Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Sicily - Day 2




We had a morning in Palermo so we went for a walk through a few areas - the markets of Vucciria, the Cathedral, through more markets in Ballaro, out to the Teatro Massimo - then to the harbour (which I wouldn't bother with). We interspersed walking with stops for cannoli and the wedge of flatbread stuffed with prosciutto and mozzarella. We made our way back to the car, all the while discussing how much to give the old parking guy - we settled on 5 euro, and when we got there he was standing by our car, waiting for us - after handing over the 5 euro note he said grazie, and we were off. Somehow, even after paying a bribe to a guy who was questionable at best, we still felt like we won.



Then it was off to Monreale, a town on the outskirts of Palermo which is known for its cathedral and the incredible gilded mosaics inside. And yes, it was pretty, and very gold and shiny - but A and I are only amused by the interiors of cathedrals for a few minutes tops so we were out of there pretty quickly. Some gelato and granita was needed for a pick-me-up and this hilltop town seemed as good a place as any - but my granita was way too sweet and syrupy so maybe don't get any at the cafe right outside the cathedral.


Next stop, Segesta - doesn't this Doric temple look exactly like what you'd expect a Doric temple to look like? We skipped the Greek amphitheatre in favor of driving on to our final stop for the day.



We were staying in Erice, a wonderful medieval town high up on the hill - the road up to the town is winding and chock full of views, so make sure your driver can handle looking out the window and driving at the same time. The town is entirely pedestrianised (and reminded me a lot of Laguardia in Spain). We checked into our AirBnB and got a restaurant recommendation from the host, and then went for a wander up and down the cobbled streets.


The tourist information lady I asked about parking had told me there was a place to do wine tastings, so we hunted that down. I can't remember exactly how much the wine tasting cost, I think it was pretty reasonable - we had four glasses, two whites and two reds, and it also came with bread and some dips - a homemade Sicilian pistachio pesto and caponata. There were also marzipan sweets at the end - marzipan seemed to be incredibly popular in Sicily and it made appearances in a lot of sweet shops. 


We made a stop at Maria Grammatico's pastry shop due to its fame (our host insisted that we get something there) and ended up buying a cannoli and a couple of other small sweets for after dinner. Also poked our head into a wine shop, tasted a few Marsalas and ended up buying some.



Our evening meal was at Ristorante La Pentolaccia - it specialises in seafood and Sicilian cooking. I had grilled squid, while A had ravioli that he really liked. We got some roasted peppers but they were a bit too vinegary for us, and the roasted potatoes were great but when can you even go wrong with roasted potatoes? Bottle of red again - nero d'avola I think as it is Sicilian and trusty. It was easy to skip dessert knowing we had a cannoli waiting at home.


And here is a glorious cannoli. We had it on the rooftop terrace of our AirBnB with some Marsala, basking in the rolling fog and glowing lights. 

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Buttermilk Biscuits with Green Onions, Black Pepper, and Sea Salt

I made these once a long time ago and loved them (and so did everyone else, judging by the speed by which they were consumed). So no picture, sorry, but I wanted to post this so I have it for posterity.

Buttermilk Biscuits with Green Onions, Black Pepper, and Sea Salt

Ingredients

3/4 cup chilled buttermilk
1/2 cup finely chopped green onions
2 cups self-rising flour
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
3 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp coarsely ground black pepper plus addition for sprinkling
1/2 cup chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 tbsp melted butter
coarse sea salt

Method

1. Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 425F / 220C. Line baking sheet with parchment paper. 

2. Combine buttermilk and green onions in medium bowl. 

3. Whisk flour, cornmeal, sugar, and 1/2 tsp ground black pepper in large bowl to blend. Add 1/2 cup chilled butter and rub in with fingertips until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add buttermilk mixture and stir until moist clumps form. 

4. Gather dough together. Turn dough out onto floured surface and knead gently just to combine, about 3 to 4 turns. Roll out to 3/4 inch thickness. 

5. Using floured 2-inch cookie or biscuit cutter, cut out rounds. Reroll scraps and cut out additional rounds. Place 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheet. Brush tops of biscuits with melted butter. Sprinkle each lightly with coarse sea salt and ground black pepper.

6. Bake biscuits until golden and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Cool slightly. Serve warm or at room temperature.


Sunday, December 07, 2014

Sicily - Day 1




A week in Sicily. Sunshine, pasta, cannoli, and wine. A and I were incredibly excited about this holiday. After flying into Palermo, we picked up our car from Sicily By Car - more about them when we get to the last bit of the holiday. We were staying in central Palermo and as we couldn't figure out the parking signs very easily - but there was a square parked full of cars with a spot open, so we pulled in. An old man came up and seemed to want payment for the parking spot, but as we couldn't speak enough Italian to figure out the charge and he seemed to be ok with us coming back in the morning to figure it out then, we went to our AirBnB to see if someone there could help us translate. Our host was lovely and after settling us in, he walked back to our spot with us to make sure it was ok to park overnight. He then saw the old guy and told us that the square was free parking, and that the old man had no authority to charge for parking there, but he also said we could give him a few euros in the morning if he was hassling us. I was a bit incredulous about this, but he shrugged and said "It's Palermo."

Anyway - the car was safe from towing, at least, so we headed off to explore. Down the street from us was Piazza San Carlo, where people were enjoying pre dinner drinks, or aperitivo next to a beautiful fountain - I was so happy to have an Aperol spritz and tuck into the generous free buffet of snacks. On holiday, A and I tend to like to graze, so we only stayed for one drink. We continued on down Via Allessandro Paternostro, stumbling across a cute bar called Bar Garibaldi - people were merrily having drinks in the street outside which snacking on more small plates of free snacks. To be clear, when I say snacks, I mean entire pans of gnocchi and pasta and sausages were laid out for you to help yourself from - it made me wonder whether it would even be necessary to buy dinner!

The eventual destination was a place recommended by a lot of guidebooks, Antica Focacceria San Francesco. It's in an absolutely stunning piazza - with a beautiful church on one end and the charming outdoor seating in the middle. It being our first evening, A and I wanted to try some Sicilian specialties, so we went for a sample of antipasto - arancino, some flat chickpea fritters (panelle), and some potato croquettes. All perfectly decent if a little greasy but to be honest, with the free snacks we'd had beforehand, it would have had to be much more impressive to make a dent in our consciousness. We also got a bottle of Sicilian red which I sadly didn't take a picture of so I have no idea what exactly it was (maybe Nero d'Avola or something like that?) - it went well with our food though. We shared a pasta dish - another Sicilian specialty involving sardines and raisins (pasta chi sarde). I was suspicious of the raisins, and I have to say this dish did not convert me into a fish and fruit lover. Then dessert was some dense cake involving ricotta - we were way too full to enjoy it and it was also way less exciting than the description. While it sounds like I didn't really enjoy this meal at all, I have to say the atmosphere in the piazza and the amazing warm weather meant that we still seriously enjoyed our evening - so I'd still recommend this place to people looking for a nice place to relax and soak up some history.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Rotorino



434 Kingsland Rd
London
E8 4AA

Not to sound like completely smug jerks, but A and I found ourselves having a conversation about how amazing our neighbourhood has turned out to be since we moved in almost six years ago. Neither of us were familiar with it when we decided to take a small leap of faith and just go for it, and in the years since we have seen a huge number of restaurants, bars, and shops open up, almost all pretty much designed to be right up our alley of interests.

Smug jerk-ness aside, we now have a restaurant at the end of our road that has a chef that is well known and well awarded. Rotorino, which didn't have a sign up when we went (but I think that has now changed) is a gem of a neighbourhood restaurant. We went on a Sunday evening, so things were pretty chill. I had my sleb spot early on, helped by the fact that we'd just watched Broadchurch in the couple of weeks before visiting Rotorino, so hi Nigel! 

As soon as I saw a starter of pig face, I had to get it. A was much less enthusiastic about that decision, but gamely tried one piece. My counterargument is who doesn't love breaded, deep fried bits of juicy pork? Who cares if it comes from the pig's face, or leg, or tummy?

We then shared some ricotta gnudi - one of the richest pasta dishes I have ever tasted but in such a delightful way, though I'm glad we shared. The roast chicken (whoops, there was ricotta stuffed under its skin as well) was fought over eagerly by the two of us and went perfectly with a side of roast new potatoes. 

The meal only stumbled when we got to desserts. We went for a three-peat on ricotta with the fried ravioli, but the dough was bland and it was less a ravioli and more a stodgy filled pocket of dough. While the savory-sweet description sounded nice, it didn't really work in practice and I wouldn't get it again.

That said, we loved Rotorino enough to talk about it constantly, plotting our next trip there - so we'll be back soon and ready to try more of the short but elegant menu.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

The Grain Store


Granary Square
1-3 Stable St
London 
N1C 4AB

J and I hadn't seen each other in a while, and Kings Cross tends to be a good place for us to meet as it's on both of our ways home from work, so we agreed to meet at The Grain Store, a restaurant I had heard mixed reviews about but was still curious to try. One of the big draws is the cocktail list brought to you from the genius behind 69 Colebrooke Row, but as we were both avoiding alcohol for various reasons, we didn't get stuck in (but not to worry, I'll be back to try it). I loved my starter, listed as asparagus, minted mushy peas, parmesan mousse - each component was full of flavor and it felt light and perfectly in season. J had the cauliflower 'couscous' & spelt salad, vegetable merguez, yoghurt & pistachio - I have no idea how they formed a sausage out of vegetables but it was excellent, and a very generous portion indeed. For my main, I saw the word kimchi and could go no further, so I selected the homemade kimchi cabbage broth, udon noodles & squid, which was again exactly what I wanted - a broth full of deep kimchi notes, with springy noodles and tender squid. I believe J had some kind of lamb and aubergine dish which she really enjoyed as well - clean plates at the end of the night for both of us, and what was even nicer is that we walked out full but not overly so - the emphasis on the vegetables really shines through at The Grain Store and I'd love to go back for more.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Breakfast in a pan


I'm not sure this even qualifies as a recipe as it was essentially thrown together using leftovers and store cupboard goods, but it was such a lovely breakfast that I'm writing it down anyway.

Breakfast in a Pan
Ingredients

handful of diced onions
1/3 cup of cooked beans (I used haricot, I think)
1/2 can of tinned chopped tomatoes
1 cooked sausage
1 egg
chopped parsley
salt and pepper to taste
crusty bread

Method

Fry the onion in a bit of oil or fat until translucent, or just beginning to brown. Add beans and tomatoes and cook down until tomatoes are thick and chunky. Salt and pepper to taste.

Add sausage to pan to heat through. Make a little well in your pan and crack and egg into it. Cover with a lid so that the egg white cooks through but the yolk is still runny. Remove from heat and sprinkle parsley on top.

Serve with crusty, toasted bread for scooping up the whole mixture.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Lockhart


22-24 Seymour Pl
London
W1H 7NL

P and I had both been wanting to try The Lockhart for a while, so plans were made, and we found ourselves there on a warm weekday evening. The menu makes me want to try all of it, but with just a tiny bit of restraint we find ourselves getting catfish goujons and chicken oysters to start, from the list of tiny snack plates, and then for a main I plump for the stuffed quail while P has the braised lamb shoulder. Of course we have to get cornbread (we both love cornbread) and I add some collard greens for the dark green component that will make us both feel better about our health. If you look closely at the cornbread above, you'll see that it's swimming in butter. Swimming. (Swimming in a good way, you ask? Yes.) Oh, and the cocktails! Mine is frankly weird, though it grows on me after a few sips - the smoke & mirrors with prosecco, mezcal and agave. P has a lady lockhart, which is much easier to drink - gin, maraschino, lemon and cucumber. Everything is refined, everything is fabulous, everything is bright and sparkly and funny.