Monday, July 22, 2013

Braised Coconut Spinach with Chickpeas and Lemon

Y'all, this dish is totally delightful. We were having J & J & G over for dinner and since one of the Js is vegetarian, I was digging through my collection of recipes that I save to make "some day in the future" and saw this. Holy cow, it was so great that I'm really thankful J is vegetarian - otherwise who knows how much longer this would have languished in my files. This is super hearty, rich, and full of flavor - and also very easy. Leftovers are possibly even better, especially if you let the rice soak up all the wonderful sauce. Definitely make sure you have toasted coconut to garnish, it makes the dish.

Braised Coconut Spinach with Chickpeas and Lemon
Adapted from Serious Eats
Serves 6


2 teaspoons oil or ghee
1 small yellow onion
4 large cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 tablespoon grated ginger, from a 3-inch piece
1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
1 large lemon, zested and juiced (about 2 tablespoons juice)
1 dried hot red pepper or dash of red pepper flakes (optional)
2 cups dried chickpeas, cooked, or equivalent in canned chickpeas, drained and rinsed
240g baby spinach (one large bag)
1 14-ounce can coconut milk
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1 teaspoon ground ginger
Cilantro leaves, to garnish
Toasted unsweetened coconut, to garnish
Cooked rice, for serving


In a large, heavy pot (such as a Dutch oven), heat the oil or ghee over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the onion and cook until soft and beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, grated ginger, sun-dried tomatoes, lemon zest, and red pepper, if using. Cook until the garlic is fragrant, 1-2 minutes.

Add the chickpeas and increase the heat to high. Cook until the chickpeas are beginning to turn golden, 3-4 minutes. Stir often to prevent burning.

Add the spinach to the pot (you may have to add it in batches until there's enough room), then add the lemon juice, coconut milk, salt, and ground ginger. Bring to a simmer, and cook until the spinach is very soft and the chickpeas are tender, 10-15 minutes. Season to taste with more salt and lemon juice as needed.

Serve garnished with cilantro and toasted coconut with rice.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Lamplighter Dining Rooms

High Street
LA23 1AF

We didn't eat out much in the Lake District, but on the Sunday night we all wanted to have a dinner in a restaurant so we wandered around Windermere looking for somewhere suitable. Thank goodness we spotted The Lamplighter Dining Rooms. C and I were desperate for fish and chips, and this hit the spot. An enormous tranche of fish came out, supported by chips and peas - and after hiking all day, we polished off our portions (though it wasn't easy - you can see from the picture how big it is!) Generous portions were the norm - A and F ordered the ham hock and it came in a tureen almost the size of my head. Point is, if you've got a big appetite and like hearty pub food, I doubt you'll find much better in Windermere. 

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Sun Tea Rooms

High Street, next to the Sun Pub

If you're walking through Hawkshead, you won't be able to miss The Sun Tea Rooms with its giant display of cakes in the front window. We all gaped at the sheer massive size of the cakes, and then when we had a chance to sit down and order them, we did - lemon blueberry, chocolate and strawberry and carrot cake. My favorite was the chocolate, I think - but I will be a little harsh and say that they look more tempting than they taste (I am not a sweets person so this may have a bit to do with it). Still, if you get a table in the sunshine and want a piece of cake that is larger than your head, this is a good pitstop in Hawkshead.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Raleigh / Durham / Chapel Hill

I know I usually write my travel posts as a day-by-day recollection, but I'm going to do it differently this time. A and I were in North Carolina for about five days, mainly so we could go to M and J's wedding in Durham. But since M is one of my oldest friends from Texas, this trip included lots of pre-wedding things (bachelorette party, bridal shower, baseball games, etc.) and we also stayed with another brilliant couple, N and J (who should be getting married next year, woohoo!) Point is, a lot happened, but it was a mix of eating / drinking / hanging out with friends / celebrating an awesome marriage, which I will just throw into this one post. Here goes.

The night of M's bachelorette party in Raleigh, we started with dinner at Gravy (135 S Wilmington St  Raleigh, NC 27601). For some reason I wasn't feeling like pasta (though a lot of people ordered pasta dishes and they looked delightful). So I went with a starter of poached egg and pancetta on polenta, which was so not something I would ever recommend eating BEFORE you start in on a main course, but did wonderfully for my purposes, along with a gorgeous side dish of broccoli which was flavored with anchovies (speaking of, the anchovy-broccoli combination is absolutely genius and I can't believe I ate broccoli for over 20 years without tasting it in harmony with anchovy).

The next day A and I wandered around Chapel Hill, where we picked up a Snowy-the-dog keyring at Chapel Hill Comics (316 W Franklin St  Chapel Hill, NC 27516), and also toured the Sarah P. Duke Gardens (420 Anderson St  Durham, NC 27708), commonly known as the Duke Botanical Gardens. They are stunning, and with full sunshine it was an ideal afternoon. But you're not reading this to hear about comic books and gardens are you? So instead let us gaze upon our lunch at Bullock's Bar-B-Cue (3330 Quebec Drive, Durham, NC 27705), where we attempted to order a normal amount of food for two people, to our waitress's distress. After explaining that we wanted to try the Brunswick stew (a local specialty), ribs and pulled pork, but wanted to order the smallest amount of food possible, she came up with some sort of combo platter arrangement for us to share. The coleslaw that accompanied it was actually amazing - really finely chopped cabbage, with barely any dressing (whoa have I just decided that I might like some forms of coleslaw?!) And I found the hushpuppies slightly addictive. But alas, this was nowhere near as good as Melvin's in Charleston. 

Onwards to Full Steam Brewery (726 Rigsbee Ave, Durham, NC 27701) where A was carded and found out that North Carolina state law doesn't accept foreign driver's licenses as proof of age. Thankfully no one thought I was under 21 so I was able to get drinks for us both. Outside of the brewery, the Chirba Chirba dumpling truck was offering plates of soup dumplings and gyoza - they were a nice snack but not anything I'd make a special trip for.  And finally, a Durham Bulls minor league baseball game to properly Americanize A and introduce him to the national pastime of drinking beer, eating hotdogs, and very occasionally watching some sport.

The next morning was my birthday, and we had the best birthday breakfast ever. No, really. If someone could wake me up for every birthday with a chicken cheddar biscuit I would die a happy woman. Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen (1305 E. Franklin Street, Chapel Hill NC 27514) is a little drive-through biscuit place in Chapel Hill. That glorious biscuit above was eaten while standing outside on the edge of a parking lot, looking at a ditch. And it is still one of my favorite memories.

In the afternoon there was a lovely bridal shower tea at the Washington Duke Inn, and then N, J, A and I headed off to Lantern (423 W Franklin St  Chapel Hill, NC 27516) for a dinner to celebrate my birthday and N & J's engagement. This was my favorite "fancy" meal of the trip - I find it hard to describe the food other than saying it's Asian with Southern influences. For example - a beautiful appetizer of crispy five-spice pork belly, pickled radishes, and chicharron was a balance of salty, fatty, crisp and sweet. The salt and pepper shrimp with fired jalapenos, coriander and sea salt were as good as my favorite salt and pepper shrimp from Tien Jin in Austin. And my Japanese pot on fire main (braised Red Poll brisket, oxtail dumplings in broth with rare sirloin, local vegetables and potatoes, fresh wasabi, sea salt) was something I wanted to last forever. Great cocktails were ordered, fun was had, and we teetered out into the night with big smiles.


We all know how dangerous it is to attend a wedding without eating beforehand (the bubbly is just going to go straight to your head!) So we all piled into Hog Heaven (2419 Guess Road, Durham, NC) for a pre-wedding lunch. A was still seeking barbecue (specifically pork ribs) - but in a giant misunderstanding he ordered the pork at Hog Heaven, which was pulled pork (I don't think they even do ribs). I went straight for the fried chicken, which was the right decision. Man I would kill for another plate of that crispy crackly goodness. Sides were merely ok, collard greens were too salty and fries were fine though not the kind that you just can't stop eating. But you know, this capped off a week of some terrific eating - and I can't wait to get back to North Carolina.

Friday, July 05, 2013

Lobsterfest 2013 @ Belgo

50 Earlham St

Let me start by explaining how much I love lobster. Last time I was in Maine with my parents, I ate about 3 or 4 lobsters a day. There were evenings where all we did was buy a bag of lobsters and then hunker down in the hotel room to feast. I planned another trip to Maine with A, purportedly to show him New England, but mainly so I could eat some more lobster. So when Belgo invited me to Lobsterfest this year, there was absolutely no way I was going to miss it. The evening kicked off with fantastic Belgian beer - one of my favorites was Grottenbier (pictured above), a dark and ever-so-slightly sweet beer. Then Muir, lobster-chef-extraordinaire, demonstrated how to construct a lobster cocktail salad and also how to humanely kill a lobster (and even gave some other intrepid guests a chance to try their own hands at it). S and I were happy to just eat lobster in several forms - the salad had a citrussy dressing that I enjoyed (and we got a chef's tip to microwave lemons briefly if you want them to be juicier and milder in flavor). The grilled lobster was buttery and garlicky and delectable as well. By the end of the evening we were drinking sour beers with Belgo's brand manager and squeezing in some waffles with decadently rich dark chocolate sauce. Thanks to the entire Belgo and Relish PR team that made this possible - I've had quite a few great nights at Belgo in the past but the lobster element made this one even more fun!

Lobsterfest runs until 31st August 2013 and in another charming move, Belgo is paying for a lobster to be set free in Cornwall for every lobster ordered, so don't feel guilty about eating as many lobsters as you want.

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Charleston / Savannah Day 4 & 5

Before heading off to Savannah, we stopped at Early Bird Diner (1644 Savannah Highway, Charleston, SC 29407) for the best chicken and waffles of the trip. Look at this! It's one portion, split between two people - that half portion made me so full that I could barely have dinner later in the day.

Upon arrival in Savannah, we took one of the trolley tours which was a great way to get oriented and hear quite a lot of history in 2 hours. The trolley driver suggested that we head to Rocks on the Roof (102 W Bay St, Savannah, GA 31401) for a drink in the sunshine with views of the city, so we did. My bloody mary was perfect and came topped with an enormous shrimp and pickled okra.

The afternoon was spent wandering around Savannah's beautiful squares - we knew we had a dinner reservation at Paula Deen's restaurant so attempted to build up an appetite. Alas, all the walking in the world was not enough to burn off our chicken and waffle breakfast, so by the time we sat down at The Lady & Sons (102 W Congress St, Savannah, GA 31401), we knew we were going to have to skip the fried chicken buffet. Instead, we ordered a Lady's Choice Salad (mixed greens with hard boiled eggs, bacon, shredded cheese, tossed in a tangy ranch dressing, topped with fried red onion rings) and the broiled fresh seafood platter with shrimp, scallops and squid. Considering we were ordering the NOT fried, NOT butter-drenched, NOT heart-stopping items on the menu, it was pretty good, though of course now that I am not overly full I wish I had a chance to sample the famous buffet, which most of the rest of the diners were ordering.

We popped into Moon River Brewing Company (21 W Bay St, Savannah, GA 31401) for an after dinner drink - it was nice enough but nothing to rave about. I think exhaustion took over at this point.

The next morning we went to our trolley guide's other recommendation, J. Christophers (122 E Liberty, Savannah, GA, 31401), for brunch. They serve breakfasts in skillets, which is cute - because the menu is so big and diverse it took us ages to pick out crab cake benedict and a skillet with chorizo and chicken - both were wonderful, especially sitting outside in the sunshine with fresh squeezed orange juice. And all too soon, it was time to leave Savannah and its charms behind.