22 December 2010

Eating out in 2010

Moderately hidden gems
I don't think there is any point in detailing some of the great places to eat in London that are well known so here are a few others.

Jai Krishna - if you live in London and like food and haven't been here then check yourself. It's essential. Cheap, pure veg menu and used to feel like you were sat in somebody's front room having a curry and looking out onto Storud Green Rd. Now slightly done up but the prices don't seem to have risen and you can pick up a beer from the nice chap in the offy over the road to bring in and drink. Ten minutes walk from Finny P tube.

Curry & Rice on Whitecross St is a true lunchtime gem. Canteen, home-style Indian food. You can get a good lamb biryini for five quid with gravy, shredded salad, raita and chilli sauce. The amount of rice is a bit OTT for lunch and it isn't packed with huge chunks of meat but I don't think you really need it in the middle of the day and the flavours are spot on. It's got some heat in it and big bits of cinnamon. The descriptions of the meat curries don't really get beyond 'lamb' and 'chicken' but you can get rice and channa for three pounds and rice with two veg curries for four. Also available is the underrated egg curry which is nice to see. All good hangover busters.

Spice & Grill in Clapton is a similar canteen type place. I've only had a samosa on the hoof but the curries look good and tasty.

Silk Road, Camberwell - ok maybe it's not that hidden if you read many food blogs but believe the hype, this Xinjiang restaurant is amazing. Their medium plate chicken is going down as the best thing I ate in 2010. A massive pot of savoury liquor - red-brown and with aromatic anise steam rolling off it. The meat is in there on the bone as it some veg and chilli but it's really the flavour of the stock that is so incredible. When you are most of the way through some gummy noodles made in the back are introduced to finish off with the liquid. Cheap too (bit of a theme emerging here!).

Cafe East does the business in proper Vietnamese style worthy of Kingsland Road's top tier in the bizarre surrounding of Surrey Quays leisure park.

Maltings Cafe is the epitome of a modestly sized cafe doing a small menu of food extremely well and at good prices. I had a delicious sliced onglet with caponata for lunch for eight pounds! Respect due, more places should be like this. Big sister Zucca also good.

Railroad on Morning Lane in Hackney deserve a shout for their baked eggs. Good addition to Hackney Central area for when curry club at 'Spoons ain't going to do it.

Confirmed favourites Chilli Cool, Mangal, Tayyabs, Bread and Wine, Anchor and Hope and Great Queen St all satisfied and delighted this year in various ways, as did other places new to me - The Drapers Arms, Koya and Barrafina. I've now tried all but one of the Vietnamese joints on Kingsland Road and have found them usually pretty good. I'd go to Tay Do cafe for a cheap BYOB job and Viet Grill for a posher do but would be pretty happy at any. Bellaphon has a nice write up of the 'Pho Mile'.

For supper clubs The Shed delivered to the max with the holy combination of generous portions, cheap prices and amazing home-cooked food, Fernadez and Leluu served up some delicious stuff over a whole evening (I missed the last and best two course of lamb and chocolate pudding by accidentally drinking a massive amount of wine and being so drunk I left the table and stumbled off without paying (rectified soon after naturally!)) and the excellent host of The Claptonian Arts Club gave us a nice Scandi breakfast and a friendly natter about the current state of the art scene in London to boot.

Give us a shout if you think I've missed anything crucial and thanks for reading as ever.

13 December 2010

Congee Mk 1


I've wanted to cook congee for a while and finding myself still suffering under the tail of a hangover one day at 6pm a bowl of rice cooked in a single pot sounded like a good idea. There was no proper stock involved in the making of this congee nor is it remotely authentic I expect.

  • three cups of rice
  • shrimp satay sauce, nam pla, garlic, ginger, dried shrimp, sweet soy sauce
  • peas, kale, bamboo shoots, spring onions
  • sausages

Two to three cups of easy-cook rice I mixed with about twenty cups worth of water and simmered until the grains start to break down and loose their individual structural integrity. I included some ginger and garlic from the starts, thinking they too would break down in the long cook and give some nice background flavours. Having never cooked congee before I wasn't sure of how long they rice would need and man it does need quite a while! You could still see the grains in mine by the end, held in a starchy matrix, but some pics seem to show the grain totally broken down to a paste.

In lieu of stock proper I added some sweet soy, hot shrimp satay sauce, nam pla and a pinch of veg bouillon. After a good hour and a half I chucked in the other things according to cooking times. Some sausages needed eating up so popped out of their skins and fried they made excellent meat balls. Bamboo shoots had the texture of artichokes in brine and a slightly nondescript or almost mildly fishy taste. When everything looks done serve with some deep fried shallots on top.


What a wonderful food. I guess that lots of Asian countries have their own versions of congee and it's not hard to see why - a modest amount of staple grain can be eked out a long way and flavoured with what ever is to hand. It's not far from risotto or paella though the UK doesn't really have a soup/stew based on a grain I can think of. A good chance to mess around then perhaps, and do a suitably patriotic British version.

6 December 2010

Terrine mishap

I remember exactly the point at which trotters at Theobold's stopped being 50p each. I asked for four to stick in the freezer and when the guy came back from downstairs with a fat bag of pig feet and started to weigh it I knew something was up. They ended up being about seven rather than two quid. Perhaps this marked the end of the offal honeymoon? Theobold's is still a fantastic butcher though and the trotters were huge. Having been deeply frozen in my possession for a while now one thing seemed like sense - ham hock terrine.

First problem was that the butcher (a different one) didn't have any ham hocks (he claimed that suppliers are meanly stockpiling them in anticipation of heightened xmas prices). He suggested I buy one of his gammon joints and rely upon the trotters at home to set the mix. This lead to the other problem - the terrine failed miserably and ended up looking like the prototype of some new premium product aimed at the pampered dog market.

I made a standard stock with the trotter. After a thorough boil the mix was strained and reduced. The gammon was cooked and the cubes put into the mix to cool and solidify.

The pieces looked nice and meaty here.

It still looks ok-ish if you like your pig in chunks and suspended in cloudy meat jelly.

But now see - collapse. And it looks 'orrible.

This mess is now frozen but stayed tuned for details of the rescue mission. I'm thinking of pork, leek and mustard fried potato-cakes and maybe an English type risotto with barley and more leeks to repair the damage.

30 November 2010

Saltfish gratin and a quince and chocolate squidge cake

The wet weather of winter demands potato and cream, amongst other things. This dish is extremely simple and recalls the Scandinavian dish of baked sliced potato with cream and anchovy whose name now escapes my head if it ever lodged there at all.

    • five - seven potato
    • saltfish amounting to roughly a quarter the mass of potato
    • spinach (the proper stuff not namby-pamby baby nonsense)
    • cream, butter and garlic

Boil the saltfish in three changes of water from a cold start to get rid of the salt. Slice the potato thin and put a layer in an oven-proof dish. Scatter over the saltfish (flaked), some bits of butter and plenty of pepper. Go easy with the salt on account of the preserved fish as the seasoning can be corrected easily later. Add a layer of spinach and repeat till everything is used up. Pour an amount of cream you feel comfortable ingesting over the dish and add pepper and a little butter to the top. We had a fish free version also. They will need around forty five minutes - keep an eye on the top spud slices to prevent over crisping. Foil can be used here.

In my one Euro bargain pyrex bowl from Brussels we made a chocolate squidge cake with an impromptu addition of some quince.

    • four eggs
    • the same weight on dark choc, butter and caster sugar
    • eighty five grammes ground almonds
    • one tablespoon cornflour
This comes out like a less chewy brownie. Firstly the chocolate is melted in a bain-marie then butter whisked in followed by sugar, egg yolks, ground almonds and cornflour. The egg whites are beaten till stiff, then folded in. It needs about forty minutes at 190C. I put some of the poached soft quince in small cubes in here but you could use whatever you fancy.

We had it with quince poached with sugar and a little spice and creme fraiche.

26 November 2010

Stuffed squash and parsnip bread

I've been watching episodes of River Cottage recently online and it's kind of weird in these two-duvet days to see Hugh gambolling through meadows and picking peas and summer lettuce. In the episodes, though, have been a few lovely ideas for food.

I made his camp-fire parsnip bread which came out a bit funny but sorted itself out over a few hours and ended up delicious. It's a really rough bread both literally and in the sense that it feels rustic. It has a dense crumb and the parsnip (I chopped mine rather than grating it) makes it sweet and moist. Unexpectedly delicious toasted with butter and marmite. I think marmite and parsnip could be a winning combo and I hope to return to it soon.

    • one butternut squash
    • breadcrumbs
    • two leeks
    • garlic
    • cream
    • mustards

For the stuffed squash firstly the squash was cut in half and roasted for half an hour. Meanwhile two leeks were sweated in a pan with plenty of garlic. When the squash had largely softened two thirds of the flesh were scopped out and mixed in with the leeks. Cream, dijon and whole-grain mustard were added as was plenty of black pepper. The mix was then stuffed back in and breadcrumbs put on the top and the whole lot roasted again for fifteen minutes.

Serve with the hot buttered bread, pickled onions and chutney.

19 November 2010

Peppers stuffed with saltfish and chorizo

Saltfish. What other un-tinned fish can just sit in your cupboard waiting for a chill evening and a keen hand to remove and ready it for the pot? Nocturnally hydrated it is ready to lend its bounce to soups, salads, patties and pastes. Cookbooks sometimes stress how expensive saltcod is and how its availability is limited to Spanish and Italian delis. There is a simple way to get around both problems that they never seem to mention - get down to a local market with a Caribbean stall and fill your boots. I got three packets of saltfish (it's pollock but I guess we shouldn't be eating cod anyway right?) for five pounds.

There is a recipe in the second Moro book suggesting stuffing spicy peppers with saltfish and I admit that it was the idea for this combination. But nothing was taken so so I'm claiming this one as a SD, ON (near) original!

    • 400g saltfish
    • six spring onions or a similar amount of onion or shallots
    • 100g chorizo
    • 2 medium cooked potatos
    • five peppers
    • dried chilli, garlic, cumin

Hydrate and desalinate the saltfish either by soaking overnight or boiling from a coldwater start a couple of times or until it tastes acceptably (un)salty. In the last boil put the potatoes in to cook cut into small chunks. When fish and potato are ready mash together in a bowl.

Meanwhile soften the onions with plenty of garlic in a pan and add the chroizo to colour. Add chilli flakes, cumin  and black pepper to taste. Allow all to cook for a couple of minutes and lubricate with plenty of olive oil. When this mixture is ready combine with the saltfish and potatos and correct seasoning. Stuff this into the peppers and bake for forty-five minutes in a moderate oven until the peppers have started to break down and blacken on top. I had a few tomatoes in the mix too.

For a salad I made a lovely Moro one - blanched cauliflower, chickpeas and preserved lemons dressed with olive oil thick with cumin seed and chopped coriander. This is a wonderful salad that should be made as often as possible.

We had it with pittas.

17 November 2010

Five onion soup

There's something about onions. They are the kind of food you can't believe anyone could anything but love. Onions, milder and sweeter leeks and shallots and garlic - all essential ingredients for anyone concerned with maximising taste in the kitchen. More than anything I like the cheapness and humbleness of the alliums.

Lindsey Bareham's A Celebration of Soup has something called five onion soup - onions, shallots, garlic, leeks and spring onions if you were wondering. How can that be resisted in this fickle and treacherous cold weather?

    • two leeks
    • two onions
    • five shallots
    • five cloves of garlic
    • five spring onions
    • one potato
    • cream
    • stock
    • herbs

It's a pretty straightforward soup recipe really. Cook the veg gently in butter starting with the most robust (onions) and adding the others to the mix as the sweating proceeds. They need about half an hour with a few dry herbs and a diced potato in the pot.

The stock is then added and the whole thing blitzed and simmered for twenty minutes to become itself. Add cream, correct the seasoning (lots of black pepper always seems so right with cream) and eat with croutons. Lindsey Bareham suggests making a chive cream but I couldn't be bothered.

Here's how I had some - with additional fried kale, chestnut mushrooms and chorizo on top to have with toast for a full meal.

13 November 2010

Okra with coconut rice

Plenty keeps on giving. Okra with coconut rice looked just the part for the grizzly weather and early dark. It's a fairly simple recipe - you make a sambal paste and fry it, add cooked okra and serve with coconut rice. That's it.

For the sambal - plenty of red shallots, fresh red chilli (I used the long Indian ones that are available pretty widely) salt and a touch of garlic enter the magimix for a spin. The cook is also instructed to add 'dried red chilli' which I found a bit of a vague description, chillies varying so hugely as they do. In the end I went for what seemed like a sensible amount and added a couple of small hot ones and a large long Mexican type one I had in store. Once blitzed the paste is fried.

It slowly browns as the shallots cook and begins to smell very savoury. After ten minutes tamarind water (just sticky tamarind from a block soaked in boiling water) and sugar are added and that's the paste done.

Meantime, make the coconut rice. This is just basmati rice cooked with coconut, ginger slices and lime leaves. When the rice is cooking cook the okra for a minute or two until just done but not slimy. Ottolenghi suggests using small Egyptian okra and I followed his suggestion by getting a frozen pack which had already been trimmed. To make the food go a bit further I added squash here too which worked well and provided variety. When everything is nearly ready combine and that's it! Put fried shallots, lime, chopped coriander and (my suggestion) nam pla on the table to spruce things up.

It's a cracker. Be liberal with the extra bits at the end as it needs that extra poke in the bottom to really shine.

8 November 2010

Bolognese sauce

There seems to be much made over what exactly goes into a Bolognese ragu. Milk or no milk, pork or no pork, red or white wine, lots of tomatoes or just a few. After doing a bit of reading on it I decided to give it a go with an emphasis on a strong meat flavour (to be provided by bacon, beef mince and chicken livers), a relatively modest amount of tomato, milk and a long cooking period. There seem to be fans of both red and white wine, I used white for a change to see how it was.

    • onion, carrot and celery
    • beef mince, chicken livers and bacon in a ratio of 3:1:1
    • dried herbs (thyme and oregano for me)
    • tin of tomatoes
    • large glass wine and same amount of whole milk
    • olive oil

The vegetables are first softened in olive oil for fifteen minutes or so with a little garlic. Some bacon scraps were browned and added to the vegetables, as was the mince and the chopped chicken livers. I then allowed this to all cook down for ten minutes. Then the wine and milk were added and dried thyme and oregano added to the mix. It was slightly grey at this point and did not in fact look hugely attractive.

After a couple of hours the sauce had started to look a bit more together, although still far from the glossy red more normally seen. Some penne, a twist of salt and pepper and some parmesan finished things off. It was good but not mind-blowing. So, any tips or tricks for making a top notch version?

3 November 2010

Vegetable puree and aubergine

Where has all the corn gone?, that's what I want to know. A few weeks ago the stallholders of Ridley Road were shouting at me to buy six ears for a pound and now I can't find anything in my usually reliable spots. The season's over I suppose. I don't think I used its abundance as well as I might. This altered my plans slightly to cook sweetcorn polenta with aubergine, another ace looking combination of flavours from Plenty. Instead of the six ears of corn specified I used two I already had and made up the rest of the vegetable bulk with potato and butternut squash. Unless you are baking most recipes can take more than a little fiddle...

For the vegetable puree the squash, potato and sweertcorn were all boiled in salted water until tender. They made a trip to the magimix and a chunk of feta, olive oil and salt and pepper all followed. I think any combination of sweetish vegetables would work well here and a little salty feta primes the resulting gloop well.

The sauce is very easy - no onions to sweat and no fancy flavours. Fry the aubergine in plenty of oil, add tomato puree, wine (given a lack of wine some white wine vinegar stood in well for me), a tin of tomatos and herbs (dried thyme and oregano for me) over a period of forty-five minutes or so whilst stewing gently the whole time.

For something on the side we had spinach (adult naturally, tastes better than the boring baby stuff) with chickpeas and the reliable combo of cumin, chilli flakes and smoked paprika.

I would recommend frying some breadcrumbs to tip over the top of the glorious mush for some textural contrast. I seem to be become a bit of a fan-boy but I've got to say that Mr Ottolegnhi delivered again on this dish. Granted it does look and feel like baby food but it's deeply warming for a night of late autumn and the sweet-sharp taste of the silken, vinegar stewed aubergine prevents it from being actually infantile.

Not a bad likeness, huh?

Eggplant on FoodistaEggplant

1 November 2010

Ribollita and pesto

Man, I can't stop cooking from Plenty! I can't remember the last cookbook from which I not only wanted  in a vague sense to cook but actually did get around to making this many recipes. This time it's his take on ribollita, proper peasant fare, with some pesto. There must be 1,001 recipies for this.

Onion and vegetables go into the pot to soften in olive oil. The herbs are then added and everything cooked gently for a short while.

Five minutes before serving chickpeas go into the soup. Meanwhile into the magimix go basil, parmesan, olive oil, salt and pepper for the pesto. No nuts around but that's not a problem I feel.

Ottolenghi suggests baking the bread until crisp and then putting into the soup which seems a bit silly to me - why go to the trouble of drying it out to put it in a load of liquid? So instead I fry some long chunks of Turkish bread in olive oil and butter. Everyone gets one on top of their soup.

Delightful stuff - heartening-healthy rather than worthy-healthy in taste. I like the inclusion of fennel here but in truth you could put almost anything in the soup.

Green bean chutney

Upon reading Nigel Slater's recipe for runner bean chutney with an abundance of green beans in the fridge and empty jam jars piling up in the cupboards it seemed like a good shout for a bit of mid-week preserving.

From my limited experience in chutney making it seems that as long as the main ingredient is accompanied by vinegar, sugar and spices you can't really go wrong. So after top and tailing the beans I fried an onion and added the spices suggested as well as some star anise and chilli.

In the spirit of keeping things simple I didn't bother cooking the beans separately but rather chucked them into the main pan to cook. I also omitted the cornflour. After another ten minutes or so I checked a couple of beans to ensure they still had the necessary squeak and bottled the stuff.

I think I was fairly liberal with the spicing and vinegar pouring so the chutney is pretty strong stuff. A bit too stong to eat large amounts of but just the ticket with a bit of cheese and bread. I'm a bit of an amateur when it comes to preserving and chutney making so please give me some ideas if you have made any good ones!