Monday, December 20, 2010

Amaretti Biscuits


My (male) boss at work brought these in one day and I loved them so much I asked for the recipe. Here it is:


Amaretti Biscuits

Beaten egg whites (4), caster sugar (300g), ground almonds (250g), amaretto (a big glug). Fold it together and bake for 15 minutes at 180C.

My version is slightly tweaked. I beat the egg whites with a tsp of cream of tartar to help them stay foamy. Once they formed soft peaks, I added the caster sugar and continued to beat until they were smooth and glossy. Ground almonds were folded in, along with 1 tsp of almond extract as I was out of amaretto. The first batch I baked for 15 minutes but they colored a bit more than I liked, so I adjusted the baking time to 12-13 minutes instead, so the centers of the biscuits are still a bit chewy. 

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Banana & Chocolate Muffins


I was watching old episodes of Nigel Slater's Simple Suppers on BBC iPlayer when he started making this banana chocolate cake in order to use up old bananas. Hmm, I thought. There were four gross old bananas on the counter that I wanted to turn into something else so I wouldn't have to look at them any more. Perfect. They're a little naughty for breakfast, but what do I care? I don't even eat bananas.

Banana and Chocolate Muffins
Adapted from Nigel Slater's Simple Suppers

Ingredients

175g butter, melted
175g sugar
2 large eggs
4 overripe bananas, mashed
175g flour (I used 75g whole wheat flour and 100g plain flour)
100g semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 tsp vanilla extract (I totally forgot to put this in, oops)

Method

Heat oven to 180C. Beat butter and sugar together. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, and then mix in the bananas. Add the vanilla (if you remember to). Add the flour to this and mix to combine (do not overmix). Fold in the chocolate chips and then spoon into a greased muffin tin. Bake at 180C for 25 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the middle of a muffin comes out clean.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Turkey Noodle Soup


Poor A was feeling under the weather after Thanksgiving. Luckily, I had rescued the carcass of the turkey from J & D's house and I put it to use, making a soup that had A back on his feet in no time at all!

Turkey Noodle Soup

Ingredients

1 turkey carcass
4 star anise
1/4 Sichuan peppercorns
1 onion, diced
3 carrots, diced
3 stalks of celery, diced
1 cup frozen peas
1 cup frozen corn
200g dried pasta (I used farfalle)

Method

Pick all the turkey meat off the carcass (I ended up with about 2 cups of meat). Break the carcass into pieces small enough to put it in a large pot and cover with water. Add star anise and Sichuan peppercorns to the pot, and bring it to the boil. Lower heat to a simmer and cook for 2 hours. Strain out all the solids and discard, and put the broth back into the pot. Add salt and pepper to taste (be quite generous with the salt, as you're adding vegetables and pasta to this).

Add all of the vegetables to the pot and simmer for 15 minutes. In the meantime, dice all the turkey meat. Add pasta and turkey meat to the pot and cook for another 10 minutes. Taste the pasta for doneness and adjust any seasonings. Serve.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Chocolate Cashew Toffee


I've never made candy before but this simple recipe is the perfect place to start. I was looking for something easy to make that would be pretty in gift bags for the holidays, and since I had all the ingredients readily available, I gave this a test run. It passed, and will be included in my secret Santa gift at work next week!

Chocolate Cashew Toffee

Adapted from The Kitchn's Skillet Toffee

Ingredients

1 pound (450g) salted butter
2 cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
4 handfuls of good quality semi-sweet chocolate, chopped or in chips
200g cashews, toasted (other nuts would probably work well too)

Method

Line the bottom and sides of a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large heavy pot (I used my Dutch oven), melt the butter over medium high heat. As the butter melts, stir in the sugar. Continue stirring constantly and rapidly with a wooden spoon. The mixture should bubble as you stir. Cook until the mixture turns a deep golden brown, taking care not to burn it. (Note: I tried to be clever and made a half batch of this - it was a terrible idea and the toffee burnt very quickly. I think the full amount makes it cook at a speed where it is much easier to get it to come together without burning it.) When it is ready, it should look like a smooth mixture with no separated butter fats, and it will be around 300F. If you take a small amount and put it in cool water, it will harden. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla.

Pour the mixture into the lined baking sheet. Allow to cool slightly, about 5 minutes, then sprinkle the mixture with the chocolate. When the chocolate looks glossy, spread it with an offset cake spatula or a wooden spatula, and sprinkle with the nuts. Gently press the nuts into the chocolate with the palms of your hands.

Cool completely (I stuck mine in the fridge for a while) then break the toffee into chunks.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Pierre Herme Macarons


Pierre Hermé, London
Foodhall, Ground Floor, Selfridges
400 Oxford Street
London
W1A 1AB

A visit from N and J meant tramping around our old semester abroad neighbourhood, conveniently located next to Selfridges. J was picking up fancy English teas for his parents, while I headed straight for the 
Pierre Hermé counter to try some macarons. They're certainly not cheap - but they are worth it for a treat, and anyway, sometimes you enjoy things that come in limited quantities more, right? Above are a salted caramel, dark chocolate and green tea macaron. Salted caramel blew the others out of the water, and we nibbled away happily. It was the perfect tiny sweet to follow a gargantuan meal at Mangal Ocakbasi - from cheap and cheerful to luxury in no time at all.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Wine Show and Masterchef Live




I admit, I've been a little remiss lately with writing things up - I'm still eating loads of wonderful things but finding the time and willpower to document them is a whole other matter. Anyhoo, I was lucky enough to win a pair of tickets to The Wine Show and Masterchef Live through Unearthed Foods, so P bought a ticket as well and joined me and A for a Sunday full of ridiculous eating and drinking. Many things were consumed, but the outstanding items for me were the sea bass with chorizo dish that Jose Pisarro made at the Campo Viejo Tapas Time stall, and the arancini in the bottom picture which were crisp little rice and cheese bombs that I couldn't get enough of. A really liked some salt-spiked dark chocolate from Cornwall, but it wasn't really to my taste, and we had some decent food at the stalls in the middle of the hall where you bought little coins to exchange for small plates, but like I said - the two pictures above are what I still remember clearly, which says something.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Yuforia Soup Kitchen


Covent Garden Piazza
Southeast corner

Living Social was doing a deal on Yuforia Soup Kitchen's soups - you could get 5 meals for £12, which works out to a very reasonable £2.40 for soup and bread. With the wintry weather we've been enduring in London, soup is often exactly what I'm looking for at lunch time, so I bought a voucher to give Yuforia Soup Kitchen a try. The soup is actually made by a company called GLORIOUS! (which makes me want to snark on them a little, because I detest names for companies that are such ridiculous overstatements), but thankfully their soups are actually quite good. So far I've had the tomato & chorizo (which also had thickening lentils in it, perfect for keeping you full through the afternoon) and the Malaysian chicken pictured above in a bread bowl. I adore bread bowls for soup - you get something to dip in the soup, and then you get to eat the soup, and then you get to eat more soup-soaked bread - it's like the dish that keeps on giving. The only thing that could make this perfect is if they had some clam chowder on the menu, so I could transport myself back to San Francisco in my tummy.

Friday, November 26, 2010

The Cricketers


Cricket Hill Lane
Yateley
GU46 6BA


The Cricketers was helpfully located a short distance away from the M3 on our drive back to London, so it was chosen for a Sunday lunch gathering before the last leg of our return. Considering the dire state of the three pubs that we popped into and rejected before finding The Cricketers, it didn't really need to be all that nice for us to pick it, but thankfully it was actually quite lovely inside, with friendly staff and sturdy tables that fit seven hungry guests well. I had very ordinary scampi and chips, and was quite jealous of W's Sunday roast wrap (a huge flat Yorkshire pudding wrapped around roast beef, peas and mash, with a boat of gravy on the side). The real star of the meal was the dessert board though - see above for the ridiculous selection that arrived. The cheesecake was some of the best I've had in England (I know! I was surprised too!) Hilariously, when Googling to get the address of the pub for this post, I also discovered it was the site of an robbery, complete with machetes, in September - thankfully nothing that exciting happened while we were there.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Lyme Bay Kitchen and Bar


44/45 Coombe Street
Lyme Regis
Dorset
DT7 3PY

Since the rest of the Lyme Regis gang had been to Lyme Bay Kitchen and Bar in May and loved it, we came back for B's birthday dinner. It was a roaring success again (and apologies to the rest of the diners if our rowdy group of seven was literally roaring in glee in our corner). K, W and I decided to split starters so that we could try a few more things. The whitebait pictured above was my favorite by far - I think I have enjoyed whitebait every time I have ordered it, so perhaps I need to keep an eye out for it more often. We also had a slow roasted red pepper starter (filled with goat’s cheese, black olives, sundried tomatoes and pine nuts topped with parmesan) that was nice but I was much more focused on stuffing whitebait in my mouth. For my main, I went with W's recommendation and had the Tagliatelle Louis (tiger prawns, bacon, spring onions, tomato, white wine, garlic, chilli topped with langoustine and lemon). Perfectly al dente pasta, coated in seafoody garlicky chilli juices was scarfed down - the large portion size meant that I was so full afterwards that I couldn't manage any dessert. I believe we were drinking copious bottles of house red, which was quaffable, and all I know is that we plunged into the rather cold night full of cheer - exactly how B's birthday celebrations should be.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Rosa's



48 Dean Street
London
W1D 5BF

Rosa's started with a branch in Spitalfields and has now expanded to Soho. J, M, A and I were meeting up for dinner before seeing Josie Long at the Soho Theatre, and our original plans were to go for Vietnamese across the street, but Rosa's looked so warm and inviting that we spontaneously seized the moment and went there instead. We shared some Thai calamari and poo nim thai herb (deep fried soft shell crab) to start - both were well fried, crisp but not grea
sy, and got us ready for our mains. I chose a bizarre dish just because it sounded rather intriguing - Spaghetti Khee Maow Ta Lae (stir-fried spaghetti with seafood, chilli, garlic and basil). It was lovely - spicy flavors balanced nicely against savoury seafood-infused spaghetti - and it makes me think I can use spaghetti at home for more than Italian food. A enjoyed his pad thai, and J and M seemed to like what they ordered as well, so all in all, a success. If I was looking for Thai in Soho, I'd go here again.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Hawksmoor



11 Langley Street
London
WC2H 9JG

As soon as I found out Hawksmoor was opening their second branch in Covent Garden, I knew I had to visit. This was my favorite steakhouse, back when I worked in the City, and now it's a quick walk from my new job! The announcement of 50% off food during their soft opening clinched the deal - I used all my powers on Facebook and Twitter to guarantee that A and I had a reservation for a steak-fest. 

We went on a Tuesday night and entered a restaurant that looks like a temple to meat - dark woods and leathers and soft, dim lighting gave it a very masculine atmosphere that suited the fact that everyone was there to eat giant slabs of cow. I had one minor gripe about the meal, and that is the table at which we were sat - they've put all these dinky tables for two people against one wall, so one person gets to sit on the leather banquette seat facing the room, and the other person gets a view of their dining partner and a brick wall. They're really packed in tight, so it felt uncomfortably close to the couple next to us, and when the dishes all arrived, there wasn't really enough room for everything. 
Aside from being a bit cramped, though, the dinner was fantastic. Six briny fresh oysters to start, followed by a 950g porterhouse, triple cooked chips, steamed spinach and grilled portobello mushrooms. I think perhaps the steak was too large to eat quickly enough before it cooled off, but that is my own greedy fault for ordering that much steak for two people. Not to worry, we finished it anyway, with a nice Rioja to wash it down. After staggering away from our table, we stopped in the bar for what was supposed to be a single after dinner drink, which turned into two  and a chat with Shaky Pete, Hawksmoor's bartender extraordinaire. 
Next time, I shall ask for a large table to accommodate all the food I plan on ordering, and then it will be perfect.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Rules


35 Maiden Ln
London
WC2E 7

Rules was the location of one of our big blowout dinners for 2010. A and I have both made some career changes, and it was time to celebrate! After terrific drinks upstairs in the bar, we headed downstairs to feast. Rules is famed for their selection of game, and they actually have their own estate on which they hunt the grouse that is served in the restaurant. Since I have always wanted to try grouse, where better to have my first taste, right? The magnificent bird in the picture is what appeared - two strips of crispy bacon draped on top, with a great cabbage and bacon side on the left, and game chips on the right. A small boat of bread sauce was available as well, which went perfectly with the gamey and rare bird. Thank goodness I was eating with A - it meant I could ignore all good table manners and start destroying the bird down to the bones. My napkin was covered in bloody grouse juices by the end of the meal and I'm pretty sure I had a look of complete bliss on my face - this is one of my top meals in London, ever. A was seriously enjoying his ribeye steak as well - I have a feeling it won't be hard to convince him to come back the next time we want to celebrate something big.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Zizzi's


20 Bow Street

London
WC2E 7AW

With most of the office away, those of us left behind went for a lunch at Zizzi to console ourselves. There was a deal - buy one meal, get the second one for 
£1 extra. This worked out to a very reasonable £7.50 a head after service was included. But, you say, how was the food? Well, I guess it was as expected - I had the calzone displayed above - it was ridiculously large, and while it was supposed to be spicy, instead of evenly distributed heat, there were small bombs of fiery jalapeno slices in there that you would occasionally get. I certainly felt unable to eat for another 8 hours after the meal, so it did its job - I think next time I would opt for a more reasonable pasta dish though as this was just a bit too much to handle for lunch. Fine for a chain that offers vouchers for its food, but certainly not anything special.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Norway Inn



Perranwharf
Perranarworthal
Truro
Cornwall
TR3 7NU

The Norway Inn was on our way back to London so it made the ideal spot for Sunday lunch before heading home. We had booked (thank goodness) so were quickly seated, and while A and his dad had already decided to go with the Sunday carvery option, A's mom and I ordered off the extensive menu. I definitely suffered from food envy when my dish came out - the slightly dried-out looking steak with a sad little fried egg is what showed up, though the colcannon on the side was pretty good. A's massive Sunday roast definitely was the right choice, even if the picture is a little horrifying - I kept sneaking bites of the cauliflower gratin and the roast potatoes were fantastically crispy. A was also given a choice between the rare and medium beef, and picked the rare which was lovely and pink and tender. If we ever head back, I know what I'm going to get next time!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Street Kitchen


Street food is all the rage, as I've noted before, and even fine dining chefs are getting in on the action. Lucky for me, Street Kitchen was located in Covent Garden for a little while, meaning I could try them out on my lunch break. The excellent chefs (Jun Tanaka and Mark Jankel) behind this operation want to bring well-sourced, gourmet food to the streets and I think they have succeeded. I tried the hot smoked salmon with beetroot, crushed potato and horseradish, which came in an environmentally friendly cardboard box with wooden utensils, rather than the usual styrofoam and plastic. It was a modest portion for £6.50, but every bite was so delicious that I didn't mind and it was still enough for lunch - I'd much rather spend money on good food than buy large portions of terrible food. The care that the chefs were taking with constructing each lunch box was lovely to see and I hope this encourages more people to take to the streets for their food.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Tuna Crostini


So I admit that I probably chose the easiest recipe in Jason Atherton's Gourmet Food for a Fiver to try first. But come on, I'm no chef, and sometimes when I get home from work I just want to eat something quick and tasty. We should all be thankful that there even is an easy recipe in this book, seeing as how he's a Michelin-starred chef. The brilliant thing about this recipe though is that it is better than what I would normally make on a lazy night, without being any more difficult. I've mixed tuna, beans and parsley together before, but little extra touches like marinated artichoke hearts and sun-dried tomatoes add bursts of additional flavor that make this really interesting to eat. I was also lucky in that I had some fresh seeded wholemeal bread at home, which made an excellent base for the crostini. While I ate my quick dinner, I read through the other recipes in the book, tabbing the ones that caught my eye, and now I've got loads more ideas to try...

Tuna Crostini
From Gourmet Food for a Fiver by Jason Atherton
Serves 4 as a starter or very light meal

Ingredients

100g tinned tuna in olive oil
6 marinated artichoke hearts, halved (I used a jar of marinated, quartered artichoke hearts)
150g tinned canneloni beans (I used a tin of borlotti beans that I already had)
2 tsp chopped parsley (I used a bit more, I love parsley)
2 tsp chopped shallots (I omitted due to miscalculations on how many shallots I had)
6 sun-blushed tomatoes, halved (I used jarred, sun-dried tomatoes)
4 slices of country bread (I used my seeded wholemeal bread)
4 tbsp Aioli (I omitted)
handful of rocket leaves
sea salt
olive oil, to drizzle (I didn't think it needed more as tuna, artichokes and sun-dried tomatoes were all packed in olive oil)

Method

Flake tuna into a bowl. Add artichoke hearts, beans, tomatoes, parsley and shallots and toss together.

Toast the bread.

Spread each slice of toast with aioli and place on serving plate. Pile tuna mixture on top and scatter over rocket leaves. Sprinkle with sea salt and add a generous drizzle of olive oil.

*Thanks to Quadrille for sending me a copy to review.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Tangy Chickpea Curry & Bengali Yogurt Fish


Ok, let's be honest - I've always been a little intimidated by recipes for Indian food, probably due to the many spices that are required. However, I like to tackle my fears, and ever since a blissful week eating my friend V's mom's homecooked Indian food several years ago, I've wanted to try and make some at home myself. There's a different quality to homecooked food that you just can't get in restaurants, no matter how good they are. Thankfully, Anjum Anand, author of I Love Curry, has come to the rescue with a book full of curry recipes that are done with a lighter touch on the oil. While it was hard to pick which recipes to try first, I went with a couple that wouldn't require me to purchase too many new things to start off with. Both came out wonderfully - the spicing was distinctly different and flavors were delicate yet full - not like the takeaway curries I've had before. I can't wait to try out more, and while I'm writing out the recipe for the Tangy Chickpea Curry here, if you're interested in trying out more Indian dishes at home, get this book.

Tangy Chickpea Curry
From I Love Curry by Anjum Anand
Serves 4-5

Ingredients

12g fresh ginger, peeled
4 fat garlic cloves
2 largish tomatoes, quartered (I used 3 smallish ones)
5-6 tbsp vegetable oil (I used slightly less than 5)
4 cloves
4 green cardamom pods
1 black cardamom pod (I didn't have this so just used an extra green cardamom pod)
2 large shards of cinnamon
2 tsp cumin seeds (I used ground as I didn't have whole seeds)
2-3 green chillies, whole but pierced (I used 2 birds eye chillies since that's what I had)
1 onion, finely chopped
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 tbsp ground coriander
1/4 - 1/2 tsp chilli powder (I used closer to 1/4 tsp due to the birds eye chillies)
salt, to taste
2 x 400g cans of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 1/4 tsp garam masala
1/2 -2/3 tsp tamarind paste, or dried pomegranate powder (sadly I had to omit this as I didn't have it)
handful of finely chopped fresh coriander

Method

Blend together the ginger, garlic and tomatoes with a little water until smooth with a stick blender. Set aside.

Heat the oil in a large saucepan. Add the cloves, cardamom pods, cinnamon and half the cumin seeds and cook until they release their aroma and start to crackle. Add the green chillies and onion and cook until the onion is well browned. Add the tomato paste with the turmeric, ground coriander, chilli powder and salt and cook over a moderate to high heat until the oil comes out at the sides (around 15 minutes), stirring often.

Meanwhile, use the remaining cumin seeds to make roasted cumin powder. Put them in a small dry pan for about 40 seconds, stirring constantly, until they have darkened quite a bit. Grind to a fine powder. Add this to the pot.

Add the chickpeas and 500ml water. Bring to a boil then simmer over a medium heat for seven or eight minutes. Stir in the garam masala and tamarind paste. Mash a few of the chickpeas on the side of the pan to thicken the sauce a little. Taste for seasoning and tartness, adjusting if necessary, then sprinkle with the chopped coriander and serve.

*Thanks to Quadrille for sending me a copy to review.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Assa


53 St. Giles High Street
London
WC2H 8LH

J and I had a craving for Korean food and I stumbled upon Assa when looking for places around Tottenham Court Road. We arranged to meet there on the early side for lunch, and that was smart - it's a small restaurant that fills up very quickly! When we left, there were quite a few people waiting outside for their chance at a table. The lunch specials are pretty great value - around £5.50 for a meal that comes with a couple of banchan (we were given bean sprouts and a really tangy seaweed dish). The only flaw in the meal is that I think the kitchen forgot about my dish - J had her lunch for about 15 minutes before I finally asked where my food was. The waiter was apologetic and my dish appeared 5 minutes later, but it was a bit odd getting my food when J had almost finished hers! Still, once I had my spicy tofu stew in front of me, I didn't really care so much about the wait - it was savory and warming and full of flavor - I shall be back, and I will keep a closer eye on getting my food next time.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Oliver's Fish and Chips


95 Haverstock Hill
London
NW3 4RL


Oliver's Fish and Chips
is a cute little chippy in Belsize Park - apparently it was founded by the same people who started Millie's Cookies. The inside is well-lit and cheerful, and W and I were seated quickly. About 15 minutes later, the restaurant was heaving and there was a line out the door for takeout, so it looks like people in the neighborhood are pretty excited about it. We both opted for matzo-encrusted hake with side of chips, and were pleased with how fresh the fish tasted. The matzo option was a nice change from batter as well. The side of mushy peas were flecked with mint, prices were reasonable and service was pretty efficient - all in all, a nice place to eat locally if you are lucky enough to live in this area.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Herman ze German


19 Villiers Street
London
WC2N 6NE

P had the marvellous idea of getting currywurst one night - thankfully for currywurst lovers, Herman ze German has opened up close to Charing Cross/Embankment. It's a small space with hardly any room for eating - you can stand next to a thin counter on the wall or try and snag the bench outside - but currywurst isn't really sit down dining food anyway. The key to loving this is loving currywurst sauce - it drenches the sausage (your choice of several different types, I went with bratwurst) and a lot of the fries as well - so you better like the tangy, sort of ketchupy-spiked-with-curry-powder taste of it, or this would be a terrible meal for you. Thankfully, I am a big fan and P and I happily gobbled up our portions before venturing off for more drinks.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Mien Tay


122 Kingsland Road
London
E2 8DP

After attending my first (and probably last) Pilates session with C, we decided to reward ourselves with some light and fresh Vietnamese food. Mien Tay had been recommended by some other friends so we found ourselves inside, looking over a menu that had surprises like goat on it. My curiosity piqued, I had to try the chargrilled goat for lunch, along with some stir fried morning glory on the side for my greens quota. C went with the more traditional pho, which she enjoyed. The goat was surprisingly tender and had a lovely smoky aroma to it - the pickled carrots on the side were fantastic for cutting through the meaty taste as well. And morning glory will always be one of my all time favorite Asian vegetables - I should really make it more often at home. Add Mien Tay to the list of fabulous Vietnamese restaurants on Kingsland Road!

Monday, November 01, 2010

Hotel Chocolat


Hotel Chocolat kindly sent me a box of their Christmas Dark Chocolate selection to try, so I brought them along on a weekend with friends to work our way through all of them. I'm probably a bit biased since I love dark chocolates, but seven of us greedily ate the entire thing in two days. There were a lot of sounds of enjoyment, particularly in relation to the rum and single malt flavored chocolates. Apparently they're very lovely with a drop of Talisker, so my whisky-loving friends tell me. My favorite was the one with a gooey salted caramel center. I thought the chilli chocolates could have been a bit more fiery, but they might be good for someone who was just being introduced to the brilliant combo of spice and chocolate. I used to pick up Hotel Chocolat products as Christmas presents for people at work - they're packaged nicely and always seemed to go over well, so it was fun to finally try some myself. 

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Camino


3 Varnishers Yard
The Regent Quarter
Kings Cross, London
N1 9FD

P and I have been trying to go to Bar Pepito, the sherry bar next to Camino, for ages. Alas, when we made a Monday night date, we found out that Bar Pepito is closed on Mondays. We consoled ourselves with a sherry at Camino instead, but I'm sure we'll be back on a non-Monday to try some more. The nice thing about Camino is that it's a restaurant as well, though, so we settled in for some tapas feasting. After greedily ordering chorizo, txigorki, arroz negro con calamares, fritos mixtos and some lamb skewers, we started in on a lovely bottle of tempranillo. I think this arroz negro was my favorite - everything was well done, though the chorizo was a wee bit too greasy and salty. The danger with tapas is that the cost adds up quite quickly - still, for an evening with lovely company, Camino fit the bill.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Choc Star


The Choc Star van is one of several street food trucks getting raves from people - something about getting your food from a passionate cook on the move makes people go nuts. Since I was at the Towpath Festival, waiting for my burger from the Meatwagon, I figured I could spend some of my waiting time in the line for Choc Star as well. I was thinking about what could be wrapped up and saved for a post-burger sweet, so settled on their ultra dark brownie, which is as fudgy and decadent as it sounds. My only complaint is that the top of the brownie was quite dry - but aside from that minor flaw, the rest of it was smooth with a high quality deep chocolate taste. I'd like to try their ice creams if I ever run into them again.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Meatwagon


The Meatwagon has received quite frenzied attention among food-lovers in London. I made a mental note to try and find them somewhere in the depths of South London, where they are usually based, but never quite got my act together. While running along the canal, I was pleased to notice that they were making an appearance for the Towpath Festival, so I made sure to catch them while they were in my 'hood. A and I showed up on Sunday a little after noon, and the festival was clearly off to a slow start. The only guy around said that everyone got sh*tfaced Saturday night, so they probably wouldn't be up and running until after 2pm. We trudged home sadly, but I ventured out again around 4.30 to try once more, and got there in the nick of time to snag two of the last fifteen burgers of the day. I think I waited for about an hour and a half before my order was called? Then I quickly snapped a picture and shoved the burgers into my bag, racing home on my bike to make sure they were as fresh as possible. A and I chowed down on these and they were certainly excellent burgers, but I'm not sure I'd ever wait that long again (mainly because I don't really see the point in waiting that long for food). At 6 quid each, the bacon cheeseburgers were fairly priced for the quality of ingredients, and I'm glad I tried one - if they can get the wait down to 30 minutes I'll certainly think about trying another.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Le Saint Julien


62 - 63 Long Lane
London
EC1A 9EJ

J and I had tried to go here maybe two years ago - for whatever reason it didn't happen, so when we were picking a place to meet up recently, it resurfaced and was quickly chosen. A 50% off deal from Toptable was booked, and we headed off to have a decadent French meal. J chose better for her starter - the trout rillette with avocado mash was fantastic and a good balance of fresh seafood against the fatty avocado. I had the rillette of rabbit with mango chutney which was good, but much heavier than J's dish. For mains, J chose a Beaujolais style rabbit which came on a bed of incredibly buttery mash, while I had the pressed lamb with mustard crust served with white beans. You can't really tell how big the dish is in the picture above, but it was enormous - and so tasty I finished the entire thing, even though I probably shouldn't have. We were terribly full but couldn't resist some dessert, so we shared a chocolatey thing, I think (my memory is a bit hazy at this point). Point is, the cooking is good here, and with the Toptable deal, it is really good value as well.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Tom Yum Soup


A asked for me to try making Tom Yum Soup again (I made it a year ago but forgot to write down what I did, so had to try and cobble together a recipe again using the internet). I think it came out pretty well - I feel like the secret to this soup is to keep tasting and adjusting until you get the balance of sweet, sour, salty and hot that you want. So the recipe below is mostly a guideline rather than absolute measures.


Tom Yum Soup

Ingredients
4 cups stock (I had some pork bone stock, but chicken should be fine too)
3 sticks of freeze dried lemongrass (fresh would be better, I think)
1 large clove of garlic, minced
2 or 3 limes, halved
2 or 3 bird's eye chillies
3 tbsp fish sauce (and more to taste)
1 tbsp sugar
12 raw king prawns
1 skinless, boneless chicken breast, sliced thinly
1 red bell pepper, diced
2 tomatoes, diced
250g package of baby corn, cut into small pieces
handful of coriander, minced

Method

Bring stock to a simmer. Add lemongrass, garlic, 2 chillies and fish sauce. Squeeze lime juice into pan (start with two limes, then add more to taste if you want it more sour). Add sugar and taste again - if the broth needs to be more salty, add more fish sauce, if it needs more sweetness, add more sugar, if it isn't spicy enough, add more chillies. Add bell pepper, tomatoes and baby corn and cook for 20 minutes. Taste the soup again for balance of flavors and adjust appropriately. Add chicken and cook for 10 more minutes. Add prawns, cook until all prawns have turned pink, and take off the heat. Ladle into bowls and top with coriander.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Lu Rou Fan (Taiwanese Pork Belly)


I was doing some grocery shopping in Chinatown and couldn't resist picking up a piece of pork belly. I had seen this recipe a while ago and it stuck in my head - it's very similar to a dish my mom used to make and so once the craving struck, I had to obey. Chinese home cooking is definitely one of my favorites - it's delicious and brings back great memories at the same time.


Lu Rou Fan
Adapted from Food Mayhem


Ingredients

500g pork belly
2-inch chunk of ginger, peeled and sliced into rounds
1 star anise
2″ piece of cinnamon
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice wine
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons fried shallots
1/2 teaspoon Chinese 5 spice powder

Method

Dice pork belly into small pieces, no wider than 1/2 inch. Add pork belly to a large wok and start to fry over medium heat. Cook until all of the pieces are beginning to color.

Add soy sauce, rice wine and sugar. Add the ginger, star anise and cinnamon and two cups of water. Bring it to a boil. Boil for two minutes, then sprinkle fried shallots and 5 spice powder over the top and lower the heat to a simmer. Cover and cook for 1 hour. 

Serve over rice, with sauteed vegetables on the side to cut the richness a bit.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The John Peel


52 High St
Shaftesbury
SP7 8AA

Looking for a hearty breakfast after a night of camping and drinking to excess, we inquired about what was recommended in the area and The John Peel was top of the list for a good fry up. Off we went to Shaftesbury to go find this place, and it was not what I expected at all. Rather than greasy formica tables and cheap linoleum, the place was decorated in a bizarre, yet cute, almost hobbit-like way. The ceilings sloped in as if you were in a cave, and the tables were all tiny and had little metal lamps hanging above each one. We quickly placed orders for full breakfasts, and the picture above shows you how much food arrived. It didn't taste greasy at all, and quickly cured me of my headache and hunger pangs - we'll be back next year, I'm sure.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Corn Fritters


Amazingly, I had everything I needed for this in the fridge - I even threw in a dollop of goat's cheese that was sitting there and it added a nice tangy creamy quality to some bites. This is a lovely way of eating summer corn (sorry that this is too late for summer corn, but try it next year!) You could easily leave out the pancetta and have a tasty vegetarian dish as well.


Corn Fritters

Adapted from Food Stories

Ingredients

140g plain flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
220ml milk
1 egg, lightly beaten with a fork
50g diced pancetta
1/2 red onion, finely diced
3 large corn cobs
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
A small handful of fresh herbs (I used mint, chives and thyme)

2 tbsp soft goat cheese (optional)
Salt and pepper
Vegetable or groundnut oil, for frying

Method


Sift the flour into a large bowl with the baking powder. Pour in the milk and mix well to make a smooth batter.

Remove any outer papery husk and strings from the corn cobs then stand one on its end on a chopping board and carefully run your knife down one side to remove the kernels. Repeat this until all the kernels are stripped off and then add them to the batter. Add the egg, spices and spring onion and season with two large pinches each of salt and pepper.

Cook pancetta in a heavy based frying pan or skillet and wait until the fat renders. Add red onion, cooking until onion is tender. Scoop pancetta bits and red onion into the batter, leaving the fat in the skillet. Turn the heat to medium-high. Drop a large spoonful of the batter into the fat at a time and immediately flatten it out into a round fritter shape. It will take a few minutes to turn golden on the underneath – you can then flip it over and brown the other side.  Add more oil if necessary as you make more batches.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Sturminster Newton Cheese Festival


Sturminster Newton
DT10 1DQ


The Sturminster Newton Cheese Festival is a thing of wonder. K, A, A and I really didn't know what to expect when we decided to drive there and camp overnight - we were basically hoping that it wouldn't turn out to be one of those cheese "festivals" which consists of a few lumps of cheese on a table outside  pub. Thankfully, it was everything we could have wished for and more. Giant tents full of cheese, jazz bands, haystacks to sit on, real ale and cider on tap, crafts galore... we're already making plans for next year.

Our favorites of the bunch this time around:

Little Ryding - a soft sheep's milk cheese that resembles brie but with a sheepy funk.
Sturminster Coastal Cheddar - a wonderfully mature cheddar with crunchy crystals embedded within - we thought it was salt but the website says its actually calcium crystals from the maturing process
Stickland Goats Cheese - a goat cheddar aged for three months with a nutty flavor and dry texture
Gunstone - an unpasteurized semi hard washed rind curd cheese with a light, buttery taste
The blue cheese lovers in our bunch enjoyed the Exmoor Blue and the Cornish Blue.

We camped in the grounds of The Plough, which is a great pub as well. I highly recommend this for a weekend of amazing cheese and tons of fun.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Bon Bon Chicken






As soon as I saw this recipe, I knew it was something I would enjoy. Perfect for when you want something healthy but still incredibly tasty - makes for great packed lunches as well, especially if your workplace doesn't have a microwave for heating up food. 

Bon Bon Chicken
Adapted from Serious Eats

Ingredients


1 ½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts
½ cup Shaoxing wine (I used Noilly Prat dry vermouth)
2 green onions, chopped into approximately 3 inch lengths
1 inch fresh ginger, sliced thinly
1 Thai bird's eye chili, cut in half
2 ½ teaspoons whole black, white, or Sichuan peppercorns
2 large cucumbers, peeled
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon Chinkiang black vinegar
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 garlic clove, minced
2 teaspoons sugar
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro

Method

Place the chicken in a large pot. Add the wine, green onions, 3/4 of the ginger, 1 teaspoon of the Sichuan peppercorns, and enough water to cover by 2 inches. Turn heat to high and bring to a boil. Immediately reduce heat to a simmer, cook for 3 1/2 minutes. Cover the pot, turn off the heat, and let sit for 30 minutes. Remove the chicken from the pot and let cool for a few minutes. Also remove the spring onion and ginger slices and reserve for the sauce. Then thinly slice the chicken against the grain.

Quarter the cucumbers and scoop out the seeds. Then slice into 1/4-inch thick half-moons.

Combine the reserved spring onion and ginger from the poaching liquid, soy sauce, vinegar, sesame oil, the rest of the Sichuan peppercorn, rest of the ginger, garlic, sugar, and cilantro in a blender. Process until smooth.

Place the cucumber pieces in a deep bowl. Top with the shredded chicken, and pour on the sauce. Tos thoroughly to combine. Garnish with more cilantro.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Ben's Chili Bowl


1213 U Street NW
Washington, DC 20009


Ben's Chili Bowl is an institution and boasts pictures of all sorts of dignitaries that have visited (Obama! Sarkozy!) Seeing as how it's a hop, skip and jump away from J's apartment, it was inevitable that I would drag myself there at some point to try a half smoke. We ordered them to go, since the restaurant was packed and we thought it would be more comfortable to eat at J's - this worked well except that when I unwrapped my half smoke it was so disgusting to look at that I couldn't post the picture here. It's basically a sausage with a ladle full of chili piled on top, and then some orange grated cheese. No worries, it still tasted pretty good - it's greasy, heavy food, and I wouldn't necessarily eat another one, but sometimes experiences are worth having just to have them.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Eatonville Restaurant


2121 14th Street Northwest
Washington, DC 20009

Eatonville was our last proper meal in DC - a wedding brunch for the happy couple! I chose the shrimp with cheesy grits - yummy. The shrimp were tender and juicy and paired well with the creamy bed of grits. A, who is still dubious about grits, went with the fried chicken, mashed potatoes and collard greens. He was happy with that, but of course also wanted to try the biscuits with eggs and sausage gravy - lucky for him, M only ate half of his biscuits so A managed to snaffle some of that as well. The iced tea came served in cute little mason jars with handles (though the sweet tea was actually too sweet, so we ended up mixing sweet tea and regular tea to make something drinkable). All in all, a nice place for a group brunch - wouldn't go out of my way to go there, but I'd also be happy if someone suggested it.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Old Ebbitt Grill


675 15th Street Northwest
Washington, DC 20005-5702

Old Ebbitt Grill is where J & A had their rehearsal dinner, and what a great choice. It's big inside, with a lot of happy groups of diners, and it's upscale enough to introduce two families to each other, without being stuffy. As soon as I saw lobster on the menu, I had to have it - and at $18.95 for the 1 1/4 pound lobster above, with coleslaw, fries and drawn butter, I thought it was fabulous value. I demolished the lobster, egged on by B across the table, who had many childhood summers in Maine. Apologies if the sight of me tearing into the head of the lobster was too graphic for a rehearsal dinner - it was so good I couldn't stop though. There was an amazing bowl of clam chowder to start as well, and everyone who had the crab cakes couldn't stop raving about how packed with crab meat they were. Thumbs up all around - which is good going when you're gathering about 20 people together for dinner.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Great Wall Szechuan House


1527 14th Street Northwest
Washington, DC 20005-3706

Another fantastic place not too far from J's place - he took our family there on our last visit to DC and we ordered everything at full spicy strength, which blew our heads off. This time, we wisely requested the dishes to be made at half strength, which was still plenty spicy. Favorites are the double cooked pork belly (in picture above), the dan dan noodles and the bok choy sauteed with garlic. We also ordered the house special chow mein, which was fine, and salt and pepper shrimp were pretty good, but couldn't hold a candle to our amazing place in Austin, Tien Jin. I think the Szechuan specialties at this place are the standouts - stick to those and you won't be too disappointed, as long as you can handle the ma la spiciness!

Friday, October 01, 2010

Belgo (Oktoberfest)




Belgo is a chain of Belgian restaurants in London - the flagship being the one in Covent Garden which can do 400 covers at a time. While Oktoberfest is German in origin, the Belgians love their beer as well and Belgo has decided to co-opt the idea with a special Oktoberfest menu, matching beers to each option on the menu. I was invited to attend a preview of the menu where we could taste all of the dishes available, along with their paired beers, and also find out more about the beers from the Belgo Beermaster. Every Wednesday, you can book a "Pilgrimage" which consists of a three course meal, with a different beer served with each course, for £33 (which is pretty decent value when you consider that three Belgian beers would usually run you around £15 on their own). Here's the menu:

Starters
Parsnip and ginger soup, paired with Jupiler Pilsner (the ginger frites sprinkled on top were great)
Moules Mariniere, paired with Belgo Witbier (made by the same brewery as Hoegaarden)
Champagne, duck and truffle terrine, paired with De Koninck Blonde

Mains
Carbonnade of braised beef cooked in Faro beer and served with Witcap Stimulo beer
Mushroom Bouchee, paired with Palm Amber
Moules Portugaises, paired with Bruges Zot Blonde (yummy chorizo)

Desserts
Pear poached in raspberry beer served with lemon sorbet, paired with Floris Apple
Belgian Chocolate Pudding, paired with Westmalle Double
Belgian waffle, paired with Mort Subite Gueuze (ohh this waffle was amazingly tasty)

My favorite pairings were the beef with Witcap Stimulo, the pear with Floris Apple, and the Belgian waffle withMort Subite Gueuze. A also really loved the Westmalle Double. I also enjoyed the parsnip soup and both moules preparations - can't go wrong with mussels in a Belgian restaurant! Catch this if you can - it runs through the month of October and is a rare opportunity to learn about how well Belgian beers go with food.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Five Guys


1335 Wisconsin Ave NW
Washington, DC 20007

I've heard a lot about Five Guys and finally had a chance to visit one in DC. After wandering around Georgetown (which is pretty, but man, what do you do if you're not interested in shopping?) we decided that a burger and fries were in order. Sensibly, we agreed to share one hamburger and an order of fries, because when they came out, I realized that the Five Guys burger has two patties, and "regular" fries are like two orders of normal fries. The burger had a decent char and the addition of grilled mushrooms and onions worked well. Shockingly, we didn't even finish the fries, even though they were fantastic (I love skin-on fries). I blame the heat - something about being hot makes me lose my appetite, which is a problem in a city like DC.


Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Marvin


2007 14th Street Northwest
Washington, DC 20009-7562

Marvin is where a bunch of my friends who have all ended up in DC, somehow, gathered on a hot Tuesday evening to see me and A (thanks everyone!) Since an evening of drinking should probably be accompanied by a little food, A and I split a tuna salad (amazingly fresh, perfectly grilled tuna) and a side of fries (which I couldn't stop eating, especially with the curry mayonnaise). That totally hit the spot and made it possible for me to remain upright for a good few hours (the never-ending jug of tap water also helped, of course). 
J told me the mussels are great too but unfortunately they aren't served in the bar area. Marvin's still a bit of a scene on Tuesday nights, surprisingly - guess this place is popular, no matter what - but the roof deck makes it all worthwhile. Unlike it's neighbor, Gibson, which will never be worth it.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Pica Taco


1406 Florida Ave NW
(between N 14th St & N New Hampshire Ave)
Washington, DC 20009

In the runup to J's wedding, things were pretty busy, so for a quick lunch we offered to pop out to 
Pica Taco to grab some food to eat at the apartment. Above is my plate with a fish taco, a carne asada taco and half of a tamale. Ingredients tasted fresh and lively and boy do I miss the greatness of fresh corn tortillas. The tacos all came with a wedge of lime to add a bright squirt of acidity - perfect to cut through the salty meatiness. Lucky J - if I lived in his apartment I'd be at this place at least once a week.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Adega Wine Cellars and Cafe


8519 Fenton Street

Silver Spring, MD 20910

F & C have moved to the US! Thankfully, A and I were able to visit them within a week of them moving there, and we were lucky enough to see their new digs (and even have a splash around in their swimming pool). Adega Wine Cellars and Cafe is pretty close by and it is a great bargain for drinkers - we went on a Monday night where a few bottles of wine were 40% off, meaning C and I split a lovely Malbec for less than $9. They also let you buy wine and beer at shop prices, and then drink them with your meal. A and I ordered a Southwestern Chipotle Turkey Sandwich and a Chicken Flatbread, which were both enormous. Even tastier were the eggplant fries, which came with a great marinara dipping sauce. I am slightly jealous now - maybe I need to start thinking about moving...