handy addition at least, as virtually all the cheese's flavour and saltiness had drowned in the batter and frying process as a result, and while the chips were fine, the salad was a handful of wilting out-the-bag afterthought with far too little dressing (ironic considering the salad was even advertised as 'dressed', as if that was to be an unusual and pleasant addition). Pub food sort of needs to be greasy but this was a bit much even for me.
Things fared not too much better for the fancy long-named tart. It was small and tough, and drenched in that red onion chutney which overpowered everything and tasted like it had come out of a jar. My friend did say it was nicely cheesy, so maybe not a total loss, but the same situation again as with my deal with its side salad.
It's a shame that although the pub itself is gorgeous after being redone, that what comes out the kitchen got overlooked, but that's how it goes I guess. It's a lovely pub, mind. The staff are friendly and chatty, the interior is beautiful and the drink selection is nice and varied. Just don't bother with the food.

The Assembly House, 292 Kentish Town Road/Leighton Road, Kentish Town, NW5 2TG, 020 7485 2031

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Kentish Canteen, Kentish Town, NW5

Lunch options in Kentish Town are a shade limited if you work here every day - to say we were pretty thrilled when the Pret opposite the tube opened would be an understatement. So when the Kentish Canteen opened, replacing a long-closed restaurant, it was exciting to say the least.
Salads on display when you walk in
It has all the elements - tasteful, modern decor, with a nice outdoor patio section for dining al fresco, a great location near the tube and seemed not too expensive for the odd lunch with a friend.  And an AMAZING menu. So it should be fantastic. But it just isn't, really, and sadly I don't think I've ever come away, apart from once, feeling like I'd really enjoyed it and wanted to go back soon, which shows itself in the mixed reviews it receives.

But it does offer a good lunch deal - £10 for a dish, and a glass of wine, beer or soft drink. So it's popular with the surrounding area, and a good choice for my office if we're doing a group lunch. (I haven't eaten there in the evening time.)

It's just such a shame about the food - at its heart, it's a fantastic idea. Mediterranean food with a modern twist, small plates for making a tapas-style lunch, large sharing platters, simple dishes, brunch (including that ever-popular Eggs Benedict) all day. They also have a little rotating selection of fascinating and inventive salads like "Naanjing black rice with mango, pepper, soy, sesame, ginger" and "roast aubergine, cumin & coriander, lemon yoghurt", all displayed beautifully when you walk in.  Or you know, you can have just have a plate of chilli linguine (small or large!). I love that flexibility and variation. And the food DOES taste okay, and has the potential to be great, it just seems that it comes so close to being very nice, and then falls at the final hurdle.
For instance, on one previous visit, me and a friend went with the £10 lunch menu burger. The chips that it comes with were huge, chunky monsters and very satisfying, and the burger itself was decent enough - but both me and my friend had a completely stale bun. I have no idea how the kitchen could have overseen this, but a half-hearted attempt to toast it didn't hide the fact, which spoiled the dish.
On another visit, I found that the ravioli, which was also quite okay, was advertised on the menu as containing asparagus but didn't hold any trace as far as we can tell, which could have been the buttery sauce overwhelming asparagus's delicate flavour, but the filling was completely yellow and orange.
Onion tart, with pepper and anchovy in the back
Kentish Canteen burger with chunky chips and coleslaw

Finally, my most recent visit, we branched off from the lunch menu which seemed to have been a good choice. I went with an onion tart, which was good value at £8.99 including a side salad of my choice. I went with the stuffed pepper, tomato, and anchovy side (what can I say, I'm obsessed.)
The stuffed pepper was actually very good, but was wonderfully salty and came with the nice afterthought of a crouton of bread to mop up excess juice which I liked. The onion tart was also quite tasty, apart from the fact that I discovered the crust was a little burned - just a little, but enough to drag the meal down from 'good' into 'eh'. Meanwhile, the burger was apparently very nice this time! So who knows.
It's such a shame that the Kentish Canteen falls at the final hurdle. I can't help but feel that if they just sorted out the little niggles like this across the board, they'd be a fantastic place to eat in. And although on this instance, no burger buns were stale, and we were even given a complimentary selection of rather zingy and refreshing lemon posset desserts, I'm still a bit disappointed. I daresay I'll be back - perhaps the breakfasts are superb? - but either I have pretty bad luck in general, or it just seems to be the same failing over and over; not enough attention to detail.

Kentish Canteen, 300 Kentish Town Road, Kentish Town, NW5, 0207 485 7331

Monday, 4 July 2011

Stuffed peppers with tomatoes and anchovies

I like my flavours big and strong. So I adore garlic. And I loooove anchovies. Especially ones which have had time roasting in the oven to get insanely salty. If you like these things, then this is a perfect and delicious mid-week store cupboard meal for you. Or perfect as part of a bigger spread as well, and they are extremely good if left in the fridge over night as well so nice for lunch as well if you make too much. It's probably one of the easiest recipes on this whole blog.  Plus it's cheap. And did I mention this is delicious? Make this! (Sorry for the blurry photo!)

It's also pretty healthy, as far as dinners go with no carbohydrates or anything along those lines. It's just veg, stuffed with veg (well, a tomato) with an anchovy on top, and it is really as simple as it sounds, but the first time I made it, I really couldn't wait to make it again and had it three days later. Gorgeous! 

I'm in the habit of keeping a few tins of anchovies in my cupboard, as they're great in pasta puttanesca as well, but also on pizza. And they don't go off! And they're like 70p! So maybe pick some up the next time you do a shop, just in case the mood takes you...

Stuffed peppers with tomatoes and anchovies (serves 2)
  • 3 peppers (not green)
  • A handful of tomatoes - depending on size, around 4 or 5.
  • Four cloves of garlic
  • A tin of anchovies (about 8)
  • A drizzle of olive oil
  • A side salad, to serve
  • Crusty bread, to serve
Garlic coating the inside
of the peppers
Pre-heat your oven to hot - 230C should do it. First up, remove the skin of the tomatoes by blanching them - boil your kettle, and pour the hot water over your tomatoes in a heat-proof container, like a pot. You just need to leave the water as is, not over a heat or anything, over the tomatoes for two to four minutes, then drain it off. Run the cold tap over the tomatoes, which will make the skin pucker and then use your hands or the corner of a knife to lift the skin.
Slice your peppers in half through the centre, like the picture, and pull out the seeds with your hands. Crush four cloves of garlic (or very finely chop) and put about half of it inside your peppers. Now slice the tomatoes in half, using a sharp knife and depending on the sizes of your peppers - we buy ones that are cheaper as they're all sizes - divide those up and use your fingers to press them into the peppers. Spread the remaining garlic over the peppers, then lay the anchovy fillets over them in a cross shape.

Then drizzle with olive oil, pepper (not salt) and put in the oven for 10 minutes at 230c, then turn it down to 200 and let it go for another 20 minutes.  Serve with some nice crusty bread to mop up the juices, and a green salad - I like rocket and basil - on the side with a balsamic dressing which offsets the saltiness. And maybe a beer if it's been a hard Monday.

Credit where credit is due: Leon - Naturally Fast Food (Book 2)

Monday, 27 June 2011

Butternut squash, pomegranate, feta and mint salad with pine nuts

Now HERE is a salad that will bring a smile to your face on a sunny summer's day, and just in time for the London heatwave. I came across it in an issue of the Sunday Times Style supplement, which I normally never read.
Admittedly this is soooo North London, and the very fact that I am able to waltz into my local supermarket and pick up a pomegranate year round is a serious luxury, and one which I don't take lightly.
That said, the original recipe has said that you can happily replace this one ingredient with another sharp, sweet fruit, like a handful of juicy black cherries is what. I also think slices of orange could work.
It is a fantastic mixture of flavours - deep earthy spices roasted, then tempered with creamy feta and sharp, sweet pomegranate, rounded off with the refreshing mint, with the texture of the squash delivering a lovely big bite. It works well with some nice crusty bread, and I think couscous would be equally nice. It's also a nice counter to the more traditional tomato-cucumber-rocket-leaf. It also looks divine, and when we brought it to a picnic last weekend, it was one of the first things to get finished! Yum, yum, yum.

Butternut squash, pomegranate, feta and mint salad with pine nuts (serves four people)
  • 1/2 to 3/4 of a large butternut squash
  • 2 tbsp crushed chilli flakes (less if you like it with a milder kick)
  • 2 tbsp coriander seeds
  • 2 tbsp cumin seeds
  • 2 tbsp pine nuts (dry toasted)
  • 150g feta cheese
  • 1 pomegranate
  • Bunch of fresh mint
For the dressing:
  • 1/2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • A good pinch of caster sugar
  • Leftover pomegranate juice (1-2tbsp, taste as you go)
  • A small pinch of cinnamon
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
Grinding spices
As always, pre-heat your oven. Something in the region of 200C is good. Next, peel your butternut squash, and chop into semi-circle slices (carefully, squash is very slippery and can be tough to chop!) about 1/2 a cm thick. 
Grind your spices in a pestle and mortar with a decent pinch of rock salt and ground black pepper. The mix doesn't have to be perfectly ground into the same texture, mostly just try to crush the coriander seeds. I sadly don't own a pestle and mortar, so I put whatever I'm crushing into a small plastic bowl, and use a rolling pin. It largely works but the spices tend to fly out everywhere. 
Spread the butternut squash across two roasting trays - you don't want to crowd them too much, so do use two trays, and drizzle with about 1 tbsp oil for each tray. Then divide over your spice mix, and use your hands  to make sure it gets a nice coating. Then put it in the oven for about 25 minutes, and check in every now and then, agitating the tray so it doesn't stick and maybe flipping the squash over so they brown on both sides. 
Meanwhile, you can dry toast your pine nuts. Keep an eye on as they don't sizzle, so you forget about them more easily than you think! You can also start picking your seeds out the pomegranate. The best way to do this, I find, is to slice the fruit cleanly in half, then over a bowl, use your hands to break each half apart, and use your fingers to root out the pockets of seeds. Try to save as much juice as possible for the dressing (and don't wear anything white while you're doing it.)
When the squash is done, remove from the oven. It should look somewhat like the below, and not too dried out. 
Butternut squash, ready to come out of the oven
To make a dressing, the original recipe invites you to use that most North-London of all ingredients, pomegranate molasses. I had no such thing, so into a jar I put the juice of the pomegranate that was reserved in the bowl (crushing seeds with a teaspoon if I needed more juice, around 1 or 2 tbsp), 1/2 tbsp balsamic vinegar,  1 tbsp lemon juice, and a small pinch of cinnamon. To add some sweetness, a pinch or two of caster sugar did the job, then top up with 2 or so tbsps of olive oil, and shake or whisk well.
Next, take your squash, scatter over a large plate, then crumble over the feta, leaving decent sized chunks. Add the pine nuts, and top with the mint and pomegranate. Drizzle dressing over just before service, and enjoy outside in the lovely sunshine (if possible!)
Pomegranate seeds, so pretty

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