Thursday, December 31, 2009

Amy's Ice Cream



10000 Research Suite 140 at the Arboretum

Austin, TX
78759

Amy's Ice Cream is one of my favorite spots for ice cream in Austin. They make a lot of delicious and unique flavors, and then you can also get various toppings crushed into your ice cream as well. Today I picked one of their seasonal flavors, pumpkin, and got graham crackers crushed in. Delicious. It was also aided by the great weather which meant we took a walk down to the nearby duck pond to eat ice cream in the sun.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Guero's



1412 South Congress Avenue

Austin, TX
78704

We were hunting for cowboy boots on South Congress when lunchtime rolled around and I took the opportunity to go back to Guero's. It's been years since I was last there, and I remembered really liking their tortilla soup. I ordered a small tortilla soup and one fish taco in a corn tortilla. The soup was as delicious as I recalled - a lovely light chicken broth with bits of tomato, cilantro, avocado, cheese and pieces of tortilla chips thrown in. The fish taco was good as well, though it could have done with a little extra seasoning. They make their tortillas on the premises, which is a nice touch. The other cool thing about Guero's is their salsa bar - they have both green and red salsas and a pico de gallo as well to dip freshly fried tortilla chips in. The whole family enjoyed their meal and there was a good atmosphere as well - lively without being too loud. Thumbs up.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Tien Jin





4534 West Gate Blvd
Austin, TX
78745

Tien Jin is our family's favorite Chinese restaurant - after we found it by luck many years back on a Christmas Eve, we've been back dozens of times. They make three dishes in particular that we always order - the pipa tofu, spicy crispy shrimp, and baby snow pea leaves. When we have more people with us, like on this Christmas Eve, we can also try other things, like the squid with spicy black bean sauce and the chicken with scallions. Everything was absolutely delicious - my aunt and uncle drive up from College Station every year and this is the restaurant of choice. Most dishes are around $10 or under, so it's also a great deal. Go here, quick!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Chuy's



11680 Research Blvd

Austin, TX
78759

My brother J and I usually head straight for Chuy's once we're back in Austin, and this trip was no different. We immediately started with queso to eat with the amazingly crisp freshly fried tortilla chips and the spicy salsa that come in unlimited quantities. There was also a rather bizarre bowl of ranch dressing that I have never seen before, but we ignored it after a taste. J and I both got combo plates, while A tried the Chuy's special (chicken enchiladas with green chile sauce). Between our combo plates, there were crispy beef tacos, chicken flautas, a chicken chalupa, cheese enchiladas, beef enchiladas and a chicken enchilada with green chile sauce. Mexican rice and refried beans also came on every plate - my lunch was so large it actually came on two plates! We stuffed ourselves and then packed an entire box with leftovers for another meal. Now if only I could get someone to open a Chuy's in London...

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Express Manna Kitchen



28 E 18th St (between Broadway & S Park Ave)
New York, NY
10003


The wonders of delivery in New York - if it's freezing outside and you still want Korean food, just use Seamless Web.  K, D and I ordered a feast - seafood pancake (pictured), kimchi fried rice, spicy tofu and vegetable stew, kal-bi-tang (a short rib soup with glass noodles), and kalbi jjim (short ribs braised with daikon and carrot). Pretty decent for delivery Korean, even though the pancake was thicker than I'm used to and was a little limp after steaming in its container, and the tofu/veggie stew had a lot of unexpected jalapenos in it. Certainly beats going out in sub-zero temperatures.

Balthazar



80 Spring Street

New York, NY
10012

Shopping is exhausting, especially when the ground is icy and snowy and you are wearing shoes with no grip - the constant slipping and sliding means utter concentration while walking. K, D and I needed a break and happened to be next to Balthazar, so we popped in. Since it was the middle of the afternoon, they were only serving raw bar, cheese and desserts, which was fine with us - we just wanted a snack. A bottle of white wine and a cheese platter were selected, and fresh bread arrived with it. The brie was fine - nothing special - and none of us enjoy blue cheese much so that one was D's responsibility to eat, but the other cow's milk cheese  was really good. I did ask what they were but my memory fails me so unfortunately I can't tell you what it is. Oops. I probably shouldn't judge Balthazar on this meal since none of it was actually prepared by the restaurant, but the atmosphere was nice and buzzy and it was a pretty good snack.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Resto





111 East 29th Street
New York, NY
10016



K and D and I wanted brunch but it was also pretty snowy outside so we went for somewhere relatively close by. Resto, which is technically a Belgian-American restaurant, fit the bill, so we trekked over there. I went with their brunch special - for $16 you get a brunch dish plus a cocktail, so I ordered the sausage and eggs with homefries, toast and greens, and a bloody mary. The food was great - the sausage was garlicky and the greens were dressed with something tart and savory. The bloody mary was good as well, though it was really spicy and had a huge horseradish kick. My only complaint is that when we ran out of toast and asked for some more, they charged $2 for 2 extra pieces! Oy.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Apple Cider Doughnuts



Union Square Farmers Market
New York, NY

While on our way to the Holiday Market, K and I walked through the Farmers Market as well and saw these apple cider doughnuts for sale from Migliorelli Farm. $2 bought us three doughnuts - we asked for two in cinnamon sugar and one plain. We had them the next morning after they were gently warmed in a toaster oven - there was a faint apple taste and they were crumbly and moist. Stick with these if you're looking for apple cider doughnuts - K had some from another vendor at the market before and they weren't any good.

Ramen Setagaya



90 University Place
(between 11th St & 12th St)
New York, NY 
10003

K recommended this place for ramen so I asked E to meet me there for our annual gabfest. We both ordered the Shio Chasyumen which is ramen noodles with bamboo-shoot, "salt taste egg", seaweed, scallion, scallop powder, and extra pork. The broth was really flavorful and the noodles were perfectly cooked so that they remained firm through the last bite, even though they were sitting in a hot soup. Food came out incredibly quickly, but they were also happy to let me and E sit there for over two and a half hours while we just chatted away. Great place with great ramen.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Opia



130 East 57th Street
New York, NY
10022

suggested Opia for dinner so I made my way to 57th and Lex and then couldn't find it. It wasn't until I looked up that I saw a sign - it's on the second floor of a hotel. It's quite dark inside as it is described as a bar/lounge, but it serves food as well as drink. I got the hanger steak with a red wine sauce and a tater tot (note that tater tot is in the singular, since what came out was one giant tater tot, not a pile of tater tots as I was expecting). The terrible picture above is not representative of how good the food was - the steak was cooked to a perfect medium rare and it was tender and delicious. O had the truffled mac and cheese which blew my mind - it was so incredibly rich I managed one bite before falling into a cheese coma. Good place to meet up if you want to have a drink and a bit of food as well. 

Mary's Fish Camp



64 Charles Street
New York, NY
10014

Wandering around the West Village, K and I stumbled upon
Mary's Fish Camp and instantly had the same idea - a lobster roll would be the perfect snack for the two of us. Big chunks of sweet lobster covered in mayonnaise, chives and a little bit of celery on a hot buttered roll - heaven. The shoestring fries were tasty as well, though I think they could have been a little more crisp. Refuelled, we headed back out into the cold to walk off some of that deliciousness.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Doughnut Plant




379 Grand Street
New York, NY
10002

The Doughnut Plant is famous for its incredible selection of flavors of doughnuts - when K and I walked up today, they were advertising several specialties, including crème brûlée and gingerbread cake. They make both yeast doughnuts and cake doughnuts - we ordered yeast doughnuts. The one on the left is crème brûlée and the one on the right is Valhrona chocolate. They were both so so so good - the crème brûlée doughnut had the top filled with actual crème brûlée, complete with the crunchy sugar top - how do they do that?! And the chocolate doughnut was great as well - good yeasty chew and covered in high quality dark chocolate. They put other doughnuts to shame.

Congee Village




100 Allen Street
New York, NY
10002

Due to the bitterly cold weather, K and I headed to Congee Village for warming bowls of rice porridge. I went with the pork, chicken and duck congee, with a couple of pieces of you tiao (a savory fried doughnut stick) to dip into it. The congee was flavored well with ginger, spring onions and cilantro sprinkled throughout. It was the perfect meal - cheap, tasty and comforting. I should really start making congee at home.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Ess-a-Bagel



359 1st Avenue
New York, NY
10010

When I'm in New York,I have to find a bagel for breakfast at least once - while we've got a decent bagel shop in London (the Happening Bagel Bakery), nothing beats a genuine New York bagel. Once I saw that the bagels at Ess-a-Bagel came highly recommended by Serious Eats, I made a field trip there to get my breakfast fix. It was still slightly warm and the exterior gave off a satisfying crunch when I bit through it, while the interior was fresh, yeasty and chewy. Delightful.

44 & X



622 Tenth Ave.
New York, NY 

10036

V and I met up for dinner here since our first choice, Caselulla, was way too small and packed.44 & X was full, but managed to squeeze us in to their last table for two. This neighborhood isn't really known for good restaurants, but this one bucks the trend. We shared the roast chicken quesadillas with pico de gallo and guacamole to start, and they were delicious - cheesy but not overly so, with crisp tortillas sandwiching the filling. I ordered the Vermont cheddar macaroni and cheese for my main, along with a side of sautéed spinach. When the mac and cheese arrived, I gawped in amazement- the dish was so enormous! It contained about four times the amount I was expecting. Thankfully it was really tasty - creamy unctuous cheese coating little macaroni noodles, with a bit of truffle oil on top that smelled wonderful. The spinach helped to cut the richness a bit, but I struggled to eat 1/3 of it and had the rest packed up, which filled an entire takeout container. I rolled out of the restaurant, full and contented - if you're in Hell's Kitchen and don't know where to get some good food, try this place.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Cafe Zaiya



Kinokuniya Bookstore
1073 Avenue of the Americas (Bet 40th & 41st St)
New York, NY
10018

This Japanese cafe i
sinside an amazing Japanese bookstore that stocks everything Japan-related in book form that you could ask for. K and I had been walking around for a while and were freezing so we took an opportunity to stop for a snack and to warm ourselves again. I went for an onigiri (rice ball wrapped in seaweed) stuffed with spicy cod roe, and a dorayaki (essentially two pancakes sandwiching a red bean paste, seen above). They were both ok, but nothing that special - surprisingly I like the onigiri from Wasabi better and the red bean paste was too sweet for me in the dorayaki. Still, at least I could feel my feet again by the time we left.

The Modern






9 W. 53rd Street
New York, NY
10019

Lucky lucky me. I am visiting K, friend and fellow food blogger, and boy does she know where to eat. We treated ourselves to lunch at the bar room of The Modern, a Danny Meyer joint (owner of other favorites such as Shake Shack and Gramercy Tavern). I started with a steak tartare that was done perfectly - the quivering quail egg perched on top released a creamy yolk when pierced that coated the well-seasoned tartare. My main was a beer-braised pork belly with ginger jus - there were also julienned granny smith apples and tiny cress leaves on top, and it rested on a bed of rice and sauerkraut. Since everything this far was so wonderful, we splurged on desserts as well - I chose a chestnut sundae that our waitress recommended which contained gianduja and irish cream ice creams, along with a vanilla chantilly cream, caramel sauce, chestnut cookie, nuggets of chestnut puree, shards of brittle and a chocolate tuile. This was great for the first few bites but quickly got too sweet for me - I think K chose better with her beignets for dessert. Service was an absolute dream - it's good to be back in the US!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Shake Shack



Madison Square Park, near Madison Ave. and E. 23rd Street
New York, NY


K and I braved a snowstorm to go get Shake Shack for lunch - conveniently she lives nearby so the plan was to grab food there and bring it back to the apartment to eat. There are often ridiculously long queues to eat there, but the cold weather meant there was no line to order, so we managed to get our food after waiting about 10 minutes for it to be cooked fresh. I ordered a Shack Burger which comes with American cheese, lettuce, tomato and Shack sauce. A side of crinkle cut fries and a vanilla concrete with chocolate truffle cookie dough completed my meal. After dashing back to K's place, we dived into our food and it was as amazing as I remembered. My favorite burger by far, I would be ecstatic if they opened one of these in London. The fries are cooked from frozen but are somehow still some of the best fries I have ever eaten. The concrete was delicious (the cookie dough is made with sinfully dark chocolate) but I only managed to finish a third of it - thankfully the rest is in K's freezer for later.  Yum!

Bali Nusa Indah



651 9th Ave.
New York, NY
10036

So while a few of us (including K) were visiting Y, we had the chance to order from her local Indonesian restaurant. Since Y is Indonesian, we let her do all the ordering and a feast showed up. Apparently this place makes home style Indonesian food. All I know is that it was absolutely fantastic. My favorite dish was the rendang padang, described as tender beef simmered in coconut and chili sauce. There was also Kari Terong, sauteed eggplant in curry sauce, Nasi Goreng Tahu Telor, Indonesian fried rice with veggies, eggs and tofu, Sate Ayam, Indonesian barbecue chicken with peanut sauce, and Udang Goreng Isi, stuffed prawn with spicy sweet and sour sauce (Y, correct me if I got any of these wrong!). Accompanied by white rice and onion crackers (like prawn crackers but with an onion flavor instead), we stuffed ourselves silly. I need to find an Indonesian restaurant in London. Anyone have any suggestions?

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Shrimp & Veggie Frittata



I love the idea of frittatas - they look so easy to make. The one problem is that they always seem to require a cast iron pan, or at least a pan that can go straight from stove to oven. Then I thought, why not try a Dutch oven? The result was excellent - now I've got a quick and easy recipe for dinner. This used up all the extra vegetables I had in the fridge - I think a lot of different things would work. I served this alongside potato wedges that cooked in the oven before I popped the frittata in.

Shrimp & Veggie Frittata

12 eggs
400g chopped spinach
250g button mushrooms, sliced
2 small onions, diced
2 spring onions, chopped
150g shelled shrimp
1 red pepper, diced
1 bunch parsley, finely chopped
olive oil

Preheat oven to 180C(350F). Fry onions in oil until soft. Add red pepper, spring onion and mushrooms and cook until tender. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs and then add cooked veg to the eggs. Mix in spinach, shrimp and about 3/4 of the parsley. Add salt and pepper to taste. In Dutch oven, pour in 3 tablespoons oil and let it heat up over medium-high heat. Add frittata mixture to the Dutch oven and lower heat to medium. Cook for about 5 minutes so that a crust forms. Put lid on Dutch oven and place it in the oven for 10 minutes. Check for doneness - a skewer inserted in the middle should come out clean. Slice the frittata into wedges and sprinkle the rest of the parsley on top to serve.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Rasa Samudra



5 Charlotte Street
London
W1T 1RE

This belongs to a chain of Keralan Indian restaurants called Rasa - I've been to the original vegetarian one in Stoke Newington. This one specializes in seafood and J and I were surprised to open the menu and see almost nothing familiar. We picked out one fish and one vegetarian curry, with lemon rice and a paratha to share. While I thought the prices were a little high for lunch, I think they use the same menu at dinner. Also, once the food came out and we tasted how unique the dishes were, I thought it was worth the extra cost - each dish was clearly freshly made and had a distinct flavor profile, unlike at some cheaper Indian restaurants where all the dishes taste similar. We had the Varatha Meen Masala (A specialty of the Travancore Christians. Lightly fried and juicy pieces of King Fish cooked in thick tomatoe sauce with ,fresh curry leaves onions, fried chillies, turmeric and ginger) and Bagar Baingan (A Hyderabad recipe of aubergines cooked in a ground paste of roasted onions, coriander seeds, chillies and tamarind, mixed with yoghurt and cashew nut sauce). Maybe not a place to have lunch regularly but it was certainly a treat!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Table



83 Southwark Street
London
SE1 0HX


Good brunch spots are hard to find in London, so I was quite pleased to find this place which is not too difficult for our friends south of the river to get to. It's very clean and soothing inside with Scandinavian-looking furniture and lots of glass and white walls. The reason why my plate looks so full above was because in addition to the eggs benedict (english muffin, bacon, poached eggs and hollandaise) there was also a side order of pork and leek sausages. This is due to the fact that we were up very late the night before, party-hopping, so by the time we got to brunch I was starving and clearly ordered more than a normal person should eat at 11.30am. But it was all so tasty that I finished the entire plate. I also had a delightful pear, apple and ginger smoothie. Yes, I am greedy. Especially when it comes to really delicious breakfasts. Mmmm.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Ginger Crinkles




The Homesick Texan is one of my favorite blogs because I am often a homesick Texan as well. As soon as I read her recipe for these ginger crinklesI knew they had to be tried - I love gingery cinnamony things and her writing always makes me want to cook. I had to substitute black treacle for molasses again since I cannot find molasses here - it's probably why these are too sweet. But a cookie with a cup of tea or coffee works well...

Ginger Crinkles (makes 60 cookies)

Ingredients:
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup oil
1 egg
1/4 cup black treacle
2 cups flour
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger
1/4 cup demerara sugar for dipping

Method:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Cream the oil, sugar, egg and black treacle. Mix together the flour, soda, salt, cinnamon and ginger and add to the liquid ingredients.

Roll dough into walnut size balls (about 1/2 a tablespoon) and dip into demerara sugar.

Bake at 350 until slightly brown for about 15 min. Do not overcook!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Pumpkin Cheesecake




'Tis the season for lots of baking and holiday eats. This cheesecake was A's idea - we brought food to a Christmas gathering and this is what he wanted to contribute. Lucky for him I had extra pumpkin in the house after Thanksgiving. A reduced the sugar slightly since it seemed unnecessary. It turned out to be a very light version of cheesecake - I'd hardly call this New York-style, but I thought it was pretty scrumptious anyway.



Jamie Oliver's Pumpkin Cheesecake

Ingredients

Crust:
150g finely ground ginger cookies, homemade or store bought
60 grams unsalted butter, melted

Cheesecake:
140 grams light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 pound (454 grams) cream cheese, room temperature
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup pure pumpkin puree (canned or homemade)



Topping:
1 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup (50 grams) granulated white sugar

Method:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (177degrees C) and place the oven rack in the center of the oven. Butter (or spray with a non stick spray) an 8 inch (20 cm) spring form pan.

For Crust: In a medium sized bowl combine the finely ground ginger snaps and melted butter. Press the mixture onto the bottom of the prepared spring form pan. Cover and refrigerate while you make the cheesecake filling.

For Cheesecake: In a separate bowl, stir to combine the sugar, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, and salt.

In the bowl of your electric mixer (or with a hand mixer), on low speed, beat the cream cheese until smooth (about 2 minutes). Gradually add the sugar mixture and beat until creamy and smooth (1 to 2 minutes). Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well (about 30 seconds) after each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and beat in the vanilla extract and pumpkin puree.

Pour the filling over the chilled ginger crust and place the spring form pan on a baking sheet to catch any drips. Place a cake pan, filled halfway with hot water, on the bottom shelf of your oven to moisten the air. Bake the cheesecake for 30 minutes and then reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees C (165 C) and continue to bake the cheesecake for another 10 - 20 minutes, or until the edges of the cheesecake are puffed but the center is still wet and jiggles when you gently shake the pan.

Meanwhile whisk together the sour cream, vanilla extract and sugar. Pour the sour cream mixture over the top of the baked cheesecake and rotate the pan slightly to evenly distribute the topping. Return the cheesecake to the oven and bake about 8 minutes to set the topping. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool. Loosen the cake from the pan by running a sharp knife around the inside edge (this will help prevent the cake from cracking). Then place a piece of aluminum foil over the top of the pan so the cheesecake will cool slowly. When completely cooled, cover and refrigerate at least eight hours, preferably overnight, before serving.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Jalapeño-Cheddar Scones




J made these and was raving about how easy and delicious they are, so I decided to make them my contribution to a Christmas party - seems like a nice blend of Tex-Mex (jalapenos and cheddar) and British (cheddar and scones) foodstuffs. J is right, they are freaking amazing, especially warm right from the oven.

Jalapeño-Cheddar Scones (from
Smitten Kitchen)
Makes 16 scones

Ingredients
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick or 4 ounces) cold butter, diced
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 eggs
1/4 pound sharp Cheddar cheese, diced
2 small jalapeños, minced

Preheat oven to 220C(400F). In a small skillet, melt 1/2 tablespoon of butter and sauté the jalapeños in it until soft, about two minutes. Let them cool, then place them in a small bowl with the cheddar cheese and coat them with one tablespoon of the flour. Combine the remaining flour with the baking powder and salt. Cut in the remaining butter with a pastry blender, fork or two knives, until the butter bits are pea sized.

Lightly beat the eggs and cream and add to the flour-butter mixture. Using a wooden spoon, fold mixture until it begins to come together. Add the cheddar-jalapeño mixture to the dough and mix until everything is incorporated.

Turn out the dough onto a well-floured surface and knead gently for less than one minute. Pat dough out to a 3/4- to 1-inch thickness and either cut into 8 triangles or the shape of your choice with a biscuit cutter. Place on a parchment-lined (or well-oiled) baking sheet. Bake for 25 minutes or until golden brown.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Cafe in the Crypt




6 Saint Martin's Place
London
WC2

I have been meaning to come here for ages since I heard so many good things about the renovation of
St. Martin-in-the-Fields. So when C suggested this as a lunch spot, I jumped at the opportunity to have a look around and also catch up with C over a leisurely lunch. Due to the meat feast the night before, I opted for their salad plate, which allowed you to choose a 'main' and then accompany it with three salads. I picked out a bacon and cheddar tart and then had rice salad, cucumber & tomato salad, and new potato salad to go with it. I also tried a really tasty ginger and lemongrass sparkling water drink - refreshing and not too sweet. Sadly, the rice salad was disgusting - the rice was cold, hard and chewy which made it too unpleasant to eat. The tart was nice though - real pieces of bacon throughout with a creamy cheesy quiche-like filling. The other two salads were fine but quite boring. I think I should opt for the hot food selection next time. It's nice and quiet and relaxing down there so I'd be happy to come back and try again.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

New Tayyabs




89 Fieldgate Street
London

E1 1JU

D picked Tayyabs as his reward for his generous DIY help. Unfortunately, we were unable to get a reservation and therefore had to wait in line for over an hour to get a seat. We also had the terrible misfortune of being seated next to an enormous stag party, who in addition to the usual beer and wine had actually brought in a giant bottle of vodka. Basically, food was awesome as usual, but atmosphere was crazier and rowdier than usual, including thumping nightclub music that made it difficult to hear anyone at the table.

But back to the food, which is why I'm writing this. We ordered loads of seekh kebabs (minced lamb with spices, one of my favorites), lamb chops (definitely my favorite), tandoori chicken (bland compared to the spicy, delicious lamb chops), dry meat curry (really moreish with complex flavors), lentils and aubergine (yummy - wonderfully tender lentils with fresh spicing) and a baby pumpkin curry (my least favorite - the pumpkins were a bit sour and bitter and the whole dish was quite salty). While I like the food here and it is super affordable, it is such a hassle to get a table that I'm not sure it's worth it except for special occasions, like when you're trying to pay back a good friend - or if you're doing your 100th post...

Friday, December 11, 2009

Lemon Cornmeal Shortbread Cookies


I saw this recipe on Everybody Likes Sandwiches and immediately saved it since I almost always have the ingredients for them in the house. Today I finally got around to trying it, and they're incredibly easy. Absolutely delicious, especially if you like buttery, delicate cookies - they're a little crumbly but not too sweet with a lovely lemony flavor. The cornmeal gives the cookies a special texture that I really liked. My batch made 29 cookies but I think maybe I should try sticking to tablespoon amounts of dough, since the smaller ones really flattened out in the oven. 

Ingredients:


2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup yellow cornmeal
2 tbsp cornstarch
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup caster sugar
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
grated lemon zest from 1 lemon
Demerara sugar for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 180C/350F. In a large bowl, blend together the butter and sugar until fluffy. Add in the vanilla and lemon zest and mix. In another bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, cornstarch and salt and whisk together. Slowly add in the dry ingredients into the butter/sugar mixture and stir until just combined. I found it easier to use my hands at this stage because the dough wasn't really combining well until I really got in there and squished it all together.

Line your baking sheet with foil, and using your hands, pinch off about a tablespoon of dough and roll into a ball. Press each ball with a fork and repeat, spacing each cookie about 2 inches apart. Sprinkle with demerara sugar and bake for 10-12 minutes or until the undersides of the cookie are slightly golden. Cool on wire racks. Makes 18 cookies.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Sophie's Steakhouse


29-31 Wellington St
London
WC2E 7DB


Sophie's is another revisit. W took me to the one in Chelsea back when she used to live out there, and when she found out they opened one in Covent Garden, she invited me to try that one with her and W one night. It was delicious both times. When classmates suggested going there for our pre-Christmas dinner, I was definitely in.

Unfortunately, while the atmosphere was great and the seven of us had a great time celebrating the end of classes, my food was disappointing. I forgot how big the Sophie's in Covent Garden is, and I think they were just too packed and waiters were overwhelmed. It took ages to get our orders in and the food took a long time to arrive. When it finally showed up, all of it tasted of nothing. After liberally dousing the steak, chips and creamed spinach in salt, there was a bit of an improvement, but when I'm at a pretty expensive restaurant, I expect the food to taste good without a lot of doctoring. Sorbets (mango, pineapple and raspberry) were nice, but I think the next time I want a steak, I'll give Sophie's a pass.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Leon





73-76 Strand
London
WC2R 0DE

I first tried Leon back in 2006, late on a Sunday night, when I was starving and there was seemingly nowhere to eat around the office. I found out Leon was open, and dashing over there, I ended up with the scraps left over from their Sunday service - some cold falafels, a bit of sweet potato something-or-other, and some stale bits of bread. Big mistake - I thought it was all disgusting and avoided Leon from then on.  So today, when I came out of a meeting and saw a Leon across the street, I hesitated. But it keeps winning awards and I thought, maybe I should give it another chance, especially since I think Allegra McEvedy is great. Plus, R&S have the cookbook and made a delicious Leon Gobi for dinner a while back, so I knew Leon made at least one dish I liked. 

It's quite an efficient operation, a bit like fast food - you go up to the counter, order, and they hand you a prepackaged box of hot food or salads or a wrap. I tried the Moroccan Meatballs, described as lamb with Moroccan herbs and spices cooked down in a plum tomato sauce with aioli and a sprinkling of parsley and mint. There were also nuts sprinkled on top, as well as brown rice and coleslaw with cabbage, carrots, and peas (thankfully I could not detect any mayonnaise). The flavors were complex and quite delicious, with a lot of different and interesting textures, and it was nice to have a warm lunch that I could get instantaneously and eat in about half an hour. I think I've been converted.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Mushroom Risotto




This is a recipe adapted from Jamie's Italy - I think my favorite things about pastas and risottos is that you can often swap out some ingredients here and there and still end up with entirely delicious results. The fancy pants name in the book is risotto ai funghi e prezzemolo, which means roasted mushroom risotto with parsley. I more than doubled the mushroom content because I loooove them (and I think I could have still used more) and used oregano instead of thyme. I also used slightly less butter and more rice. Go make it!

Ingredients:

500g risotto rice
2 pints stock (I used turkey stock)
4 oz butter
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 ribs of celery, finely chopped
250ml dry white wine
500g chestnut mushrooms, washed and quartered (I'm sure other mushrooms would work as well, Jamie suggests wild mushrooms)
olive oil
salt and pepper
1 head of garlic, finely minced
1 small bunch of oregano, leaves picked
1 small bunch flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Parmesan cheese, for grating

Directions:


Use a pan that you can move from the stove straight into the oven. Turn on oven to 400F/200C. Pour a glug of olive oil into pan and add mushrooms. Let them brown and add salt and pepper. Then add all but about 2 cloves of minced garlic, the oregano and 1 tbsp butter to the pan, and pop it in the oven. Roast for 15-20 minutes, until mushrooms are cooked through. Set mushrooms aside.

In the same pan, add 2 tbsp olive oil and a knob of butter, and the onion, celery and rest of the garlic. Fry very gently over low heat for about 15 minutes without browning. When vegetables are soft, add rice and turn up the heat. The rice is now beginning to fry, so keep stirring it. It will start to look slightly translucent. Add the wine and keep stirring, letting the alcohol evaporate.

Once the wine has cooked into the rice, add a ladle of hot stock and a pinch of salt. Turn the heat down to a simmer. Keep adding ladles of stock while stirring the rice, allowing each ladle to be absorbed before adding the next. This should take arond 15 minutes. If there isn't enough stock, add boiling water.

Remove from heat and add a generous amount of grated Parmesan, and the parsley. Add about half of the mushrooms to the risotto along with the lemon juice and give it a stir. Then put a lid on the pot and let it sit for 2 minutes. It should now be very creamy - serve on plates with the extra mushrooms on top. Serve with grated Parmesan.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Three's a Crowd (Plums, Meringues and Cream)




Ok, this isn't really so much a recipe as three things thrown together in one bowl, but it was delicious so I'm writing about it anyway. I just chopped up three plums, broke three meringues into pieces over them, and then poured on three tablespoons of double cream. Not sure why three of everything worked out so well, but it did, so there you have it. 

Crab and Chili Pasta




Sometimes you just want a quick, light dinner, and this is the perfect recipe for it (tweaked from recipes I found here, here and here).

We happened to have all of the ingredients in the house, and it probably took less than 15 minutes from start to finish. It was a generous serving for two people, but we greedily finished it all very quickly.

Ingredients:

350g tagliatelle (or other long, thin pasta)
1 medium red chili
3
cloves garlic
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 wedges of lemon (optional)
1 handful chopped parsley
170g tin of white crab meat in brine (though I bet fresh crab would be even more excellent)
olive oil

Directions:

Put tagliatelle in a pot of salted, boiling water.

Mince garlic and chili finely, then gently fry over low heat in about 3 tablespoons of olive oil until just turning golden. Add the lemon juice and stir.

Once tagliatelle is tender, drain and add it to the pan with the garlic, chili and lemon juice. Turn up the heat a bit, and add crab and mix well to heat through the crab and coat the pasta. Add a little more olive oil if it seems dry and add the parsley and salt to taste. Serve with additional lemon wedges (optional).

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Mince Pies




We were out in Berkhamsted visiting G and C and new baby L, and once we heard that they were doing the village Christmas lights we headed out to the main street to have a look. Of course, we were immediately distracted by a stand selling mince pies, mulled wine and hot chocolate. I didn't think I liked mince pies, and after this one, I still don't like them - I think it's the raisins and sultanas, both of which I'm not fond of. Anyway, A said they were pretty good for mince pies - they were served slightly warm which helped - though the pastry was a little thick. Has anyone heard of mince pies with no raisins and sultanas?

Meringues



Due to having two egg whites in the fridge, I decided to try my hand at meringues since I've always heard that they're incredibly easy to make. Unfortunately I didn't have the special kinds of sugar on hand (caster and icing) so I tried it with plain old granulated sugar. This may explain why the instructions didn't make sense when I was beating everything together - I never saw "snow drifts" and I think my mixture was a bit less stiff than it should be. Oops. They still taste ok though.

Ultimate meringues (adapted from BBC Good Food)
Ingredients

2 medium egg whites
115g sugar

Directions

Preheat the oven to fan 100C/ conventional 110C/gas 1⁄4. Line 2 baking sheets with non-stick parchment paper (meringue can stick on greaseproof paper and foil).

Tip the egg whites into a large clean mixing bowl (not plastic). Beat them on medium speed with an electric hand whisk until the mixture resembles a fluffy cloud and stands up in stiff peaks when the blades are lifted.

Now turn the speed up and start to add the caster sugar, a little at a time. Continue beating for 3-4 seconds between each addition. It's important to add the sugar slowly at this stage as it helps prevent the meringue from weeping later. However, don't over-beat. When ready, the mixture should be thick and glossy.

Sift a third of the icing sugar over the mixture, then gently fold it in with a big metal spoon or rubber spatula. Continue to sift and fold in the icing sugar a third at a time. Again, don't over-mix. The mixture should now look smooth and billowy, almost like a snow drift.

Scoop up a heaped dessertspoonful of the mixture. Drop rough rounds onto parchment paper. Bake for 1 1⁄2-1 3⁄4 hours in a fan oven, 1 1⁄4 hours in a conventional or gas oven, until the meringues sound crisp when tapped underneath and are a pale coffee colour. Leave to cool on the trays or a cooling rack. (The meringues will now keep in an airtight tin for up to 2 weeks, or frozen for a month.) Serve two meringues sandwiched together with a generous dollop of softly whipped double cream.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Crème Fraîche Clouds

I had a tub of crème fraîche leftover from Thanksgiving in the fridge, and after some quick Googling, I found this recipe for crème fraîche clouds. I swapped allspice for nutmeg and butter for shortening since I didn't have any nutmeg or shortening at home. I used heaping teaspoons of dough rather than tablespoons and found that it made 3 dozen rather than 2 dozen cookies. These are very tender, almost cake-like cookies (though I wonder if this has anything to do with the fact that I subbed butter for shortening). The bit of spice gives it a nice flavor that makes it more interesting than a plain vanilla cookie. My sprinkles are ugly though (why would you sell white, yellow, green and pink sprinkles all jumbled together? Makes the cookies look diseased.)

Crème Fraîche Clouds (adapted from My Husband Cooks)
Yield: 3 dozen cookies

Ingredients:

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp salt
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup crème fraîche
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract


Directions:


1. Preheat your oven to 180C (350F).
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients.
3. In a large bowl or mixer, cream together the sugar, crème fraîche and butter for about 3 min on medium speed. (NOTE: After each step, you should scrape down the sides of the bowl using a spatula or spoon to ensure that all of the ingredients are being integrated into the dough.)
4. Add the eggs and continue to mix until the mixture takes on a soft yellow hue and the eggs are completely distributed.
5. Add the vanilla and mix for about 30 seconds or until the vanilla is completely distributed.
6. Slowly add the dry ingredients to the mix. If you are using a mixer, use low speed while adding the dry ingredients. Continue to mix until the dough is uniform.
7. Cover a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
8. Using a cookie scoop or spoon, place about 9 cookies on the sheet (each cookie is a heaped teaspoon of dough). Top each cookie with a bit of sugar or sprinkles. Place in the over and bake for 13-15 min. What you are looking for a brown ring along the base of the cookie and the top to have just a subtle browning.
9. Let cool for about 5 min. Eat immediately, or cover in an air tight container. They are good warm from the oven or at room temperature.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Spanish Feast

As we were leaving Laguardia, A and I couldn't help but pick up some jamon, chorizo and manchego so that we could recreate a Spanish feast when we got home. We managed to restrain ourselves for a few weeks, but finally we picked a date to crack open a precious bottle of Rioja and stuff ourselves silly with the bounty we had carried back with us. These all came from a carniceria (there were at least three different ones I saw in Laguardia, which is pretty remarkable for such a tiny town). Jamon was nice and fatty, with that lovely nutty acorn flavor you get from Spanish ham, and the chorizo was full flavored as well, though some slices were a little too fatty for our tastes. We think the manchego must have been a younger one as it had a more subtle taste than we expected. Still, I thoroughly enjoyed myself and am looking forward to feast part two with the remainder of the treats!

Jerusalem Bar and Kitchen


33-34 Rathbone Place
London
W1T 1JN

This is certainly the closest place to J's work that we've eaten lunch at so far. It's hidden since you have to go downstairs from street level, but inside it is cute and pub-like, with a well-priced lunch menu. I had a lamb burger with tzatziki, while J had a cheeseburger, and they were only 5.50 each, including chips. I liked my burger - the meat was well seasoned and the lettuce and tomato were fresh. The lightly toasted bun was pretty soaked through by the end, so perhaps it could be a little more robust. Chips were a strange mixture of soggy and crisp, so I would advise just sticking to the crunchy ones and leaving the rest. I'd be interested in trying something else on the menu next time.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Rodizio Rico


77-78 Upper Street
London
N1 0NU

*Guest post by Fred*

The all-you-can-eat buffet is, for the most part, a godless, shameful institution in which humanity is reduced to its most base, primitive state, all in the name of vast troughs of indiscriminate cuts of mechanically recovered meat, disease-ridden salads and vast swathes of unidentifiable nuggets of fried golden chaff.

Islington’s Brazilian churrascaria, Rodizio Rico, attempts to add a little more culinary integrity to proceedings with their PETA-baiting smorgasbord of roasted animals. Seriously, if you’re a vegetarian, there is nothing for you here. Masala Zone next door should do you a nice bowl of lentils though.

Here’s how it works: you’re sat down at your table and each given a laminated card. One side is green, meaning ‘bring it on’, the other is red, signifying that your oesophagus is so backed up with masticated cow that you can barely breathe. As long as you’re offering waiters the green light, there’ll proceed to present you with skewer after skewer of roasted meat, from which they carve off a chunk onto your plate. I didn’t check, but one can only imagine they’re housing Noah’s Ark out back, because they literally offer you every single beast known to man. There are about 17 different cuts of beef to choose from (our favourite: the fillet steak brazenly marbled with melted cheese), roast lamb, Brazilian sausage, pork ribs, ham, pork loin, chicken wrapped in bacon, chicken wings and chicken hearts (every bit as vile as you’d imagine), to name but a few.

For the most part, the meat was excellently cooked. The beef was nice and pink in the middle and there were pleasingly spicy crusts on most of the cuts. In fact, it was hard to fault the quantity and quality of meat on offer. Seeing as that’s the restaurant raison d’etre, that’s a pretty resounding endorsement. However, the same couldn’t be said for the salad bar, which reverted to depressing ‘feeding time at the swine farm’ type. Lettuce leaves were brown around the edges, chips were cold, coleslaws were overly mayonnaisey and there was a surplus of horrid breaded objects that defied digestion. There was plenty to choose from at least (including an incongruous, unwanted vat of lasagne) - management clearly wanted you to fill up on this bland fodder to keep your flesh eating to a minimum. Don’t rise to the bait. Eat the meat. That’s why you here, so don’t lie to yourself and fill your plate with saggy mounds of tasteless vegetables to disguise your revolting carnivorous excess.

This is a ‘once a year’ experience. You’ll do some awful things to your cholesterol levels and put your colon in serious peril, but there’s no denying that it does roasted meat very well indeed. At £22.50 a head, it’s not cheap either, especially when you throw in the slightly surly service, but if you’re in the market for cooked flesh, Rodizio Rico comes heartily recommended.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

The Diner


21 Essex Road
London
N1 2SA

*Guest post by Andy*

I'm not saying this is authentic Stateside diner food - it's way too expensive and the service a little ramshackle to measure up to the high-velocity calorific exuberance that is my experience of American eating - but it's a damn good try. The burgers are substantial, the fries crispy, and the milkshakes reassuringly concrete in texture (although, aren't they a little smaller than they were a few months back?).

I opted for a California Burger, with monterey jack cheese and guacamole, just as I did last time, and the time before (why take the risk?). When you ask for medium rare, they give you medium rare, in a pink way. It was washed down, so to speak, with a booze-fuelled "hard shake" (read more here) followed by a softer pistachio shake.

I love this place. The red leathery booths and friendly waitresses warm the cockles, and you don't even have to ask for napkins. A welcome addition to London, although if you're forced to choose, go to the Shoreditch one instead.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Creamy Mushroom Pate

I was looking for something to serve as a snack before Thanksgiving dinner and remembered some amazing mushroom pate we bought a few months ago. A quick search on the internet uncovered this recipe - it's different from the one I had bought, but delicious anyway. It's very very creamy, and I bet it would taste great with a variety of mushrooms, but it was yummy with plain white button mushrooms as well.

Adapted from 100 Best Vegetarian Recipes by Carol Gelles.

Ingredients

2 tablespoons butter
1 small onion, minced
500g button mushrooms, finely chopped
1/2 cup finely chopped parsley
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
One 8-ounce package cream cheese
3 tablespoons heavy cream

Procedure

1. Melt the butter in a medium skillet over medium-high heat.
2. Add the onions; cook, stirring, until softened, about 1 minute. Add the mushrooms; cook, stirring until softened, about 5 minutes. Continue cooking until any mushroom liquid has evaporated. Stir in the parsley and thyme; cook, stirring, 30 seconds.
3. Remove from the heat. Stir in the cream cheese and heavy cream until melted and completely combined. Chill.

Brett's Baked Cheesecake


*Guest post by Andy*

I've always liked cheesecake, but since I tried the New York variety for the first time a few short years ago my fondness has developed into more of a fixation. I remember being blown away by the sheer density of the thing, which left the inferior English version, on which I was raised, resembling gelatinous infant food. Since then it's been baked or nothing. I know it's bad for you, which probably adds to the appeal, but there's something irresistible about that contrast/balance between sweet and cheese, fluffy filling and biscuit base. One of my favourite things, when I'm lucky enough to visit New York, is to head to Junior's in Grand Central Station for a cup of coffee and an unseemly large slice of their plain cheesecake. But for the rest of the time I turn to my friend Brett, who manages to combine exquisite baking with a prodigious, almost industrial, production rate. Which is why over the past couple of years I must have sampled at least nine of his baked cheesecakes, at dinners, parties and picnics, and variously featuring chocolate, berries, and even a kiwi fruit. Last weekend it was lemon and raspberry, and it tasted damn fine as usual, even though I probably prefer plain. A recipe request for blogging purposes, however, was not forthcoming. Rest assured I shall not rest until the secret's out.

Update: The recipe has been revealed!

Ingredients

For Base:
200g crushed (in a food processor) digestives
100g melted butter

For Cheesecake Filling:
400-500g full fat soft cheese
250g marscapone
2 eggs
8oz caster sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla essence

Directions:

Mix digestives and butter together to make the base and press into the base of your springform tin to form an even layer. Put it in the fridge to chill and firm up.

Then make the filling. Mix all the ingredients thoroughly with a whisk until all the lumps have gone. Then pour it on top of the base and put it in the oven at 190C for an hour. You can add lemon or lime to the cheese mix if you like, and top with whatever you like afterwards.