Wednesday 29 June 2011

New York, New York

I went to New York for the first time last weekend. I want to live there forever and ever. Or at least a few years; the 4 days I spent there weren't nearly enough to sample all their eateries. I didn't go to Katz' Deli. I didn't eat any pizza. I didn't have a milkshake, nor a pretzel. I did eat a bugger-load of sandwiches though.

Momofuku's pork buns had to be sampled, and they were miles away from London's Leong's Legends efforts. Juicy, fatty pork squished in an airy bun with pickled cucumbers was everything I had hoped for. Upon my return, I bought Chang's cookbook immediately.

Chicken parm from Torrisi and the Italian combo make me wonder why on earth London doesn't seem to have any decent sandwich shops. Melty cheese flecked with basil and tomato sauce was perfect with the chicken, while quality sliced meats was made fiery with some pickled peppers. Not a cheap sandwich at $10 each, but then nothing seems to be in New York.

After a night on the cocktails a coleslaw-topped, jalapeno-flooded 'Spicy Redneck' from Crif Dogs hit the spot. Waffle-shaped fries topped with terrifyingly lurid and plastic cheese were delicious dunked in ketchup, and washed down with a root beer I felt quite the all-American. Especially when I followed it later that afternoon with a Shake Shack burger.

Right on the other end of the spectrum, a Red Hook stand at a Saturday food market in Williamsburg sold us a hearty lobster roll for $16. Offered in a brioche roll with a pickle, the Connecticut style, dressed in butter was my favourite, though the Maine style in cold mayonnaise was nothing to be sniffed at.

It wasn't all sandwiches though. Fette Sau, mere minutes away from where I was staying offered barbecued meat by the pound. Queues snaked around the till so we settled ourselves at the bar, drinking bourbon-tinged cocktails. Pulled pork, smoked brisket and pink juicy beef tri-tip were served on trays. The smokey beans almost eclipsed the meat. Almost.

On another barbecue trip we hit up Fatty 'Cue for brunch. A bloody mary was made with smoked tomato juice and had a huge spicy hit. Asian-inspired, the pork ribs I ordered were meaty and fatty, served with a palm sugar fish sauce glaze. I hoped for some vegetables but none seemed to be on the menu. The companion's smoked brisket sandwich packed with coriander, chilli jam and aioli made me jealous.

It may not look like much, but Momofuku's pork ramen was the best noodle soup EVER. Intensely meaty broth, springy noodles and a perfectly poached egg nestled inside. Alas, the cold smoked brisket noodles paled in comparison beside them; we should have eaten them first.

A seafood dinner at the John Dory Oyster Bar in the Ace Hotel had me captive; moody low lighting and absorbing as much of the atmosphere and concentrating on the food made me forget completely to take photos but I highly recommend you go. With plenty of dollar.

So that was it. A weekend is not nearly long enough.

Wednesday 22 June 2011

Riverford - 'Every Day & Sunday'

I was invited to the book launch of Every Day & Sunday from Riverford, created by Guy Watson and Jane Baxter. Following the success of their first Riverford cookbook in 2008, they were bombarded with requests for another, featuring more simple, day-to-day seasonal cooking, with a little something special for Sundays.

Hosted at the very lovely Blueprint Cafe, recipes from the book were used to feed us and cooked by Jeremy Lee. Everything was gorgeous, even a dish of plain spinach, but most especially this burrata salad. Flavours of fresh parsley mingled with creamy decadence, with a slight hint of orange. I can't wait till Amazon deliver my copy, because it was worth the purchase just for this.

You can buy a copy here. The rest of the photos, including some awesome desserts, are HERE.

Monday 20 June 2011

Smacked Cucumber Salad

The first I'd heard of the hilariously named 'smacked cucumbers' was at Wuli Wuli; the cucumbers bathed in a pungently garlic sauce, that also had a fair amount of sweetness; at first, I found it too much, and then I was going back for more.

The name comes from the technique of smacking the cucumber with the flat of your cleaver (though I used a rolling pin) until the skin of the cucumber splits, leaving you with more surface area for the cucumber to absorb the dressing. Served with a fiery minced pork and noodle dish, this soothed the tongue and made us honk of garlic all night.

Smacked Cucumber Salad

Serves 2 as a side

1 large cucumber
3 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tsp palm sugar
2.5 tbsp rice vinegar
1.5 tsp chilli oil
2 tsp toasted sesame oil
1 tsp light soy sauce
2 tsp salt

Lay the cucumber on a chopping board and smack lightly with a cleaver or a rolling pin. Slice and add to a colander, sprinkling with salt. Leave for 30 mins, then rinse and pat dry with a kitchen towel. Mix together the vinegar, the garlic, sugar, chilli and sesame oils and add the cucumber to the mix, leaving for 10 mins before serving.

Wednesday 15 June 2011

Crayfish Bob

It's not often you hear of a business plan that consists of trying to sell out of produce and, therefore, putting you out of business. But that's what Crayfish Bob is doing; trying to eradicate the American Signal crayfish from the Thames and other UK waterways as they are wiping out our native White Claws. You can read more about it here - I particularly like Bob's bio.

Crayfish Bob, in conjunction with Two Degrees is currently holding a pop-up; artist Clare Patey along with Blanch & Shock worked with them to create the dining experience and I attended as a guest of theirs. For £5, you sit at shared tables outside in the lovely Toynbee Studios, the garden space of Toynbee Hall. Bread with butter is warm and moreish, and I slathered a load of hemp mayonnaise for a full fat mouthful.

After a quick speech about Bob's intentions, we were instructed to form an orderly queue and Bob plopped some meaty, bright orange specimens on my plate. Viscera flew about the place as claws were ripped off, crayfish heads sucked and sweet, fleshy tails were dipped in mayonnaise. Big bowls of salad with wild leaves, such as common hogweed and borage were stunning and delicious; astringent stalks mingled with sweet leaves. We washed this down with a glass of rosé, reportedly made from grapes grown in Tooting.

Finally, a elderflower pannacotta with strawberries and butterscotch was a highlight - I couldn't get enough of the rich, sweet butterscotch. Dusk settled and off I waddled, pleased as punch to have been doing my bit of ridding the waters of this pest.

The pop up is, understandably sold out (for £5, it really was a total bargain) but I believe Crayfish Bob is will soon be smoking and selling his delicious crayfish. Watch this space...

More photos HERE.

Sunday 12 June 2011

One Week in Puglia

The view at night from our roof terrace

Purple-headed raw red prawns

Prawn vs. Langoustine

Our daily tomato salad - they actually tasted of TOMATO!

Barbeque - we had many

Monopoli, on the coast

Raw squid antipasti at Osteria Perrucci, Monopoli - this was one of the highlights of an epic, gorgeous meal. No chewiness or sliminess, instead teeth snapped through soft, slightly crunchy lemon-spiked squid.

One of two shared pasta dishes, this was a favourite. Silky spaghetti with octopus, bathed in a rich tomato sauce.

The view from the passenger seat of our Fiat 500 as we tried to get our 9 mammoth takeaway pizzas home on the last night. Every so often a pizza-scented guff of steam would hit me in the face. It was an uncomfortable journey but it culminated in deliciousness.

It rained and thunderstormed for an hour or two. We got right stuck into the shots playing card games. We were all asleep by 10pm.

When 9 of us descended on our villa in Ceglie Messapica in Italy's heel, Puglia, we only really had one agenda. Eating well, partying well, and slouching around by the pool. We did this with (some) grace and fervour. Shopping at local markets for our fruit and vegetables, we gorged on flat peaches, soft apricots and heady-scented strawberries. Lunches and dinners would consist of a simple pasta, or barbequed meat / fish / shellfish with salads.

We ventured out one day, to Monopoli and feasted like kings at Osteria Perrucci, a tip I got from Greedy Diva. We left it as that, since navigating 9 people can be hard, and when it's a good 27 degrees sometimes all you want to do is flop by the pool, frosted beer in hand. Aside from a weekend trip to Venice, I hadn't been to Italy before; I fell in love with Puglia.

Food Stories has left some excellent tips on the region here
. There's one thing I can add; don't trust Google maps to direct you down roads wider than your car if you're in anything bigger than a Fiat 500...

More photos, including the rest of the Monopoli meal, are here.

Saturday 4 June 2011

Steaks & Burgers

It would have been madness to turn down a box full of beef, sent to me by Donald Russell, especially when I was promised a load of 100% pure steak mince burgers. The bank holiday weekend was coming up and there were barbeques to be had. Being the generous people they are, they chucked in a load of steak for good measure.

The sirloin, rump and rib eye were slung on for a good flaming. After being rested for as long as we could bear it, we carved them up for a steaky starter. We all had our favourites, but surprisingly mine was the sirloin (I'm usually a rib eye kind of girl). The creamy fat that lined the meat provided just the right amount of richness.

So onto the main course. Since the meat was already prepared for us, I couldn't help but cause myself more hassle and decided to try making my own brioche buns. This, of course was fraught with difficulty after I firstly had to do a mad dash for bread flour, and then while the dough was proving, realised the yeast was 6 months out of date. It didn't seem to affect it though, and they turned into little beauties. It was well worth the hassle, as their buttery sweetness was the perfect vehicle.

Some preferred their burgers simple, with just a slice of slappy cheese (the only cheese that I offered because I love it and I'm stubborn).

I like a bit of greenery in my burger, a little red onion and a slice of tomato. A touch of mustard to smear on the bun and a little ketchup is also required. I was sad I forgot the pickle.

The burgers from Donald Russell were appropriately beefy; at first I was a bit dubious about them, what with being 100% steak mince. Other burgers I've tried usually have a bit of fat in them, and these could have done with some to be extra juicy. We ate our first burger and I thought something was missing. When we slapped the others on (yes, we ate two burgers each...) I realised it was salt, and a liberal hand while they were cooking rectified that.

The brioche recipe was from Smitten Kitchen - I made a couple of adjustments and converted it to UK measurements (I'm not going to go into how much cup measurements annoy me), so here it is:

Brioche Burger Buns

Makes 8

450gr strong bread flour
150gr plain flour
2 eggs
2.5 tbsp sugar
3 tbsp milk, warmed
230ml water
1.5 tsp salt
30gr butter
1 sachet of active dry yeast
Sesame seeds

In a bowl, add the warm milk, water, sugar and yeast to it and give it a good mix. Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl, add the two flours, the salt, and rub the butter in to create a crumbly texture. Beat an egg and add it in, then mix in the yeast mixture. Combine well. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead for 10 minutes, until it's nice and smooth. Put it back into the bowl and cover it with clingfilm, leaving it for two hours to rise to double the size. It might not take that long if your kitchen is warm enough.

Divide the dough into 8 and then roll into a burger bun shape and place on greaseproof paper on an oven tray. Leave enough room between them (I had to do mine in 2 batches) for them to expand while cooking. Leave for an hour. Preheat your oven to 200 degrees C. Glaze with beaten egg and sprinkle with sesame seeds.

Place a tray of water on the bottom shelf of the oven, then bake the buns for 15 minutes on a middle shelf. Remove and leave to cool on a wire rack.

Thursday 2 June 2011

A Mexican-Style Brunch

Lately I've been somewhat addicted to eggy brunches. Fried potatoes topped with a poached egg, flecks of chorizo littering the plate and staining the potatoes often feature. Other times it will be a mildly spiced kedgeree with a fried egg, it's yolk spilling itself, coating rice grains.

A favourite is a spicy Mexican-style brunch. Spicy tomato sauce (which, I'll confess is more often than not a leftover pasta sauce tarted up with a bit of hot smoked paprika) softens toasted corn tortillas, while creamy smoky black beans tempered the palate. A zingy guacamole was, in hindsight, an element too far. Surprisingly, it was the black beans that stole the show so here they are.

Refried Beans

Serves 2

390gr cooked black beans with the water (I used Sainsburys Organic tetrapak)
1 tsp chopped thyme
2 rashers of smoked streaky bacon
1 tsp chopped stalks of coriander
1 small white onion
3 cloves of garlic
1 chipotle chilli, or chipotle chilli flakes
1/2 tsp salt
Coriander and a wedge of lime, to garnish

In a saucepan with a little oil, add the bacon rashers, chopped finely. Fry until the fat is released and the meat takes on some colour. Dice the onion and mince the garlic and fry slowly until softened. Add the thyme and coriander stalks. Meanwhile, add the chipotle chilli flakes, or soften the chipotle chilli in hot water - if the latter, whizz in a processor and add to the pan. Add the beans with the water in the pack and then add the salt. Simmer for 40 minutes, adding more water if they're a little dry. Stir it often - it has the tendency to stick to the bottom of the pan very easily. Take off the heat and garnish with a little chopped coriander and a wedge of lime.

It freezes well in individual portions to whip out of the freezer for a quick brunch.