Sunday 30 October 2011

Chilli Con Carne

A Texan woman once told me "only poor people and vegetarians put beans in" so I suppose this here is a Texan-style chilli con carne. After relentless experimentation, I've managed to make the most flavoursome chilli to date and the trick was to make it as simple as possible. No beans. No tomatoes.

A combination of ancho chilli, cascabel, chipotle and one small habernero was to be my chilli base (you can buy these at Casa Mexico) and a scotch bonnet was thrown in for some ferociousness. The result was a deep, smoky building heat quite unlike any other, with a layer of fruitiness from the scotch bonnet. Scooped up with tortilla chips (I deep fried corn tortillas...) and salsa, the textural difference in using chunks of beef rather than mince is stark. It's messy but I prefer having more texture to get my teeth around.

Chilli Con Carne

Serves 6ish

450gr braising steak
450gr beef shin
2 cascabel chillis
1 ancho chilli
1 habenero chilli
2 chipotle chillis in adobo
1 scotch bonnet
2 tsp Mexican oregano (or use normal)
1 large onion
1 carrot
2 ribs of celery
6 fat cloves of garlic
1 stick of cinnamon
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 can of lager
500ml of beef stock

Chop the meat into chunks and brown well. Remove from the pan. Meanwhile, rehydrate the habenero, cascabel and ancho chillis in hot water. Dice the onion, carrot and celery and mince the garlic. Throw this into the pan to fry in the beef juices and fat. Cook slowly until softened and lightly golden. Mince the chillis with the chipotles and add to the onion mixture with the oregano. Add the beef back in and then add the cumin and cinnamon stick. Stir well.

Add the can of lager and then bring to the simmer. It will be all foamy but will calm down. Simmer until reduced by half, then add the beef stock and simmer slowly for at least 4 hours. Check it occasionally and add water if it becomes too dry. It tastes better the next day, but is still pretty damn good on the same day.

Thursday 27 October 2011

Mussel Conchiglie

I was first alerted to this pasta recipe from @patrickji - this mussel pasta is from The River Cafe Two Easy cookbook. As soon as I saw it I knew I had to have it. The pasta looked silky and comforting, which is my kind of dish.

Instead of ditaloni, a small tube shape said to be the same size as the small, sweet mussels, I used conchiglie instead. The name, meaning 'shell' in Italian made perfect sense to use them with the mussels; there's something quite satisfying in removing the mussels from their proper shells to be but back in with some edible ones.

Though a fairly time-consuming recipe, it's definitely a keeper. Despite the cream, it tastes light and fresh but luxurious too. The shells are very good at scooping up the sauce and hiding mussels within them. Of course I had to put my own spin on it and add some lemon zest for some citrus flavour that I find essential with seafood.

Mussel Conchiglie

Serves 3 (the River Cafe recipe says 4 but 2 of us finished it and were slightly stuffed, so I've compromised at 3)

320gr conchiglie
1 kg mussels
2 cloves of garlic
200gr butter
170ml double cream
120ml white wine
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
4 tbsp flatleaf parsley, chopped finely
1 tsp lemon juice

Scrub and debeard the mussels. Discard any with a cracked shell, or if they're open and they don't close with a firm tap. Chop the garlic finely and add half the butter to a large pan with the olive oil. Once frothing, add the garlic, mussels and the white wine and cook with a lid on, high heat, until all the mussels open - a few minutes.

Take off the heat and strain, reserving the mussel juices. Pick the mussels from their shells and discard the shells.

Meanwhile, put a pan of water on to boil for the pasta. Cook until just under al dente.
Add the cream to the mussel juices with the other half of the butter and simmer to reduce. Once the pasta is done, drain well reserving a couple tablespoons of the pasta water. Add the pasta to the cream mixture and cook for a further couple of minutes until the pasta is just done, then add in the lemon juice and mussels. Stir a few times for the mussels to warm in the sauce, then add the parsley and take off the heat. Season and serve.

Tuesday 25 October 2011

Blueberry Pancakes with Bacon & Maple Syrup

If you'd said to me 5 years ago that I'd be tucking into blueberry pancakes with maple syrup and bacon, I'd have gone "bleeeuuuughhh!", but nowadays I'm really getting into my sweet & savoury. I think it was candied bacon that changed me. In a fit of madness we used it as a spoon for this curry once. Edible spoons! Genius.

When I was in New York I didn't make it to a single breakfast, a shame (though not really - bed is important) because the Americans are known for great big massive breakfasts. These pancakes are popular with them. They differ in the sort that us Brits are more used to as they have a rising agent in them, whereas the ones we're more used to are flat as a... er, pancake.

These were light and fluffy, bursts of tartness and sweetness coming through from the oozing blueberries. They soaked up the maple syrup well, and the contrast with the smoky, salty bacon was a delight. For 5 girls with fuzzy heads, this sorted us out a treat.

Blueberry Pancakes with Bacon & Maple Syrup

Serves 5

400gr self raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
2 eggs
1 tsp sugar
A pinch of salt
600mls milk
150gr blueberries
10 rashers of smoked back bacon
Maple syrup to serve

Preheat your oven to around 70 degrees, to keep the waiting pancakes warm. The pancakes take patience but I found it quite therapeutic. Mix all the dry ingredients together, then make a well and add the eggs and mix well. Add the milk bit by bit, whisking as you go to make the batter. Mine was a bit lumpy and it didn't seem to matter. Leave the blueberries out at this stage - I add them after the batter has gone into the pan, as adding them and then mixing can make them pop, resulting in blueish grey pancakes.

Add a scant ladleful of batter to a well oiled pan on medium and then scatter a few blueberries onto the raw batter on top. Cook until the bubbles on the surface pop and then flip carefully, cooking the other side for another couple of minutes. Keep warm in the oven.

While you're making the pancakes, cook the bacon till well browned and also keep warm in the oven on kitchen paper-lined plates.

Serve with maple syrup.

Sunday 23 October 2011

Korean Kimchi Stew

I first came across Soondoobu Jiggae (or, soft tofu stew to me and you) at Koba, on Charlotte Place. A bubbling stew in a hot stone pot, it as packed with little clams, silky soft tofu and the punchy heat of kimchi. Further exploration with my chopsticks revealed a perfectly poached egg in the broth.

I've been fairly obsessed with it ever since, and I even purchased myself a dolsot (above, the stone pot you cook the stew in). Now, whenever I feel under the weather COUGH hungover COUGH my thoughts turn to kimchi stew. It's the spiciness with the comfort of the accompanying rice and that egg spilling its golden yolk into the soup, enriching further mouthfuls - it has magical healing properties.

I've made this with various types of kimchi - ponytail radish works well, but cabbage kimchi is more readily available. Sadly I can't often find clams so more often than not I leave them out and instead I add whatever random vegetables I have in the fridge.

Kimchi Stew

Serves 1

3 tbsp kimchi + 1 tbsp kimchi juice
1 small red chilli (optional if you're a chilli head)
2 tsp Korean chilli paste (gochujang) - you can get this at your local Asian supermarket
1 tsp minced garlic
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp light soy sauce
200gr soft tofu
1 stalk of spring onion
1 egg

For the broth:
3" square piece of kombu
4 dried anchovies
300mls water
A small handful of bonito flakes

(Or substitute the above with ready made dashi stock)

Heat the water with the kombu and dried anchovies in until it is simmering. Then take off the heat and add the bonito flakes. Leave for 15 minutes and then strain.

Heat the sesame oil in a dolsot or a saucepan. Fry the minced garlic in the oil for a few minutes. Add the chilli paste and the kimchi, then add the dashi broth and soy sauce. Simmer for 25 minutes, then add the tofu and simmer for a further 5 minutes. Break an egg into the stew and simmer for another 3 minutes - if you're using a stone pot you can take this off the heat now. Top with the spring onion. Put it on a chopping board / heat proof mat. Serve with a bowl of steamed rice.

Wednesday 19 October 2011

Pea & Courgette Soup

I'll admit it's not the most innovative or the most interesting of recipes, but it is one of the tastiest soups I've made and I think I achieved this through laziness. That's quite a feat and one that should be celebrated.

I've started a training course for work that means that I don't get home until 9:30pm every Tuesday night, and coupled with inviting friends round for dinner the following night, I thought I best make some preparation towards it lest I keep my guests hanging around for ages waiting for their soupy starter. No one likes waiting for food. So I half heartedly chopped a few courgettes, lobbed in a few bits and bobs and then blitzed it roughly before flopping in front of some guilty pleasure TV.

This resulted in a fresh and vibrant soup - the peas going in raw and barely cooking them makes it so - and from the happy murmurings from my guests, I almost abandoned the main course and served a second helping instead.

Pea & Courgette Soup

Serves 6 as a starter or 3 as a main with bread

3 large courgettes
1 fat or 2 smaller cloves of garlic
500gr petit pois, frozen - this seems a lot but it's a thick, chunky soup
A sprinkle of paprika per bowl
5 big mint leaves
3 basil leaves
100gr manchego, chopped into small chunks
1 tbsp olive oil
1 chicken or vegetable stock cube (or home-made stock if you have any)
1.5l water

In a large pan heat the oil and add the garlic, stewing slowly while you chop the courgettes into even chunks. Add the courgettes, then the stock cube and water. Simmer for a few minutes until the vegetables are still al dente (this depends really on how large you chopped the courgettes). Take off the heat and add the peas. Leave for 10 minutes. Go for a wee, have a sit down, make a cup of tea, that sort of thing.

Chop the mint and throw in. Blitz roughly (unless you like smooth soups, oddball). When serving, heat gently till just simmering. Taste for salt and pepper. Add evenly the chunks of manchego into each bowl, then add the soup. Serve topped with basil finely minced and a sprinkle of paprika.

Monday 17 October 2011

A Weekend in West Sweden

I may have only spent two days, courtesy of Visit Sweden, on the islands of West Sweden but it made quite the impression. The evening Friday night flight from London was loaded with good-looking businessmen and glamorous well-heeled women, making me feel like an ugly dwarf so not only is the scenery breath-taking, so are their people. As are their booze prices.

I arrived a day later on the blogger group trip than everyone else as I couldn't get out of work, so I missed out on the mussel safari and instead picked up with the group at Lysekil to get on a ferry to South Koster Island.

Once there, we dumped our bags at Sydkoster hotel Ekenäs and set off on a cycle tour of the island. A mere 300 permanent inhabitants, our guide told us that almost 300,000 tourists pass through in the summer months; it must be a staggering contrast. The island is car-free, and we cycled merrily along with only walkers and a couple others passing us. I had forgotten how much I love cycling and I could have well gone on for another couple of hours had it not been for the gnawing hunger that had started to set in. We clambered up to the highest point of the island to gawp at some panoramas before we set off for lunch.

We arrived at our guide's garden centre and restaurant, Koster Gardens, a calming place where we spied chickens pecking away in the vegetable beds and cockerels making us laugh with their ridiculous calls. The restaurant itself is oh-so-very-Swedish; clean wooden lines, dark blue and teal furnishings.

A salad full of leaves picked from the garden was a simple start to the meal, and a light tomato stew with poached fish, golden beetroot and a golden glob of mayonnaise on top followed. Warm, nutty bread helped up soak up the juices.

We were told that the restaurant uses it's own produce and often sells vegetables to customers; in an outhouse we found palettes of vividly coloured vegetables. A munch on a cherry tomato was intensely sweet and juicy.

Later, we attempted to go on a lobster safari but with 2.5m waves (which sounded quite fun...) the trip was abandoned and instead we toured calmer waters. Once back ashore, we had a good ol' stare at some previously caught lobsters, including this beasty which I forget how old was, but was really heavy. And it had one massive claw.

Back at the hotel, we were talked through the cooking of the lobsters - though not the massive one, as big lobsters don't taste so good. This poor bastard was dangled above the bubbling pot, staring into its fate as everyone squealed for our chef host to pause for a photo. What followed was a multi-course feast of lobster served as popcorn, soup, and whole, somewhat bizarrely served with quiche and cumin-flavoured cheese.

It was then, perhaps a mistake to get drunk and dance around to the hotel's 'Rocktoberfest' band (they were really rather good...) as the next day we took a boat for an hour to Grebbestad. I don't get seasick but I suffer from hangovers more than most, and jiggling around on the boat gave me an extreme case of the queases. To be honest, just being alive was giving me the queases but after a quick, er, purge I perked up some and got right stuck into the 'oyster experience'. Our host, Pers, was super-enthusiastic and taught us all about Swedish oysters and the ideal home he had created underneath his oyster house. He dredged some up and after a quick lesson on opening the oysters, he invited us to try it ourselves.

I was rubbish at it and I made Pers open mine for me. The oysters had some serious mineral flavour to them, while still being sweet but briny. They cured me.

As we'd missed out on the lobster safari the day before, Pers kindly offered to take us out to see his lobster pots instead. We got these awesome survival suits which were the most comfortable thing ever. So comfortable that I may have drifted off for a moment or two. The lobster pots were brought up from the depths of the ocean and to our delight, they housed a couple of crabs and a lobster.

Back at the oyster house, we sat down to a meal of freshly boiled langoustine (they call it crayfish) and crab. Viscera coated my face as I smashed my way through claws and squeezed langoustine juice into my eyes to extract the precious flesh.

And with that, we set off back to Gothenburg to catch our return flight. I loved Sweden; it was bloody freezing but crisp, clear waters and gorgeous scenery more than make up for it. I imagine if I lived there I would look as healthy and slim as its inhabitants - especially if I ate langoustine and crab for lunch every day. My god is everything expensive though; at roughly £7 a pint it would suit the richer holiday-goer. Or if you're less of a booze monkey.

Cycle tour, hotel, four course lobster dinner, and shellfish safari package on South Koster - link here.

Everts Sjobob organised the boat pick-up, oyster experience and lobster safari for us and their link is here.

You can read about the day I missed here and here, and my full Flickr set is here.

I would not recommend First Hotel G in Gothenburg, where I stayed on my first night. I woke up the next day with 36 very itchy bites down my right arm. I am still boiling all my clothes obsessively.

EDIT: I've since been told that beer in Sweden is not expensive and beer in most places set you back £4 - £6. Be that as it may, I reported on my experience.

Friday 14 October 2011

New York - October Edition

"Oh you food bloggers just HAVE to take pictures of everything you eat." This is a moan I've often heard and yes, it's mostly true. Unless I'm firing a flash gun in someone's face (no, NO NO to flash) I tend to just smile wanly and let it wash over me. But last weekend I went to New York and I just couldn't be bothered. It definitely wasn't the food as I everything I ate I loved, but I was all about enjoying myself and photo-taking took a backseat to that. So here are some suggestions of where we went, a bit photoless.

We got a last minute reservation at Minetta Tavern for 7pm. We were lucky as it was busy when we got there but the atmosphere fantastic. Awesome cocktails (the Murray Sour was great) and the burger is beefy goodness, the pile of fries daunting but delightful.

The Dutch was similarly atmospheric; like Minetta, it was dark and noisy. The fried oyster sandwich was a wee little brioche bun, the fried oyster wedged in surrounded by a tangy relish. I was gutted I only ordered one. The pork chop was huge and fatty and I almost cried when I had a taste of it as I wasn't the person who ordered it. I was a fool that night.

Pastis was recommended to me as a brunch spot but instead we went for dinner. We were hammered (see below...) but I vaguely remember really enjoying a steak tartare there.

Top of The Standard hotel. My lovely gorgeous wonderful lovely amazing lovely boyfriend (did you just retch?) treated me to a night's stay there, but the bar on the 18th floor is open to all before 10pm. I'd suggest you dress nicely as it's a bit swanky, but great for a cocktail (or, ahem, 3) at sunset with stunning views across the city.

That's not to say I didn't take any pictures though. I mean, come on.

New York turned me into a ramen fiend. On my last visit I sampled the Momofuku pork ramen. This time it was Rai Rai Ken's shio ramen. A clear broth flavoured with a hint of seafood and deep porkiness, the noodles were nice and springy though the slice of pork a bit tough. Nevertheless I have thought of little else since my return. Come ON London, open a decent ramen shop.

We also went to Taisho Yakitori, a tiny place where we sat by the charcoal grill surrounded by chattering Japanese couples, our faces almost pressed up against a cabinet full of raw meat. Chicken skin skewers were part crispy, part juicy and incredibly addictive. Chicken gizzards were challenging as usual, all crunchy and squidgy and offally while pork slices were comfortingly good.

I've found the service in general in New York to be great - always really friendly and welcoming, though as you're expected to tip 15 - 20% I'd bloody well expect it too. The one place that failed on this front was Prune. We popped in for brunch to a large airy room, french windows flung open in the unseasonal 26 degree heat. The restaurant was half full but we were offered a darkened corner, as if they wanted to hide us away. I refused and instead asked to sit by aforementioned windows and in moving the table away slightly as I squeezed in, the waitress jammed it back towards me, muttering about someone not being able to serve someone else or something or whatever. I stopped listening as the grumps took over. Luckily then, that the rock shrimp on toasted brioche with Old Bay-seasoned fries was just perfect.

Lastly, a great cocktail bar we happened upon was Little Branch. Behind a non-descript doorway lies an underground cave of boozy delights, and the bar staff made me several cracking drinks with only my pleas of 'something with gin please!' to go on. And thus concludes another 4 day jaunt to where is easily becoming my 2nd favourite city.

Thursday 6 October 2011

Crab Noodles - Young Cheng, Lisle Street

Chinatown restaurants often get a bad reputation; shoddy service, grubby interiors and that elusive Chinese menu for special Chinese people. It is mostly true, but I'm half Chinese so I don't feel the pain of it much; our waiter at Young Cheng last night said of the English menu - 'it's for all the 'gweilos', don't use that one', he joked in Cantonese. It's not fair but I don't see it changing anytime soon; had I not been with my mother (who reads Chinese; I don't) I'd have been lumped with the inferior menu too.

But what was available to all was on a special laminated card, the lobster or crab noodles. We ordered the latter to start, priced at a very reasonable £12.80. The behemoth above arrived and was what seemed like two crabs, cooked with ginger and spring onion on a bed of crispy noodles. Shell crackers and pickers were provided along with a bowl to wash your hands in.

It's not for people who don't enjoy getting a bit messy. The parts of the crab are smothered in a slightly gloopy savoury sauce, making everything a bit slimy and tricky to manage but as we cracked our way through the shells sucking and picking out the sweet crab meat, I didn't mind one bit. The noodles soaked up the sauce, slowly becoming softer and softer. Easily a meal for two with a vegetable dish on the side, it was quite a bargain.

Young Cheng

22 Lisle Street
London WC2H 7BA

Note there is also a Young Cheng on Shaftesbury Avenue - I'm talking about the Lisle Street branch.

Tuesday 4 October 2011

Baccalà Mantecato

Polpetto have had a menu change and when my friend Helen and I went to try it out, we were particularly taken by the mysterious 'baccala mantecato'. Upon further query it turned out to be salt cod, whipped up into a spread and gobsmackingly good. So smooth and creamy it was that I could have sworn it had some potato in, but part-owner Russell Norman told us no, it just requires emulsifying the cod with oil to make a smooth paste; labour-intensive but ultimately worth it.. Though an Italian dish, a holiday in Spain was looming and we'd found salt cod there before, so we began our plan of recreating it.

Our recreation went well - ready-soaked salt cod was simmered briefly and then the hard work came in. To a pestle and mortar we added garlic and parsley and then we pounded the life out of the cod, drizzling oil in slowly and finishing with milk to loosen its texture and give it some body. Though our version was a little more rustic (and green), it had a great texture and was gorgeous smeared on some bread.

Baccalà Mantecato

250gr salt cod, rehydrated. I think this involves a lot of soaking and changing of water over several days - we bought ours already soaked.
A pinch of salt - the salt cod once soaked isn't super salty
1 fat clove of garlic
A handful of parsley
2 tbsp milk
A squeeze of lemon juice
Around 100mls light olive oil, not extra virgin

Simmer the cod in water for 5 minutes, then leave to cool. While warm, break into pieces as small as possible.

In a mortar and pestle, pound the garlic and parsley into a paste. Add the cod and mix vigorously. Roll back your sleeves and get pounding and smooshing as someone else dribbles the oil in, until you get a thick, smooth paste. It needs quite a bit of oil. Loosen with the milk - add on tbsp at a time until it is incorporated - if you feel it's necessary. Serve with toasted bread.