I found out about the Jerk Chicken Cook-Off from Food Stories who has already written up a great review of this year's event. South London friends were quickly rounded up to join us so we could try as many versions of jerk chicken as possible.
I headed straight for Tasty Jerk, the winner of the last two cook-offs, and got a plate of jerk chicken along with a splodge of incredibly fiery chili sauce on the side. The chicken was moist, smoky and full of spices - and utterly addictive. It made me proud of my own version of jerk chicken - I think I've managed to do a decent job of making it at home.
K ordered some jerk fish which came over rice and peas with a scoop of coleslaw on top. The fish was fantastic as well - I thought jerk spices might overpower fish but that is not the case. Her fish flaked right off the bones and K was happy to give me the fish head to gnaw on.
We tried jerk chicken from several other places but I gave Tasty Jerk my
personal award for best chicken. Unfortunately I was too full to try the entire
animal they were roasting (I think it was lamb) but that just means that we'll
have to go back next year for more...
Another recipe from the Greens cookbook - I think I've found the two recipes that are relatively simple to make. The trick of soaking the onions in water until you use them in the salad later on is a good one - it takes some of the harsh bite of raw onions away and makes them much more palatable. You can see the finished result at the bottom of the plate in the picture above - nice chunks of feta mixed with salty nuggets of olives and wilted spinach with a balancing tartness from the vinegar. I might reduce the amount of oil next time, but this is definitely worth making again. Wilted Spinach Salad Adapted from the Greens cookbook Ingredients 1 small red onion, halved and thinly sliced 5 tablespoons olive oil 8 to 12 Kalamata olives 450g / 1lb spinach 1 clove garlic, finely chopped 1 tablespoon mint leaves, finely chopped 2 tablespoons cider vinegar 200g feta cheese
Cover the onion slices with cold water and refrigerate until needed.
Press the olives to split them open, take out the stones, and cut the olives in two.
Wash the spinach and spin dry.
When you are ready to make the salad, drain the onions. Put the spinach in a large metal bowl and toss it with the onions, garlic, mint, olives and vinegar. Break up the cheese and crumble it over the spinach. Heat the olive oil until it is very hot but just short of smiking. Immediately pour it over the salad, turning the leaves with a pair of metal tongs so that the hot oil coats and wilts as many leaves as possible. Taste, and season with more vinegar if needed.
The original recipe included croutons, which would be a nice textural contrast - I just didn't have any bread to make croutons this time.
I had tortillas in the freezer from my last trip to Texas, a little cubed pancetta leftover from another recipe, some eggs, parmesan and potato wedges in the freezer. Inspiration struck, and breakfast tacos were soon on the menu. Bake a handful of potato wedges according to the package instructions (mine take about 20 minutes from frozen). Fry up about 3 tablespoons of chopped pancetta (or bacon) until the fat renders. Meanwhile, beat 4 eggs in a bowl. Add the eggs to the pan once the pancetta is finished cooking, and scramble until you get small curds and the mixture is still a little moist. Warm four tortillas (I just microwave them with a damp paper towel draped over the top), then put some egg/pancetta mixture on a tortilla, grate some parmesan over, and add potato wedges. Tabasco or other hot sauces (Cholula for one) are fantastic additions, as is freshly grated black pepper. Roll up and eat! Serves two hungry hungover people.
J gifted me with a 72 oz bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips before she went back to the US (thanks J!) So of course the first thing I did was make chocolate chip cookies. Looking at the back of the bag, I saw there was a recipe that included oats, and since oats would obviously cancel out the chocolate chips and make them calorie free, I decided to try out that option. Man they're good, you'd never even know they're healthy for you :) Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies Adapted from back of Nestle chocolate chip bag Ingredients 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour 1 tsp baking soda 1 1/4 cups packed brown sugar 1 cup (225g) butter 2 large eggs 2 tbsp milk 2 tsp vanilla extract 2 1/2 cups porridge oats 2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips Method Preheat oven to 190C / 375F. Combine flour and baking soda in a small bowl. Beat brown sugar, butter and granulated sugar in a large mixer bowl until creamy. Beat in eggs, milk and vanilla extract. Gradually beat in flour mixture. Stir in oats and chocolate chips; mix well. Drop by rounded tablespoon onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Bake for 9 or 10 minutes for chewy cookies or 12 to 13 minutes for crispy cookies. Cool on baking sheets for 1 minute; remove to wire racks to cool completely.
C introduced me to this great Brazilian restaurant in Camden, Spiritual Caipirinha. Another Toptable deal - 15 quid for two courses and a caipirinha. I tried a mango caiprinha - it was full of fruity flavor and very strong. Above is my starter - the waiter recommended anything with seafood since apparently it was very fresh that day, so I had a seafood salad to start - a mix of prawns and calamari and roasted peppers came out and was prepared wonderfully - no rubbery seafood here! For mains, C and I both ordered the steak with farofa and fried cassava and beans - a large, juicy strip steak appeared with toasted farofa mixed with pork scratchings (scrumptious) and the beans were flavored with chunks of pork. It was a massive amount of food but so good that I finished most of it. I'd definitely go back - the servers were so friendly and sweet, it made for a really nice evening out.
I love vegetarian chilis - they're hearty and warming and full of flavor, and I really don't miss the meat in these recipes. The one below uses a couple of ingredients that I've never put in chili before - namely the Guinness (I think any stout or porter would do) and vinegar. Those ingredients add a depth to the chili that makes this version particularly tasty - give it a try the next time you make chili. This recipe also freezes well after you make it, which is good since it makes a lot of it - I tend to freeze half for another time when I'm too busy to cook.
Ingredients 2 Tbs olive oil 1 onion, chopped 1 orange pepper, chopped 1 yellow pepper, chopped 2 jalapenos, chopped 2 400g cans of chopped tomatoes 1 can of Guinness 2 cans of red kidney beans 500g dried black beans, cooked (No-Soak Bean method!) 2 Tbs cider vinegar 5 minced cloves garlic 2 Tbs chili powder 1 Tbs toasted coriander, ground 1 Tbs toasted cumin seed, ground 1 Tbs paprika Salt to taste
Garnish: Chopped cilantro Sliced spring onions Tortilla Chips
1. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a heavy pot over medium heat. Add onions and peppers and jalapenos and saute until everything's tender but not brown. Add a pinch of salt.
2. Add canned tomatoes, Guinness, beans, white wine vinegar, garlic, all the spices (the coriander, chili powder, etc.): basically everything except the garnish. Give another good pinch of salt, bring to a boil and lower to a simmer. Stir and wait; let it reduce and thicken. It takes 20 - 30 minutes. Make sure to taste as you go, adjusting for salt.
A Toptable deal for 50% off food seemed like a good opportunity to try out Kettner's, now that it's been revamped, so P, N and B came along with me to catch up over wine and some dinner. This place is a bit of an institution so I was curious as to whether the food would be any good, and surprisingly enough, I thought it was. I started with a bowl of steamed Cornish mussels in creamy broth, which were fresh and tasty, though a tad oversalted. For a main, I chose the duck confit with sarladaise potatoes, which were beautifully presented. Again, I thought the dish was just slightly saltier than it needed to be, and there was an unannounced bed of spinach that came with the dish, making my side order of rocket salad a bit extraneous. Still, it's hard to go wrong with crispy, tender duck. The food bill was very reasonable, but we drank quite a bit of wine, pushing our bill up - so a good place to go with the Toptable deal, but I expect it could be quite a pricey night out without the discount. I would also note that it was incredibly loud and noisy in the restaurant - all glass surfaces and mirrors inside made it impossible to hear people without shouting. So keep that in mind, if you're going for dinner in order to have a conversation.
More frozen yogurt. I actually find the name Yu-foria slightly irritating, though I'm not sure Frae and Yog are any better. Stupid names aside, I was invited to a launch event at the Yu-foria in Soho and since I love frozen yogurt, I went along for a taste. They were serving cocktails made with the yogurt, which to be completely honest, didn't really work for me. I also tried a cup of plain yogurt with rum-soaked pineapple and mochi pieces. The mochi was exciting, since I haven't found any other frozen yogurt places in London that offer mochi as a topping. I don't think the yogurt was as nice as others I've had in London - it seemed grainier and icier and lacked creaminess. Still, it's a nice treat on a hot day and if I were passing by and craving frozen yogurt, I'd still go in.
Baba ghanoush is incredibly unattractive, but thankfully tastes so nice that it makes up for its ugliness. I had aubergines (eggplants) on hand and thought the easiest thing to do would be to prick them with a fork and stick them on the grill. Once the skin had blackened and the flesh was soft, I scraped out the innards and put it in a food processor with a clove of garlic, a couple of spoonfuls of tahini and some lemon juice. Salt to taste, and keep tasting and adding other ingredients until you hit the right balance of smoky/tart/nutty/garlicky-ness, and serve. Easy peasy.
This was quite spicy so I might tone down the chili powder next time since I'm usually thinking of this as a cool and refreshing noodle salad, not one that makes my mouth burn. It also inspired me to pick up some soba noodles so that the next time I make this I don't have to substitute spaghetti!
For the dressing: Grated zest of 1 lemon 2-inch knob of fresh ginger, peeled and sliced 1 tablespoon honey or golden syrup 3/4 teaspoon chili powder 3/4 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice 1/4 cup Chinese rice vinegar 1/3 cup light soy sauce 2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
For the rest: 12 ounces dried soba noodles (I used regular spaghetti noodles as I didn't have any soba at home) 12 ounces extra-firm tofu 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro 3 green onions, thinly sliced 1 cucumber, peeled, cut in half lengthwise, seeded and thinly sliced 1 small handful of cilantro, coarsely chopped, for garnish 1/4 cup toasted sesame seeds for garnish
To make the dressing, combine the zest, ginger, honey (or golden syrup), chili pepper, and salt in a food processor (or use a hand blender) and process until smooth. Add the lemon juice, rice vinegar, and soy sauce and pulse to combine. With the machine running, drizzle in the oils. Cook the soba (or spaghetti) in plenty of rapidly boiling salted water just until tender then drain and rinse under cold running water. While the pasta is cooking, drain the tofu, pat it dry, and cut into rectangles roughly the size of your thumb (1/2 inch thick and 1 inch long). Cook the tofu in a dry nonstick (or well seasoned) skillet over medium-high heat for a few minutes, until the pieces are browned on one side. Toss gently once or twice, then continue cooking for another minute or so, until the tofu is firm, golden, and bouncy. In a large mixing bowl, combine the soba, the 1/4 cup cilantro, green onions, cucumber and about 2/3 cup of the dressing and toss until well combined. Add the tofu and toss again gently. Serve on a platter, garnished with the cilantro sprigs and toasted sesame seeds. Serves 4 to 6.
I had tinned tomatoes and dried chickpeas sitting around so I decided to make up a recipe using some other ingredients that were in the kitchen - I got to open up my ground coriander and turmeric containers which was an achievement. This savory stew is great as a side dish, as seen above, or it could be a very filling meal with some bread and perhaps a small salad. Chickpea and Tomato Stew
500g dried chickpeas 2 medium onions, sliced into half-moons 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped 1 knob of ginger, finely chopped 1 teaspoon turmeric 1 teaspoon ground cumin 1 teaspoon ground coriander 2 400g tins of chopped tomatoes
Soak the chickpeas overnight and then simmer until tender. In another heavy pot or Dutch oven, cook onions, garlic and ginger in some olive oil until tender and then add turmeric, cumin and coriander. Cook for another minute or so, until the spices release their flavor, and then add the tins of tomatoes and deglaze the pot, scraping up any bits that are stuck to the bottom. Simmer for about 5 minutes, adding salt to taste. Add chickpeas to the tomato mixture and cook for another 10 minutes, until flavors have had time to mingle. Serve immediately, or prepare one day in advance (the flavors are even better the next day!)
Another new recipe from one of my cookbooks to fulfill my goal of making something new from each cookbook I own. I thought this would be nice for a dinner at home with A and his parents - quick but tasty. Strangely, the grocery store closest to me only carries tiny prawns, rather than the king size ones, so I made do this time, but I think it would be worth seeking out the larger ones. This is a very lightly sauced pasta, just so you're aware - I upped the tomato puree because 2 tablespoons just seemed far too little for the amount of pasta I was making. As you can see in the picture above, it looks like there's no tomato sauce at all! Spaghetti con Gamberetti e Rucola Adapted from Jamie's Italy Serves four
500g dried spaghetti salt and pepper olive oil 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped 400g peeled prawns 1 small wineglass of white wine 3 heaped tablespoons of sun-dried tomato purée zest and juice of 1 lemon 2 handfuls of rocket, roughly chopped
Cook the spaghetti in a large pot of salted boiling water for seven minutes. Meanwhile, heat some olive oil in a large frying pan and toss in the garlic. As the garlic begins to color, add the prawns and sate them for a minute. Add the white wine and the tomato purée and simmer for a couple of minutes. When the pasta is ready, drain it in a colander, reserving a little of the cooking water. Toss the spaghetti with the sauce, squeeze in the lemon juice, add half the chopped rocket, adding a little of the reserved cooking water if you want to loosen the sauce a bit, and correct the seasoning. Divide between four plates and sprinkle with the grated lemon zest and the rest of the rocket leaves.
A gave me The Greens Cookbook a while back, and I am sorry to say that I haven't used it all that much. These are recipes from Greens Restaurant in San Francisco, which is famous for its innovative vegetarian cuisine. Unfortunately, I was traumatized by a mushroom lasagne recipe a few years ago that took over four hours to make. Fast forward to now and a list of things I'd like to accomplish in the next year - one of them is making one new recipe from each of the cookbooks I already own. So I found a recipe for haricot beans, since there's been a package of them in my cupboards for ages, and this is what resulted. It is a fantastic, creamy and rich dish - best served with some salad on the side.
White Bean Gratin Adapted from The Greens Cookbook
350g haricot beans 2 bay leaves 1 teaspoon salt 15g butter 1 small onion, finely diced 1 carrot, finely diced 2 celery stalks, finely diced 240ml single cream 6 stalks thyme leaves, picked 1 handful of chopped flat leaf parsley salt pepper
Cook beans with bay leaves and 1 teaspoon salt using the 90 minute no-soak method. Drain and set aside. Melt the butter and add onion, carrot and celery, and cook over low heat for about 3 minutes. Add the cream and thyme leaves, bring to a boil and simmer for 1 minute. Then add the beans and cook until they are heated through. Stir in the parsley and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. You can serve the dish like this, or continue on to make a gratin.
To make a gratin, put the bean mixture in a baking dish. If it looks dry, add a bit more water or cream. Toss 50g breadcrumbs (I used panko) with melted butter and press them over the top. Bake in a 220C / 425F oven until the top is browned and the beans are hot, about 20 minutes. Serve.
We had planned an evening of tiki cocktails with M and J to use some of the lovely rum they gave me for my birthday. While we were thinking about Caribbean drinks, I decided to be adventurous and try my hand at Caribbean cooking. I live pretty close to Ridley Road market which is great for picking up all the things you need to make Caribbean food - I will be going back much more frequently since it is so much cheaper than the supermarkets! Update: Tried this recipe again with some tweaks (included below) on some more friends, including J & A who know their Caribbean food, and it went over well! Jerk Chicken
1.5 tablespoons ground mixed spice (I used Tropical Sun brand) 100g dark molasses brown sugar 4 garlic cloves 1 tablespoon thyme leaves (dried or fresh) 1 bunch spring onions (about 6) 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves 4 scotch bonnet chillies, deseeded Juice of 1 large lime 1 tsp salt Chicken pieces (I used 10 thighs, bone-in)
Blend all the marinade ingredients together in a food processor and smother over the chicken, rubbing it in well. I used gloves for this and for deseeding the scotch bonnets. Refrigerate overnight (or for four days, as I did - the flavor really just gets better over time).
BBQ the chicken if you are so lucky to have a BBQ, or cook in the oven on a baking tray at 190C for 30-40 minutes, or until the skin is crisp and the juices run clear.
If you are using shrimp, then marinate the shrimp in the jerk paste overnight and then thread shrimp onto skewers. BBQ or grill in the oven until just done (it's very quick, probably only about 5 minutes).
I added an extra scotch bonnet the second time around (which is included in the 4 scotch bonnets in the recipe above) - it was still a pretty mild heat so I think one or two more chillies won't hurt. The mix of heat and sweetness is addictive though - fantastic recipe (thanks to Food Stories!)
Finely dice red onion and add to rice cooker. Add rice and salt. Drain the can of pigeon peas into a measuring cup and then top up with the can of coconut milk and water to make 4.5 cups of liquid. Pour liquid into rice cooker and add drained pigeon peas and give everything a good stir. Use normal setting on rice cooker to cook.