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

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Le Cale, La Plage, Blainville-sur-Mer, France

We had good fortune to be able to enjoy a short holiday in Normandy last weekend, complete with a rented car like real grownups, handling the endless French roundabouts, torrential rain and sparse petrol stations but had a really wonderful time. And I have to tell people about this fantastic place we had dinner on Sunday night - La Cale.
No jazz band the night we were there, sadly.
It might just be me, but when you're on holiday in an area that thrives on tourism, choosing a place to eat which isn't "too touristy" (i.e. crap and overpriced) can be quite a big ask. So you go from street to street knowing in your heart that you're in completely the wrong area in the first place but resolutely refusing to settle for Irish pub food in the medieval town of St. Malo, for instance, so you try to pick something that fits half way between. La Cale, on the other hand, is quite a distance from anything flashy, is anything but easy to find and doesn't really feel all that tourist-targeted, although I daresay they get a few gushing expats and Brits like myself who just adore the whole set up. For starters, its address (on the business card we were given, at least) was "La Cale, la plage". It's just a shack, location: 'the beach'. No number or anything - this is the location on streetview, just down that long lane. Thank god for sat navs is all I'll say, we ended up following a sign that said "La mer, 0.2k" There's no set opening hours either, so you have to just show up and hope it's open, not too full, and not too empty. However, we were in luck! We ran from our car in the torrential rain and burst through the door and sat down at one of the rickety benches, grateful for the roaring fire (good old summer holidays). 
Taking in the whole atmosphere of the place was a great laugh - tonnes of crooked paintings on the wall, mostly boats and nude women, plus a cracked hair drier, all with a full view of the tide. We ordered a drink - local cider! - and watched the swell of the waves in the storm which were really just a scant distance away.
We both ordered moules frites (mussels and chips), not really knowing much about how they'd come, just that there'd be moules and there'd be frites. And by god, there was. Our table number, painted on a stone, was roared from outside the kitchen, and the next thing a HUGE, utterly huge, steel pot was slammed onto our table with a ladle next to it. Beautiful little mussels, swimming in cream, cider, parsley, and who knows what else, they were beyond delicious.
The frites that accompanied the meal were some of the best chips I've ever had, golden and crispy on the outside, but soft and fluffy enough to make eating them alarmingly easy. Combine with a side of oily homemade mayonnaise and we were in heaven.
Such delicious chips! 
Although we were fit to burst after we threw in the towel on the mussels, the boyfriend decided he'd be mad not to order a galette, so went for 'Galette Pere de Voision', recalled from memory but the name loosely meant neighbour's father, which a French pancake with calvados, butter and sugar. It was beyond delicious, the sharpness of the apple brandy combined with the richness of the butter and the carmelisation brought on by the copious amounts of sugar, was gorgeous. And despite knowing I'd probably regret it, I decided to snaffle a few mouthfuls from his plate, even though I felt like I had eaten 60,000 mussels already.
What I liked about La Cale was that although it's probably reasonably easy to do 'rustic France for tourists' style dining or whatever, this place felt like the real deal. The entire experience was utterly practical (want a napkin? BAM a roll of kitchen roll on your table.). The staff were very laid back, and friendly. And the location was to die for. I can't even imagine how great it would be to enjoy such fresh, well-cooked and authentically local food outside looking at the sea, without the driving rain (offset, mind, by the roaring fire - all my clothes stank of woodsmoke when we got home). The outside seating consisted of tables made out of wire-reels, from what I could tell, on a sand-coated wooden deck and looked equally practical and endearing. Imagine, with the sunset, and a warm breeze...sigh.

Hooray for summer holidays! 

I'll not be going back to Normandy for some time, with the whole car rental and distance to travel needed, it's a bit of a mission, but I'll probably remember La Cale as one of the highlights of the entire holiday. Wonderful.

La Cale, La Plage, 50560 Blainville-sur-Mer, France, +33 2 33 47 22 72 ‎

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Thursday, 2 June 2011

The Meatwagon, Peckham Rye, SE22

The Meatwagon, famous largely for last year's pop up restaurant The Meateasy, is back. Their van got nicked last year, so they've decked out an American ambulance with a grill, of course. 'Guerilla dining' is how they refer to themselves, and they kind of operate around this nothing-wasted-on-frills-so-enjoy-top-quality-food-instead run down shabby vibe, which is kind of in vogue at the moment and certainly seems to be permeating a lot of London's most beloved trendy restaurants, Spuntino and Polpetto being two that come to mind. A burger van, basically. 
I love a good burger, so I travelled to Peckham, where the Meatwagon started out. (Peckham! You have to get a train from Victoria! I'm sorry, I know it's a bit pathetic, but I'm a North London girl for the time being.) Following the invitation of a friend, we went have a drink in the Rye, and enjoy a burger from the new incarnation of the Meatwagon which was stationed outside, grills-a-sizzling, Kasabian-a-blaring all in that nice twilighty summer evening glow. And a goooorgeous smell. 
So was it worth it? Pretty much. I opted for a cheeseburger, £6.00, which was brought to my pub table. It was thick, sticky-cheese encrusted wedge of happiness, served in a lovely glazed bun which absorbed the juices and flavours, without turning into a sog fest. Proper runny burger cheese as well, none of this 'mature cheddar' rubbish. It needed the addition of ketchup, as I'm a bit of a ketchup fiend, but apart from that it ticked all my boxes. Very rough round the edges, with grease and pink juice dripping down onto the paper plate with each awesome bite, gloriously disgusting, onions everywhere. It made a bloody mess and was a bit tricky to eat, but somehow I managed, hah.
Others I was with went for the bacon burger, £7.00, which also went down extremely well. My boyfriend chose the 'Dead Hippy' burger, a kind of Big-Mac-esque deal with the main interest point being that the meat was fried in mustard. Does anyone else even do that? It was the first I've ever heard of such a thing. In any case it was wonderfully spicy without being overwhelmingly mustard-y, (although he did prefer mine, in the end.)
Phwoar, meatyyyy.
Although staff seemed surprised and a little perplexed when one of our party asked for no cheese on his bacon burger (causes him migraines), and we could have done with some napkins, overall it was a really chilled out, enjoyable experience, and a damn good meal. I desperately want to sink my teeth into another one. 
The Hawksmoore it ain't, and their burgers aren't pretty, but oh yes, I'm pretty delighted I did make the trek dahn sarf to Peckham to give them a whirl. Do make every effort to catch the wagon if it's nearby, they seem to be doing the rounds nowadays - or make an evening of it like we did. 

The Meatwagon, all over London, 

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Vegetarian tagine with couscous and hummus

Roasted vegetables are one of those unique ingredients in a meal I find - they drag even the most bland or plastic 'panini' or salad right up into the higher echelons in one move. So what happens when you take a holy combo of red pepper, parsnip, carrot and red onion, roast them until they're sweet and caramelized, put them in rich, heavily spiced tomato sauce and serve with couscous and hummus? Good things happen, that's what.
 So: technically it's a vegetarian tagine. Extremely straightforward and brilliant for leftovers, plus (of course) is a seriously tasty meal. It's also low-cal if you care about that sort of thing.  It's a very straightforward tagine, doable by anyone. Cheap too, so what's not to love? (Apart from the fact it isn't terribly beautiful.
Admittedly, this isn't exactly seasonal, but do you have any idea how many times I've been caught in a moody downpour this month on my way back from work? This is ideal grumpy-comfort food, simple to make, warming from the inside out without the guilt of a pizza binge. The opposite, even - the original recipe actually informs me that this gives you your entire five-a-day in one handy meal.
Perfect for rubbish rainy June evenings, Sunday nights or whenever you want something hot and comforting without lots of effort. This is also pretty great if you're trying to serve a large group of people, given it's basically a quick stew. And feel free to replace the veggies - sweet potato in place of peppers would be nice, or courgette (although do adjust roasting times.) This would also be a wonderful side-dish for any Moroccan spread a treat, so if you feel like being extra creative, serve with falafel, lamb, pitta, salad, mint yoghurt, chicken in harissa, coriander-spiced meatballs... the list is endless. 
Vegetarian tagine with couscous and hummus (serves 2 with leftovers)

  • 2 carrots
  • 2 small parsnips
  • 2 small red onions or 1 big one
  • 1 red pepper
  • 1/2 green pepper
  • Handful of dried apricots (I chop mine, you can leave them whole if you prefer - you can see them in the bag in the photo)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 400g tin of chopped tomatoes
  • 1 tbsp cumin
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp chilli powder/flakes
  • 2 tsp honey

Plus 150g couscous and pot of hummus, to serve.
It's a very simple recipe. Chop up all your veg into even sized chunks, spread across two or three roasting tins. You can put them all in one, if you like, but crowded veg won't roast properly.  Leave the onion in about 8 wedges, though - not too small.Drizzle with a little olive oil, ensure evenly coated (try not to disturb the red onions from their wedge-shape, I find they dry out terribly when separated into thin strips.) Put into oven on a high heat, around 200C, for 20 to 30 minutes, taking it out to shake the veg and check on it occasionally. When the veg is roasted to your liking, remove from the oven.
Next, put a tablespoon of oil in a sauce pan, and add your spices. The amount I use is a lot higher than the recipe suggests, but I find it's far tastier this way - nothing worse than an under-seasoned meal! Stir the spices into a paste on a medium heat, until very fragrant, then add your apricots, honey and then your tomatoes. Refill half the tin with water, give a shake, and add to the tomatoes and spices mix on the stove. Turn  up to the boil, then reduce to a simmer until it thickens to your liking.

Adding the veg to the thickened spicy tomato sauce
Around this point, you can make some couscous. Everyone has their own recipe, but for me I like to fry a knob of butter in a pan, add two crushed cloves of garlic for a few moments, then add a shake of cumin or paprika. Then add 120g of couscous (for two) with 150ml of water, and crumble in half a vegetable stock cube. Bring to the boil, then cover with a lid and take off the heat. Fluff with a fork five minutes later, after the water has been absorbed. When the tomato sauce has thickened enough, add your roasted vegetables until heated through, then serve and enjoy! If you have a sprig of coriander floating about, it probably wouldn't go amiss, for garnishing purposes either. 

Credit where credit is due: BBC Good Food

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Seoul, Finchley Road, NW3

Remains of yuke in the bottom right corner - this plate was picked clean before it was taken away
Korean cuisine in London doesn't come close to the widespread reaches enjoyed by Chinese, Thai, Japanese or Indian, possibly because unlike the rest, you can't properly enjoy it as takeaway, because while Kimchi or bibimbap soup might survive reasonably well in transit, the true uniqueness of Korean lies in its hot, freshly barbequed meat dishes. The sheer unfathomed joy of cooking little strips of meat over a barbecue, built into your table, before making a little lettuce wrap with red bean curd paste, salt sauce, rice and then biting into it is something that can't be replicated at home. It's definitely better for meat-lovers. 
Barbecue - each plate of meat waiting to be cooked, £4.00/£4.50 (normally £8.00/£9.50)
I don't have very many pictures of this meal, and they were off my phone, so I'll keep it short and snappy - Seoul is a small, local Korean restaurant in Finchley & Frognal, a two-minute amble from the overground station and not too far from the Jubilee line tube. It's the sister restaurant of a sushi place, and when we went - six of us, on a Saturday night - it was subdued but fairly busy, a brightly lit room with about 20 covers, with quite a few Korean people dining. The meal was outstanding in every sense of the word, and well worth the trip, if you live in North London or are a bus ride away at least. To be fair, we even had someone with us from Peckham who was still glad they came for the journey. This was my second trip here, admittedly it had been two years, but it has remained just as good.
We were with someone who was quite au fait with the whole Korean food experience (I asked her about 10 times what gets dipped in what) who thankfully took over the ordering process. We all agreed that barbecue needed to feature heavily, of course, but we were wondering what to get. Finally enticed by their 50% off offer, and the waiter going "why not just get everything" - that's what we got. Everything on the barbecue menu. Six animals! Vegetarians, look away. Several varieties of marinaded beef, pork, chicken, ox tongue, king prawn, squid, plus some onions, mushrooms, green peppers and garlic. Chucked onto the grill with gusto, cooked by everyone at the table, shared around, eaten piping hot. 10/10 for deliciousness apart from some very bony chunks of steak which we obviously couldn't eat.
We also got yuke, (or yuk hui as it's sometimes written), not for the faint-hearted when it comes to meat, but it sent our table into paroxysms of joy. Cold, raw beef strips, with raw quail egg, sesame oil, pine nuts, and raw pear. You mash it all together, then you eat it as it is. It doesn't sound appealing, but my god, if you're at all daring, you'd want to have a go. We also ordered a swathe of little plates - kimchi, sesame cucumber, pickled bean-sprouts, vinegary shredded radish (my favourite) - which arrived within moments of ordering, around £1.00 to £1.50 on the menu each. The wonderful waiter then told us that these appetisers were on the house, and that we were entitled to as much as we liked. I have no idea if this is standard for this restaurant, or because we were a large group ordering a tonne of food, but either way, it put a big smile on our faces. He also brought us out pickled mooli - kaktoogi - something we didn't order, but he told us that it was a traditional Korean side dish, and all the rest, which was a lovely touch. 
Then, the bill - get ready; for six people, all that food, rice, yuke, plus beers, and a breakaway member of the group who ordered udon noodles and a soup, the bill was £120. £20 or so each! (Without the 50% off all barbecue , it would have been closer to £155 - still a damn good deal.)
By the end of the meal, we were pretty much all dying with being full of amazing food and happiness. It's perfect for group dining, and a total delight - not quite so much for vegetarians though. This is another restaurant that has no website, but do yourself a favour and try some of Seoul's Korean food as soon as you can. Mmm. 

Seoul, 289 Finchley Road, NW3 6ND, 020 7784 9099

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Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Strawberry pavlova with chocolate cream

Strawberries could easily be considered to be heavily overdone in terms of summer puddings, and initially, this pavlova might sound no different to your standard Eton mess fare, or even strawberries and cream. But there's a reason for that - they're utterly delicious and beloved by almost all. And for a make-ahead dessert, what goes more perfectly together than crispy, chewy meringue, leaving-teeth-marks-in-it-so-thick cold chocolate cream, and juicy sweet strawberries? This is also heavenly when leftovers are rescued from the fridge then crammed into a tupperware box then carried by bike to Regent's Park to be eaten with greed by friends sharing forks. Lovely for posh picnics.  Plus I hear it's going to be a bumper year for straws, so you might as well!
This is a wonderful summer dessert for whenever you're entertaining, again - I've fed my whole family on this during my graduation in 2009, when I cooked a huge vegetable lasagna, with leftovers. So don't make if it's just the two of you - for health-related reasons!
The original recipe suggests raspberries, my absolute favourite food. But I've always gone into the shop intending to buy but flinch at the last minute at the cost. The recipe also calls for the meringue base to be rolled up into a roulade, which I've never managed - this is basically Nancy's meringue pie with a chocolate cream filling and strawberry topping. And good god it looks seriously impressive. 

Strawberry pavlova with chocolate cream
Serves about 6 to 8 people

  • 250g strawberries
  • 2 tbsp caster sugar
  • 150g plain chocolate
  • 400ml double cream
  • 5 egg whites
  • 275g caster sugar
  • Mint, optional garnish

Avoid doing this too much while cooking
Before you begin, 'mascerate' your strawberries. Cut off the green, and any other bits that would inhibit you from eating them whole, slice them all in half or quarters, then scatter over the 2 tbsp caster sugar. This will really bring out the flavour of the strawberries, and ensure that the fruit is gloriously sweet.
Meanwhile, get to making your meringue. Pre-heat your oven to 200C and line one of your biggest baking trays with greaseproof paper (suggest 33cm by 23cm swiss roll tin.) 
Whatever plastic mixing bowl you have knocking about in the back of your cupboard, rewash it with a non-skimpy amount of detergent to get any grease off and dry it with a clean tea towel. Carefully seperate your eggs - I like to have three bowls on  the counter. A mug to catch the white, one to catch the yolk, and then the bowl to tip the white into - meaning if you balls up one seperation, you don't lose contaminate most of your egg whites with yolk. 
Now, the whisking - get your electric whisk (and how I feel for you if you don't have one) and whisk on high until the peaks of the egg white are standing up stiff. Turn the setting on the whisk to low, and gradually add the caster sugar, stirring all the while until the mixture is nice and glossy. 
Fresh out the oven
Carefully spread the meringue mixture in the tin, and try to make as even as possible, then pop in the oven for 8 minutes. Don't forget! After this time lower the oven temperature to 160C for another 15 minutes, or until golden and firm on top. When it's done, take it out the oven, flip it over then peel off the backing paper, then put right-side-up again.
Chocolate cream time (you can do this while the meringue is cooking.) Whisk the cream now (avoid eating TOO many strawberries dipped in them), until it's a nice thick consistency. Meanwhile, melt your chocolate using a double boiler method, or if you're lazy like me, put it into a pan on a low heat and stir frantically until melted. Pour the now-melted chocolate off into a cold bowl and leave to cool down for ten minutes or so, so it doesn't curdle when you mix it. Fold the chocolate into cream (then sigh heavily at how gorgeous this looks), reserving a little chocolate for drizzling. 

Then it's just assembly: when the meringue is cooled off, use a big spoon to smear the lovely cream all over the meringue, then arrange the strawberries on top. Use a little teaspoon to flicky-flick little dribbles of dark chocolate all over the top for a nice effect, add a sprig of mint if you're using, then put it in the fridge until you're ready to serve it big indulgent slices to happy people. 
Credit where credit is due - Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall in The Guardian

Spicy pancetta pasta, Penne Amatriciana

Blogger unhelpfully ate this post, with the comments too. Thankfully, I had a cache of it, so here it is again. 

To take a bit of a departure from my usual "oh so good, yet so healthy, plus vegetarian!" shpiel, here is a fatty, gorgeous, meaty pancetta pasta, Penne Amatriciana, which has such deep flavours, that even though I've made it countless times, I always go "oh god" everytime I take my first mouthful. It's the incredibly simple ingredients that make it, red onion with pancetta being a winner, plus some red wine, rosemary and chilli.
This one is a real crowd pleaser as well. If you're ever trying to get people round for a non-fussy Italian-style dinner with some garlic bread and salad and 5 bottles of red, this is a perfect, utterly PERFECT main.
I first saw the recipe, I think, on Saturday Morning Kitchen when I was a student, and I can't remember where I scribbled down my version from, but I've used it ever since four years ago and time and time again it's been perfect. The original invited you to let the sauce thicken for 40 minutes. 40 minutes!! That's way too long! This version is much quicker and still insanely delicious. Seriously, invite your friends round for dinner, make this, be popular. I recommend it.

Penne Amatriciana (serves 2)

Just double the quantities for 4, etc.
  • 200g penne pasta
  • Half a pack of pancetta from a supermarket (100g), or lardons or even a few rashers of smoked bacon chopped
  • 1 large red onion or 1.5 small ones (peeled and chopped)
  • One tin of chopped or plum tomatoes
  • 1 tbsp (ish) of dried chilli flakes
  • 2 tbsp dried rosemary
  • A handful of grated Parmesan cheese (or two handfuls if you like it extra cheesy-creamy)
  • A good few glugs of red wine

Note - I understand completely if you don't feel like buying a bottle of wine just to make a meal, but honestly, the difference it makes, plus having some wine to drink while eating this makes it outstanding for a simple plate of pasta. However, I've made this several times without and it's still wonderful.
Heat up a pan on a fairly high heat, and chuck in your pancetta dry. The fattiness of the meat, as it melts, will mean that there's more than enough oil in your pan to cook your onions later. Cook it for a while and don't be impatient, this is as crisp as the pancetta will get, so you may as well let it get quite well cooked. What you're looking for is the golden edging appearing around the outside of the chunks.

Once that's done, turn down your heat to medium and add the onions. Keep an eye on them at first, see if they're looking like they might burn, adjust the heat accordingly and then stir every now and then over the next few minutes until wonderfully soft and approaching translucent.
Mix in your chilli flakes next - depending on how spicy you like it, obviously, you can add less or more. I use the amount shown in the picture for two and it's just about right. Not too hot, but not too bland either. Awesome stuff.This is the part I really screwed up the first time I made this - so be ready! Have your tin of tomatoes open, and ready, so you don't have to fuss with opening it up. Then turn the heat up super high, add your glugs of wine, and it should hiss as it goes into the pan. Stir rapidly with a spoon and you can see the alcohol evaporating off, which is what we want, and make the sauce quite liquidy. After a short period, 30 seconds, although you can judge yourself, quickly add the tomatoes, give a good stir, and turn down the heat so the sauce simmers briefly.
Add rosemary - quite a lot, maybe double the amount of chilli that you used. The pungent rosemary is one of the main flavours in this, so don't be afraid to add a lot. Then stir. Now, bring the sauce up to boiling point, then turn down and let thicken. The thickening is really crucial, it's the sticky oily goodness that makes this sauce which you can't appreciate if the tomatoes are still watery and runny.

I put my pasta on at this point, in well salted water, and let boil. You can grate your Parmesan now if you like. When the sauce has thickened enough, add the parmsean, then mix through with the pasta. Serve with some red wine, and if you're feeling like being fancy you can garnish with some parsley or basil.

As you can see it goes down a treat. The wine bottles in the background have candles in them - promise!

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