Sunday, 31 August 2008

Bank Holiday - Brick Lane Bakery

Brick Lane Bakery

Brick Lane Bakery - Salt Beef

We made our first trip here very late on the Friday evening and made our second two days later, for dinner. Yes, the food at the Brick Lane Bakery is THAT good! An unassuming place in East London, this bakery apparently churns out about 7000 beigels a night. The spelling is indeed beigal. It has been argued that it is the correct, traditional way of spelling and hey...who am I to argue?

Salt Beef Beigel

Brick Lane Bakery - Salt Beef Beigel

Whilst the beigels are excellent, warm and chewy, whenever you happen to drop by for a whole meal or just to pick something up, it the salt beef in a beigal that takes it to a whole new level. For a measly £3.00, you can get yourself a beigel filled to about 2 inches high with beautifully tender meat and if you so wish, lashings of hot English mustard (a gherkin on the side is sold separately for 20p). My past experiences of salt beef has sadly been limited - the outrageously expensive stuff at Selfridges (good but outrageous all the same) and some poor limp bit of meat a cafe near my office tried to pass of as salt beef, sigh. But I can tell this is good stuff, not just from what my brain is yelling out to me, but by the amount of the stuff the bakery sells. Nadia and I stood there for quite some time on both visits and the meat just kept coming out of the kitchen. There are other filling on offer (smoked salmon £1.50, smoked salmon and cream cheese £2, etc) but seriously....who wants them when there's salt beef to be had!

Brick Lane Bakery -Chocolate Fudge

Brick Lane Bakery - Cheesecake

For dessert (there's always room for dessert!) we shared a chocolate fudge slice and a cheese cake, both for 50p each. Oh why can't prices be that low everywhere? The fudge slice was chewy, fudge-y and most definitely very yummy. It doesn't actually look it in the picture but trust me, it is. The cheesecake slice was crumbly and not overly sweet, which actually gave it that extra 'umph'. I liked this place so much that I'll even give it top marks for the tea (40p for a small, 50p for a large). Brewed nice and strong, just the way I like it. When it's this strong, it's got to be white with 2 1/2 sugars, please :)

Brick Lane Bakery - Baked Goodies

The Brick Lane Bakery does offer an array of baked goods - the breads lined the walls by the counter (challa, white loaves to name a few). I bought half a dozen beigels home for £1.20 but the more you buy the cheaper it gets. There were a few boards up around the bakery listing the prices of the and numerous pastries. beigels - it goes up to 15 dozen - I wonder how many people buy 180 beigels??? Service is quick and given with that Cockney charm but not always that efficient. Make it clear what you want, especially if you're ordering several different items. Though quick, they sometimes miss something out. Another great thing about this place? It's open 24 hours!

Brick Lane Beigel Bake
159 Brick Lane, London E1 6SB

Saturday, 30 August 2008

Bank Holiday - Gold Mine, Bayswater

As we were already in the Bayswater/Notting Hill area, Nadia and I (joined by two hungry boys, Stuart and SW)decided to have a roast duck dinner. Usually I would head for Four Seasons, where their roast duck is known far and wide, but a few months ago I discovered Gold Mine. Opened by an ex-chef from Four Seasons, Gold Mine is only a few doors down from Four Seasons and I actually prefer the food here.

Gold Mine - Whole Boned Roast Duck

A whole de-boned roast duck was just as good as Four Seasons. Crispy skin with a melt-in-the-mouth layer of fat underneath and lovely tender, moist meat with no bones to fiddle with :) Beneath the meat lay a good amount of boiled Chinese leaf - yay! The dish was topped with a good ladle-ful of roast duck gravy (mostly soy sauce), which was excellent over hot rice.

Gold Mine - Stir Fried Beef with XO Sauce

Stir fried beef with XO sauce. XO is actually a spicy seafood sauce and nothing to do with extra fine, aged cognac :) The dish was good but with most beef stir fries in Chinese restaurants, the meat was slightly chewy, the sign of too much tenderizer on a cheaper cut of meat. I guess I've become so accustomed to this, it's hardly something to complain about.

Gold Mine - Braised Tofu with Minced Pork

Braised tofu with minced pork in a hotpot. Made with deep fried pieces of Japanese egg tofu and mince pork in a thick corn starch sauce. I detected some miso used in the sauce, perhaps I'm wrong.

Gold Mine - Braised Aubergine with Minced Pork

Our obligatory vegetable, braised aubergine with minced pork in a hotpot was really delicious. Fried pieces of aubergine with mince pork, chili , garlic in lots of oil. Yum!

The verdict?
Two thumbs up from everyone. I would have liked some green vegetables but with the two hungry boys demanding meat, that is what we had. All the dish were really good but I liked the beef the least. With our tummies full and smiles on our faces, we each left with £13 less in our wallets.

Gold Mine

102 Queensway, London W2 3RR

Thursday, 28 August 2008

Stewed Lamb with Orzo

Tender Stewed Lamb with Orzo

I tend to drop by Sainsbury's near the office to have look for bits and pieces after work. If I go at the right time, there's always a bargain to be had and this time I scored a boned shoulder of lamb. Roasting the meat was out of the question, unless of course I was prepared to eat at midnight so I decided to use my trusty old friend - the pressure cooker. Considered slightly old fashioned, yes, but a wondrous gadget for those short of time and/or patience.

Putting it all together
I seared the meat off in a pan to get some of the fat to drain off the meat. As the meat is browning, sweat some onions and chunks of garlic in the pressure cooker. Add about a teaspoon of tomato paste and cook for a few seconds. Add a splash of balsamic vinegar and let it cook down. Once the meat is nicely seared all over, transfer it into the pressure cooker. Drain off the access lamb fat and de-glaze the pan with some white wine. Make sure all the nice crusty bits are scraped up. Pour the liquid from the pan into the pressure cooker and add in a tub of ready made chicken gravy (I bought a 500g tub of ready made poultry gravy). I added some fresh rosemary from my plant and seasoned the dish well just before the lid went on for 40-45 minutes.

Cook some orzo in a separate pot. When the lamb is done (you should be able to cut the meat with a fork), take it out of the pressure cooker and mix the orzo into the gravy. Bring the pot to a boil if the gravy is too watery. Ladle the orzo into a bowl and top with chunks of meat.

Bank Holiday - Portobello Road Market, Notting Hill

My old friend, Nadia, came down from Manchester for a visit over the bank holiday weekend and one of her requests was a visit to the famed Notting Hill Carnival. Unfortunately... we went on the wrong day :) ... but we did manage to catch the Portobello Road market. Known for selling antiques, it also sells the usual fruit and veg, cooked food, etc.

Hummingbird Bakery, Notting Hill

I, on the other hand, kept an eye out for the The Hummingbird Bakery, known for its delectable cupcakes. Emmm.. and it didn't disappoint. Less crowded than I expected, the little shop did steady business in the short time it took the two of us to polish off our little treats whilst sitting on some uncomfortable high stools in a cramped little corner of the shop.

The Hummingbird Bakery - Red Velvet

My treat, the Red Velvet cupcake. The cupcake itself was delightfully tender and moist. The icing of a cream cheese frosting was creamy and sweet. In short, it was a pretty darn good cupcake - I call them fairy cakes , a little un-PC these days - plus Nadia laughed at me :) I thought it was worth the price tag of £1.85 and yes, I'll definitely be going back.

The Hummingbird Bakery - Vanilla Bling Bling

Nadia got a vanilla Bling Bling. Perhaps not the prettiest Bling Bling on sale :) Her comment was "it's not bad" and since I didn't try any, I'll have to take her word for it. The Bling Bling came in a choice of chocolate or vanilla for the price of £1.55 each.

Portobello Road Market - Churros Con Chocolate

I found churros! I haven't had these since my visit to Barcelona about seven years ago, where my friends and I went churros mad :) Fried to order I opted to have churros con chocolate over the cinnamon sugar from the Churros Gracia stall in the market. The deep fried pieces of dough were hot, crispy and slightly sweet from the sprinkle of sugar the girl behind the counter put over them. The hot chocolate was good, not too sweet. However, it's price tag is a little hefty at £3.50 a portion, though I have to admit the portion was rather generous.

*Nadia and I did actually go back the next day to the carnival. It was more for her benefit than mine, I had been in years gone by and didn't come away a fan. And sadly neither did she.

The Hummingbird Bakery
133 Portobello Road
Notting Hill
London W11 2DY

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Seafood Spaghetti

Seafood Spaghetti

With another 2 basa fillets sitting in the fridge waiting to be cooked, I decided to pair them up with other bits and bobs that I needed to use up - some prawns (another buy one, get one free offer from Sainsbury's Taste the Difference range... ha I'm a shameless bargain hunter) and some tinned razor clams that a colleague very sweetly brought back for me from Spain - to make a quick weekday dinner of seafood pasta.

Seafood Spaghetti
Your choice of seafood - I used white fish fillets cut into chunks, peeled prawns and tinned razor clams
Fresh tomatoes - de-seeded and cut into small chunks
Olive oil
Small knob of tomato paste
White wine
Fish stock - perhaps a bit of an extravagance if you don't have a large pot of fish bones simmering on the stove but I picked up a packet of this stuff ages ago (yes, another bargain find) and it really does make a difference to the overall dish.
Basil - I used Thai sweet basil as I had it in the fridge but the normal stuff is great too
  • Boil the spaghetti according to the instructions on the packet
  • In a large pan, heat up some olive oil on a medium heat. Add the garlic and let it sweat for a few seconds but careful it does not to let it colour.
  • Add the tomatoes into the pan and cook them until they are almost broken down. Add the tomato paste and cook for a few seconds.
  • Pour in the wine and let the alcohol cook off. Pour in the fish stock and bring to a simmer. Put the fish gently gently into the pan and make sure they are evenly scattered throughout. Let them cook for a few minutes.
  • As the fish is about done, add the prawns, which only need warming through, and the razor clams. I added the liquid from the tinned clams as well. They contain all the yummy saltiness of the clams.
  • Bring the pan to a simmer and ensure that everything in the pan is properly heated through. Season.
  • Serve with the spaghetti and a sprinkling of torn basil leaves.
The basa fillets are definitely more suited for steaming with ginger and soy sauce or perhaps with lemongrass, lime juice and chili or even pan fried with a dash of soy sauce. The 'freshwater taste' came through quite strongly in this dish and was a little out of place. Otherwise the dish was very tasty and perhaps a tad extravagant for a midweek dinner but it's easy to put together if you have a few bits and bobs lying around, like I did. But maybe the addition of some chili would liven things up a little?

Steamed Fish with Ginger and Soy Sauce

For a really nice piece of fresh fish, there's really no other way to treat it other than to steam it. Flavoured with ginger, maybe a tad bit of garlic, a splash of shaoshing rice wine, soy sauce and a dribble of flavourless oil. Served with lots of steamed white rice... ahhh heaven!

Sainsbury's was doing a special on basa fillets - buy one, get one free. Imagine my excitement :) As freshwater fish, my basa fillets performed rather well with the ginger and soy sauce. It complemented (hid? haha) the slightly muddy taste that freshwater fish tend to have.

Steamed Fish
fish of your choice - a whole fish or fillets
minced young or old ginger - preferably steamed before hand to mellow it slightly
soy sauce
shaoshing rice wine
spring onion - cut on a slant

  • Clean your fish - you don't want nasty little bits of guts or scales to ruin the purity of the finished dish. If your fish has the skin on, make sure the scales are removed.
  • Place your fish on a plate that will sit nicely in your cooking pot. I have a metal stand that sits very nicely in my wok. And I have found that my "pasta plate" from M&S (a wide shallow bowl/plate) works well for this dish. If you have a bamboo steamer, use that instead, though I'm not personally keen on that myself - the smell of fish lingers on the steamer for ages! But if you are using a bamboo steamer, steam the fish in that and make the sauce separately in a sauce pan and pour it over the fish afterwards. No steamer? Not a problem. Just wrap your fish, ginger and the sauce in a double layer of foil and bung the packet in a hot oven. Sprinkle the spring onion and coriander on after the fish comes out of the oven.
  • Spoon a liberal amount of minced ginger - I used the same mixture I had made for my Hainanese chicken rice - over the fish. In a bowl, mix the soy sauce, shaoshing rice wine, oil and a splash of water together. Pour over the fish.
  • Steam the fish -cooking time varies depending on the fish used. I steamed mine for about 6-7 minutes. It'll take about 15-20 minutes in the oven.
  • Lift your fish out carefully. Sprinkle with spring onion and coriander. Serve with steamed white rice.

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Ultimate Vanilla Ice Cream

Home-made Vanilla Bean Ice Cream
I bought an ice-cream machine on a whim a few weeks ago. It was one of those weeks where I decided I just had to have a machine where I could churn out gorgeously cold and creamy creations. I don't always give in to the temptations to buy absolutely random kitchen kitchenware - a week after I bought the ice-cream machine, I decided a pipping bag was the missing utensil in my kitchen. I'm happy to say I rode that wave of foolishness out because I'm not sure what I would actually do with a pipping bag.

The ice-cream machine is a whole different matter. My new toy has been put to good use and what better ice-cream flavour to start off with but .... vanilla!Master the vanilla and then move on to something else :) In my opinion anyway. As I was hesitant to spend more money on an ice-cream recipe book, I trawled the Net for the one perfect recipe - one that I could hopefully master the first time so I could move on to different flavours. Yes, yes - I should learn to walk before I start try to shoot off to run a marathon.

And...... I found it! Where else but the ever reliable BBC's Good Food magazine? The recipe by Angela Nilsen is called the Ultimate Vanilla Ice Cream and it was absolutely gorgeous. Creamy, rich, full of that beautiful vanilla flavour and even the tell-tale sign of real vanilla bean used from the tiny black seeds. The slight (only teeny-weeny slight) down point to this recipe was that it was a tad too sweet for my liking but no problem .... with the next batch I made, very soon after the first one I must admit, the sugar portion was adjusted and it was just as good.

I must admit that although I followed the recipe to the latter the first time, it is rather long winded and I did make several adjustments.
  • I don't have golden caster sugar so I changed it to 2/3 normal white caster sugar and 1/3 dark brown sugar - but I'll very probably change it again to half of each the next time I make vanilla ice-cream.
  • My vanilla beans were a little old so I cheated a little and added vanilla extract as well.
  • I dumped the last part of the recipe which calls for the custard to be cooled in a bowl sitting in a larger bowl of ice. I cooled it down with the pan sitting on the stove and in it went into the fridge until I was ready to churn it.
The topping that went on the ice-cream, pictured above, was home-made granola. No exact recipe - just my favourite dried fruit and nuts and oats bound together with some golden syrup and peanut butter (lots) and baked in the oven for 45 minutes. I actually made granola bars but the bits that came loose made a good ice-cream topping.

The Big Soup

Every now and then I crave for a big bowl of noodle soup. Sometimes I'm lazy and reach for a packet of instant noodles - Maggie Mee preferably or if I'm really hungry, one of those huge packets of Korean noodles. But then there are times when I feel like putting more love and care into the cooking pot.

The shop bought wanton skins were filled with minced pork that had ginger, garlic, soy sauce, oyster sauce and a touch of sesame oil mixed in. The fish cakes were shop bought from Chinatown and came in a squidgy fish paste block for shape-your-own fishcakes. I get really excited whenever I see these - I like most things processed :) but these were slightly disappointing. A tad too bouncy for my liking (I like the harder, chewier version) and really over-salted, though I happily ate my way through the whole packet. Perhaps one day when I'm really feeling the love and devotion toward the cooking pot, I'll make my own fish paste.

Putting it all together
  • Cook some noodles (your choice) according to the directions on the packet. Drizzle with a little oil so that the noodles don't stick together. Set aside.
  • Bring to boil a nice potful (half a potful, quarter of a potful.... whichever takes your fancy) of stock up to the bowl. I had a bag of home-made chicken stock sitting in the back of my freezer so I used that.
  • Drop in the wantons (they freeze rather well and can be dumped into a pot straight out of the freezer-they only need a few extra minutes). Let the stock come back to a boil. Put in the vegetables, harder bits of stalks first and softer bits of leaves last. Be careful not to prod the wantons too hard, the skins are delicate after cooking.
  • When the wantons float to the top and their skins start to get wrinkly, it means that they are cooked. I usually give them a minute or two extra to make sure :)
  • Spoon in the fish paste into the stock. It's the easiest way without getting your hands messy. *tip* Wet your spoon after dropping every spoonful of fish paste into the pot. This ensures that the sticky mixture slides neatly into the soup and not stick stubbornly to the spoon. The fish paste only takes a minute to cook.
  • Get some big bowls ready. Divide the noodles into the bowls. Dish out the goodies from pot. Sprinkle on some fried shallots or garlic if you like. Slurp away! :)

Friday, 22 August 2008

Grilled Chicken Wings

We're on a bit of an economy drive this month (and probably for the next few months - sigh) and what could be cheaper and tastier then some grilled chicken wings? Better barbecued, I agree, but I live in a flat with a tiny balcony and I doubt my plants (or my neighbours for that matter :) would appreciate smoke billowing their way.

Stuart marinated the wings in oyster sauce, ketchup, barbecue sauce, black pepper and I put them under the grill, turning them over once or twice. Slightly charred and smoky with hints of tang and sweetness, these wings were juicy and definitely went down a treat.

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Sunday Brunch - Eggs Benedict

The laziness of a Sunday afternoon and the lack of exciting ideas for making anything more interesting led to this meal. I've never made hollandaise before... but how hard can it be, right? No, not so hard....I just threw the first batch away. Ha! But the second was fine :) I did modify the recipe... just a little. I used lime juice instead of the traditional white wine vinegar or lemon juice (I didn't have either in stock) and I didn't cook this over a pan of simmering water but it tasted fine. Couldn't be happier for a first ... alright.. second attempt :)

An egg yolk
A squeeze of lime/lemon / white wine vinegar
melted butter (about 50g, depending on the size of your egg) - if you're really picky you can used the clarified stuff or do it yourself but if you're lazy like me, then go ahead with the normal stuff - it didn't seem to make a difference
salt and pepper to taste

  • Melt the butter on a low heat, make sure it doesn't burn.
  • In a clean bowl, whisk the egg yolk, lime juice salt and pepper until thickened.
  • Whisking (I used a hand held one) hard, trickle in the butter in a slow, steady stream*. You should be able to see the mixture in the bowl thicken.
  • When all the butter has been incorporated, wipe down the side of the bowl with a spatula to ensure all the sauce gets mixed in and give the mixture another whisk.
*This is where recipes call for the whisking of the mixture over a pan of simmering water and where it went horribly wrong for me. My bowl got too hot and the egg yolk cooked into slimy, lumpy bits. Pretty. So down the kitchen drain it went and I started a new batch without having to use any hot water.

Putting it all together
Poach the egg - bring some water in a pot to a gentle simmer - add a touch of vinegar to the water. This helps the egg hold its shape by causing the outer layer of the egg white to congeal faster. Break the egg into a little bowl. Swirl the water to make a mini whirlpool - with a spoon or a whisk does the job even better. Drop the egg into the middle of the whirlpool and watch the egg white whirl around the yolk. Poach for about 2-3 minutes for a nice runny-medium yolk.

In the meantime, slice the English muffin in half and pop it into the toaster. Butter the muffin halves if you so wish and layer on the ham. I have to confess, since we are on an economy drive, I used economy ham ... *shock horror* :) Then again I adore Spam and this stuff is probably just as bad.

Gently lift the egg from the water and place it on top on the ham on the muffin. Spoon over the hollandaise and crack on some black pepper.

Conclusion? The sauce was good but not as rich as it can be. Maybe next time I'll use a tad bit more butter and definitely some better quality ham.

Sunday, 17 August 2008

Taste of London

Once a year, food snobs and would be food snobs (me:) from London and beyond gather in Regents Park to taste what the top London restaurants have to offer. It's all great fun with lots of food but tickets do start from about £20 for entrance alone, so it's not the cheapest day out you can expect. This year 40 top London restaurants cooked up feasts and numerous other stalls touted wares from specialized sushi knives to little known village cheeses and everything else in between (almost) - bring large reusable shopping bags, they come in very handy or if you're not planning on wearing those 8inch heels, rough it out and bring a backpack - there are offers aplenty here.

It's a 4 day event and as all of us were expected to slog the week away at work, Saturday was our chosen day. As with any other English summer's day, rain threatened us but we are hardy Londoners :) Armed with umbrellas, cardigans, scarves and even Jo packed a pair of wellies (on my advice, which I later felt very bad about), the positive part of us dressed ourselves in light, short sleeved tops (for heaven's sake... it is summer!). The whole day the sun and clouds played peek-a-boo with each other but no rain (hoorah!)...sigh if only summer ever felt like... summer :)

There was already a crowd by the time we arrived at 12.40pm (gates open at 12.30pm) but the site is large and it didn't feel very crowded until we got to the restaurant stands. And in spite the British being famous for queues, there never seemed like there was one. Lighthearted jostling to see who would get the attention of the waiting staff behind each counter. Food wise, this was a great opportunity try dishes from restaurants normally beyond our means but this didn't mean everything was that good (some downright disappointing, unfortunately) and it was still pricey. £s have to be swapped for crowns, with each crown worth 50p. Dishes cost between 6-10 crowns with each restaurant serving 3 dishes priced at 6 crowns, 8 crowns and 10 crowns. Unfortunately my tummy couldn't quite match up to my legendary greediness but I did try ..very hard!


Norwegian red king fillette and potted confit of Norwegian salmon with sea lettuce butter, soft onsen quail egg, cured lemon and almond cauliflower mousse

This was rich and creamy, perhaps overly so for such a little dish. The crab and salmon was good and quite distinctive beneath all the other ingredients but they should have been left alone a little more to speak for themselves. This is the sort of dish a chef would make to wow a diner - creamy rich poached quail's egg and mousse of any sort would just yell ...over the top!

Coupe liegeoise of dark manjari brownie chocolate, coffee and salt caramel ice cream

Despite not being overly impressed with my first overly fussy dish from One-O-One, I went back to seek out some dessert and this I throughly enjoyed. The little chocolate brownies were dense, bordering on chewy that weren't overly sweet. The salt caramel ice cream was delicious and I loved the how well the salt complemented the normally very sweet caramel. Below there were bits of crushed honeycomb (seen in the 1st photo of the dessert), which lent a nice crunch. The coffee foam (foam was very fashionable this year - last year it was micro herbs) rounded up the dessert very well. The slight bitterness against the sweet crunchy honeycomb, sweet-saltiness of the caramel and the richness of the chocolate. Very well done, indeed. My only regret would be not asking for more foam when I was asked how much I would like - and there I thought they were offering to top it up with whipped cream. Sigh!


Chicken Tikka

I fell in love with the tandoori lamb that Benares had on their menu at the festival last year and I have been having beautiful dreams of it ever since. Yes, I am that much in love and it is really that wonderful. Beautiful layers of flavours that mingled so beautifully in my mouth. I was definitely looking forward to what this stand had to offer this year. The chicken tikka was good. Lovely flavours and cooked just right but ..... it just didn't... couldn't... match up to the lamb. The lamb was tender, juicy...and the chicken, well chicken is chicken. If I wasn't such a scrooge, I would cough up the dough to pay full price to eat at the restaurant.. maybe next year...

Imagine my excitement when when I saw the man behind Benares - Atul Kochhar. Definitely more exciting than spotting Gordan Ramsey last year! :)

Aiden Byrne

Line caught sea bass with shrimp chorizo and saffron pickled vegetables

Nice fresh succulent flesh with a crunchy skin. I only had a bite of this but there were no complaints from those who ordered it. Fresh, light and unfussy; very well executed.

Confit chicken with white onion and parmesan soup

It didn't blow me away but it was tasty. The chicken was well cooked, the potatoes ... forgettable, the Parmesan soup was an indistinguishable bit of foam, and foam was what the onion soup was as well... but here the chefs got it right. Sweet onions with a slight caramelized edge was tasty stuff. Now if they had just forgotten about the Parmesan foam, this would have been a really delicious dish.

Beer Battered Red Gurnard and Chips with Tartar Sauce

The nation's favourite dish made beautifully by Tom's Place. Thin, crispy batter encased wonderfully succulent bits of fish. Chunky chips that were surprisingly crisp and light. Generous portions that left us wanting more but ... as there's usually a but.... the tartar sauce was flat to the point of it being pointless of it being served and a little more seasoning on the fish and chips would have gone down a treat. Otherwise, two thumbs up.

Salt Yard

Courgette flowers stuffed with monte enebro goats' cheese and drizzled with honey

The lone vegetable of the day. As I never see many courgette flowers served or sold (and my home grown ones a little too puny to be stuffed), I was rather excited to see some of these being served up. Deep fried in a light batter, the flower encased warm, almost runny, goats' cheese. The sweet to this salty was the honey drizzled over the courgette. I've never had this before so I'll say it was interesting. I'm not hugely keen on goats' cheese - in my excitement I didn't realise the stuffing would be any sort of cheese and it's creaminess left me reeling slightly in the stomach - that and the huge amounts I had eaten and kept eating :) Probably not something I would order again.

Le Gavroche

Braised beef in red wine and creamed potatoes

The one big disappointment of the day. Despite the reputation of the restaurant and the hype behind this dish at the festival, where it's been sold for quite a few years now, I thought it fell flat on its face. The beef, the star of the dish, was stringy and needed more cooking time. The taste, I suppose was fine though now forgettable. The potatoes, well.. it was always just a side dish with no real merits of it's own.

We also had a portion of Classic Lobster Creamed Soup flavoured with Brandy. Of the two dishes, I'm not sure which I would say was the worst. The soup was a cup of brandy flavoured cream with a tinge of lobster essence. Where's the lobster? Ahh... we finally found a tiny centimeter wide nugget of lobster right at the bottom. Despite this, the Le Gavroche was amongst the more popular on reputation alone? I don't doubt that the food at the restaurant is very good but I wish they would put more effort in serving their customers at the festival - 10 crowns still is £5.

Zilli Fish

Surf and Turf - char-grilled marinated lamb chops and spicy tiger prawns

This was one instance where they should have got rid of the surf and just kept the turf. The lamb was tender, juicy and a joy to eat. The prawns, however, were pretty hopeless. Far from fresh, it was soft and floppy. If they wanted to make it ones of the stars of the dish then at least serve fresh prawns that crunched rather than flopped. Very disappointing.

Lobster ravioli and shellfish cream sauce

It sounded good, it looked and smelt good but I can't remember what it tasted like. Very likely not as good as the lamb (or I would have remembered it) and nowhere as bad as the prawns (or I would have remembered it as well). One of those dishes where I would wonder every time I looked at the photo of how it tasted.

Theo Randall

Soft chocolate cake with crema di mascarpone

Chocolate-y with a nice ganache centre. I only had a bite of this and enjoyed my little spoonful very much.

Nan's Cheese Savoury

Stuart's been wanting to make his Nan's cheese savoury for ages but I've always been a little hesitant. Probably because I always imagine it to be greasy and stodgy (if any of his previous attempts to feed me are anything to go by) but this dish was really delicious. There really isn't anything that goes in it to dislike. Layers of blanched sliced potato with softened onion, bacon and topped with cheese. Baked in the oven for a good 45 minutes to an hour. This is real comfort food for a cold evening, when you're tucked up on the sofa watching something mindless on the telly. I must admit this wouldn't be my ultimate comfort food, now that would be nice steaming bowl of chicken soup, but I so enjoyed this I went back for seconds....and thirds.

Saturday, 16 August 2008

Leftover Coriander and Parsley (Green) Sauce

Ahhh the versatility of the green sauce! I have found a batch goes a long way... or just whip up another, it only takes up all of 10 minutes (yes, I'm that keen on it:) But this also a chance for me to try out another gadget I found in Vietnam. A peeler cum knife called dao bao, which I used to cut long slices of courgettes. I did try it with some carrots but it seemed a little more dangerous... too hard you see. I had lots of fun experimenting with my new toys.

Stir fry some pieces of chicken, add some assorted vegetables - this is where my sliced courgettes and carrots went in, and in with the green sauce. I liked the texture of the vegetables - both carrots and courgettes had a nice bite to them without being too crunchy.

Still hankering after the green sauce, I made another batch and this time paired it with some salmon. I cut up some salmon into large-ish cubes and fried it up with some more of those long sliced courgettes and some spinach leaves. Just as delicious. All that fish sauce and lime juices really makes my tummy growl for more!

Chicken Rice with Ginger & Spring Onion Sauce

Hankering for some good old home cooked Chinese food, which alas...I can't pop down the road to buy, I decided to make some Hainanese chicken rice. There were a few frantic phone calls to my mother, who was more than a little amused by my sudden need to know how to poach a chicken. Mind you, this is no ordinary poached chicken - this was done the Hainanese way! Specific steps must be followed to ensure a silky smooth chicken at the end.

Poached chicken
1 medium chicken - I used corn fed, free range
  • Fill up a pot with enough water to ensure that the chicken will be totally submerged during the cooking process. If you have a choice, better go with a pot that is slightly narrower but deeper. Your pot should also have a good fitting lid. Let the water get to the rapid boil stage. Lift your chicken into the pot - preferably legs first - and cover tightly.
  • Let the water come back to a boil. Lift the chicken out, cover the pot and let the water boil rapidly again. Return the chicken to the pot.
  • Do this another 2 times (or if you're being fussy like my mother, another 3 times) but on the 2nd/3rd time after returning the chicken to the pot, let the water come up to a boil. Switch off the heat and let the chicken sit in the covered pot for 30-40 minutes. DO NOT OPEN THE POT!
  • Once the time is up, carefully lift up the chicken and plunge it into a bath of cold water. Some people use ice water, others like my mother runs it under a cold tap. Apparently this is to ensure that the chicken stays smooth.
  • After it has cooled considerably, chop the chicken up into good chunky pieces. Serve with soy sauce, fried garlic and some of the oil the garlic was cooked in.
Garlic Rice
One of the best things about chicken rice is the rice. Cooked with the liquid that the chicken was poached in, it's full of flavour.

chicken stock
garlic - lots and lots
fat of some sort - if you're ready to go all the way, chicken fat is the best thing. Butter is also a good alternative. But if you're going healthy, a flavourless oil will do - or be a little naughty and mix it with some butter

Lightly fry the garlic in the fat of your choice. Add the rice, all the while ensuring that the garlic does not burn. When the rice is opaque and toasty (a minute or two), add the chicken stock. It should bubble quite rapidly at this point. Season and give it a good mix. Cover and cook as you would normal rice.

If you have some time on your hands, then chicken rice accompaniments must be made. Ginger sauce is one of them and garlic chili sauce is another. I was a little lazy, so I just made the ginger sauce. Great thing about both sauce is that they do keep and always great with rice or noodles.

Ginger and Spring Onion Sauce
spring onions

Skin the ginger and chop if very finely to a paste - if you have a food processor, even better. You can actually just serve the ginger paste at this point but I like taking it a step further. In a bowl, I add oil, salt and the finely sliced whites of the spring onions. I then steam it - if you're using old ginger, it can take up to an hour. If you have young ginger, then 10 - 15 minutes should do it. Served slightly cooled or room temperature with the chicken and rice.

Roasted Vegetables with Coriander and Parsley Pasta

Cauliflower is a one of those vegetables where I don't hate but I don't quite like either. The broccoli's poor cousin... until I had it roasted. Oh wow, I'm now officially in love! Sadly, it's still only with the roasted version.

The green pasta ... well, another successful experiment. With lots of coriander, parsley, garlic and fish sauce, it's almost a Thai version of pesto... yum!

Roasted Vegetables
Your choice of vegetables - peppers, aubergine, cauliflower, courgettes, tomatoes..
Olive oil
Squeeze of lemon juice
Salt and pepper

Cut the vegetables up to your preferred size - the smaller they are, the faster they cook. Coat the vegetables with olive oil. Squeeze on some lemon juice, a teaspoon or so will do. Roast in a medium to high oven until the vegetables are cooked through and slightly charred on the outside. Season well.

Green Sauce
a small bunch of coriander
a small bunch of parsley
1-2 cloves of garlic - if u like your garlic put more in (not too much though), if you hate the stuff then leave it out
fish sauce
Thai sweet chili sauce
lime juice
lime rind
kaffir lime leaves
flavourless oil - sunflower or groundnut

Coarsely cut up the coriander and parsley - leaves only. Remove the hard stalk from the kaffir lime leaves and slice finely. If your lime rind is in large pieces, slice it but quite as finely as the lime leaves. Put all the above ingredients into a food processor. Add the garlic and oil. The oil is really there to help the blending along. Whizz until all the ingredients are blended together and you have a thick-ish green paste. Add in the lime juice, chili sauce and fish sauce. Blend well. You should have a bright green sauce that is not too thick nor too runny. The amount of ingredients really depend on how much you like certain things - if you dislike coriander, replace it with basil. For a nice fresh zing, add mint. Hate garlic? Leave it out. Can't get your hands on limes? Use some lemons instead. This sauce goes really well with battered seafood or just stirred into boiled rice.

Putting it all together
Just before the vegetables are ready, cook your pasta - I used linguine - according to the direction on the packet. When the pasta is done, drain it and mix some of the green sauce in - use it like you would pesto, coating the pasta. Top with the roasted vegetables. For me, there's always room for a bit of meat so I sliced up some left over salami and tossed it in with the vegetables before they topped the pasta.

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

You Can't Go Wrong with a Ham Sandwich

In my book, there's nothing better than a good ham sandwich (not including a fried Spam and cucumber sandwich, of course - that is the king of sandwiches! :) Add some salad to the ham and it becomes an even better tasting sandwich.

Pret A Manger does a pretty mean Dry-Cured Ham and Greve Baguette with salad and a good smear of mustard mayonnaise. Look closely - the ham even looks like the real thing :) I'm quite partial to this sandwich (even with the cheese, which I would happily do without) but....

...... another sandwich I quite like from Pret is the Dry-Cured Ham and Eggs Bloomer. I love the layers of ham and even in my slight distaste for boiled eggs, I must admit they paired very well with the meat. Ham and eggs is after all a classic.

A newly discovered favourite - Red Pepper and Goats Cheese Soup. I've never liked the thought of goats cheese very much (hence the reason why I had never got round to trying any), even less so in a soup but this is rather yummy. The soup fills the tummy without being too heavy with a nice blend of red peppers and onion. The goats cheese lends a slight creaminess and salty tang. Very enjoyable indeed.

Spaghetti with Smoked Haddock and Prawns

A quick weekday dinner of pasta with smoked haddock, which I got discounted at Waitrose (yay!) and prawns, which I also got discounted - this time from Sainsbury's (double yay!). Yes, I'm quite the queen of a good bargain.

Spaghetti with Smoked Haddock and Prawns
Smoked haddock - the dyed variety, unfortunately. It was discounted, so can't complain and it was very good. Can't fault Waitrose :)

Some shredded courgette - me experimenting with my new toy, a that I brought back from Vietnam. Originally intended for shredding green papayas for green papaya salad, I used it on some courgettes as they are roughly about the same .. 'hardness'. It works quite well, except of course courgettes have a higher percentage of water. I know texture and taste wise both the courgette and papaya are quite different, but shredded courgettes make a nice substitute in Thai inspired salad, with tomatoes, cucumber, lots of herbs - coriander, sweet basil, some lettuce, some avocado. Like I said - "Thai inspired" ;)

Out comes the pan and in goes some oil, lots of garlic, some diced de-seeded fresh tomatoes, the hearts of the courgettes that were too floppy to shred (the middle bit where the seeds are) and a handful of sliced button mushrooms. A splash of white wine and the smoked haddock in and once the fish is nearly done, in goes the prawns for a minute or two to heat through. Season and its done.

The result - a nice smoky-ness from the fish, a good punch from the garlic, nice crunch from the prawns, slight tart-sweetness from the tomatoes and an interesting contrast between the long shreds of courgettes and the spaghetti. The more traditional of you would shake your heads at the sprinkling of Parmesan over the top but what the heck, the smoked fish provided a good platform for a little of that hard salty cheese. All in all, thumbs up :)