Monday, December 22, 2014

Sicily - Day 3



A gorgeous morning in Erice meant it was the perfect time to walk to the Spanish Quarter and take a gander at the views from the castle. Good start to the day! 



Today was the longest drive as we went from the western part of Sicily all the way to the eastern part. To break up the monotony, we stopped at the Valley of the Temples near Agrigento. It was a boiling hot day - I'm so glad we took the taxi from the parking lot at the bottom of the valley up to the top - that way we could just slowly walk through the park, stare at all the ruins, and then end up at the car. If you're a temple geek, this is the place for you - so many temples, so much history.


We also stopped in a beautiful little town called Noto, known for its particularly good examples of Baroque architecture.   


But finally, finally we arrived in Syracuse (Siracusa). We found a spot to park in, and went to find a cafe to meet our AirBnB host in. We ended up at Caffe Apollo, since it was close to where our host wanted to find us, and sat down to get a couple of drinks. Service was slow, but the waitress eventually took our order. When she came back with our drinks and bill, I decided to pay right then in case it took a while, so I handed her a 50 euro note to break it. We then waited for her to come back with change, and after a while it became apparent she was not coming back. We flagged her down and she then tried to pretend like we hadn't given her any money at all - I was getting pretty irritated by this charade and as we got more and more agitated she then started saying that maybe we just gave her a 20. In a stroke of luck, our AirBnB host showed up right then, said hello, and then asked us what the problem was - when we described to her what was happening, she burst into Italian at the waitress, who then quickly hurried off and came back with our change. This confirmed our worries that the waitress was trying to cheat us - I'm not sure how this would have ended had we not had our host there to argue for us - but it was really upsetting and such a stupid thing for her to do.

Our host, of course, was as lovely and charming as the waitress wasn't. She and her partner took us on a walking tour of Ortygia, pointing out shops and restaurants they recommended. The location of the AirBnB was perfect as well - right next to the Duomo. A and I were keen to go have a drink and meal to wipe out the cafe memory so after a quick look around we stopped at La volpe e l'uva - a restaurant in the piazza right in front of the Duomo. The view was incredible, and the warm evening, wine and food was the best antidote for our earlier frustration.



After a pizza that we couldn't stop devouring and some linguine with clams that were exactly what I needed, plus a carafe of red wine, we were stuffed and relaxed again, watching a guitarist play in front of the Duomo. It was such a beautiful evening we decided to explore a bit.


Which is how we ended up at a little cafe in front of yet another stunning fountain, drinking limoncellos.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Sicily - Day 2




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



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


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



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


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


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



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


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

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

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

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

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

Ingredients

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

Method

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

2. Combine buttermilk and green onions in medium bowl. 

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

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

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

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


Sunday, December 07, 2014

Sicily - Day 1




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

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

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

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Rotorino



434 Kingsland Rd
London
E8 4AA

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 02, 2014

The Grain Store


Granary Square
1-3 Stable St
London 
N1C 4AB

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

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Breakfast in a pan


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

Breakfast in a Pan
Ingredients

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

Method

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

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

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

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Lockhart


22-24 Seymour Pl
London
W1H 7NL

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

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Chez Paul


13 Rue de Charonne
75011 
Paris, France

So in a bizarre feat of scheduling, I was back in Paris a couple of weeks after my day with K and J. This time it was to see new family, namely nephew G who had just arrived in the world about a month earlier. This trip also coincided with C's birthday, so on a Sunday evening, C, A and I headed out for a traditional French bistro experience. Again I placed our trust in David Lebovitz, who so far has not done anything to make me think he is anything up a genius, and Chez Paul was agreed upon, since it was within walking distance of where we were staying. Due to a day full of eating, we skipped starters and went straight for mains - C chose cod, which she was delighted with, and A and I shared a lamb shank for two, which was so incredibly tender and full of flavor that the two of us finished off the whole thing, even though it was enormous. Some side dishes accompanied the lamb - mushrooms, and giant beans in a tomato sauce - all of it just right for a relaxed dinner. We couldn't decide on dessert or cheese, so decided to get some cheese and then see how we felt. The cheese selection was again very well judged - served at the right temperature with some lovely crackers and breads, I think. And while we would have ordered dessert if a server came by, for some reason after cheese we were completely ignored. There are worse things than being ignored in an alcove in a lovely French bistro - but it did mean that by the time we got someone's attention we were ready to depart so we headed off without a little sweet to finish off the meal.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Lemon-Avocado Spaghetti With Shrimp From 'Pasta Modern'


I thought this would be a nice summery pasta dish and wasn't wrong. It's quite lemony, in case you are sensitive to acidic dishes - but the creaminess of the avocado is a very nice way of creating a sauce that is both healthy and deceptively lush. I'm sure you could substitute a lot of different types of seafood in (I subbed salmon for shrimp, to start) or you could even leave it out entirely for a vegetarian version (perhaps with some chunks of zucchini or squash to replace the protein).


Lemon-Avocado Spaghetti With Salmon
Serves 4
Adapted from Serious Eats


Ingredients

1 large onion, finely sliced
1/4 cup (60 ml) dry white wine
250 g fresh salmon filets, no skin
Olive oil
Salt
500 g spaghetti
1 avocado
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
Freshly ground black pepper 
chopped parsley to garnish

Method

1. In a skillet large enough to hold the pasta, combine the onions and wine over medium heat and simmer until the onions are soft, about 10 minutes. 

2. Add the salmon and raise the heat to high to evaporate any remaining wine; as the salmon cooks break it into large chunks and cook until the onions are caramelized and the salmon is cooked, about 5 minutes. Off the heat, add 1 tablespoon oil and salt to taste.
 

3. Boil the pasta in salted water until it is al dente. Drain and toss with the onions.
 

4. Meanwhile, peel and pit the avocado and puree it with the lemon juice, in a blender or small food processor until very smooth. Stir the mixture into the pasta and add half the lemon zest until well combined; re-season the dish with salt, if needed. Top the pasta with the remaining zest, parsley and pepper.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

A La Petite Chaise





36 Rue de Grenelle
75007 
Paris, France

K and J were in Paris so I nipped over for a day to see them (justifying it as cheaper than a flight to LA). Obviously if you're in Paris you should try to eat well - using David Lebovitz as our guide, we ended up at A La Petite Chaise, which is a very old, very classic French restaurant. Charming old fashioned waiters, a decor that looks like it could have been unchanged from when it opened in the 1860s, and a menu that reads like you'd expect. Escargot, French onion soup, and for me, an avocado and citrus salad (my slight nod at trying not to have a heart attach). I made up for that starter with the duck breast main, which was executed well and came with a lovely puck of dauphinoise potato. Creme brulee to end, with an appropriately shattering caramel top - though I should point out that the portion was absolutely enormous and I was sadly unable to finish, which disappointed our waiter. K picked out a great wine (though I can't recall exactly what it was) and it made for the perfect three hour dinner after a long day of walking.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Waterfront


Middleton Rd 
Hartlepool Harbour
TS24 0UG

I'm not usually one to frequent harbourside chippies but when I found myself in Hartlepool with a colleague and a couple of spare hours before our train home, we took advantage of the sunny weather to have a few pints and enjoy the local delicacies. Both of us were up for getting some authentic fish and chips up north, and this takeaway seemed to be doing brisk business, even at the early hour of 4pm. We both had a small cod and chips (only £4.50!), though my colleague also got thick brown gravy poured over his portion. He loved the oniony gravy - I was very happy to keep my fish and chips as crisp as possible. Unsurprisingly it was absolutely delicious - flaky, pearly white chunks of cod that fell apart with the gentle prod of a plastic fork, with a shatteringly thin batter - and even the chips, which looked fresh cut and came in irregular sizes, were as crunchy as they should be on the outside, and full of fluffy potato goodness on the inside. Perhaps it's for the best that this is quite a trip to make - otherwise I might be upping my fish and chip consumption by an astonishing amount.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Sausage and Mushroom Pasta






I am having a blast with these quick pasta dishes - ever since I learned that a block of cream cheese (or soft cheese, as they call it over here) is a great "sauce" for pasta, I've been throwing it in with various ingredients to great success (or at least to A's approval, which is basically the same thing). Today's recipe follows this theme.

Sausage and Mushroom Pasta
Serves 4

Ingredients

500g dried pasta (I like fusilli for this)
1 container cream cheese / soft cheese
250g mushrooms (I used plain old white mushrooms but I'm sure any would work)
250g sausage (I went with a plain British pork sausage)
handful of parsley, chopped
salt and pepper to taste

Method

1. Boil the pasta according to the package directions in well salted water. Drain, reserving a little pasta water.

2. Meanwhile, cook the sausages and then dice into small pieces. Reserve any fat that remains in the pan from the sausages.

3. Slice the mushrooms and cook them in the sausage pan, adding salt and pepper to taste.

4. Mix pasta, sausage, mushrooms and cream cheese in pot, adding a little reserved pasta water if the sauce needs loosening.

5. Serve, adding parsley on top and additional pepper if desired.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

The De Beauvoir Arms


113 Southgate Rd
London 
N1 3JS

The De Beauvoir Arms is one of our many incredible local pubs - it was something else when we moved to this neighborhood but I love the new incarnation. Sunny and bright inside, with plenty of outdoor picnic tables for good weather, it serves really satisfying pub grub and some small tapas style dishes as well, so I can always find something I want to eat. Great for vegetarians and pescetarians as well, which means we visit quite often with A's mum. The menu changes every day, so sometimes when you have something really nice it's sad to not be able to just order it again, but some things do repeat regularly. This picture is from a Sunday lunch with a group of eight adults, one baby. I had the spring chicken roast, while A went for the lamb - both were fabulous (I stole a bit of the cauliflower cheese that came with the lamb) and if you know me, you know how much I adore deconstructing small birds. It was perfectly cooked, full of chickeny juices and plenty of veg. I usually don't have the patience to make Sunday roasts myself as there are a few too many components for a meal just for me and A - so it is great to know that aside from the Drapers, this pub around the corner can also satisfy all Sunday roast needs.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Assa


53 St. Giles High Street
London
WC2H 8LH

So since my first visit to Assa in 2010 I've been back a few more times with my Korean food loving friends.  It's in such a convenient location for pre-theatre meals, and it always helps me deal with my kimchi cravings when they hit. This latest visit was with P before we went to go see Once (which was pretty good, but I like the film more). I have been accused of going nuts with the ordering whenever P and I get together, but it worked out well at Assa. A kimchi seafood pancake was absolutely terrific - crisp crust, juicy seafood and the fermenty funk of kimchi all combine well here (plus the pancake didn't fall apart like it does at so many other places). I also loved the kimchi and pork belly over tofu - it felt like a relatively light dish due to all the tofu and cabbage, but the shreds of pork belly gave it this incredibly luxurious edge as well. And finally, a spicy chicken dish - probably the most "normal" dish of the evening but it came with plenty of rice for two people and was a great way to round off the meal. All that, plus a couple of Korean beers - exactly the right amount for greedy people like me and P. 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Bogayo Restaurant and Bar


320 Old Street
London
EC1V 9DR

C and I were meeting up for a bite to eat before some friends played a gig in a nearby club. Bogayo came up on Opentable with a special offer of 50% off food, so we decided to give Moroccan food a try. Due to my inability to keep up with the amount of food I eat, this post is probably about 9 months old, and therefore my memory is not exactly precise. Starters were decent but nothing extraordinary - the mains were much better and we were particularly taken with the lamb tagine pictured above (lamb shank coated in Moroccan aromatic sauce with prunes, apricot, roasted almonds & sesame seeds). It was a massive portion and absolutely perfectly cooked - the lamb was falling of the bone and infused with loads of flavor. I'm pretty sure we meant to get a seafood dish as well, but they had run out, so we ended up with the mixed grill, which was ok but nowhere near as good as the lamb tagine. So I'd go back for the tagine, and maybe try something else.

Monday, June 16, 2014

The Flying Pig


58-60 E Dulwich Rd
London 
SE22 9AX

So pictures above are from our first visit to The Flying Pig, with T and R and their baby. It was a Sunday lunchtime, and the pub was heaving with children, so it's a good choice if you are looking for family-friendly atmosphere and don't want anyone to glare at you if you are with an uncontrollable child/baby (not that T&R's baby was anything but very well behaved the whole time). My buffalo wings were disappointing as usual (why is it so hard for UK restaurants to fry some chicken wings and dip them in Frank's hot sauce mixed with butter?) but the beef rib that A had was pretty great, and you can see how the giant chunks of beef take up over half the plate. A return visit with a different group of friends was an entirely different matter though. Friday nights, the pub is definitely not a place for children, and the sound of adults drinking interesting beer is enough to deafen a person. I had to order the beef rib this time, and it was about half the size as the portion above. It was still plenty of food though, and I wouldn't have mentioned it, except that A's chicken burger came with a piece of chicken so small that as soon as he pointed it out, the waitress brought him another chicken burger. So low score for tiny first burger, but extra points for addressing that flaw immediately. When A mentioned my beef rib was tiny compared to last time, the other waitress seemed to take the statement personally, which was a bit awkward. I'm not sure how to summarize my feelings about this place - I doubt I'll be back any time soon, and Duke's Brew & Cue is better for BBQ meat, but I suppose if I found myself back in East Dulwich I might be tempted to go one more time?

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Punter


3 Pound Hill
Cambridge 
CB3 0AE

So a group visit to Cambridge to see C and A before baby E was born resulted in a lovely walk, a fortunate stop in a pub by the river while a torrential downpour occurred, and then dinner at The Punter, a cozy pub. Sadly this was quite a while ago so I can't remember exactly what that terrine was, but I do remember enjoying it. A look at their website shows that their menu changes regularly, so there's no way of finding out, but it says a bit about how much care and thought they put into the food - no same-old same-old prepared stuff being deep fried in the kitchen, that's for sure. It was a wonderful evening with great company - so I'd be happy to go back for more.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Earlham Street Clubhouse


35 Earlham Street
London 
WC2H 9LD

When P emailed me about a place that was 90s themed and served cocktails and pizza, I immediately made arrangements with him to visit. Those are three of our favorite things! Walking in, I was struck by how much they tried to stuff it full of Americana - battered metal signs advertising PBR, license plates everywhere, etc. This whole obsession with the US is at full throttle in London.

Since P and I arrived at 6.45pm, we were able to take advantage of both the before 7pm special and the after 7pm special on this Tuesday night. Before 7pm, you can get a gigantic pizza and bottle of wine for £25. After 7pm, they had a 2-4-1 deal on one of the cocktails (Rolling with the Homies, Ketel 1 vodka, peach and strawberry purees, fresh lemon and sugar, topped with fizz). We opted for a "Ross and Rachel" pizza which meant you could get a half-and-half pizza - we chose the Vincent Vega (tomato, mozzarella, spicy Calabrian sausage and fresh basil) and the Ferris Bueller (tomato, mozzarella, chilli chicken, spicy salami, scotch bonnet chillies and red onion). Neither half was all that spicy, but I still really enjoyed the thin crust pizza. It took forever to eat the whole thing as it was so enormous! The wine was drinkable, and the cocktails were long and boozy and sweet, so all in all it was a pretty decent success. Just be warned - around 9pm the music suddenly got turned WAY up so P and I left in order to avoid screaming at each other for the rest of the night.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Stuck pot rice with lentils and yogurt


I've been trying out more vegetarian dishes lately - while A and I both enjoy meat, it helps to have some more vegetable based meals here and there for variety and health's sake. Plus our friend AB has gone vegetarian recently so when he's over for meals it makes sense to just find a tasty vegetarian dish that everyone can enjoy. This recipe called out to me as soon as I saw it, and it was a hit, even if the crusty bit didn't quite turn out as expected. This may be due to me messing around with proportions and not being so precise at measuring out yogurt, but who cares when it tastes good?

Stuck Pot Rice with Lentils and Yogurt
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen
Serves 6 generously (a main dish)

Ingredients

Salt
1 1/2 cup green lentils, rinsed
1 1/2 cups white basmati rice, rinsed well
1/4 cup olive oil
1 large onion (or 5 small ones in my case), thinly sliced
1/4 cup plain yogurt, I used low-fat, plus additional for serving
2 tablespoons lemon juice, plus additional lemon wedges for serving
1/3 cup water
2 teaspoons ground cumin
Freshly ground black pepper or red pepper flakes
Chopped fresh cilantro for garnish

Method

Bring a medium-sized heavy pot with a tight fitting lid (so you can use one pot for all the steps) of salted water to a boil. Add lentils and rice and return to a boil. Simmer the mixture for five minutes without stirring. Drain mixture and transfer to a large bowl.

Heat the same pot over medium-high heat. Once heated, add 2 tablespoons oil; one oil is warm, add onions and a couple pinches of salt and cover with a lid. Cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly caramelized and brown, about 10 to 12 minutes.

Add onions to bowl with rice and lentils. Stir in yogurt, lemon juice, water, cumin and pepper, plus additional salt to taste.

Heat pot again over medium-high heat. Once fully hot, add remaining 2 tablespoons oil. Once that is hot, return rice mixture to pot, pressing it in. (It will sizzle.) Wrap clean kitchen towel around lid of pot so it completely covers inside of lid; gather corners on top so they do not fall anywhere near stove. Place lid on pot, sealing tightly. Reduce heat to very low. Cook undisturbed about 30 minutes; rice should smell toasty but not burned and you might need to check on it once or twice if you’re making it for the first time. Remove from heat, and let sit 5 minutes more.

Carefully remove lid and cloth, and turn pot upside down over a platter. If rice comes out in a single crust, terrific. If not, use a spatula to scrape crisp pieces out of pan and onto remaining rice. (I'll confess I didn't even really get crisp pieces, more like crisp bits - there was no crust, just crispy rice, but it was delicious anyway.) Garnish with chopped cilantro, and serve with lemon wedges and additional plain yogurt.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Duke of Cornwall


48 Fulham Palace Road
London W6 9PH
 
S and I met up with some of her friends before a gig at the Hammersmith Apollo (this guy, if you're curious). While wandering the area looking for a place to have a drink and a bite to eat, we stumbled across the Duke of Cornwall. Its menu is not that promising - the pictures of the food are terrible and we were all a bit concerned, but when you're hungry and pressed for time you're willing to take a chance. Turns out, we're all happy we did - my pad thai (boring, I know) was actually delicious, if a little on the sweet side - it came with proper crushed peanut and chilli garnishes and was an absolutely enormous portion for under £7. We scarfed our food, along with some wine, and then hopped across the road for a wonderful evening of music.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Shepherd's Pie


 

Shepherd's pie is a dish that I've been meaning to try to make since I moved to the UK. It's basically the same thing as cottage pie (which is made with beef instead of lamb). And while it's called a pie, it's only topped with mashed potato - there's no pie crust needed. On a cold night, it makes the perfect warm dish to fill you up - and this could have easily served six people, which meant A and I had plenty of extra meals out of it.

Shepherd's Pie
Adapted from Jamie and Nigel
 

Ingredients

1 onion
2 carrots
2 sticks of celery

handful of button mushrooms, chopped (optional)
2 cloves of garlic
a small bunch of fresh rosemary (I used dried)

Worcestershire sauce
olive oil
500g good-quality minced lamb
1 x 400g tin of chopped tomatoes
250ml lamb or vegetable stock

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 kg potatoes
100ml semi-skimmed milk


Method

Boil and mash 1kg of big, floury potatoes, adding a thick slice of butter as you mash (or, if you're me, skip the butter and just add some milk until the mash is the consistency you like). Soften the onion, peeled and chopped in a little butter. (You can add a few diced carrots and celery at this point, and the mushrooms if you're using them.) When the vegetables are softened a bit, add 500g minced lamb, letting it brown thoroughly. Now add your salt, pepper, rosemary and a shake or two of Worcestershire sauce, the tomatoes, and about 250ml of stock. Let the mixture simmer gently for 30 minutes. Tip the lamb into a shallow baking dish, top with the mash, use a fork to rake the top so that you get extra crispy bits, then bake for 35-40 minutes in a hot oven till the surface is crisp. Serves 6.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Quality Chop House


92-94 Farringdon Rd
London
EC1R 3EA

After seeing multiple Instagram posts about the food at The Quality Chop House, I finally decided to pay it a visit with A. It took us a while to find a suitable date but eventually we settled on mid-January and booked a table for two. They do notify you when they call to confirm the reservation that the seating in the restaurant is Victorian booths, so as a table of two you will likely be sharing with another couple of diners, but I figured we'd go find out whether or not sharing a table is uncomfortable. Thankfully the booths are quite long so you're not crammed up against each other - it's just a little annoying when you need to get out for any reason and you have to disturb the meal of the people next to you just to use the restroom.

The other different thing is that there is a different set menu every night for dinner, based on ingredients that the chefs feel like cooking that day. For £35, you get an amuse and bread, 4 different starters, a main, and a dessert. The cooking is excellent - no worries about eating too much that you think to yourself, I could make that at home. The first stunner we had was a Jerusalem artichoke dish where it had been prepared five different ways - pureed, roasted, pickled, crisped, and with the skin turned into crackling. I also loved the lamb's tongue with chorizo and chickweed, and cod with mushrooms (even A enjoyed the cod which he usually finds quite bland). For mains we shared a platter of venison, both as a sliced steak and as a braised pile of tender shredded meat, on top of cauliflower puree with beetroots and parsnips and kale on the side. And finally, dessert was rhubarb with hazelnut ice cream and meringues. We were absolutely stuffed by the end and ambled out into the drizzly night two hours later, satisfied and ready to go home.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Bacchus Pub & Kitchen


177 Hoxton St
London 
N1 6PJ  

I should start this by saying I believe Bacchus is closed now. But I’ll forge ahead anyway. E, S and I were looking for a place to go for a Saturday lunch with our boys right before Christmas. When the first few pubs we tried wouldn’t take reservations, I remembered Bacchus – I’ve been here both in its previous incarnation as a fine dining restaurant but also in its current pub form and enjoyed both. At 2.30pm this day, it was essentially empty and we noticed loving goodbyes scrawled on some walls and pillars – indications that we were there for the last throes. But nevermind, my sea bass was still great, with crisp skin and fluffy roast potatoes underneath. A’s fish pie was good as well, and our two bottles of red helped us all celebrate merrily. And our final chocolate mousse with some tart Morello cherries was much darker and richer than expected, making the portion size perfect. So farewell, Bacchus – I hope something great comes back in your place.