It is with great happiness that I am posting to say I'm off on holiday for 2 weeks. First stop is Sweden, for a bit of touring around Stockholm and a lot of relaxing and fishing by the lakes. That is followed by a trip to New York to visit the friends and family.
Thank you to everyone who has sent along Sweden eating suggestions. Blogging will take a break until my return, but I'll be back in full force in September.
See you then!
Friday, 31 August 2007
It is with great happiness that I am posting to say I'm off on holiday for 2 weeks. First stop is Sweden, for a bit of touring around Stockholm and a lot of relaxing and fishing by the lakes. That is followed by a trip to New York to visit the friends and family.
Thursday, 30 August 2007
People who know me know I love the Freebird burritos at Exmouth Market; they're easily the best I've found in London so far. It's heartening to hear, then, from the team behind Freebird, that they're expanding their business to other parts of the City. James has written in to Ambrosia and Nectar with updates, and I'm posting them below. Best of luck to Freebird, and if you happen to find yourself near one of their stalls, grab your burrito while you can.
Hi Its James from Freebird Burritos,
thanks so much for the kind words above
We now operate at the following location:
Monday - Thursday
Monday - Friday
Sunday up Market (Just off Brick lane)
We are launching two more Monday - Friday markets over the next couple of weeks and will keep you updated.
We are a small burritos outfit trying to educate londoners one burrito at a time our chef is Carlos a Mexican guy who graduated from the same culinary institute of America (CIA) as steve ells the founder of chipotle.
I have been tagged for this meme by Margaret from Kitchen Delights, who herself was tagged by Antonia from Food, Glorious Food. And on it goes...
4 Jobs I've held:
- It was only a summer internship, but I worked in the education department of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It was the best job ever, bar none, and I felt like a child who stumbled on a treasure being in the museum on the days it was closed to the public.
- Ice cream scooper at an ice cream chain. Worst job ever.
- Peripheral marketing and sales work at a big publishing company.
- My current job in e-learning, trying to get people to bring more interactivity to their online teaching.
- Born in Queens, New York City (in the same hospital as both my parents. Sometimes big cities can be a small world).
- My college years in Williamstown, Massachusetts.
- A semester abroad in Florence, Italy, where I really learned to eat.
- For the past 7 years in London, and this is now firmly and definitely home.
- I did a couple of road trips during spring break at University, and they were as great as they seemed they ought to be; one was a journey through the South with New Orleans being the main destination, and another was a 38-hour non-stop drive to Miami and the Florida Keys.
- A fantastic group holiday was to Italy a few years back. 2 weeks with good friends in rural Tuscany, eating wonderful food and being generally relaxed in gorgeous surrounds.
- We stopped off for one night in Iceland on the way to visit the family in New York one year, and it was like nothing I've seen before; it was downright lunar, and the blue lagoon was amazing. Eating puffin...not as much.
- Honeymoon was taken in Japan, with the intention of eating well for 2 1/2 weeks. I wasn't disappointed.
- Brownies. Preferably home made, but I'll settle for good bakery brownies as well.
- Cheese, mainly goats. Mmm, cheese.
- Miso ramen (see the comment above about the honeymoon in Japan). I'm obsessed with the stuff. There's a photo of one of my favorite bowls of it, hanging above my side of the bed.
- A nice Sunday roast, with friends and family. Roast meat can vary, though if turkey were socially accepted at times of the year other than Christmas (or Thanksgiving), I'd be battling for a roast turkey every week.
- At any given time, tucked up in bed with a good book is a great option.
- In Japan, eating ramen or at our favorite conveyor belt sushi place.
- Somewhere deep in the heart of Italy, preferably with a rambling farm house at my disposal.
- On the other end of a tube journey, magically having completed the trip without any memory of being crammed under ground.
Su-Lin at Tamarind and Thyme
The lovely umami
Joanna at Joanna's Food
Sunita at Sunita's World
Wednesday, 29 August 2007
I've said it before, but I work in a very good London spot for food indulgences, and my pay check thoroughly supports the local community. At the triangle between Farringdon, Islington, and Exmouth Market, there are some superb gastronomic experiences to be had. One of them is at St. John Bread and Wine, just a few minutes walk from my office.
I have eaten at the restaurant before and agreed with Anthony Bourdain that the roasted marrow was amazing (though Anthony took it a bit further, going into rapture over them and maybe even hearing angels singing as he took his first bite). St John Bread and Wine also does what it says on the tin: it's a functioning wine bar and bakery, and there are some wonderful loaves of bread on sale if you care to pop in and buy one. I care, and so I bought.
We try to be healthy, Mr. A&N and I, so we normally opt for wholewheat bread, but the white on offer at St. John was the crusty fragrant stuff you normally associate with stolen moments in front of a Parisian bakery window watching the natives queue for the bakery's best bread. White it would be, on this occasion. The loaf was pretty big - a good foot-and-a-something long and fat, almost like a newborn baby, if a newborn were to be sculpted from bread - so £3 felt a fair price for it. It was a sign of my will power and maturity that I didn't tear into the bread until after I got home (pats on the back for me).
The bread reminded me a lot in flavor and texture to the 24-hour loaf of bread I baked last month, which I loved at the time. I thought it was only appropriate to eat the bread with some of my more posh spreads; pate, homemade rhubarb and apple jam, and nice olive oil. It tasted pretty good with bacon inside it too, and even just on its own, it must be said. I just can't believe it's taken me over a year of working in the area to think of stopping in to St. John for my bread, but it is well, well worth the trip.
Monday, 27 August 2007
After reading about them in Eat Like A Girl, the spectre of Peyton and Burne cupcakes loomed large in my mind (a giant ghostly cupcake, one of your more pleasant poltergeists) and I knew I would have to submit and buy some. With a visit to my new godson, Matthew (as well as to mother Deirdre and sister Roisin) as an excuse, I made a special trip to their shop on Tottenham Court Road in order to chose my selection.
The shop was very sweet looking and instilled 1950's cupcake-confidence - I even felt myself taking mental notes on their tiles and grouting for my new kitchen (grouting! exciting! I've entered a parallel world, I think). At £10 for 5 cupcakes you have to be committed to the cause, which indeed I was. And off I went, hoping I wouldn't look too greedy when I presented my 'gift' of cupcakes and immediatly ate 20% of the overall bounty.
Roisin, as you can see, was very taken by the yellow iced cupcake (of the few pictures I tried to take, her pointing finger - 'Want this one' - or hovering hand was in each. I think it adds character to the shot. You just have to accept when around a toddler that if they want a piece of what you're doing, you won't get any peace in what you're doing). And why wouldn't she set eyes on that mini cake - it is quite alluring. When wrapper was peeled back, the cupcake itself looked yellowy and fluffy moist, just as you'd hope it would. Deirdre and I shared the mint chocolate cupcake, and I found that not as exciting as I had hoped. The cupcake was a bit dense rather than fluffy, and the icing didn't taste as minty as I would have liked nor the cake as chocolatey. Perhaps the yellow-caked ones are a better bet, but for £2 a cupcake you'd hope they'd all be quite spectacular.Funnily enough, Su-Lin at Tamarind and Thyme had a cupcake experience last weekend as well , and she favors the treats found at the Hummingbird Bakery (also recommended by Amanda the American, friend of Ambrosia and Nectar and frequent co-eater). Out of fairness, I will have to make a trip to compare them.
For good measure, I've thrown in a picture of the guest of honor (and secondary cupcake recipient) Matthew, all of 16 days old in this shot. As a good godmother, I promise to make him all the baked goods he wants when he grows up (he even has it in writing, now).
Toward the end of July, I blogged about how The New York Times featured a list of 101 recipes, designed for the summer heat and getting in and out of the kitchen in 10 minutes or fewer. Perhaps because the weather has been so notoriously poor this summer it was delayed, but the Observer Food monthly has finally featured these recipes in this month's edition of the magazine. Ah, I thought at first, I've already copied them down. But then I began to wonder how much cross over there was between recipes, and how many had been tweaked for the two different cultures.
The answer is, there are some differences but it's mostly the same (I was enough of a special-sort to go through the two lists, side by side, checking and crossing off dishes as they appeared. Sigh). There are a couple fewer vegetarian recipes in the UK version (which surprises me, since vegetarianism is more easy to negotiate in the UK), although mackerel makes a slightly greater appearance as do other fishes (salmon, prawns). And, no surprise, rhubarb is a guest star in the UK but gets no mention in the US.
All boring and factual, but to me the underlying curiosity had to do with food prejudices and presumptions. British cuisine still has a poor reputation in places, particular the US; bad British teeth and bad British cooking are two stock jokes about life in the UK. Now that I've relocated, I find it really rankles me when someone trots out these lazy stereotypes, particularly given the quality of cooking that you can get served at restaurants as well as the food-literacy and appreciation of so much of the public. My cross-checking of the lists heartened me from the point of view that the 101 suggested dishes weren't dumbed down with their transplant across the Atlantic, and that to create relevance a few of the native British food stuffs were given their place of honor. Although, interestingly, the Observer attributes the dishes to the NY Times writer Mark Bittman and to the UK chefs Tom Norrington-Davies and Allegra McEvedy, while the NY Times only credits Mark Bittman. Hooray British food.
Saturday, 25 August 2007
I am a woman of passions (naturally) - if 'passion' is a nice way of saying 'obsession'. I have a passion for food, which I believe I have been demonstrating. I hold passionate opinions about things that matter to me, and I love to exhaustively search for things that my mind, some times, tells me I need to search for. I refer to these as my quests; my quest for a good potato masher, for instance, took a good 9 months when I was in my early twenties. When I moved continents, the masher came with me.
The food blogs that caught my attention this week had to do with people talking about things they've been searching for and things they've found that have brought them food-happiness. Both feelings I can empathize with, and I hold I my potato masher to salute them.
- Tamarind and Thyme goes looking for good bibimbop, a great korean dishes with a brilliant name. With crispy rice and a warm yolky egg on top, it has wonderful, comforting flavors and textures to it. The story has a sad ending in that the bibimbop wasn't the end all and be all.
- La Tartine Gourmand confesses to an obsession with a eight ball zucchini. More hapily than the last story, La Tartine finds the object of her desire, cooks with it, and shares the recipe.
- Habeas Brulee, on the other hand, doesn't so much go looking for the summer squash, but lets the summer squash come to her.
- Nordljus lets us in on the secret of one of the favorite garden spots she's found in London, which incorporates peace and quiet with some lovely food at the same time. As ever, the pictures are like something from a photo gallery.
Thursday, 23 August 2007
I like the impetus behind Canteen - honest, well-priced British food, sourced as locally as possible and with animal welfare and sustainability in mind. I was meeting two good friends for dinner and a well overdue catch-up in the Liverpool Street area, and I was able to gently persuade them in the direction of Canteen. Although the communal tables gave us pause (this was going to be a girly catch-up, the first since Gen had her second baby and Claire's first night away from her daughter in many moons), I was charmingly obstinate enough to insist we could still pull off intimacy while sat among several others.
I had accidentally eaten two lunches that day (funny how those accidents can happen), so I skipped a starter. Claire and Gen shared the potted duck with picallili and toast, which actually was generous enough to share between 2 people. I sneaked a forkful of the duck when the ladies took a break from it, and found it very smooth yet meaty, and rich from the generous smear of duck fat on the top. For the main, I was tempted by both the pie of the day (what a wonderful thing to see on a menu) and the braised lamb with mint, peas, and potatoes. Again, wearing my healthy/two-lunches hat, I opted for the lamb. It was also a generous serving, with plenty of all the bits on offer. The lamb was down-right succulent, the peas were crunchily fresh, and I was pleased with the hunks of fresh bread on the side, to sop up the juices. I sometimes find potatoes a bit overwhelming in a stew (too heavy and starchy) but these potatoes absorbed the braising flavors without disintegrating into mush - they met with my approval.The company clearly helped me to enjoy myself, but both the food and the service at Canteen did their part to make my night a delight. I will admit that my food-eating skills took a back seat to my chatting skills that evening, so as much as I enjoyed my dinner, I also look forward to going back to give the food top billing on my evening out.
Wednesday, 22 August 2007
Oaxaca is a word that stymies many. The name of a region in southern Mexico, I first heard it when my 7th grade Social Studies class was made to watch El Norte to give us an idea of what the Mexican immigrant experience could be like. El Norte in fact introduced two intriguing words to the assembeled 12 year olds: Oaxaca, and changada, the first encounter many of us had with a swear word in a foreign language.
The new Mexican restuarant, Wahaca, circumvents the pronunciation problems of that region in Mexico by chosing a phoenitic spelling. With the debates about how to pronounce the name out of the way, the curiosity to concentrate on becomes the food. The restaurant is new - about a month old at this point - and has been put together by Thomasina Mieirs (her of Master Chef) as an attempt to serve real Mexican street food, about which she's passionate. London does sorely lack for good mexican food (although some burrito places are trying their best to fill that gap) and the word 'authentic' shows Wahaca has its heart in the right place. With the ambition of sourcing British, seasonal produce as much as possible, you imagine it's hard to pull of strict authenticity given Oaxaca is an equitorial zone (I can firmly attest that Britain, on the other hand, is not).
Reviews for the restaurant imply it is having teething problems, particularly around staff and waiting times for table but also around some food (some mentioned 'greasy' dishes, others balked at non-Mexican combinations of goats cheese and aubergine, and many mention the lack of spiciness in the dishes). I was cautiously optimistic for the evening. The wait for the table was as warned: we arrive at 6.30 and told it would be an hour. They don't take reservations, but they do take your mobile once you've put your name down, allowing you to wander off and if a table becomes available early, they'll give you a ring.Once seated my trusted eating companion, Amanda, and I headed straight for the street food platter, letting us try a few things together - 2 styles of quesidilla, 2 taco, and 1 taquito, along with gaucamole and nachos on the side. I prefer wheat tortillas to corn since I find the corn can become soggy from food fairly quickly, so I tackled the corn tortillas first to have them at their best. The steak in the chargrilled steak taco was excellent - flavorful and very tender, and for tiny strips, they managed to keep the inside pink. I was less convinced by the fish taco, mainly since the fish was cut up into such small chunks that I wasn't sure what fish I was eating, nor what flavors I was supposed to be getting from it. Both quesidillas were very good, using nice combinations of flavors and small pieces of potato to balance out the strong tastes of the chorizo and goat's cheese. The taquito, though small, once again showed a skill at cooking flavorful and tender meat.Even though we were satisfied, I convinced Amanda to share a dessert of churros with me. Churros were one of the first foods I became obsessed about; at school, they would occasionally sell them during the lunch period. Churros day never took a pattern, and they would sell out quickly, so you would have to have a whole lot of hope and 40 cents in your pocket before you could be gifted with a foot-long stick of fried, greasy, lovingly sugary and cinnamony glory. God, those were good. So yes, the Wahaca churros were requisite, though these were more of an adult version without as much sugar, no cinnamon, and a pot of wonderful rich dunking chocolate on the side. Amanda and I took turns sipping from that chocolate cup with only a little bit of shame.
Wahaca makes very good in-roads into bringing a different sort of mexican food into London. Things in the restaurant aren't yet perfect, and some of the dishes are better than others - but even with those caveats, there was nothing that turned me off to the food in the place, and there was more than enough to make me enjoy my meal and feel things were on the right path.
Tuesday, 21 August 2007
I'm off on holiday shortly (hooray!) for a week in Sweden before going to visit my family for a week in New York. The Sweden leg is meant to be the relaxing one, with reading, swimming, sleeping, fishing, and berry picking being the most taxing things we'll do. After that is a week in New York (city and suburbs) visiting as many family and friends as possible; I suspect I have my weeks the wrong way around.
While figuring out what cowberries were, I mentioned them to a few people to see if they had heard of them before. Mike, a reader of Ambrosia and Nectar, suggested that I might actually mean cloudberries. Although it was another berry I hadn't heard of, I was confident I was dealing with cows rather than clouds. Cloudberries, however, are also a type of berry found in Sweden, and are a highly prized (and highly priced) commodity. Mike, being the clever sort that he is, works with someone who is involved in mapping, and working out patterns behind mapped data. He went on a cloudberry hunt at and looked at cloudberry picking in Sweden through this lens.
I'm intrigued by cloudberries now, and would like to find some, although their locations are kept quite secret since they are worth a good deal of money. Reassuringly, Wikipedia also informs me that cloudberries can be found on Long Island, so perhaps even if we miss our chance of intense berry picking during our laid back week in Sweden, we can work in some laid back berry picking during our intense week in New York. Sounds a fair trade off to me.
Monday, 20 August 2007
There are some meals that live in memory for being so excellent, such a wonderful gustatory experience, that you re-live the meal in flashes as you would a glorious first date. And then there are others that live in memory for the opposite reason; either there was high anticipation and ultimate disappointment (making the experience all the worse), or the meal was bad enough to make you angry for having eaten it and been forced to spend money on it. These meals are the no-hopers, the date you wish would end early and would lose your phone number as well because you never, ever, want to have contact with them again.
I ate at Joe Allen the other night, a staple of the Covent Garden pre-theater world and a branch of the New York eatery. It was chosen by a friend (who swears by their chili con carne and hamburgers) who has eaten there on a few occasions. The place was definitely New York old school, with a cavernous, bricked in feeling and every surface covered in old theater posters. An upright piano stood by the entrance, and I marveled at the possibility of it turning into a piano bar later (it would dear reader, it would). At the bar in the front of the house, the bartender studiously cleaned and shuffled glasses, then napkins, then dust, rather than serving us, his only customers. We finally got served half a pint of beer for £3.50, and another dose of what the bartender thought of us when he refused to direct one of the group to the 'bathroom' until we played his game and called it the 'toilet'. Sadly, I don't find rudeness either comical or impressive so I was already not best pleased.
The menu looked enticing enough, a combination of tried-and-tested dishes (crab salad, spare ribs) and slightly less expected offerings (grilled chorizo and rocket, braised veal and saffron potatoes). I started with blackbean soup and moved on to the veal, and my opinion of the restaurant was solidified when I tried the dishes. None of them, the starter or the main, mine or Mr A&N's, tasted like anything. At first I thought I was having a neurological episode and became mildly panicked for my health, but whispered words around half the table showed that others who weren't regulars thought the same thing. My veal was fatty and on a mound of too-orange tomato paste (the same orange that was coating the spare ribs and, oh look, coloring the chili con carne, too), and my roasted saffron potatoes were boiled, withered things that tasted enough like saffron that I realized my health wasn't actually in jeopardy, the food was just poor.
Because we're optimists, we all decided to order dessert (despite having to wait half an hour to place the order); my reckoning was that if they couldn't do savory they might be able to do sweet - and I needed something to take away the fatty veal taste. It seems a foolish line of thinking now, I admit, especially after tasting (or not, as the case was) the almond and blackberry tart (or was it plum? Just words on a menu rather than actual flavors).
The food was so disappointing that I didn't want to take any pictures to commemorate the event - the sooner I could forget it the better. I fully admit the meal would have just been written off if the bill hadn't been the final insult. £50 per head bought us 3 poor courses, 3 cheap bottles of wine between the 6 of us, and a couple hours of soft piano music. There are countless other things I would have rather done with that money, but at least I know there won't be a second date with Joe Allen in the hope that things might just get better.
Friday, 17 August 2007
I was prepared to write about something different in my round-up this week (since I know I concentrate a bit on sustainable food methods and the like) - there was even a smattering of cocktail and drink posts in the blogosphere this week (the Accidental Hedonist's reporting of a mayonnaise margarita being the most..eye catching). But it's also still growing season, and spurred on by a resurgence of food from my vegetable garden, the stories I'm picking up on this week all have to do with growing your own and visiting farms. Celebrate what the summer gives us while we can, me thinks.
- Clotilde at Chocolate and Zucchini visits a farm near Le Mans, France, and posts a batch of photos from the visit to her Flickr account. It's all very pastoral ideal.
- Cream Puffs in Venice reminisces about the food gardens of her parents and grandparents, and pays homage to her own patch of edible goods. She also calls attention to My Italian Garden by Viana La Place, which is full of trips to Italy and tips for growing your own garden, and accompanying recipes. My order for the book is duly placed.
- Foodgoat has a modest first crop that he displays, but also includes a short video showing the deterrent put in place to assure his garden may grow.
- And appropriately to cap things off, Food Musings has a brief...well, musing...from her grandmother expounding the wisdom of eating freshly picked, local foods. Ah, the wisdom of grandmothers.
The seasons have been very topsy-turvey this year - winter was warm and spring-like, spring gave us our warmest summer days yet, and summer has been very autumnal. I'm confused myself, so it's no wonder the plants are too. Our magnolia tree bloomed for the second time a month ago, something gardeners I know swear to me isn't possible. It should fall in line that the fruits and vegetables I've been trying to grow have had more than one attempt at flourishing this season.
We have newly planted raspberry, strawberry, and blackberry bushes, given to us by MR A&N's mother at the end of last summer. The strawberries and raspberries gave about 4 fruits each in June/early July, and then that was the end of it - until a couple of weeks back. I noticed that both were flowering again, and low and behold the second cropping of both berries has been much more plentiful than the first. The strawberries aren't terribly tasty, but the raspberries are perfect and promise many more to come.
I had planted french beans in early April, and despite dutiful watering none of them had come true; there wasn't even a green sprig poking out of the ground, as far as I could see. I wrote it off to a bad batch. Suddenly a few weeks ago, one of the seedlings showed growth and shot up so quickly that I've now harvested a few dozen beans from just the one plant. For the beans, too, more is to come.
I won't look the fresh, home-grown produce gift horse in the mouth, but it does feel like there's something awry.
Thursday, 16 August 2007
Gnocchi is a comfort food for me. I love the supple squidginess of it, the way you don't need to chew but can push it apart with your tongue as if it were edible bubble gum. It's ever so tasty, too - a winning combination.
I had intended to make my own gnocchi for a very long time, but kept getting side-tracked. The fresh, store-bought version is usually good enough to persuade me that I wouldn't be eating better if I were to make my own, I'd just be eating my own. After spotting the Hay, Hay It's Donna Day event at Cafe Lynnylu, centerd around gnocchi making, I felt my time had finally come.
I have two large and trusted Italian cookbooks: The Silver Spoon cookbook and Marcella Hazan's tome, The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. I wanted to make basic potato gnocchi, and the two version differed between including an egg or not. Marcella's take on the situation was that an egg wasn't a traditional ingredient and that it was only to be added when the right type of potato wasn't available or the cook wasn't full of proper gnocchi skills. Oh ho, thought I: this smacked of a gauntlet being thrown down. The choice was made and Marcella's eggless recipe it would be.
Generally I felt things went well, especially considering it was my first attempt. The biggest surprise, in a positive sense, was how the right type of potatoes made the rest of the process nearly fool-proof. The rolling out of the dough into logs was also surprisingly easy and almost seemed to happen of its own accord. The biggest flaws were that I didn't have a potato ricer/food mill (only a masher) and so I couldn't get out all the lumps, and that the recipe didn't call for any salt and left the gnocchi a bit bland. I also wasn't able to make lovely little fork-driven indentations in my gnocchi, despite my heart being in the right place (clearly, my fork and fingers were in the wrong places), but this mainly only effected the aesthetics of the dish.
I enjoyed my gnocchi making. Enough dough came out from it to power two gnocchi dinners, and with my favorite pesto in the house this could only be a good thing. I do have to admit the store-bought, fresh gnocchi is still a good purchase, both in convenience and cost. On my lazy days, when I can't find a fresh supply of Desiree potatoes, it will probably be the store-bought gnocchi which accompanies my pesto.
Marcella Hazan's Potato Gnocchi
- 675 g /1 1/2 lb Desiree or King Edward potatoes
- 170 g /6 oz plan flour
- Boil the potatoes whole with the skins on. Cook until they are thoroughly tender, trying not to pierce them too often since this will make them water logged. (My Note: My potatoes were different sizes and some cooked more thoroughly than others, but I didn't know this until they were out of the pot. If they need more cooking, microwave them until soft, since this won't put more water into them).
- Peel the potatoes and put them through a food mill and onto a clean and well-floured work surface while still warm.
- Add most of the flour to the potatoes, and kneed together. All the flour might not be necessary, so only add the last bit of it when sure it's needed. The mixture is ready when it's smooth but it's still a bit tacky, and doesn't stick to the work surface.
- Divide the mixture into about 3 equal parts, and roll out into long sausages, about 1 inch thick.
- Slice the logs into about 3/4 inch thick bits.
- (this step I failed on, but I will copy Marcella's note directly). You must now shape the gnocchi so that they will cook evenly and hold a sauce successfully. Take a dinner fork with long, slim tines, rounded if possible. Working over a counter, hold the fork more or less parallel to the counter and with the concave side facing you. With the index finger of your other hand, hold one of the cut pieces against the inside curve of the fork, just below the tips of the prongs, At the same time that you are pressing the piece against the prongs, flip it away from the tips and in the direction of the fork's handle. The motion is flipping, not dragging.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. Test boil 2 gnocchi to see how they have come out. When they float to the surface, leave them cooking another 10 or so seconds. If the flavor is floury, the main batch will need this 10 extra seconds plus another few seconds. If they have nearly dissolved with this 10 extra seconds, only cook them until they have floated to the surface.
- Serve immediately, preferably with the best pesto you can get your hands on.
Wednesday, 15 August 2007
I recently joined a website called WeLoveLocal, which is about gathering user comments and reviews for places/products/services in a given geographic area (they right now only operate in London). I whipped out a few reviews last week, naturally centering around food. Low and behold, I got an email from the kind people at WeLoveLocal telling me that one of my reviews had netted a £30 voucher for being their review of the week, tying in with that week's theme of al fresco dining.
It may not have been a £35.4 million win, but I felt fantastic, particularly because I didn't even know there was a competition. It took me literally seconds to decide where I would spend the voucher: Moro in Exmouth Market, my favorite Spanish-style restaurant in town and one of my favorite London restaurants in general. When the time comes, I will most certainly blog about it.
I have also been reminded of another similar site, called Trusted Places, which runs off user-written reviews. Trusted Places has begun doing video reviews in addition to written reviews, and has the added incentive that they stage food outings to markets around London. I have it on good authority that September's excursion will be to Broadway Market in Hackney, and I will most certainly be joining them.
Tuesday, 14 August 2007
I had reason to go back to Banner's in Crouch End this weekend, an old haunt from when I was living in that part of London. Banner's is a curious combination of things: devoted to music (it's associated with Andy Kershaw and proudly has a plaque where Bob Dylan once ate) and decorated with kids drawings, korean communist posters, and gig flyers; a menu of global dishes leaning toward the West Indian; and both very child- and young-urban-type friendly. The most curious thing about the place is that you'll find better food elsewhere (and for a better price) but there's something that draws you back to visit again.
Take, for example, the hamburger (my usual order). The burger itself is big and juicy, but from the bun downward it all seems to have come straight from an oil slick on to your plate. The portion size is more than generous (perhaps even a bit too big) and at £10 you would have hoped that the high cost at least represented organic or free range beef but there's no mention of it. Last night, the jerk chicken was appropriatly spicey but also very, very salty, and the fried plantains went beyond the fried and more into the oily-mushy end of the spectrum. Rather than the usual hamburger I opted for the ackee and salt fish with cornbread, which was absolutely fine but again on the greasy side. For these two dishes and two (non-alcoholic) drinks, the bill came to £30, which is certainly on the high end for what's being served.
And yet. And yet, I will probably return again some day. I'm sure that willingness to return is due in large part to the vibe the place has (laid back, and able to be childlike and adult at the same time), because it can't be down to the food alone. And I'm normally such a rational person.
Monday, 13 August 2007
My oft-mentioned pregnant friend is no longer pregnant - meaning there's a new baby to welcome in to this world. We had been due to meet baby Matthew and congratulate his parents this weekend, and rather than buy the predictable bunch of flowers for them, I opted to bake (any excuse). Besides, the mother needs to eat in order to keep the baby fed, so it was easy to justify this as the appropriate baby-warming gesture.
In the end, mother and father were a bit too tired to host well-wishers, so we were left with a few dozen cookies, a pint of (soya) milk, and only our wits to help us to figure out what to do next.
Oatmeal Raisin Almond Cookies
From the Magnolia Bakery Cookbook
- 2 1/4 C flour
- 3/4 tsp bakinig soda
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 C / 220 g butter
- 1 1/2 C firmly packed light brown sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 1 Tbs vanilla extract
- 1/2 tsp almond extract
- 1 1/4 C rolled oats
- 1 1/2 C raisins
- 1/2 finely chopped toasted almonds (almonds baked at 160 C for 10-15 minutes)
- Pre-heat oven to 175 C
- Sift together the flour, baking soda and salt. Put aside.
- Cream together the butter and sugar using a mixer - mix for about 3 minutes.
- Add the eggs, vanilla and almond extracts, and mix well.
- Add the flour mixture in batches, beating until well combined.
- Add in the oats, again beating well, and then add the raisins.
- Chill the mixture for around 30 minutes.
- When chilled, drop by rounded teaspoon-full onto an un-greased cookie sheet, leaving enough room for the cookies to spread.
- Bake for 15-18 minutes or until golden. Allow to sit on the cookie sheet for a minute before moving onto a cooling rack.
Sunday, 12 August 2007
I'm a big fan of Vietnamese food, so much so that when Mr. A&N came to decide on a honeymoon destination, I lobbied for Vietnam in the belief it would guarantee 2 weeks of good eating. Mr. A&N had already been there, so the choice shifted to my other favorite food country that does great soups, Japan. More about my ramen obsession another time; this post is about pho.
Hanoi Cafe, in London's little Vietnam at the bottom of the Kingsland Road, has been my favorite Vietnamese restaurant in London for some time, though I hadn't eaten there in a couple of years. After trying a few restaurants on that strip and discovering Hanoi Cafe, I managed to eat there 3 times in the first week of finding it. Pretty good going, even for me. Their pho was the most fragrant, delicious, warming version of the dish I had tasted - it smelled alluring and was infused with so much wonderful spice that it was a wrench for me to have to finish the bowl and have none left. Hanoi Cafe's menu is long so Ithere was enough temptation to stray from the pho (their clay pot pork in a sweet vinegar was also excellent) but it was always to the pho I returned.
And so I returned to the Hanoi Cafe this week, knowing I would get my typical summer rolls and pho and be very happy for it. Except, sadly, this wasn't quite the case. I was first disappointed when eating the summer rolls. Despite the visible coriander leaves and protruding prawns, it tasted like...nothing. Not even the peanuty dipping sauce could muster much of a flavor. I was braced for a pho that would let me down too, and with that expectation in mind, I wasn't disappointed. The soup didn't give off it's fragrant smell, and the stock just tasted of stock (I even got a mouthful of undissolved stock cube with one bite).Having not been there for 2 years, I can't say when the standards turned, or if I was simply there on a fairly bad night. Perhaps it is my fault for staying away so long. But my loyalty has been shaken, and my next visit to the Kingsland Road will see my trying out another Vietnamese place, in the hope of finding a new favorite.
Saturday, 11 August 2007
I don't know if it's because he's a Northerner, or simply a man, but Mr A&N holds a special fondness for a sausage hot pot. I've learned to appreciate to dish as well, and to come up with variations on the theme so we can enjoy a hot pot (of sorts) in several different ways. Finding some organic chorizo at the Spanish food shop, Brindisia, presented the chance to cook a Spanish-style hot pot.
The pictures don't do the dish justice; or rather, the dish isn't going to be a beauty but still waters run deep. The strength of the flavor depends a lot on the quality of the meat, but it should be a rich, warming, dish, verging on comfort food. I like to have it with a big hunk of bread (Turkish bread being my favorite). I find it hard not to go back for a second helping, even if I am a bit full.
Chorizo Hot Pot
- 5 tomatoes
- 2 springs rosemary
- 4 cloves garlic
- olive oil
- 2 medium onion, sliced thinly
- 450 g good quality chorizo sausage
- 40 g cured sausage (such as tolouse), sliced thinly, or 100 g bacon, cut small
- 1 bulb fennel, chopped
- 1 tin chopped tomatoes
- 250 g puy lentils
- 1/2 C water
- 2 fresh bay leaves
- 1 C red wine
- 1/2 C sherry
- 1 Tbs sherry vinegar
- salt and pepper to taste
- bread to serve
- Start by roasting the tomatoes. Slice them so that you get about 4-5 slices per tomato, depending on their size. Put them on a roasting tray along with 2 of the garlic cloves (sliced), the rosemary sprigs with most of the leaves picked off, and a drizzle of olive oil and salt. Mix well, then roast for about 20 minutes at 180 C, or until the skin of the tomatoes begins to color and pull back from the flesh.
- Meanwhile, in a large and sturdy pot, sautee the onions, fennel and the other 2 cloves of garlic with some olive oil over a medium heat, until the onions are softened.
- Add the chorizo and cured sausage (or bacon), and brown slightly.
- Add the tin of tomatoes, lentils and water, and turn the heat low.
- The roasted tomatoes should be added at this point, though they'll needed to be well pureed in a blender first. Puree everything from the roasting tray, including garlic and juices, but taking care to remove any woody rosemary twigs there may be. Mix until it's very smooth and there's little sign of tomato skin.
- Add to the chorizo mix and stir well.
- Add in bay leaves, and then the wine, sherry, and sherry vinegar.
- Cook over a low heat partially covered so that it's just about bubbling. It is ready when the lentils are soft, about 45 minutes of cooking. Add salt and pepper to taste, and serve with bread.
Friday, 10 August 2007
I'm still a few weeks away from my summer holiday, and I feel that I need positive holiday thoughts to see me through until then. Mr A&N and I are going to visit my family in New York, stopping in Sweden on the way (bet you didn't think Sweden was on the way to New York from London, did you?). We'll be in Stockholm for a couple of days, and are then renting a house by Sweden's largest lake, where we plan on swimming, fishing, berry picking, and doing a whole lotta nothing. And I am *really* looking forward to it.
So with these languid vacationing thoughts in mind, here's this week's round-up.
- Wendy at A Wee Bit of Cooking has just returned from Sweden and Finland, and not only posts about the experiences, but has left restaurant recommendations for me in there. Both countries look wonderful, and her further post about chantarelle mushrooms can come in handy for the trip too. Thank you Wendy, and hope the start of the new term goes well.
- Italy has been a frequent vacation spot for me, so the slightest whiff of something Italian elicits a bit of a knee-jerk holiday relaxation in me. Just the name of Cream Puffs in Venice's La Festa al Fresco (and event centered around using fresh, seasonal ingredients) has me hooked and wanting to join in the fun.
- The Foodite is traveling in Spain, and during his stint in Barcelona his visits a place that sounds a dream to me: a store devoted to jamon iberico and different types of meats and cheese in general. The pictures are wonderful, and remind me that I haven't been to my favorite tapas place in a while.
Wednesday, 8 August 2007
I found myself with some rhubarb on my hands. Then, I realized I had some apples around as well. Out from the freezer came the ginger, and I had a nice little jam trio. I first thought of making them into a chutney, but our house is currently swimming in them (Mr A&N is having a prolonged chutney moment). So jam it became, for variation's sake.
I've made a few jams before but one of two of them didn't set, so I'll admit to cheating this time and buying jam sugar to help me along the way. It did the trick and it came out nice and solid, and very tasty to boot. Now, I just have to get us to eat bread and jam every day so that we can work our way through the five jars of the stuff.
Rhubarb, Apple, and Ginger Jam
- 800 g rhubarb
- 200 g cooking apples, peeled
- 1 hunk of ginger
- 1 kg jam sugar
- Place a dish in the fridge.
- Cut up the rhubarb and apples into somewhat small chunks, and slice the ginger thinly
- Sweat the rhubarb, apples, and ginger over a medium heat, until they are mostly mush. You may need to add a splash of water to keep it from burning, depending on your pan
- When the fruit has significantly softened, stir in the sugar and turn up the heat until the mixture is gently boiling.
- Cook for about 10 minutes, and test if it's ready by dropping a couple of small spoonfuls onto the chilled plate. It will be ready if the jam solidifies on the plate.
- Place jam into steralized jars (you'll need about 6-8 jars, around 250-300 g each - easy to recycle these from different foodstuffs you have eaten).
Tuesday, 7 August 2007
I consider myself lucky to have a house in London (even if it's not in a locale that tops people's list of 'desirable'), but however much I otherwise like our little house, the kitchen has always been a compromise. Checking in at 6 foot by 9 foot, it often feels like a large coffin rather than what is supposed to be my favorite room of the house. But that's all going to change.
Since we moved here, Mr A&N and I have been talking about doing a house/kitchen extension. After two years of talking and saving our pennies, we tonight signed a contract with the builders to get the thing done. This has left me very excited. So much so, I'll repeat myself - I'm VERY EXCITED.
It won't be a tremendously top of the line kitchen - we'll probably get it from Ikea since that's what we can afford - but I will get my dishwasher, full sized fridge, pull out pantry, and underfloor heating. Possibly enough counter top space to buy a mixer. And all that, to me, sounds like bliss.
Monday, 6 August 2007
A day off work for me is a day that I'm tempted to devote to cooking. So when last Friday rolled around and it was the first beautiful, warm, sunny day in a very long time, I was instead tempted to abandon my usual inclination and go to the seaside. But in the end I buckled, and I baked. I used the excuse of visiting my past-the-due-date pregnant friend whose sweet tooth has been in overdrive, and baked a mint chocolate cake.I think minty chocolate is a wonderful thing, but I know some don't agree with me. I find it refreshing without being cloyingly sweet, and chocolatey but with a deeper, complementary dimension to it. After Eight's ain't the pinnacle of style and taste for nothing.I found my recipe for the chocolate mint cake on the Nigella site, submitted by a reader. It was an eggless cake which made me a bit skeptical, but I was persuaded by the promise of a gooey topping. It was a valiant failure. I was right to be skeptical about the egglessness of the recipe, because the texture wasn't quite right - it was more crumbly than cakey, like a long-life snack cake. The gooey topping was good, and after I had increased the mint and the chocolate in the recipe, the taste was right, but the texture threw me off. I topped it with juicey berries in order to balance out the crumbly dryness of the cake. If I were to make it again, I would change the base cake recipe to make sure there is more moistness from the cake itself. I'm copying out the recipe I made, but let that be your caveat.Mint Chocolate Cake
- 1 C self-raising flour
- 1/4 C cocoa
- 2/3 C caster sugar
- 50 g butter, melted
- 1/2 C milk
- 1 tsp mint extract
- 50 g dark chocolate, melted
- 100 g mint-flavored chocolate, broken into small chunks
- 2/3 C brown sugar
- 2 Tbs cocoa
- boiling water
- Pre-heat oven to 180 C
- Sift together the flour and cocoa. Add the caster sugar and mix.
- Combine the melted butter, milk, and mint extract, and stir into the dry ingredients.
- Melt the dark chocolate in the double boiler, and stir into the batter.
- Stir in the mint chocolate chunks until evenly mixed.
- Pour into a dish big enough for a topping to be poured on - I used a 10 inch square dish and it worked perfectly.
- Mix together the brown sugar and the cocoa in a measuring cup. Pour into it boiling water until the level n the cup reached 1 1/4 C.
- Stir until everything is dissolved.
- Pour over the cake mix, pouring it over the back of a spoon to keep the mixture from making a hole in the cake mix.
- Place on a tray in case it boils over, and bake for 40-50 minutes.
Saturday, 4 August 2007
We try to eat as seasonally as possible. When we spied a bowlful of apricots at our local market, we took them home (£1 a bowl, who would say no?) and only later put our minds to finding a way to use them. Out came different cookbooks, and in The River Cafe Cookbook we found this Apricot, Lemon, and Almond Tart.There is an incredible amount of butter that goes into this, according to the recipe; so much so that I was astounded by the idea of eating a slice of the thing. The version we made used 250g of butter rather than the 300g called for, though even then it was still very, very buttery and the house smelled like there was a dairy farm out back. Another quibble I would have with the recipe is that it calls for the cake to be placed in a pastry. I found the pastry didn't add anything to it and would have rather just had the filling as a cake (as we did with the leftovers, placing them in ramekins). It was a very good filling, though, and a good way to give those apricots a sending off. I'll give the whole recipe, and you can chose whether or not to tart it up or cake it out.Apricot, Lemon, and Almond Tart
Cooks in a 30cm tart dish (or cake dish)
- 350 g flour
- 255 g unsalted butter
- 100g caster sugar
- pinch salt
- 3 large eggs
- 450 g fresh, ripe apricots
- 300g unsalted butter
- 300 g caster sugar
- 300 g finely ground almonds
- juice and grated peel of 1 lemon
- 3 large eggs
- Blitz the flour and butter for the pastry in a blender, until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs
- Add sugar, salt, and egg yolks and blend the mixture until it leaves the side of the bowl
- Make into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap, and stick in the fridge for an hour
- After an hour, grate the pastry into the tin using the largest holes in a cheese grater.
- Quickly press the pastry around the tin so that it's even, working quickly to keep it cool.
- Return to the fridge for 1 hour.
- Preheat oven to 180 C, and bake the pastry for 20 minutes. Remove and allow to cool completely.
- Start the filling by cutting the apricots in half and removing the pit, then place them cut side down on the pastry.
- Using a blender, cream the butter and sugar together until pale and light.
- Add the almonds and pulse to combine, and slowly add the grated lemon peel and juice while still pulsing.
- Stir in the eggs one at a time.
- Pour over the apricots, and smooth out to make even
- Bake for 40 minutes.
I've had a few blog-related updates this week that I thought I'd mention. I've been trying to get more involved in the Food Blogger/UK Food Blogger community, and have been slowly figuring out just how to do that. I'm reading and posting on the blogs I like already, but still crave more involvement.
And so, I have joined the UK Food Blogger Association, and dutifully posted my Getting To Know you introductory post. I have also been added to the Leftover Queen's Foodie BlogRoll , and have been added to the delightful The Foodie List's UK food blogs. Any other tips on how to be more a part of the community will be received with thanks.
Friday, 3 August 2007
I started a new book a couple of weeks ago: The Omnivore's Dilemma, by Michael Pollan. I read another book by him (The Botany of Desire, also about food-related matters) and vowed to buy any further books he wrote. The Omnivore's Dilemma explores the fundamentals of where modern food comes from; not modern food as in fast food, but as in beef, chicken, lamb. It's not a scare book intended to make you go vegetarian, but by exploring modern farming methods and how they are bad for both the environment and the animal (and ultimately, for us the consumers) it is opening my eyes and making me want to buy local, organic meats.
With those thoughts in mind, a few food things have caught my attention this week:
- Over at Chez Pim, Pim follows Michael Pollan's lead and adopts a cow. Or at least part of one. The return is two gallons of fresh milk a week. If drinking milk didn't make me physically ill, I'd be following hot on Pim's heals.
- One of Pim's readers, the blogger Fresh Ginger, comments that she has a share of a pig. Named Pancetta, it's obvious this little piggie will be pork one day. Ginger promises to blog about Pancetta imminently.
- The New York Times featured two related articles on this theme in the past few months: one by Michael Pollan himself about the forthcoming farm bill, and one about the sustainable methods of raising meat in New Zealand and how their farmers don't live of subsidies. Sadly, the article about sustainability concludes those methods won't float in the US (who ever heard something as crazy as letting a cow eat grass?!)
- Finally, all this thinking leads me to check what foods are at their peak seasonality ths week, courtesy of Eat the Season. I also figure this bit of virtue can help balance out the meaty meal I had at Bodean's earlier in the week.
Thursday, 2 August 2007
Before he met me, one of Mr. A&N's main reference points for things American was the burnt ends at Bodean's. The burnt ends, as told by Bodean's are 'slow smoked pieces of beef brisket served in a light BBQ sauce', and they're only available Mondays and Wednesdays. Mr. A&N loves the burnt ends and since he often works in the area, makes them an occasional treat to himself.
I, on the other hand, never experienced them. Even when we would make the effort to get to Bodean's on the right night, the burnt ends would be sold out. We even made a special trip to the restaurant during our early days of courtship just so Mr. A&N could introduce me to a piece of America I had never tried; when we were told they weren't available, I proceeded to order half the menu to show him how a real American would eat (meatloaf, half rack of spare ribs, half a chicken, pulled pork, french fries, and baked beans), after which we both slipped into a meat coma that lasted the next 6 months of our relationship.
Last night, after four long years of waiting, I tried the burnt ends. They are succulent, greasy, meaty things, piled on your tray in a haphazard manner that signals to you you're not to spend time looking at and photographing your food, you're just meant to eat it dammit. Eat them I did; I was very hungry and they were very good, so I didn't dwell over the moment and just ate 'em. As tasty as the burnt ends are, I will confess to being a bit confused as to why they sell out so rapidly and have become a cult item; maybe it's just the nature of supply and demand. I will certainly try to have them again, though I'm prepared to have another 4 years of waiting until I reach that point.
Wednesday, 1 August 2007
This weekend past, we were treated to a BBQ by our good friends, Ben and Jules. Like us, Ben and Jules are dedicated food people so any event at theirs is a treat. They are also blogging and computer types in their spare time (Ben runs Mondomovie and Jules the Coaching Forums) so they were aware that I'd be arriving with camera and a notion to blog about any food that I enjoyed enough.
And so I present to you Jules' cheesecake. Jules claims that she's not much of a baker, but she produced two excellent cakes that night, both gluten free and no worse off for it. So either she's modest, they were fool proof recipes, or the girl's got un-tapped talents. I'm inclined to say it's the latter.
Jules got her recipe from Olive magazine, but added the twist of increasing the cookie crumb crust. I love cookie crumb crusts, so she was playing to the right audience with that decision.Gluten Free Ginger Cheesecake
- 30 Nairn's stem ginger oat biscuits (1 1/2 boxes)
- 75 g butter, melted
- 500g mascarpone cheese
- 100g cream cheese
- 1 Tbsp gluten free plain flour
- 2 eggs
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 100g golden caster sugar
- 284ml (1 carton) soured cream
- 100g crystallised ginger, chopped
- Heat oven to 180C/ gas mark 4 (or 160C for fan ovens
- Crush the biscuits well, either with a food processor or well applied rolling pin
- Add the melted butter and mix well
- Press the crumbs into the base of a butters 20cm springform pan. Bake for 5 minutes, then cool
- Combine the mascarpone and cream cheese, then beat in the flour, eggs, vanilla, sugar and half the soured cream until smooth
- Stir in the chopped ginger
- Pour everything into the tin, and bake for 40 minutes. The cake should be set but slightly wobbly in the middle
- Spoon over the remaining soured cream and bake for another 5 minutes.
- Cool in the tin.