Sunday 31 January 2010

Haggis Potsticker Dumplings

When I first heard about haggis dim sum, I was immediately repulsed. It seemed like a really ill-advised dim sum creation, much like Ping Pong's chicken, lemongrass and pineapple monstrosity. But then the more I thought about it, and the more I panicked about the hefty lump of leftover haggis sitting in my fridge, I thought why not? It's just minced meat and oats in a dough casing. After all, I am a quarter Scottish and half Chinese. It might possibly work.

I didn't think that a steamed dumpling would be particularly attractive and would be quite challenging texture-wise, so I plumped for the pot sticker dumplings. Fried bottoms and steamed tops would give the best of both worlds.

It worked. Crisp, crunchy bases yielded to the softer steamed dough. The oaty, meaty mixture within had some spring onion mixed in it to give it a bit more flavour. Dunked into a dipping sauce of black vinegar with ginger, this made a very plausible snack indeed.

There's not really a recipe for this. Take your leftover haggis, mix with some finely sliced spring onion, stuff it in a dumpling wrapper (recipe here) and pleat. Fry in a pan, add a bit of water, steam with the lid on for 10 or so minutes, take the lid off, add another dribble of oil and fry until the bases are crispy.

These freeze really well, and are easy to cook from frozen.

Thursday 28 January 2010

Terroirs Wine Bar

If you saw my Christmas post, you may have deduced that I come from a family of food lovers. Ma and Pops didn't tolerate fussiness and when we were kids, they were liberal in taking us out to restaurants. I remember several occasions of sitting in a restaurant called Spices in Repulse Bay, Hong Kong, while my mum had business lunches. Satay chicken was a favourite, and the green minty-tipped toothpicks excited me. My sister and I were also covertly taken to Singapore on another business trip; we feasted on chilli crabs every evening and blew Mum's cover by wandering into her conference, dripping wet from the pool, having mislaid our hotel key.

Another sticking memory was of dinner with my parents and their friends, where I had my first steak tartare (I think I was 8) and was upset when Mum insisted I shared it with my sister. A darkened pub at a late hour, aged about 11 was where I sampled the finest bowl of Irish stew in memory. My love of restaurants (and pubs...) obviously stemmed from my childhood.

It is with this that I go out for meals with my parents with some trepidation. I suggested we meet at Terroirs Wine Bar; the wine list, mainly comprising of natural wines, looked really interesting - my teetotal mum was enthused by the menu - and it was well located for all of us to head home after.

We were seated downstairs and at 6:30pm there was only one other table seated. Duck scratchings were crisp, salty and (of course) ducky. A glass of 2008 Boisson Rouge Pet Nat was a delicious sparkling companion. The menu is simple and having spotted quite a few dishes I wanted to try, I convinced the table to share a selection of dishes.

The charcuterie selection had slices of saucisson 'Noir de Bigorre', duck rillettes and a slice of pork and pistachio terrine. The rillettes oozed fat and spread unctuously across the bread, while the green-studded terrine went very well with the cornichons and were porkily good.

Squid with aioli was beautifully cooked; the squid was buttery soft though I thought the aioli could do with a more garlicky hit. This may have been the fault of the clams though. Bathed in parsley-stringed buttery juices with strips of cured ham, thin transparent slices of raw garlic decorated the dish. A dried chilli provided a building punchy background. Simple, but stunningly good.

My favourite dish of the night was the Cantabrian anchovies with shallots and butter. Toasted bread, smeared with the butter, piled with the shallots and topped with an anchovy was a lesson in great ingredients. The anchovies weren't too salty but were plump and silky. The shallots added freshness and counteracted the richness of the butter well. I found it a real struggle to share this dish.

By this time, the restaurant was packed to the rafters and there was a lively buzz emanating throughout the restaurant. Service never slipped, and our bottles of tap water were replenished regularly. Dishes (and two baskets of bread) finished, we contemplated ordering a main to share but decided that was overkill and dived straight into the cheeses.

Soumaintrain was served apologetically fridge cold but after leaving it as long as we could to warm up (oh, about a minute) it was pungent, slightly sweet and intense. The Fourme d'Ambert was very blue indeed, but I preferred the stinkier former and Pops hoovered up most of this.

To finish, a refreshing glass of Moscato d'Asti, tasting of pear drops and springtime, was matched with my prune and Armagnac parfait. The parfait was served very simply, with just the right amount of booze in it - Mum made a face on tasting it. The texture was as light as a mousse, with the prunes giving it just enough sweetness.

Dinner was near perfect. I found the cheese servings a little stingy for £3.50 each, but that was my only complaint. Service was sweet and our server valiantly stepped up to the challenge with a a fortified red Banyuls when Pops voiced doubts over whether there were any dessert wines to go with his bitter chocolate pot. We left vowing to come back; after all, there are the main courses to try. A sign of a brilliant find.

5 William IV Street
London WC2N 4DW

Tel: 0207 036 0660

Terroirs on Urbanspoon
Our bill came to £130 with service

Sunday 24 January 2010

The Ledbury

After having visited The Taste of London last summer, The Ledbury catapulted to the top of my wish list. A strawberry and hibiscus bellini blew us away, and the inventive ash-baked celeriac left us seriously impressed.

The Michelin Guide results were posted last week, and The Ledbury was hotly tipped to receive their second star. They succeeded, and I was glad that we booked a table for lunch the previous week. At £27.50 for three courses from a set menu, it would be silly not to.

The room is high ceilinged and decorated in brown and cream. I was greeted warmly and I took my seat. An amuse bouche of confit salmon, seaweed butter and salmon roe was served warm; the salmon was obviously of high quality with none of the fattiness you can sometimes get. An excellent start to the meal. A warm bacon-studded, light-as-a-feather brioche whetted our appetites.

As always, I was watching the budget and so decided to go with the set lunch menu, while my companion went for the a la carte. On ordering, our server asked me if I liked celeriac, which my friend had ordered. He told us he'd organise smaller plates, so we could try a bit of all of it. Firstly, this ceviche of scallop with kohlrabi discs, seaweed oil and frozen horseradish snow, from the set menu, came out. I had wondered if the horseradish would overshadow the delicate sweetness of the scallop, but happily it didn't. The fish was silky, the seaweed oil heightened the flavour of the sea, and the horseradish snow melted creamily and luxuriously into the the dish. I tried my best to eat it slowly to savour the flavours and it was hard not to lick the plate.

Next, we were presented with the celeriac baked in a salt crust. It looked like a big pastry and carved at the table, it revealed a steaming, ash-stained round of celeriac. Just as I was about to grab the piece and pop it in my mouth, it was taken back to the kitchen for plating. That could have been embarrassing.

The wild boar kromeski was as good as I rememebered from last summer; paired with the celeriac it tasted vaguely Chinese to me. There was a hint of 5 spice, and reminded me of a beef and mooli stew I sometimes make. The dish smelled tantalisingly of truffle and hazelnut.

A whole roast tail of monkfish was served on the bone. Delivered at midnight from Cornwall, it was as fresh as possible. Squid tentacles were crisp and crunchy, and seaweed made another appearance in a mound of inky puree. The dish looked large but I made light work of it - the fish flaked beautifully off the bone, though I thought the solitary cauliflower floret was superfluous.

Our plates were cleared, and this cheeseboard was wheeled to our table and left with us for a few minutes, to "see if we can tempt you". Well, it worked. The cheeses were well kept, and a warm raisin brioche were apt vehicles.

Vanilla crème brulée was fruity and light - it was almost like a panacotta. The sugar crust was crisp and the hibiscus and rhubarb was well balanced with tartness and acidity. Just as we were about to get stuck in, we were given another dessert - a lemon and date tart with vanilla ice cream, as it's the head chef Brett Graham's speciality.

I thought it was pretty good, but as soon as I tasted the lemon tart, the crème brulée fell by the wayside. Buttery pastry encased a glossy, wibbly-wobbly lemon custard filling, the date paste running along the bottom of the custard sweetening it up nicely. I didn't think we could finish three desserts between us, but we managed just fine.

We finished our 3 hour lunch with big grins plastered across our faces and vowing to come back for a blow-out dinner. We felt really well looked after; the service throughout the meal was exemplary, being just the right side of informal. Some places can make you feel like a second class citizen with choosing the cheaper set lunch deal but this was certainly not the case here, as we were generously given both starters chosen without any extra charge. What I thought would be a 3 course lunch turned into 5 courses, 6 if you count the amuse.

I liked that I could hear our main server softly humming himself a happy tune every time he walked past and there was no stuffiness in the room. The sommelier, having been given a budget of £30 picked a wine that was one of the cheapest on the list but also matched our food well. He was quite charming, and insisted I try it, unlike some places that ignore the lady entirely. I'm starting to gush a bit now so I'll leave you with this - go, go go.

The Ledbury

127 Ledbury Road,
Notting Hill,
London W11 2AQ

Tel: +44 (0) 20 7792 9090

The Ledbury on Urbanspoon

Tuesday 19 January 2010

Mirch Masala - When You're Too Hungry To Queue

Every so often (say, once a week) I'll have an intense craving for Indian or Pakistani food. The spices, the smokiness, the grilled meat leaves me watering at the mouth and I can't think of anything else. I want those stained red fingers, the mouth smeared with ghee. At times like this I head off to Tayyabs to get my fix.

One Friday evening, myself and two friends found ourselves with this spice lust. Knowing we had a better chance of standing around outside drinking cans of lager all night than getting into Tayyabs at prime time, we tried Needoo Grill - set up by an ex manager of Tayyabs, even the menu is the same. Alas, they had a party of 20 in and wouldn't tell us either way whether we could have a table. They tried to convince us to eat and be out in half an hour; speaking from past experience, I knew this would only lead to regret. So we headed round the corner to Mirch Masala.

I've been here once before, on my 22nd birthday. The place is enormous, with a canteen-like atmosphere both upstairs and down. They treated us well though, and even turned all the lights down to sing happy birthday when my cake was brought out.

The best part of the mixed grill were the little chicken drumsticks. They were spiced lightly but were full of flavour. Sadly, lamb chops held no comparison to their neighbour's efforts. Seekh kebabs were juicy and moreish but by and large, we could have done without this dish.

We ordered a couple of main curries, and were talked into more dishes by our waiter. Along with some beautifully puffy plain rotis, the boys decided they also want a keema naan (top picture) "for the lads". It was meaty, filling and dripping with ghee. I left them to it.

Karahi keema corn was a nice change; I was surprised to see the addition of fresh corn, but my Pakistani friend I was dining with told me it's very homestyle to do so.

Karahi chilli chicken had dangerous long green chillis for my spoon to dance around. A mistaken nibble proved to be painful, though the chicken was tender and the sauce well spiced and flavoursome. We had been asked whether we wanted our dishes 'mild, medium or spicy' - given the level of spicing in here, and across the dishes, I was very glad we went for medium. My cheeks flamed.

Being the aubergine fiend that I am, it was no surprise that the karahi baigan was my favourite. Silky aubergines were deceptively spicy and not overly greasy. The roti scooped the aubergine flesh up a dream. I hogged the dish.

We left, £15 out of pocket each and stuffed to the gills. Mirch Masala is a great alternative to the more popular places - it's far quieter, you don't leave smelling of smoke, and it has far more menu options, especially for vegetarians. Just don't let the waiters talk you into extra dishes - we had more than enough, but being the gluttons we are, managed it.

Mirch Masala (other locations too)

111-113 Commercial Road

London E1 1RD

Tel: 0207 377 0155

Note - it's BYO. Hooray!

Mirch Masala on Urbanspoon

Saturday 16 January 2010

Macaroni Cheese

The gauntlet has been thrown. Fiona Beckett of The Cheeselover has created the Ultimate Macaroni Cheese Challenge, and this is my contribution.

Macaroni cheese isn't something I cook very often; I would be the size of a house if I did. Every time I do cook it though, I wonder why on earth I'd waited so long. It's the grand daddy of comfort food. Pasta baked in a cheese-laden sauce, topped with breadcrumbs and then more cheese. What is there not to love? Thankfully I've never been subjected to the horrors of tinned macaroni cheese, nor that Kraft boxed version.

For my take on the classic, I like to add a bit of booze to it. What can't be improved with booze? A little ale to go in the cheese sauce gives it a slightly bitter, hoppy edge to it that complements the cheese well - much like a Welsh rarebit, I suppose. I prefer to stick to one cheese, the most mouth-wateringly mature cheddar you can find. It is imperative that you have this with a large glob of ketchup.

Macaroni Cheese

Serves 3

250gr macaroni
1 large onion
2 sprigs of thyme

For the cheese sauce:

250ml milk
50ml light ale (I used Tanglefoot)
2 bay leaves
Half an onion
3 cloves
A grating of nutmeg
Salt & pepper
As much extra mature cheddar as you dare - I used Pilgrims. Reserve some to sprinkle on top.
25gr butter
25gr plain flour
1 clove of garlic
1 tbsp English mustard flour

Simmer the ale in a saucepan for a minute. Add the milk, onion, bay leaves and cloves and bring to the boil. Take off the heat and leave to infuse for half an hour. Meanwhile, put the pasta on to cook in a large pan of salted water until very al dente.

Strain the milk and ale mixture into a jug. Add the nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste. In a saucepan, melt the butter and add the clove of garlic, minced finely. Cook on a very low heat for 5 minutes. Add the flour and the mustard flour and stir well. Add a few dribbles of the milk mixture and whisk like mad, only adding more milk when any lumps have been whisked out and the milk incorporated.

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees. In a non stick pan, fry the sliced onion with the thyme very slowly to caramelise, which will take about 20 minutes. This can be done well in advance.

When the sauce is nice and thick, take off the heat and add the cheese. Put the cooked pasta in a large bowl, add the sauce (incrementally, in case there's too much. Any leftovers goes well on top of a piece of toast, grilled till bubbling). Mix well and pour into a dish. Top with the caramelised onions in a layer, then add the breadcrumbs and top with the reserved cheese. Bake for 15 - 20 minutes, by which time it should be golden and bubbling.

Thursday 14 January 2010

Charred Broccoli, Squid & Chorizo Salad

Not so long ago, I was introduced to the idea of roasting broccoli and cauliflower. I immediately fell in love with it; it intensified the flavour of the vegetables. No more sogginess, no more blandness. Don't get me wrong, I do love plainly steamed broccoli with just a bit of salt, but roasting opened doors of flavour intensity. There's no question of going back to steaming.

In these dreary days, I need something with a bit of colour and spice. Spring and all its bounty are just around the corner and this dish gave a teasing hint of it. There's all sorts of textures in this dish and the porky chorizo complements the squid well - that classic pork and seafood combination. It made a handsome dinner, and I imagine it would make a great salad to share at those outdoor barbeques - if summer ever decides to come back.

Charred Broccoli, Squid & Chorizo Salad

Serves 2

1 small head of broccoli
2" chorizo - a chorizo cooking sausage would be better
1 head of chicory
A handful of radishes
2 small squid tubes, with tentacles
200gr salad potatoes
2 spring onions
A handful of parsley
A handful of coriander
2 sprigs of mint
1 clove of garlic
1 red chilli
1/2 a lemon
1 tsp capers
1 tbsp flaked almonds
Salt & pepper
Extra virgin olive oil

Set a pan of water on to boil and add the potatoes. In a non stick pan lightly toast the almonds and set to one side.

Chop the chorizo into chunks. In a dry non-stick pan, add the chorizo and fry slowly, rendering the fat out, then add to a bowl, including the oil. Chop the herbs, garlic and chilli finely and chuck this in. Squeeze the juice of the lemon in, add the capers. Stir well, adding salt and pepper to taste. Loosen with a little olive oil, as this will make your dressing.

Separate the broccoli into its florets. Boil or steam for 2 minutes (I used my steamer insert on the pan of potatoes). Toss in a bowl with some oil and salt and pepper. Heat up a ridged grill pan and add the oiled florets, cooking until nice and charred. Similarly, halve the chicory down the length and griddle it, slicing it into 1" pieces when its done. Next, slice the squid, pat dry, toss with oil and chargrill for a mere minute.

Add the broccoli, chicory and squid to a bowl with the cooked potatoes, halved. Slice the radishes and throw them in. Add all of the dressing and toss well, making sure everything is well coated. When plated, scatter over the toasted almond flakes.
EDIT: Thanks to 'Salad' for pointing it out - yes, I did steam the broccoli and then chargrilled it, rather than roasting. I was using the grill pan anyway so I thought it would be pointless to crank the oven on for it - both methods have the same effect.

Sunday 10 January 2010

Parsley & Anchovy Dumplings

The light and healthy eating could only last so long. Wind blowing around this corner of South East London turned my nose and ears red; snow wreaked havoc for the overland trains, rendering my journey to and from work to be an hour and a half each way to travel just over 5 miles. Sheet ice covered the pavements and I slid my way around. I kept crossing my fingers for a snow day, but alas, off to work I trudged. Hearty feeding was needed to lift the spirits and to warm you from inside out.

The first time I had dumplings with stew I was mildly repulsed. Having grown up with the notion that all dumplings were of the Chinese kind, I listened on in horror while my dad told me what suet was. I soon warmed to the idea of it as the doughy, puffy dumplings soaked up the meaty gravy in stodgy happiness.

I decided to add a twist to these dumplings. Usually when I make a beef stew I dissolve a couple of anchovies in the oil before adding anything else. This gives the stew an deeper, richer flavour with none of the fishiness. Instead, the anchovies went into the dumplings with parsley for some grassy freshness. It worked beautifully, just as I'd hoped - the anchovies had melted into the dumplings well. The tops were slightly crisp and they yielded softly under the fork. The shin of beef in red wine stew was complete.

Parsley & Anchovy Dumplings

Makes 6 - enough for 2

110gr self raising flour
50gr suet
4 anchovy fillets
A large handful of finely chopped parsley
1/2 tbsp mustard powder

Sift the flour into a large bowl with the mustard powder. Chop the anchovy fillets finely and add to the flour with the parsley and suet. Add black pepper to taste (the anchovies are salty enough to eschew salt) and a dribble of water. Work the water into the ingredients well, before adding a little more until the dough comes together and isn't too sticky. Roll into balls and place atop your finished stew, baking at 200 degrees uncovered for 20 minutes.

Thursday 7 January 2010

Thai Seafood Noodle Soup

'Detox' is a filthy word in my house. I envisage shots of wheatgrass, advertised on brightly coloured billboards outside organic 'food' outlets that litter the streets of Soho, promising health and vitality but in reality make you retch. TV ads tell us to eat sugar-laden cereal twice a day of our miserable lives for two whole weeks to drop a jean size and for our tastebuds to take mutiny. People keep smirking at me: "not resolving to give up smoking this year then?" as if it's any of their business.

I'll have to be honest though, by 2nd January I felt like I needed to do something close to a detox. I had food fatigue; usually an idea of dinner is planned as soon as lunch is out the way, but instead I found myself standing in front of the fridge, agape and unable to figure out what to put in my over-indulged face.

But there's always something. There's Tom Yum soup; a spicy, salty, sour broth that wakes you up a bit. I knew this would be the very thing to cure me.

With the addition of some slurpy noodles, some flavour-soaked Chinese lettuce & turnip and a handful of prawns and squid, a light yet hearty dinner was made and my desire to eat returned to its rightful owner.

The key to the soup base is nam prik pao, a mild, smoky chilli sauce. I made a jar of it from this recipe over a year ago - I'm only half way through the jar and it's still going strong, kept in a dark cupboard (take THAT, use-by dates!). It's well worth making your own, though you can also buy it in Asian supermarkets. The beauty of Tom Yum soup is that you can keep galangal, lemongrass, lime leaves and even chillis in the freezer. If you need an emergency fix, coriander and limes are all you need to trek to the shops for.

Thai Seafood Tom Yum Noodle Soup

Serves 1

300mls water or light fish stock
A handful of raw prawns
2 squid tubes with tentacles
1 inch of galangal, sliced
1 stick of lemongrass
2 birds eye chillis (or less, if you're sensitive)
3 lime leaves
1 clove of garlic
1/2 a lime
1 tsp palm sugar (or just regular sugar)
2 tbsp fish sauce
3 leaves of Chinese lettuce (alternatively you could use pak choi, or Chinese / tenderstem broccoli)
A few slices of daikon or turnip
1 spring onion, sliced on the diagonal
A handful of coriander, chopped
A sprig of mint, leaves removed and sliced finely
100gr rice noodles (I used fresh hor fun, but dried also work)
1 1/2 tsp nam prik pao

Set the water or stock on to simmer and add the galangal. Chop the lemongrass roughly and add with the chillis, halved, the garlic lightly bashed and 2 of the lime leaves, torn. Simmer this for 20 minutes. Cut the squid into rings.

Meanwhile, set a pan of water on to boil. Add the turnip or daikon and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove and set to one side. Add the Chinese lettuce and rice noodles, simmer until cooked and drain and add to a deep bowl.

Drain the soup stock into another saucepan and add the turnip / daikon slices with the last remaining torn up lime leaf and the sugar. Simmer for a few minutes for the vegetable to absorb the flavour of the soup, then throw in the prawns and squid. When they're cooked, add to to the noodles and lettuce. Squeeze the lime juice over the dish, add the fish sauce (or to taste) and garnish with coriander, spring onion and mint.

Wednesday 6 January 2010

A Baked Egg Brunch

Brunch in my house rarely excludes eggs. Eggs are comforting, whether they're simply scrambled, softly boiled or delicately poached. A favourite brunch of mine is Eggs Florentine, especially with foaming Hollandaise but sometimes it can be too much effort, or too heart-stoppingly buttery.

I hadn't tried baking eggs before I made this. It worked well; simple flavourings, runny yolk and a toasted English muffin to scoop up the goodness. There's no set recipe as such as I'm sure you can really add whatever you like - bacon, slow-roasted tomatoes, cooked cubed potato - but here's what I did.

Baked Eggs with Spinach

Serves 1

2 handfuls of spinach
An inch of salami or chorizo, diced
A shallot
1 large free range egg
A dribble of cream or milk
A grating of cheese
Salt & pepper
Some sort of bread product for scooping

Preheat the oven to 160 degrees C. In a frying pan, add the salami or chorizo and fry slowly to render the fat out. Add the shallot, sliced, and fry until soft and translucent. Add the spinach and fry on a high heat until just wilted. Drain off any water, and add to a ramekin. Make a well, crack the egg into it, top with the cream and cheese with a touch of salt and pepper and bake for 10 minutes, checking often - you want the egg whites to have just set.

Toast your bread product, butter it, scoop the egg up and eat - preferably with some yolk dribbling down your chin.

Saturday 2 January 2010

Goat & Spinach Curry

I like to keep myself busy. After having cooked most of the Christmas food for the family, I invited 10 friends round for dinner just before New Year. I decided that after all the roasted meats, potatoes and vegetables associated with Christmas, a selection of curries would be fitting to waken up those tastebuds a bit. And so, there commenced 2 days of chopping onions, mincing garlic and ginger, pestle and mortaring spices. I swear I have biceps like Madonna now after all that.

One of the favourite dishes of the night was this goat and spinach curry. I adapted it from a Rick Stein recipe and although I was suspicious of the amount of spices used, it worked a treat. I made it the day before (but didn't add the spinach puree until just before serving) for all the flavours to amalgamate overnight.

The finished result looks a bit like sludge, but is rich, gamey, and full of flavour. The meat was tender and fell off the bone. I added some cubed lamb neck fillet to bulk it out, but this isn't necessary if you have particularly meaty goat pieces.

Goat & Spinach Curry

Serves 6 (or 11 as part of a 5 dish spread)

1 kg of bone-in goat shoulder chopped in chunks
500gr lamb neck fillet (optional)
1/2 a head of garlic
50gr ginger
6 medium onions
2 tsp salt
1 tbsp tumeric
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 tsp red chilli powder (optional)
1 tbsp ground coriander
1 tsp garam masala
1 can of chopped tomatoes
4 green chillis
2 large bunches of spinach
200ml water
2 tbsp chopped fresh coriander
3 tbsp oil

Slice the onions and cook in a pan with the oil slowly, until light brown for about 20 minutes. Put the tomatoes, chilli powder if using, onions, garlic and ginger in a blender and blend until smooth. Add the fried onions and blend again. Return the puree into a large saucepan and add the goat and the salt. Simmer for 40 minutes, then add all the spices except the garam masala. Split the green chillis in half, deseed them and throw them in. Simmer slowly for at least 2 hours. If you're using the lamb neck fillet, add it in at this point and simmer for another hour. If the sauce is looking too thick, add a little water. Skim any fat floating on the surface off.

Meanwhile, steam the spinach until just cooked. Blend into a puree with a little water. When the goat is cooked, stir the spinach into the curry with the garam masala, simmer for a minute and serve, sprinkling the fresh coriander on top.

I served this with this red onion and pomegranate salad, rice and cucumber raita.