Sunday 27 July 2014

Blueberry Swirl Cheesecake

Here are a couple of facts about me:

- I rarely make desserts. I can't be bothered. They don't interest me enough. 
- When I do, you can bet money on it that it'll be blueberry-based

So, here's a recipe for blueberry swirl cheesecake. This recipe is seriously rich, and it serves a lot of people when cut into bars. You could halve the recipe if you like, but you could also be nice to your colleagues and take them in. Or eat it all yourself and feel sick for the evening...

Blueberry Swirl Cheesecake

Serves 8 - 12

(Adapted from BBC Good Food)

300gr digestive biscuits, crushed into a fine powder
140gr butter, melted
250gr golden caster sugar + 1 tbsp
150gr blueberries
1 tsp cornflour
900gr full fat cream cheese
4 tbsp plain flour
3 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
200ml soured cream
Zest of half a lemon

Heat the oven to 200 degrees C. Line a large baking tray (20cm x 30cm) with baking parchment. Mix all the biscuit crumbs with the melted butter and press it firmly and evenly across the bottom of the tray. Bake for 15 minutes, then remove and leave to cool in the tray. 

Add the blueberries to a small saucepan with 1 tbsp sugar. Mix the tsp cornflour to 1 tbsp water and add this to the pan, and heat gently, stirring a few times for the sugar to melt. Increase the heat and bubble for 3 minutes, until some of the blueberries have popped. Leave to one side. 

In a mixing bowl, combine the cream cheese with the sugar and mix well with an electric whisk until combined. Then add the soured cream, plain flour, vanilla extract and the lemon zest. Beat in each egg, one at a time, making sure everything is well incorporated before adding the next. 

Pour half the mixture onto the biscuit base, then drizzle half the blueberry sauce on top. Add the other half of the cheesecake mixture, then splodge the remaining blueberry sauce on top. Use a chopstick to drag through the blueberry sauce on top to create a swirl effect. 

Bake for 10 minutes, still in a 200 degree oven, then turn down to 110 degrees and bake for a further 30 minutes. Turn off the oven and leave the cheesecake inside for an hour and a half. Then remove and leave to cool, refrigerate for an hour, and then turn out and slice into bars. 

Wednesday 16 July 2014

Ramen Sasuke, Soho

In London, we're lucky that we can get virtually any cuisine under the sun, and with varying degrees of authenticity. Ramen is one of the new trends that I welcome with open arms; sure, I've never been to Japan, but I know what I love and that's a noodle soup. Bone Daddies is probably the furthest from Japan one might get - I seem to remember cheese being a feature on a specials ramen some time ago -  though this is no bad thing. Their premise is based on the traditional ramen, but they pimp it to maximum effect. Though I know many fans of it, I can't take the tonkotsu broth; it's too much for poor little me, too rich for my delicate self. Instead, I usually opt for their kimchi seafood offering, or the spicy tantanmen if I'm feeling really hungry. 

Shoryu Ramen, from the Japan Centre, is closer to its homeland; they've expanded to three sites pretty rapidly and they have a vast range of ramen available. Carnaby Street's yuzu tonkotsu is pleasantly citrus in flavour, but ultimately, over-whelmingly salty. 

Of the lot, Tonkotsu's noodles are king. Bouncy, springy and chewy, they're only let down by slightly unimaginative toppings, and on my last visit, chashu pork that was far chewier than it should have been. But those springy noodles! Every noodle-lover's dream.

My latest discovery is Ramen Sasuke; hidden down a Soho street, it feels even more Japanese than Shoryu does. As you enter the staff greet you in Japanese. Wooden benches and tables are pared back in detail, no fancies or fripperies. The menu is limited to a few ramens, some katsu curry options and on the back page, the lunch deal offers your ramen of choice, a slightly smaller-than-usual side dish for a £1.50 charge, and a free bowl of rice should you want it. It reminded me of Ippudo, where alongside your ramen you get rice with a topping for an additional $3. 

With my order of spicy miso ramen, I was given a surabachi - a traditional Japanese pestle and mortar - in which to grind the toasted sesame seeds to garnish my noodles with. It was a nice touch; some were ground to a fine powder, others I left whole for a little texture contrast. 

The spicy miso ramen came in a deep bowl, piled incredibly high. Beansprouts, marinated bamboo shoots, spring onion and sweetcorn come as standard along with a slice of incredibly tender pork. For an extra £1, I added the option of a sheet of nori and half a marinated egg, nitamago. The soup was sweet with miso, rich and flavoursome - I thought it could have been a little spicier, but easily solved by the chilli oil on the table. 

Crucially, the soup wasn't too rich and it didn't become a struggle, as I've experienced with other overly piggy broths. The noodles were in abundance; thick, yellow and appropriately springy. I didn't manage to finish them, much to my own astonishment. My friend's shoyu ramen (opening picture) was more demure, a clear broth sitting lightly on the stomach.

My side of gyoza, reduced down to 3 dumplings for the £1.50 charge, were good value. Crisp bottoms and delicate pastry up top, the filling could have done with more seasoning. 

My friend's chicken karaage was a great example of it. The batter was crisp, bubbled and light, encasing juicy chicken. The mayonnaise it was served with proved superfluous, though I enjoyed the wedge of lemon squeezed over it. 

I really loved Ramen Sasuke; it's a calm, peaceful place and on our visit was populated by only a couple of Japanese men in suits, slurping quietly away. They don't have the flamboyance of Bone Daddies, nor the variety of menu of Shoryu, but what they do have is a really good quality bowl of noodles, for a great price; all that with a drink set me back £15. 

Ramen Sasuke

32 Great Windmill Street
London W1D 7LR

Closed Mondays, no reservations

Sasuke on Urbanspoon

Sunday 13 July 2014

The Chiltern Firehouse, Marylebone

Somewhat uncharacteristically for me, this post only contains one photo, but happily it was a photo of the best thing we ate at The Chiltern Firehouse. Have you heard of it? It's AndrĂ© Balaz's new place; he of Chateau Marmont, The Standard, The Mercer, all heavy hitters State-side. It's his first venture outside of the US, and it's an instant hit. It's the new hangout for stars like Rita Ora, Kate Moss and Cara Delevigne and it is very difficult to get a table. When I emailed to ask when I could have a dinner reservation I was told 'weekdays, 5pm'. That is not dinner time. It is also an hour before I'm contractually supposed to finish work. I am told they are now in 'reservation lockdown' until September. 

So, I gave up and moved on with my life, and a few weeks later I was invited to a work lunch there. Set behind a gate, a lovely umbrella'd garden was verdant and inviting, despite the dripping rain. Inside, the six of us were seated at a round table near the back, slightly raised, enabling us to observe the action. Previously a fire station, our table was punctuated with a fireman's pole running down the centre. Lightbulbs hang from black cords, casting a soft yellow light across the crowded dining room. Towards the back, an open kitchen is the place to sit by to observe the action that's always interested me more than star-spotting: the chefs at work. Nuno Mendes, formerly of Viajante, heads up the kitchen here; I know well his calibre, having been to Viajante and his first restaurant, Bacchus, way back in the mists of time. 

All the reports you may have read about the serving staff are true. Model-esque in looks, some looking impossibly young for their roles. But we were assigned a waiter who had clearly lost his humour that day. The oft-talked about - perhaps signature? - dish of crab doughnuts were sold out, even by lunchtime, and we joked and pleaded with him to ask the kitchen to rustle us some up. Our pleas fell on deaf, stony ears. We get it. They've run out. But the merest mention of them in jest was met with a glowering grimace. 

We ordered all the starters available to us to share, and of these the steak tartare with 'Firehouse hot sauce', to apply yourself, was smoky and sweet, lacking in chilli heat but adding a fruitiness otherwise. Burrata with tomatoes was as you might expect, though enlivened with a parmesan crisp. Green and white asparagus, sourced from France, was draped with a cured ham and overshadowed by a nutty, mayonnaise-like sauce. Star of the show, though was cured sea trout in yellow mole (top picture) - traditionally a Mexican sauce made from guajillo chillis and tomatillos - which was garnished with roe and cucumber, a faint flavour of coriander coming through. The fish was firm and meaty, tart and spicy, tiny cubes of pineapple lifting the flavour of the seafood. Two lots of bread, charged at £4 per portion, arrived although we didn't order it. When mentioned, another waiter told us to have it anyway as a gift. It appeared later on the bill. 

My main course of char-grilled Iberico pork with raw and roasted turnips arrived on a cast iron plate, nestled within a wooden board. It was a mess of turnips halves, turnip slivers and green sauce, and I had to do some digging to find the meat. The thin slivers of pork, though tender and cooked to pink, were so over-whelmingly smoky it tasted like I was eating bacon. It seemed a shame to treat the usually flavoursome Iberico breed in such a way. For £26, and an additional £5 for necessary sides of either fries, green beans or lettuce hearts, it seemed a little steep. 

Things recovered at dessert stage. My frozen apple panna cotta was not a panna cotta, but rather a torched golf ball of meringue, with ice cream within. It sat on a sponge base, surrounded by apple jelly and a very fine granita of vividly dark green apple and basil. Refreshing and light, it swiped the lingering and slightly acrid taste of smoke from my mouth. 

So I left The Chiltern Firehouse, having had a lovely time with the people I was with but pretty certain I won't be returning. I wouldn't be able to get a table, for a start. Other than that, sure, it's a beautiful room. It's glitzy, glamorous and lit well, to show you off in their best light. But the inventiveness and prettiness of dishes that I had associated with Mendes (see, for example, roasted broad beans in their pod, or textures of beetroot with crab) weren't there; instead, safer dishes like steak with onion rings that you can get better elsewhere. You might spot a celebrity or two (I didn't) but unless the food is up to scratch, it's not my bag. Haphazard and, at times, actually quite rude service cemented this feeling. 

Chiltern Firehouse

1 Chiltern Street 
London W1U 7PA
020 7073 7676

Chiltern Firehouse on Urbanspoon

Saturday 5 July 2014

Stir-Fried Pork with Black Fungus & Celery

Black fungus comes in two forms at the Chinese supermarket; sold dried, either in large pieces, or shredded finely. Cloud ear fungus are more delicate in flavour, whereas wood ear fungus are larger and thicker. Both need to be soaked in hot water for about 15 minutes to rehydrate them, and they almost double in size once done so. When used in large pieces, they're a little jelly-like in texture, but with an unmistakable crunch. 

This recipe was inspired by a dish served by my favourite Chinese restaurant, Silk Road. They cook slices of pork together with cabbage and black fungus, strongly tinged with the flavour of vinegar, in a cornstarch-thickened sauce. I played around with the vegetable combinations, settling on celery as it is robust enough to stand up to the high heat of the wok, while still retaining texture. The pork is seared until bronzed and caramelised and the marinade keeps it tender. I opted for a drier dressing rather than a sauce, to keep the components bright and perky. 

Stir-Fried Pork with Black Fungus & Celery

Serves 2 with a vegetable side dish

150gr pork loin, sliced thinly
2 stalks of celery, peeled with a vegetable peeler and sliced diagonally
3 pieces of black fungus, soaked in hot water for 15 minutes and chopped roughly
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 inch piece of ginger, skin scraped off and minced 
1 tsp dark soy sauce
2 tbsp light soy sauce 
2 tbsp Chinkiang black vinegar
1 tsp Shaoxing rice wine
1 tsp cornflour
A pinch of sugar
A pinch of white pepper
50m water
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 stalk of spring onion, whites and greens separated - greens julienned and whites chopped roughly

In a bowl, mix together the rice wine, cornflour, 1 tbsp of light soy sauce, dark soy sauce, white pepper and the pork. Mix together well and set to one side to marinade while you prepare the rest of the ingredients. 

Heat 1 tbsp of the oil in the wok on a high heat until it is smoking. Add the pork and spread around the wok so that the slices get well seared on one side, then turn over and do the same. Remove to a plate - they don't need to be cooked through, as they'll be cooked again. 

Wipe the wok clean and heat the remaining tbsp of oil on a high heat. When it starts smoking, turn down to a medium heat. Add the ginger, garlic and whites of the spring onion and stir-fry briskly for a minute. Turn the heat up high and add the celery and black fungus. Stir fry for 30 seconds, then add a splash of water and stir fry until it is dry. Add another splash of water to repeat. Then, add the pork back in with the remaining tbsp light soy, 50ml water, the pinch of sugar and finally the black vinegar. Stir fry until glossy, about 30 seconds, then remove to a bowl and garnish with the julienned spring onion greens.