Thursday 25 June 2009

Beetroot Leaf & Potato Bhaji

As with many other bloggers, Abel & Cole contacted me asking if I'd would like to be sent a box of theirs in return for a review. Now, before we go any further, a word about freebies and the like. While I'd never ask someone for something for free in return for a review - I am not shameless or big-headed enough - I won't turn down a freebie if I'm genuinely interested in it. A PR company contacted me recently asking if I'd like to sample some ice cream in return for a review, which I turned down (if my housemate reads this she may never speak to me again), simply because I'm not a fan of ice cream and I don't think I could write an interesting post on it. On the flip side, I've been looking into getting a veg box and was put off it by tales from friends about over-dosing on squashes over the winter season, so I thought this was a good way to see if they were right for me.

What I liked about the box was that you can go online and see what's going to be sent to you. Similarly, I liked that you could opt to never receive certain vegetables, like sweet potatoes which are the root of all evil. It was an interesting and varied box - apples, nectarines, melons, Little Gem lettuce, beetroot, green cabbage, new potatoes. Problem is, my housemate works two jobs and usually I'm out at least two nights of the week, so I have no idea how I'll finish it. It was all very fresh, so I hope it keeps a while. Another thing I'd find hard about it is that I'll still have to go shopping; I use a lot of herbs in my cookery, and the box didn't come with any. At roughly £15, I'm not sure that this box is suitable for me. Perhaps better for households of 3 or 4.

So with that in mind and with a bag of coriander languishing in the fridge, I decided on this beetroot leaf and potato bhaji. Bhaji as in a dry curry, rather than those battered deep-fried affairs.

Beetroot Leaf & Potato Bhaji

For 2 as part of a multidish meal

The leaves and stems of 2 beetroot, washed and sliced into 1" pieces

4 large new potatoes

2" ginger, minced

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 medium onion, diced

1 tsp cumin seeds

1 1/2 tsp ground coriander

1/2 tsp turmeric

1/2 tsp chilli powder

1 tsp garam masala

1 tbsp fresh coriander, chopped

Boil or steam the new potatoes for 10 minutes. Slice into halves. Meanwhile, heat some oil or ghee and fry the cumin seeds until they sputter. Add the onion, garlic and ginger and fry until browned but not burnt. Add the rest of the spices except the garam masala, then add the vegetables and stir to coat with the spices. Put the lid on, turn the heat down, and cook for 15 - 20 minutes. There should be enough steam to keep it from sticking, but if it does add a touch of water. Next, add the garam masala, cook with the lid off so that it becomes drier. Take off the heat, garnish with the fresh coriander, and serve.

I ate this with some raita, chapatis and fresh tomato salad with mustard seeds and red onion.

Tuesday 23 June 2009

Camino - Tapas in King's Cross

During a Spanish wine tasting and a private view of Picasso at the National Gallery last month, I met Richard Biggs, who owns Camino. Cards were exchanged, a generous offer of dinner accepted, and off I went to the Regent's Quarter of King's Cross along with a fellow food blogger and a wine blogger friend. It was a beautifully sunny evening, and the bar area was bustling. The dining room was arranged in a circular shape, with banquette booths around the circumference and a few tables sunken in the middle. We were sat directly underneath the above roof, bathing us in perfect light for photos.

While we browsed the menu, we had some Pan Con Tomate, with Manchego and Jamon, washed down with a light and crisp Jaume Cordoniu Brut cava. A glass of Oloroso sherry was reminiscient of almonds, so much so that we ordered some to accompany it. The menu consists of all the tapas dishes you'd usually see in Spanish restaurants with a couple of twists. I got very excited when I saw that veal belly was on the menu, as Richard quite rightly said pork belly is a bit ubiquitous now. Dishes were duly ordered, and we settled back and awaited the food.

Pimentos de Padron were delicious as always and I am developing a fast-growing addicition to them, though I didn't get a spicy one. Decently dusted with salt as they require, I spotted more little Padron stalks on my plate than was polite when sharing. A mammoth portion of Pulpo was drenched in rich, fruity olive oil with the kick of paprika. It was the perfect texture; soft, slightly gooey and yielding to the bite.

Chorizo was suitably spicy and pungent and complimented a bottle of fruity Baboix Montsant 2004. Croquetas de Jamon had an excellent crunch, were silky smooth within and was served with a fruity chilli sauce that packed a kick. Nuggets of salty ham in the bechemel made them extremely moreish.

Scallops were prettily served in the shell with a saffron and Idiazabal sauce. Caught off the British coast like all their fish, these are hand dived, which perhaps explains the £4.75 price tag per scallop. Very fresh and perfectly cooked, though I wondered what had happened to the coral. The sauce, slightly cheesy with the subtle fragrance of saffron, begged for bread to mop it up with, or just tipped straight into a hungry mouth.

A dish of Arroz Negro, rice cooked in squid ink, was a revelation to me. Tiny pieces of squid lurking within the rice provided a great texture contrast with the rice, while the very garlicky aioli coated the mouth and brought the mouthful together. It's one of those dishes that I can believe I haven't before. Later on, looking it the mirror I was more surprised than I should have been to find it's turned my lips slightly black.

We decided to share a few mains between us. Fillet steak and rib eye steaks are offered by the 100gr - this is cooked on a grill especially imported from Spain. Many believe the Spanish are best at their seafood, but Richard believes they are also excellent at cooking their meat.

The rib eye steak, cooked perfectly cooked to medium rare had decent charring on it. While the meat was well hung and had a deep beefy flavour, I found it a little dry and thought it lacked the fat I so love about the rib eye cut.

Star of the show for the mains was the pan fried veal belly with chickpea mash. This, unlike the steak, was riddled with gorgeous fat, melting on the tongue with tender and succulent meat. I would go back there for this alone. I must find a supplier of veal belly to experiment with.

Desserts were solid in execution and a little unexciting. The creme Catalan had a caramel crust that broke pleasingly beneath the fork, and vanilla ice cream with sweet Pedro Ximinez poured over it was suitably boozy.

A night cap of rum and an espresso finished me off properly and I staggered off into the night with the afterglow of having spent over 3 hours in excellent company, and sampling delicious food. True, I haven't been to many Spanish restaurants in London (Barrafina, Dehesa, Fino) and some might argue that I don't have a good point of comparison, but Camino impressed me greatly. The Arroz Negro was a thing of great beauty and I was raving about the veal belly for some time afterwards.


The Regent Quarter,
King's Cross
London N1 9AF

Tel: 020 7841 7331

Camino on Urbanspoon

Full set of photos of the feast we had are available here

Sunday 21 June 2009

Taste of London, Regent's Park

Kingfish Marinated in Carrot & Passionfruit with Avocado & Salad - Pied a Terre

Taste of London is a restaurant festival, held in Regent's Park over a weekend. Restaurateurs and chefs have stalls selling sample dishes in exchange for crowns, (£1 for 2) the festival currency.

This year's festival was met with some controversy in the blogging world. The PR company for Taste contacted a few bloggers and asked to advertise on our sites, but didn't offer any tickets to the event in return until asked specifically, and flat-out refused any requests for crowns. It seemd the PR company just wanted some free advertising and it didn't sit well. Instead, Taste Fringe was created by Susan over at Guardian's Word of Mouth blog. So, armed with a press badge, I set out to eat as much as I could lay my grubby mitts on whilst posting my thoughts on Twitter.

Some highlights:

7 Hour Braised Daylesford Organic Shoulder of Lamb with Balsamic Onions & Mash - Tom's Kitchen

The lamb was very tender and was a deeply savoury dish when combined with the balsamic onions. The mash was very light, almost like a foam. Excellent texture contrasts. It wasn't a particularly summery dish though, but I'm happy to eat stews in the blazing sunshine.

Seared & Marinated Scottish Salmon with a Jalepeno, Grapefruit, Fennel & Coriander Salad - Boxwood Cafe

The salmon tasted as though it was marinated in dill, and while seared on the outside it was raw in the middle. This was a pretty big portion, but it was so light and fresh that it didn't dent the appetite too much. The fennel worked really well with the fish, as did the chunks of juicy, slightly spicy grapefruit.

Lamb Cutlet with Ajo Blanco - Fino

Fino's lamb cutlets were tender enough for your teeth to sink in like butter. They were juicy and perfectly cooked.

Celeriac Baked in Ash with Hazelnuts, Summer Truffle & a Kromeski of Wild Boar - The Ledbury

When we approached The Ledbury, we were invited to sit down at a prettily made table and was served this. The commis chef, Tom, explained to us that only two portions can be made out of a whole celeriac. This was so delicious; the celeriac reminded me of a Chinese stew, when you braise daikon with meat - it was juicy, ever so slightly bitter, yet balanced with sweetness. The hazelnuts went really well with it, as it did with the Kromeski (a parcel of meat in the Polish style), which was rich, slightly crispy and unctuous inside.

Strawberry & Hibiscus Bellini with a Warm Vanilla & Strawberry Doughnut - The Ledbury

As if I needed any further confirmation that The Ledbury is at the top of my wishlist, we were served this bellini. We actually giggled when we took the first sip - it was the best dessert or even drink I've had in a long time. The foam tastes intensely of strawberries and of summer, whilst the slightly floral notes of hibiscus resonates throughout the drink. The little doughnut served warm was cute, though a little superfluous in my eyes as it was all about that drink. The best dish of the day.

And the not-so-highlights:

Penne with tomato sauce and pancetta (I think - I missed the menu listing for this) - L'Anima

This was a bit disappointing - pretty stodgy and tasted like a pretty basic tomato sauce with some tough-as-old-boots pancetta thrown in. We were impressed with their fettucine with wild mushrooms and summer trufffle though.

Foie Gras with Sweet Soy Roll (on the right) - Dinings

I only tried to foie gras and sweet soy roll so I can't really comment on the rest, but I found the flavour of foie gras with the texture of rice to be quite an unpleasant combination.

Lamb Sweetbreads & Lamb Tongue with Parsley, Mint & Pearl Barley - Hereford Road

I found this to be the most disappointing dish. The parsley was overwhelming and the sweetbreads and tongue were a little bland. The pearl barley didn't add much to the mix and I didn't detect any mint.

I'm glad I came to Taste London, even though it was very last minute - I leapt out of bed at 12pm on Sunday to get there for 2pm. It was a beautifully sunny day and there was a good atmosphere to the festival. However, I think it would be an extremely expensive day out; tickets are at £25 and most of the dishes were at 6 - 14 crowns (£3 - £7). There were a few 'icon' dishes that weighed in at a whopping 24 crowns (£12), including this wild mushroom and summer truffle fettucine. If you consider the level of cooking on offer, this may not seem much but I would balk at the £25 ticket price.

My full set of photos with descriptions can be viewed here.

You can also have a look at the full set of Twitter updates by clicking here.

Wednesday 17 June 2009

A Cream Tea

If there's one thing the West Country is known for, it's their cream teas. Although it is said to originate in Devon, there were many signs for cream teas in Padstow. Sadly, we didn't manage to have one ourselves; after a 6 mile walk round the headlands near where we stayed, we chanced upon a bed & breakfast advertising cream teas. When we roamed around the gardens, like a pack of 8 hungry wolves, a face appeared at the window. "No cream tea". And that was that.

So when I came back to London I had a scorchingly hot sunny day to while away and I decided to give making my own scones a whirl.

It was surprisingly easy. I'm not an expert baker by any means, but these were so simple I imagine I'll be making them again. Eaten warm from the oven, slathered in strawberry jam and clotted cream, I tried both the Cornish method (above) of jam first, then cream and the Devon method (below) - cream first, then jam. I am happy to report the Cornish way is preferred for me; sinking your teeth into the cream was ultimately satisfying. By the way, they're pronounced 's-cons' in this household.

Plain Scones (adapted from this recipe)

Serves 4

225 self raising flour

1/4 tsp salt

50gr butter, chilled and cut into cubes

25gr caster sugar

125ml full fat milk

The juice of half a small lemon

Extra flour for dusting

Strawberry jam & clotted cream

Preheat the oven to 220C. Add the flour to a mixing bowl and add the salt. Rub in the butter, lifting it as you go to aerate it until you get fine crumbs. Stir in the sugar.

Make a well in the flour and add the milk with the lemon juice. Mix it lightly until it forms a soft and slightly sticky dough. Add more flour if it's too sticky to handle.

Flour your work surface and knead the dough a few times. If you're using a scone cutter, flour it well and cut into the dough but don't twist the cutter. It should make a satisfying "ummphh" sound. pat the dough back and cut another until you have four. Alternatively, an up-ended mug does the trick just as well, though you will have rather mammoth scones.

Dust a baking tray with some flour, brush the scones with a little milk and bake for 10 - 15 mins so that they're slightly browned and cooked through. Leave to cool down a little on a wire rack and then scoff 'em all.

This is best served with tea, but I found it also works well on a hot day with a gin and tonic.

Sunday 14 June 2009

Fishy Times

The view from our house at dusk

I've just returned from a week in Cornwall. We stayed 2 miles outside of Padstow, in a converted lifeboat house. We first stayed here a year ago and the house is absolutely stunning. This year, myself and only two others of the original party returned with 5 friends, and the response from everyone else upon reaching the house was overwhelming. I'd forgotten how great it is; there was much shrieking, "oh my god!"-ing, and general excitement.

One thing we didn't manage to do last year due to choppy seas was to go mackerel fishing. On our first day, we booked it in. Of course, when the time came it was raining, but undettered, we got our raincoats on and hiked into Padstow. After all, we survived the torrential downpours of Bestival; what's a bit of light rain?

The sea was pretty choppy and one of our party turned a slight shade of green. We stopped once to chance our luck, but as none of us caught anything we moved on. Suddenly, people were catching fish left right and centre. One of us even caught this hapless crab (above) - it just hung onto the weight and wouldn't let go. More the fool him.

Typically, since I was bouncing around with excitement about the trip, I was the only one to not catch any thing at all. Luckily my mates caught 28 mackerel between them, so we had a plentiful haul. After a pretty harrowing descaling and gutting session, the mackerel were ready to be cooked.

The mackerel were then stuffed with lemon, liberally oiled, seasoned with salt and pepper and cooked on a hot barbeque until the skins were crisp. Simply served with a salad, these were beautiful; the fruits of my mates' labours and delicious to boot. We even convinced my fish-disliking housemate, who caught the most, to give them a try. She liked it, and thus we crowned her Fish Queen of the week.

Unfortunately the crab fared less well. We stuck him in the freezer for half an hour before dropping him (yes, we also named him - Crab C. Nesbitt) into rapidly boiling water. He seemed fine when he went in, but when he was cooked we found he'd dropped his claws and when we prised the shell open only brown water poured out of it. Given that we had no internet access or 'phone signal and none of us had ever cooked crab before, I gather we must have cooked him wrong which is a real shame. It could also have been his 2 mile journey home in a plastic bag.

Nevertheless, the claws were delicious; the meat was sprinkled with black pepper, spread on two slices of heavily buttered toast... divided into squares for 8 people. Still, you can have too much of a good thing, right?

Wednesday 3 June 2009

A Green Frittata

This week has been terribly long. It's only Wednesday and I keep thinking it's Thursday. This is partly due to the fact that I had a brilliant time last weekend at the seaside, and will be headed for Cornwall this weekend to spend a week eating fish n' chips, cream teas and frolicking on the beach. What with all this excitement, time has plodded along, shuffling it's feet.

I needed to clear the fridge out of any perishables that might be lurking. It's all too easy to chuck it into a stir-fry, but I had 8 eggs to use and that would be some seriously eggy fried rice. Instead, I decided to add them all to a frittata. Consequently, I came up with this rather green affair.

This was just as delicious warm with a salad as it was cold, stuffed in a baguette for lunch. You don't have to fry the potatoes in quite as much oil as I did, but I found this helped cook them quicker. Leftover boiled spuds work nicely too. To be honest, you can really add whatever you like or anything that needs using up - I omitted adding cheese and in hindsight, this was a bit of a mistake. You should always add cheese.

Green Frittata

Serves 4

8 free range eggs

3 small white onions

1 courgette

3 large closed cup mushrooms

A handful of parsley (I used curly, but flat is also fine)

2 large potatoes

A mugful of peas

1 clove of garlic

A sprinkle of chilli flakes

Peel the potatoes and cut into slices about the thickness of a pound coin. In a non-stick 30cm pan heat up about 2" of cooking oil, and carefully add the slices of potato. Fry until golden on each side and cooked through; about 10 minutes. Drain on kitchen paper.

Meanwhile, grate the courgette and squeeze all the water out. Put the peas in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Slice the onions finely and mince the garlic. Chop the mushrooms roughly, chop the parsley finely, and finally beat the eggs in a large bowl with plenty of salt.

Once the potato has been removed from the pan, tip out all the oil except for 3 tbsp. Fry the onions with the garlic until softened and slightly golden, then add the chilli flakes and the grated courgette. Cook on a high heat until wilted and there is no moisture left in the pan, then add the chopped mushrooms and again, fry on a high heat until there is no moisture. Drain the peas and throw them in. Turn the heat on low, add some of the egg mixture, lay the potato slices on top, and then add the rest of the egg mixture, throwing in the parsley as you go. Cook until the egg has set across the bottom (about 7 or 8 minutes) and then place under the grill until cooked through. Leave to rest for a minute and turn it out on a plate. Serve with a salad.

Monday 1 June 2009

Lobsterfest At Belgo

I was recently invited to a 'Lobsterfest' at Belgo. I was disproportionately excited about it, but also approached it with some trepidation. When I think of Belgo I think of its special offer deal, whereby when you visit at a certain time you pay the number of pounds that the hour is when you order. Pretty nifty, but I wondered how this would translate to an expensive ingredient as lobster.

Soon after we arrived, the dishes started coming. Red Thai Lobster was tasty, although masked the sweetness of the lobster a bit too much. Lobster Thermidor was cheesy with a strong hit of mustard. The lobster bisque was rich and pungent. At roughtly £8, the halved lobsters provided a substantial starter.

The mains followed soon after. Whole grilled lobster served with chips was tasty, although I really had to wrestle with the claws. The Surf n' Turf option came with half a lobster and a rib eye steak slathered in garlic butter. Whilst I prefer my steaks to be a bit thicker and rather bloodier, it was an interesting combination. By far the best of the bunch was the lobster salad (pictured above). The lobster was cooked plainly and scantily dressed, whilst the peppery rocket and the crunch of green beans provided a good contrast to the sweet meat. It was prettily presented too, with the half shell as a decoration.

All in all, it was an interesting menu. It's reasonably priced, at £17 for a lobster main but I do think you get what you pay for in life. Sometimes there's nothing better than sitting by the seaside, bibs on and cracking your way through a lobster on an ice platter, but this as we know is not an every day option. For a cheap and cheerful lobster hit, this does the job.

Belgo Centraal

50 Earlham Street

Covent Garden



Tel: 0207 813 2233