Wednesday 31 March 2010

Chinese Red Braised Aubergines

After a recent meal at Silk Road, Camberwell, I resolved to try cooking the aubergine dish I loved so much at home. Unfortunately, googling 'homestyle aubergines' threw up nothing. Frustratingly, it seems like a name the restaurant gave to the dish themselves. I improvised, adopting some of the methods they used, such as peeling the aubergine, instead.

Handily enough, I had enough leftover red soy sauce from these noodles, so this was to be the basis of the dish. Peeled and then fried and braised, the aubergines took on a pleasantly silky texture just as they had done at the restaurant. I replaced the peppers in the original dish with some broccoli and celery I had hanging around, which I think I prefered. The broccoli florets soaked up the sauce nicely and had a good texture constrast with their grassy crunch.

Chinese Red Braised Aubergine

Serves 2 as a side

2 small aubergines
3 cloves of garlic
1" of ginger
4 tbsp red soy sauce (recipe is on Josh's blog)
2 stalks of spring onion
1/2 a head of broccoli
2 stalks of celery
1/2 tbsp cornflour, slaked
200ml water or stock

Peel the aubergine and slice it into rounds. Finely mince the garlic and ginger, destring the celery stalks and slice diagonally. Separate the broccoli into florets. Slice the spring onion diagonally and set to one side.

Heat 2 tbsp oil in a wok. Add the aubergine rounds and fry until browned on each side. Remove from the pan, add a dribble more oil and heat until almost smoking. Add the celery and stir-fry for 2 or 3 minutes and add the ginger and garlic. Fry until fragrant, get the aubergine back in there. Stir fry for a few minutes and add the red soy sauce. Stir until it's all coated, slosh in the water and simmer for 10 - 15 minutes, adding more water if it's looking dry. Add the broccoli and simmer for a further 10 minutes or until tender.

Finally, add the cornflour and simmer until thickened and glossy. Take off the heat, garnish with the spring onion and serve with rice.

Monday 29 March 2010

A Sort-Of Béarnaise Sauce

I've had a steak craving for quite some time. Normally I'd satisfy this craving with a trip to Hawksmoor but I recently bought a ticket to Nicaragua to see a friend and have since been on a budgetary lock down. But no matter; off I trotted to the butcher to get my hands on a juicy rib-eye. Charred on a super-hot griddle, the only accompaniment I could think of making was Béarnaise. Or should it be anchovy butter? I couldn't decide, so I combined the two. Anchovies might seem a weird option, but they go incredibly well with beef. It's a rich sauce, scented and lightened with tarragon and lemon.

Triple-cooked chips, made with this recipe (which, by the way, were amazing - I can't believe I haven't made them before), completed the holy trinity of a heart attack on a plate and stank my flat out for hours.

Béarnaise Sauce with Anchovy

Makes enough for two greedy girls

4 anchovy fillets
2 egg yolks
120gr unsalted butter
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 heaped tbsp tarragon
1.5 tbsp white wine vinegar
2 tbsp vermouth
2 shallots

In a small pan, heat the butter, add the anchovies chopped finely and cook until foaming. Take off the heat and skim the white impurities that are at the surface to clarify it. Chop the shallots and the tarragon finely. In a small saucepan add the shallots and 1tbsp of the tarragon. Add the vinegar, vermouth and 2 tbsp of water and simmer until the liquid has reduced to half. Season liberally.

Whisk the egg yolks and add to the shallot mixture. Heat slowly, whisking as you go until the sauce has thickened and emulsified. Don't allow to boil. Take off the heat and whisk the butter into it, whisking all the while and incorporating the butter before you add any more. Push the sauce through a sieve, then add the rest of the tarragon and the lemon juice. Keep warm with a foil lid in a very low oven until serving.

Tuesday 23 March 2010

Pear, Maple & Walnut Cake

I'm a bit of a picky one when it comes to cake. I love cakes made with fruit and yet I don't like fruitcake. Pears are a particular favourite of mine, so when I saw this recipe, it jumped straight to the top of the 'must make' list.

I made a few tweaks to the recipe to include Cognac (which always improves things) and maple. Finally, slowly but surely, that kilo of maple sugar is being put to good use. The pears ensure there is no dryness to the cake with the maple giving it an almost caramel flavour. Sweet, dense and with the occasional lump of walnut, this made an excellent accompaniment to the biggest mug of tea I could find.

Pear, Maple & Walnut Cake

350gr plain flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
3 eggs
175gr maple sugar (double this if you're using normal sugar as maple sugar is twice as sweet)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 large pears (I used Comte)
160gr butter, softened
2 small handfuls of walnuts, chopped
1 tbsp icing sugar
A splash of Cognac or brandy

Preheat your oven to 175 degrees C. Grease a 9" springform cake tin.

Mix together the flour, cinnamon, baking powder, salt, and bicarbonate of soda in a large mixing bowl. Add the chopped walnuts and then add the sugar, butter, Cognac, vanilla extract and eggs to the flour mixture.

Peel the pears and grate them. Mix thoroughly through the cake mixture so that it becomes batter and then pour into your greased cake tin and place in the oven. Bake for 1 hour - 1 hour 10 mins - it should be browned on top and a skewer inserted should come out clean.

Cool the cake in the pan for about 20 minutes. Then turn it out onto a wire rack to cool completely. Dust it with icing sugar.

Sunday 21 March 2010

Hand-Made Noodles

At our trip to Silk Road in Camberwell, I fell in love with the rustic, rough-and-ready style of their 'belt noodles'. Chewy and elastic, I vowed to make some of my own. This coincided quite nicely with my friend Josh, one of the first online friends I met four years ago, raving about the Tian Shui Mian he'd had in China and subsequently managed to recreate. If you don't follow his blog, you really should.

Making noodles in this style is substantially easier than rolling out pasta. The noodles themselves were simplicity itself, comprising of only four ingredients and I wanted a dressing for them that would enhance them best. Josh's recipe made a sauce that was salty, sweet, spicy and with a hint of roasted sesame. They were addictive, having just the right amount satisfying chew and they carried the sauce well. It was messy business; I maimed myself with a rogue flick of the noodle as I shovelled them in hungrily and an unfortunate spicy globule landed in my eye. I cried into my noodles a bit, but it didn't detract from my enjoyment of them.

Hand-made Noodles

Serves 2

100gr plain flour
100gr bread flour
50gr water
A large pinch of salt

Mix the flours together, add the salt and the water. Mix well and leave for 30 minutes. Knead the dough until smooth, oil it and roll out to as thin as you can be bothered. Cut into strips about the width of your index finger. Dust with flour.

Bring a large pan of water to the boil and drop the noodles in. Simmer for a couple of minutes - when they are done they should float to the surface. Drain well and toss through the sauce (mind your eyes...) - recipe here. If you have any leftover, toss with a little oil so that they don't stick and freeze. They cook well from frozen, dropped briefly in boiling water.

Wednesday 17 March 2010

Salted Butter Caramel Ice Cream

I'm not usually the type to go completely mental over ice cream. It's one of those things I can take or leave; maybe a Cornetto by the seaside is quite nice, but not essential. However, this all changed recently. I visited Browns of Brockley, a deli a short walk away from my flat and bought some apple crumble ice cream. After a cursory taste of this, I was raving about it to anyone that would listen, gazing at me with bored eyes until they tasted it themselves.

A couple of weeks later, I glimpsed this recipe. Salted butter caramel ice cream. Salted. Butter. Caramel. I bought an ice cream maker especially to try it.

The recipe is a total, utter ballache which I am sure is my fault and not of the recipe's. The caramel seized and I spent a good hour, if not more, stirring it, melting it back down. In total, it may have taken me 3 or so hours to make, but after one bite of my efforts I didn't care. It is amazing.

I replaced some of the sugar with maple sugar and salt with smoked, which gave a good dimension of flavour to it. If you haven't got any, use the recipe linked above. Be warned - melting sugar is not for the faint hearted. If it burns you, it HURTS.

Salted Butter Caramel Ice Cream

Makes 1 litre - you will eat it all

For the caramel praline:

50gr sugar
25gr maple sugar
3/4 tsp smoked salt (I used Halen Mon)

For the ice cream:

500ml milk, split in two
200gr sugar
50gr maple sugar
60gr butter
1/2 tsp smoked salt
250ml double cream, warmed
5 egg yolks
3/4 tsp vanilla extract

Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper. In a pan, melt the sugar for the praline, stirring occasionally to melt all the granules. Cook until it is mostly liquid and the caramel starts smoking a bit. As it's just about to burn, take off the heat, whack in the salt immediately and then pour the caramel on to the baking sheet. Wiggle it around a bit to try and get the thinnest sheet of caramel as possible. Set aside to harden.

Fill a big bowl to halfway with ice and a little water, and nestle a smaller bowl within. Pour 1 portion of the milk into the bowl and set a fine seive on top.

Caramelise the rest of the sugar as above. Once caramelised, remove from the heat and stir in the butter and the salt. When the butter has melted whisk in the cream. At this point, it seized into an unholy mess. If this happens to you, heat gently until it all melts back down. It takes a while. Stir in the rest of the milk and take off the heat.

Whisk the egg yolks in a bowl and gradually pour the warm cream mixture, stirring as you go. Scrape this all back into the saucepan and heat and stir to around 70 degrees C, so just before it boils. It should thicken slightly. Pour the custard through the strainer onto the iced milk and stir to combine and to cool it down. Place this in fridge and chill until the mixture is fridge cold. Churn in your ice cream maker.

Before placing in the freezer, bash up the praline roughly. Stir this through the ice cream, decant into a container and place in the freezer. These caramel bits will liquify a little.

The end result is gorgeously creamy, sweet buttery ice cream with a little hint of salt. You'd be silly not to try it.

Sunday 14 March 2010

Oxtail Ragu & Parmesan Polenta

I recently had a dish with polenta in and it was so good I couldn't stop thinking about it. It was creamy and comforting and I was kicking myself for not having discovered it earlier. Typically Italian, it is made from cornmeal and is known for being 'peasant food'. Perfect for me then. It's a very bland base, so it needed something rich and meaty to flavour each mouthful.

The oxtail was braised ever so slowly for four hours. Thankfully for my sanity I left my housemate to babysit the simmering pot as the flat filled up with the tantalising smells. Once cooled, the meat was taken off the bone - or, rather, ripped apart with my hands, flinging my kitchen in oxtail sauce - for a further simmer in a reduced sauce before being plonked atop some herby, cheesy polenta. It may be termed as peasant food, but I was richly awarded.

Oxtail Ragu

Serves 3

1 whole oxtail, jointed
2 small white onions
2 sticks of celery
2 carrots
2 sprigs of rosemary
3 fat cloves of garlic
1 bay leaf
1 tbsp tomato puree
Chicken stock
1 large glass of red wine

Brown the oxtail in a frying pan. Meanwhile, dice the onion, celery and carrot and fry in a large saucepan. Roughly chop the garlic and add them in. Once browned, add the oxtail and top with chicken stock to cover. Add the bay leaf, rosemary and tomato puree. Simmer for 4 hours, stirring occasionally. Leave to cool (or overnight), pour off the fat and remove the meat from the bones. Sieve the remaining mixture, pushing the vegetables into a mush. Heat this up, add the wine and simmer for a couple of minutes before adding the meat back in, adding a little water if needed. Simmer this for half an hour before serving.

Parmesan Polenta

Serves 3

100gr coarse cornmeal
1 handful of grated Parmesan
1 handful of chopped flatleaf parsley
10gr butter
Salt & pepper
500ml vegetable stock

Bring the stock to the boil and using a balloon whisk, add the cornmeal to the stock stirring all the time. Turn the heat down low and cook, stirring constantly, for 10 - 15 minutes. If it's looking little dry, add some water to it; I like it a little runny, like a honey-like consistency. It should have lost it's graininess by this point, but if not it may need a little more cooking and stirring. Take off the heat, throw in the butter, stir the finely chopped parsley through it and add the Parmesan. Stir to combine, season with salt and pepper and serve.

Any leftover polenta can be spread on a baking sheet to cool which you can then slice and fry.

Thursday 11 March 2010

Silk Road, Camberwell

Say what you like about Twitter; there's no denying it brings people together. Last year, one summer's (remember that season?) evening I was on the tube, on the way to a friend's house. A girl sat next to me and whispered "Hollow Legs, right? I'm Jess". I looked at her with wide-eyed alarm and edged away until I recognised her as someone I'd had online conversations with. We had a little giggle. A few months later, she mentioned she was moving house - my friends were looking for a new housemate - I put the two in touch and now they live together.

Anyway, as a 'welcome to South East London' for Jess, a few of us locals got together to visit Silk Road, a North Western Chinese restaurant in Camberwell. More of a cafe than a restaurant, we were seated on hard cold benches, an Arctic draft billowing through the place every time the door opened. Jumpers stayed on as we perused the menu.

A variety of boiled dumplings were on offer. Beef and onion dumplings were reminiscient of the pie variety, while pork dumplings were liberally laced with spring onion. Juices burst forth from the soft wrappers which had just the right amount of chew.

Cold dishes were made up of sliced ox tripe and shredded kelp, both in a garlicky, chilli dressing. Textures over flavours dominated here; the kelp was ever-so-slimy, the tripe bouncy.

Cumin-dusted lamb skewers were devoured at speed. Each nugget of meat is surrounded by a chunk of flabby in places, sometimes crispy, flavoursome lamb fat which as we all know has a tendency to be utterly foul when cold.

I am nothing if not predictable, and I demanded we order the 'homestyle aubergine'. I didn't come up against any resistance. Unsurprisingly this was perhaps my favourite dish of the night. Chunks of aubergine which I imagine were steamed and then peeled soaked up the flavour of the slightly sweetened mild sheen of a sauce, with added crunch from green pepper.

Billed as 'middle plate chicken' on the menu, we originally wanted to go for the big plate but were wisely warned off it by a second-timer. An enormous boat of a bowl emerged from the kitchen with the heady scent of star anise wafting after it. Lumps of chicken fell off the bone into the spiced broth. When we had fished out all the chunks of potato and chicken we could find, a plate of hand made 'belt noodles' were plonked in the bowl. Slippery, chewy, hugely satisfying and deliciously messy, I was rather surprised to find my clothes weren't splattered.

The final dish, though good, was my least favourite. Shreds of pork, carrot and more of that kelp bathed in a slightly gloopy sauce. It tasted like a very rustic version of sweet and sour, thankfully without any scary Day-Glo orange. Perhaps I was reaching full capacity at this point, though that's not to say it didn't get finished.

The meal, washed down with around 4 Tsing Taos each and complete with service, came to a mere £13 each. I felt like we were robbing them. I will be back.

Silk Road

49 Camberwell Church Street
London SE5 8TR

Tel: 020 7703 4832

Silk Road on Urbanspoon

Tuesday 9 March 2010

Herb-Crusted Rack of Lamb

Having French-trimmed this rack of lamb myself at Allens of Mayfair, I decided to go for a classic recipe; minced herbs mixed with garlic, anchovies and capers. These are flavours which complement rather than over-power the flavour of the delicate, pink chops of lamb. The fat seared until crisp and the mixture pressed on top, it has enough salty components to season each juicy mouthful. I contemplated eating the whole 8-boned rack myself, until I thought about what the housemate's face might look like. Thundery and a little tearful. I just couldn't do it to her.

Roasted courgettes and a potato and onion gratin make ideal accompaniments.

Herb-Crusted Rack of Lamb

Serves 2 greedy girls - it would probably do 3 normal people

1 French-trimmed rack of lamb
1 sprig of rosemary
A small handful of flat leaf parsley
2 cloves of garlic
1 tsp capers
2 anchovies
Zest of half a lemon
1 large handful of breadcrumbs
1 heaped tablespoon of Dijon mustard

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees C. Heat some oil in a non stick pan and fry the rack of lamb, fat side down on a medium heat, for 3 - 5 minutes. Turn it over and fry for another 4 - 5 minutes. Set aside to cool slightly.

Chop the leaves of the rosemary and the parsley, and mince the garlic, anchovies and capers. Bash it around in a pestle and mortar and add the breadcrumbs and lemon zest. Brush the browned fat of the rack with the Dijon mustard liberally. Press the breadcrumb mixture onto the lamb and roast for 10 minutes for medium rare. Leave to rest for a further 15 minutes (I left it in the switched off oven with the door ajar). Carve into chops carefully to serve.

Sunday 7 March 2010

The Burger

I'm a huge fan of Hawksmoor and I've posted about them twice before, so I'll keep this brief. On Valentine's Day, Hawksmoor offered up their burger at a weekend lunch - usually only available during the week. As it's nigh on impossible unless I bunk off work, I swallowed the fear of dining in a room full of snogging couples and got myself down there. Big, SO very beefy with a slightly sweetened bun, it's juices dribbled everywhere and I had to go and wash my hands afterwards.

The char-grilled squid starter, sides of chips, macaroni cheese and salad ensured we were properly stuffed. My companion threw in the towel as soon as he finished his burger, but I discovered that eating each macaroni tube one by one seemed to trick my brain into thinking I wasn't actually eating anymore. I could do nothing but pat my belly and groan for a good 2 hours afterwards.

157 Commercial Street
E1 6BJ

Tel: 0207 247 7392

Tuesday 2 March 2010

Lazy Lunching at The Anchor & Hope

Things got off to a shaky start. I staggered over to The Anchor & Hope and asked for the table I'd booked, Sundays being the only day you can do so. The nice lady behind the bar checked her sheet and told me she didn't have me down. As she quickly offered to make me one up, I breathed a sigh of relief; there aren't many alternatives in Southwark. I ordered a bloody mary to calm the excesses of the night before and promptly threw it over the bar. "It's Sunday, it's allowed", soothed the barman as I gibbered my apologies.

Once seated, I glanced over in horror as a table of 12 seated their toddlers within flicking distance of us; this was particularly unnerving given I was dining with the sweariest man on Twitter. I hope they were too young to understand us.

The Anchor & Hope operates a set menu for Sunday lunch, one sitting at 2pm. The place was packed right out; laughter, glasses chinking and children demanding attention rang around us. Olives were huge, and radishes dipped in a suitably fishy and garlicky Anchoïde, a Provencal sauce, got us off to a good start.

Fish soup with a rouille-topped crouton and Olgeshield cheese was a monster portion. The broth was rich, dark orange and deep in flavour with the fish was cooked to tender perfection, though if I was to be picky I'd say it was slightly over-salted. This might have been due to the stark contrast of the glass of pear fizz I'd previously consumed.

Roast rare breed (Sasso) chicken was placed before us, alongside a mammoth dish of gratin Dauphinoise. The skin of the chicken was pleasingly crisp and the meat juicy and herb-spiked. Eyes boggled at the sight of the creamy discs of potato and I am sad to say it defeated us. I contemplated asking for a doggy bag but my arteries pleaded for mercy. The watercress largely went untouched for favour of more spud.

Thankfully, the Poire belle Hélène dessert was light. The poached pear, tasting slightly boozy, was enveloped in a thin layer of chocolate syrup topped with hazelnuts. It was tricky business chasing it round the bowl with the spoon provided and my companion opted to eat it with his hands, dribbling pear juice down his sleeves in the process.

Dishes cleared, espressos drank, we ordered a second bottle of wine. It got dark outside, chairs were put on tables and the staff reassured us that there was no rush. A full five hours after I'd arrived, we were the last to wobble out the door, stuffed to the gills and a little drunk. It may have started off disastrously but it ended well, and I can't think of a much finer way to spend a Sunday.

The Anchor & Hope

36 The Cut,
London, SE1 8LP

Tel: 020 7928 9898