20/08/2016

Rock, Rolls and Hollywood

I’ve always had a difficult relationship with bread. Don’t get me wrong, I love eating it, but the baking of it was always a bit of a mystery, and a challenge.

With regards to eating it, I like it rather too much for my own good, to be honest. I’m one of those lucky people who, medically, should really eat a low carb diet. Pesky endocrine system.

Bread is now a treat for me, and so I decided that if I do eat it, it has to be really GOOD bread. Not for me the products of the Chorleywood process high speed mixers, mainly because I don’t like the texture, but also because it leaves me feeling like there should have been something else in there. There seems to be no substance to it. A bit like when you read an eagerly anticipated book that never seems to get anywhere. You reach the end thinking “Was that it?” (I will add a disclaimer that I am very well aware that sometimes, the cheapest of the supermarket loaves is all that some can afford. This is not denigrating them, this is about MY personal choice.)

Bread used to be a proper ‘filler upper’. If you only had bread and small beer, you needed that bread to be substantial, to keep you going. Can you imagine a field worker or manual labourer eating two slices of Mother’s Pride or Tesco’s value and then going on to do a full day of very physical work?

Bread should be flavourful, and have a density to it, not squish to nothing and dissolve if it gets wet.

I will admit that it does depend on what you need it for, of course. A light, crisp baguette, just with butter, is a thing of beauty, though fleeting as the properly made ones last a day only. They go dry very fast.

A dense, hearty wholemeal loaf can be spectacular, eaten with chunks of cheese and pickles. The homeliness of a soda bead, quick to make and oh so fast and easy to eat.

The sourdough, the original bread more than likely, with its long leavening and proving, brings a tanginess along with the trademark holes in the body of the bread, and then that lovely chew to the bottom crust, and the crackling crisp to the top.

Thanks to the no knead crock pot method, I have been having fun making extremely nice bread at home.

No knead bread

But prior to finding that method, I bought two of Paul Hollywood’s books, and worked through some of those recipes. He has a very good way of explaining what to do, and how things work. For me, his recipes took away what I now realise was a fear of working with bread dough. A nervousness that I would somehow spoil whatever I was making and it would all collapse if I was too rough with it/not rough enough/got stuck to it.

I am much more confident in my bread making now, thanks to those recipes. I’m also a convert to using cold water for the liquid, not warm, as it makes the yeast work harder, and seems to develop the flavour much better too.

Talking of flavour, please do not skimp on the salt. It really is needed in bread making, or the taste is just flat and doughy.

I do like the flavour that the overnight or longer rises give. They use very little yeast, so the dough is forced to work hard, and on one occasion, it was akin to sourdough, without using a sourdough starter. I might even give that a try again.  Who knows.

This week I decided I wanted to bake some rolls to go with some Turner and George burgers on Friday and some Cookwitch-made burgers on Saturday. I’m not a huge fan of brioche style buns, simply because they can get a bit soggy too fast. I wanted white, soft rolls, but fairly substantial.

Cue a Mr Hollywood recipe.

You will need:

500g bread flour (I used 400g Wright’s bread flour and 100g plain)
8g salt
10g fast action yeast
20g soft unsalted butter (I used salted, it’s what I had.)
320ml cold water

Put the flour, salt and yeast in a bowl (take care to separate yeast and salt).

Add the butter and rub that in a little so it’s distributed.

Add 240ml of the water and mix using one hand like a dough hook.

Trickle in the remaining water and continue mixing until it comes together. I added a little too much, but just added a tsp of flour to bring it back.

Knead until it starts to feel springy. I oil my hands with olive oil, which really helps with any stickiness. Knead for around 4-5 minutes. (I’ve timed this and made it more fun by listening to old rock songs. It’s usually about 2 Lemmys and a Black Sabbath. Or one Hawkwind.)

Form the now smooth dough into a ball, put into an oiled bowl, cover with cling film, or put a plastic bag over it,  and leave to rise for about 2 hours. It may double in size faster if the temperature is high.

Turn out the dough on to a floured surface and flatten out into a square.

Divide the dough into about 12 lumps and shape each piece into a ball. (I will admit to weighing the dough, and then weighing each piece. You do not have to do that!)

I use an old store card as a dough scraper/cutter, and it works really well! Each lump was approximately 71g.

Rolls on a tray

Pop the rolls onto a lined baking tray and cover with oiled cling film* for about hour until they have proved again.

Rolls on a tray risen

My baking tray is 10.5 “ x 14.5”. I thought that might be useful.

Heat the oven to 220C (200C fan) and pop a roasting tray in the bottom.

When proved, fill the roasting tray with hot water and pop the rolls in the oven. The steam from the tray gives them a nice crust.

Bake for about 15 minutes until they are golden on top. Tap the bottoms and if they sound hollow, they’re done. Rest on a wire rack, so the bottoms don’t go soggy.

Rolls

07/08/2016

Carrot, Fig and Walnut Muffins

 

This is based on a Jamie Oliver recipe. It’s the sweet potato muffins from a few weeks ago, but changed around a bit.

This whole thing can be done in the food processor.

400g carrots – don’t bother peeling, but wash if grubby, obviously.

200g demerara sugar (original recipe asked for 400g, just not needed.)

Good handful walnuts (Lidl do lovely ones)

6 dried, soaked figs (I had pre soaked. Plumptious little jammy things)

2 tsp black treacle

4 eggs

300g plain flour

170ml olive oil

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp speculaas spice

1 tsp mixed spice

Cut the carrot into chunks. Whizz in the food processor until it’s very fine. I just use the normal blade, no grating attachments to clean!

Add in everything else. Whizz until it’s very well mixed.

Line a tin with cupcake cases, fill each one three quarters full.

I topped mine with a walnut.

Bake at 180C for 20 minutes.

This made 18. (I use an ice cream scoop to portion it out.)

Carrot Fig and Walnut Muffins

31/07/2016

Strut and Cluck

 

Last year I raved about Café Murano Covent Garden to anyone who would listen. (It has now become my boss's favourite restaurant.) On our visits we made friends with the flame haired Kelly, who was the Manager. She has the knack of making you feel like you’ve just dropped in for dinner with old friends, whilst still looking after you like a valued customer.

Sadly in the December she left Murano (on good terms I might add) and I thought we’d lost touch, but then she resurfaced on the Instagram feed of a restaurant in Shoreditch whose photos I’d been ogling. Hooray! 

Yes, Shoreditch. I know, I know, hipster central. Well it is, in some ways, but it still retains a goodly chunk of the old East End spirit. It’s also one of those places that I get lost in, almost every time, so I was a little wary of heading that way, but the menu, and Kelly, made me absolutely certain that I wanted to go.

I loved the name as soon as I heard it. Strut and Cluck. Male turkeys strut, and the females cluck. Clever, eh?

They offer turkey (free range) based dishes, inspired by their Eastern Mediterranean roots, though vegetarians are also easily catered for. The mere mention of using turkey hooked me first, because I adore it, and the words Eastern Mediterranean ensured that I absolutely had to go. For the record, I will now state that contrary to popular belief, turkey is not a naturally dry meat. I think it has suffered from years of overcooking at Christmas, and I promise you faithfully that you really do not need to cook one for 6 hours until it turns to sawdust. Following supermarket cooking times will overcook it. Buy a meat thermometer, and go by that. (If a supermarket packet instruction says 20 minutes per pound plus 20, I never, ever use the extra 20. I suspect they are covering themselves for legal reasons.)

I needn’t have worried about getting lost, as I found a bus that went from my work pretty much all the way to Commercial Street, and then it was a 5 minute walk, if that. They are right opposite Ted Baker (who are very happy about this) and quite easy to find. The olive trees outside give it away slightly.

It’s a small place, as are many of the commercial units in the East End, but they’ve done the very best they can with the space and made it beautiful without being twee or going the full Cath Kidston.  Pale wooden high  tables in the bar area, and simple squares and rounds in the restaurant itself, combined with plain walls serve to make the space look large and airy.

Photo taken from their Instagram feed:

Tables_thumb

My welcome there was warm, and very friendly. People who know instinctively to greet you with a kiss on both cheeks always makes me feel at home straightaway, plus I think Kelly may have mentioned me to the owners. Smile

Look how lovely they all are! Photo also from their Instagram feed which I was not stalking at all in any way.

Team_thumb

I happily ogled the furniture, wondering if I could fit one of their high tables into my kitchen.  (The answer is no. Rats.)

It wasn’t long before my dining partner arrived, and we went through to the restaurant part. Then came the menu, and oh my…how on earth was I going to choose? There wasn’t one single thing on there that didn’t appeal to me. Making a decision was going to be tough. I had a Rose Lemonade to  drink while I was trying to make up my mind, because rose is a flavour that I can never pass up, and spent a few minutes getting pomegranate seeds stuck in my straw while I tried to decide what to order.

Rose-Lemonade_thumb2

“Olives, we’ll get olives.I know we always get olives but those do look good…”

“Yes.”

“Ok…and oh look, butterbeans with cumin. Yes?”

“Yep, we can share those too.”

“Ok…um…oh…slow roast thigh with sweet potatoes…but then there’s sticky harissa wings…and the kofta with currants and cashews and and…”

“I KNOW.”

Eventually we narrowed it down and managed to make a decision or two.

Olives and butterbeans for nibbles.

Olives_thumb2

Butter-beans_thumb2

These beans were a revelation.  If you are only used to tinned butterbeans, these are a serious step up.  Smooth in texture, and not grainy or mealy, with a good bite to them. I am not a fan of whole seeds, I admit, but these were soft, not crunchy, and perfumed rather than overpowering, which cumin can sometimes be. I might have to try making this at home.

Watermelon, feta and mint salad as a starter for me:

watermelon salad_thumb

This was beautifully fresh, and the olives worked extremely well with the watermelon. The mint was just enough to add a zing to the fruit, and didn’t overpower as it can sometimes do. I think I have found a new addiction in toasted pumpkin seeds, and immediately went out and bought some. I will admit, they do conflict a little with the watermelon seeds, but I managed to pick most of the black seeds out. I’ve never been able to eat them, not even as a kid. All in all this was a mouth-watering starter. Not too much, light and cleansing.

Grilled sourdough sabikh style with aubergine, soft boiled egg, tahini and sumac for Simon. 
 

Sourdough aubergine tahini eggs sumac_thumb[1]

Given the speed at which this disappeared, I assume that it was absolutely delicious. I tried a piece of the bread and tahini together, and it was the perfect combination of crunchy, savoury bread and silky smooth, slightly sweet tahini. Another one for me to try next time I go, that’s for sure.

When the mains came out, I was just bowled over by the heady mix of scents. Spicy and rich; the rounded warmth of the turkey juices, plus the spiced smells from the shawarma bound together to form a lovely cloud between our plates. Of course we took photos, because it all looked so delightful, but I was also busy inhaling those scents as much as I could. I kept sticking my nose in the jug that contained the turkey juices, and sniffing happily.

Slow roast turkey thigh on sweet potatoes, red onions and sweetzingy barberries for me:

IMG_20160615_191745_thumb

Slow roast thigh_thumb

Poultry thigh meat has always been my favourite part to eat. It just holds so much more flavour, and easily stays more juicy. This particular turkey thigh was absolutely gorgeous. The fat from the skin had completely rendered out, leaving the skin golden and crisp, and the meat below it saturated with seemingly the essence of turkey taste.

Turkey, date and green freekeh shawarma with labneh for Simon:

Shawarma with dates and green freekeh_thumb[1]

This was a beautifully rich dish, but not at all heavy. The sweetness of the dates worked with the spices, not against them, and the sweet didn’t overpower. Freekeh has a fresh and slightly smokey flavour, which is the perfect partner for the heady spices of the meat. Yet another one for me to try next time. I did mention to Kelly that I think I should just move in, I’m sure they wouldn’t mind, I wouldn’t be any trouble.

We had a bit of a rest before the dessert. To be truthful, we weren’t actually going to have any, but then we saw the menu…also the staff are so enthused about their food, that decisions were made harder because they sell it ALL to you. It’s a treat to find people who not only know their menu, but love it, too.

I went for the Levant Milk Pudding. Anything with treacle and pistachios was going to be the winner, no matter what. Pomegranate treacle, doubly so.

This was smooth, like panacotta, and with just enough wobble to make me smile. The treacle was tart, but with a sweet edge that went perfectly with the pistachios. I could happily have eaten another, and another.

Levant Milk Pudding_thumb[12]

S went for the ice cream and sorbet, and my goodness, they were outstanding.

Pistachio ice cream, ok, lots of us have had that, but this one had a deep, roasted flavour to it, and a beautifully creamy texture.

Trio of desserts_thumb[8]

The sorbet was smooth, and with a good back tang of mint. Extremely light, and just the thing to be a palate cleanser after a rich and spiced meal.

Mint sorbet_thumb[5]

This is a place where I felt at home straight away. The menu is varied, light and fresh, and certainly not run of the mill. The seasonal changes already have me excited and looking forward to the next time that I can go. Life needs to stop getting in the way!

Sitting there in the twilight, with the buzz of conversation surrounding us, and the lights just starting to come on, I could have been in a Tel Aviv café, or one in Cyprus.

We all eat bread, we all eat houmous. Celebrate that together, and eat well.

(They are also open for brunches now, so if you are lucky enough to work near there, pop along. You will get a warm welcome, and amazing food.)

test

24/07/2016

Saturday night dinner in the garden

Yesterday my friends and their wee boy came to dinner. This was the menu, that I promised to write up so that I didn't forget what I’d done.

No Knead Bread

It was meant to be this recipe: http://www.jennycancook.com/recipes/faster-no-knead-bread/ but I let it go for far too long and it was very liquid, so I just poured it into a tin and baked it to see what happened. It was crusty and chewy and delicious.

3 cups plain flour

1.5 cups water

1 tsp salt

1/4 tsp yeast

Mix all the ingredients together, cover and leave to sit overnight.

Heat the oven to 200C

Pour the dough into a baking dish with sides, with a good 2 mm of olive oil in it

Leave to rise for 30 – 40  minutes

Drizzle with a little more olive oil

Sprinkle with sea salt flakes

Bake until risen and golden – probably about 30 minutes

No knead flat bread

Bean Stew

1 tin chick peas, drained

1 tin rosecoco beans or borlotti beans, drained

1 tin chopped tomatoes

1 giant spring onion cut into chunks, or probably 3 or 4 shop bought ones

4 cloves garlic, chopped

1 heaped tsp smoked paprika

2 tsp red pepper paste

1 tsp tomato puree

salt to taste

olive oil

Cook the onions and the garlic together in the oil until softened a little.

Add in the chick peas, beans, tomatoes, pastes, and paprika.

Mix well, leave to simmer until the sauce has thickened.

Onion

One of the huge spring onions that I’ve managed to grow from offcuts of shop bought ones.

Next to it are beautiful fresh celery leaves, sprouted from yet another offcut.
I adore celery leaves used as a herb. They are almost a cross between mint and parsley.

Rice

1/2 cup of chopped mixed mint and celery leaves (I used lime mint and lavender mint plus the celery leaves)

1 tsp butter

olive oil

1 cup basmati rice

2 cups water

salt

Sauté the rice in the olive oil until the whole lot is coated. Add the chopped herbs, and mix well.

Add the water, and the butter, and a good pinch of salt.

Bring to the boil, then turn down to the lowest heat possible.

Cover tightly (I usually put a square of paper towel under the lid to make a better seal) and cook for around 10-15 minutes. All the water should be absorbed.

Put the lid back on, cover with a heavy towel and leave to sit and steam for at least 10 minutes.

Sweet Potato Cupcakes

Based on a Jamie Oliver recipe. This whole thing can be done in the food processor, but you can also grate the potato on a fine grater, and just whisk everything together with a hand mixer. The original recipe used butternut squash.

400g (peeled weight) orange sweet potato (NOW I’m wondering about the purple ones…)

150g dark muscovado sugar

250g light soft muscovado sugar

4 eggs

300g self raising flour

175ml olive oil

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 tsp cinnamon extract

1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice

Cut the potato into chunks. Whizz in the food processor until it’s very fine.

Add in everything else. Whizz until it’s very well mixed.

Line a tin with cupcake cases, fill each one three quarters full.

I topped mine with 1/2 tsp peach butter each, you can use whatever jam you like, or don’t top with anything. They are good either way!

Bake at 180C for 20 minutes.

Sweet potato cupcakes

18/06/2016

Cashew Cocoa Iced Dessert

I’ve been reading a lot of the raw/free from food blogs lately, mainly because their Instagram feeds are just so pretty that I get drawn in, but also because Tex and his dad can’t have cream or milk, and Pa also can’t have wheat, so dairy and wheat free free desserts are useful.

I’d managed to amass a large amount of plain cashew nuts, and they needed using up, so I thought I’d try my hand at a cashew ‘cream’.  This is not vegan, as it has honey in it.

(Notes to self: your blender is not powerful enough for this. Use the food processor. It’ll save you a lot of time, poking and effort.)

350/400g plain cashews, soaked in water overnight

8-10 heaped tablespoons of date puree (literally just whatever dates you can find, soaked overnight if quite dry, and then blended with cinnamon and enough of the soaking water to make a soft paste)

vanilla extract

pistachio slivers

honey

cocoa

Cling film

2lb loaf tin

I blended the cashew nuts – eventually – into a smooth cream. I had to add a fair bit of the soaking liquid to get them to process. While it was blending I added in 1 tsp vanilla, and 2 tbs clear honey. When I do this again, I will probably blend in more vanilla, and also some coconut milk powder or some coconut condensed milk, plus the pistachios, as it needed more flavour.

I scattered pistachio slivers on the bottom of a cling film lined loaf tin, spooned in half of the ‘cream’, then added more pistachios.

On top of that I dolloped date paste all the way along the middle, then sprinkled some peanut powder that I had over that.

The rest of the batch that was still in the blender then had a good few tablespoons of the date paste mixed in, then 1-2 tbs of cocoa. Add 1 tbs first, taste it, then adjust it. Cocoa can overpower a bit.

That mixture then got poured on top of the white layer.

I pulled the cling film up and over to cover, then popped the whole thing in the freezer and forgot about it for a month...

When we tried to cut it, it did put up a fight. The date layer was easier, so I started there and cut down to the white layer instead of the other way around.

The date/cashew/cocoa layer was really lovely. The dates gave it softer, more rich texture. The white layer was far more like a sorbet, and did need a touch more sweetness. I think perhaps a paste of dried soaked mango would work rather well in it, and serve to soften it a little. Though it would make a brilliant ice lolly, as it didn’t melt as fast as the cocoa layer. I have considered getting some lolly moulds purely for this.

All in all, I really liked it. You do have to leave it to stand out of the freezer for a good ten minutes so that you can cut into it though…I used a hot knife, and it went through in the end.

I’m so happy with it that I’m going to enter it for Kavey Eats June Bloggers Scream for Icecream.

slice

 

slice with kaymak

21/05/2016

Wing It Rhubarb Dessert

This is very definitely called winging it.

I had meant to make a rhubarb and strawberry compote, and bake an upside down cake.



Said compote turned into more of a sauce.

Hmm, says I. My mantra is 'if it goes wrong, call it by another name and pretend you meant it' so it turned into a fruit sauce topped with what was meant to be a plain sponge.

Ah.

I had run out of light sugar. It's actually a dark brown sugar and ginger sponge instead.

1lb rhubarb chopped (I suspect I chopped mine too small.)
1lb strawberries, hulled and cut in half
3/4 cup of golden caster sugar (you can see why I ran out now can't you?)
1 tbs lemon juice
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp cinnamon extract (optional)

Mix the fruit with the sugar, add the lemon juice, then put on to simmer.
Once all the sugar has dissolved, and the fruit has let out its liquid, turn the heat up slightly, add the extracts and let it cook until the fruit has cooked down.

3 tbsp breadcrumbs
200g butter , softened
90g golden caster sugar
110g dark muscovado sugar
3 medium eggs
200g self-raising flour
5 tbsp milk

Sprinkle the crumbs over the base of a large cake tin or casserole dish. DO NOT USE A LOOSE BOTTOMED TIN because there will be leakage.
Pour in your warmed jam or compote or even drained tinned fruit if you like.
Whisk the sugars and the butter until fluffy and well mixed in. If there are lumps of sugar, don’t worry, they’ll just be added texture and pockets of caramel.
Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Do not worry if the mix curdles.
Whisk in the ground ginger and the vanilla.
Then whisk in the flour.
Use a spatula to scrape the edges down, and continue to mix.
Add 5 tbs milk, and fold that in.
Dollop on top of the jam/compote/fruit
Bake for 35-40 minutes until risen and golden brown.
You may need to bake it for longer, mine ended up needing 50 minutes.



Now to see if it survives the journey to Nottingham. 

17/05/2016

Lamb Stuffed Peppers

Lamb is definitely one of my most favourite meats, so when I heard about the lamb recipe challenge (link here: http://www.tastyeasylamb.co.uk/Follow-the-Flock/Lamb-Recipe-Challenge ) I was sold. Winning something is nice, of course, everybody likes the chance to win something, but I admit that was more motivated about having a chance to experiment with lamb, which I always enjoy doing.

I love everything about lamb, from the sweet meat, the glistening fat, and the crisped skin to the aroma that fills the house when you roast it, or the garden when you barbecue it.

It pairs well with so many things, such as the sweetness of fruit in tagines, the zesty crunch of chillies and spring salads, the soft, gentle creaminess of coconut in a curry perhaps or just plunged into plain old soothing yoghurt, jazzed up with some mint and cucumber. I’ve used it in mediaeval mincemeat too, and it makes for a soft, rich taste to the spiced mixture.

I’ve used all kinds of cuts over the years. Shoulder marinated in white wine, lemon and olive oil and slow cooked for 12 hours; boned out and butterflied leg jazzed up with Ras el Hanout and herbs; belly stuffed with cinnamon, onions and dates; chops covered in cinnamon and cumin paste and chargrilled; the liver spiced up and quick fried with onions and parsley…I’ll take it any way I can get it.

This is a fairly easy dish, quick to put together so not bad for after work, and it's even faster if you have a food processor. I used red pointed peppers, as they are thin skinned, and cook faster. You can, of course, use red bell peppers, but they will need longer cooking, so you might want to mix the lamb with some part cooked rice and extra herbs so that it doesn't dry out.






3/4 pointed red peppers
8-900g lamb mince
2 medium carrots, grated
1/2 a large red onion or 5 spring onions if you prefer them
1 slice granary bread, soaked briefly in water and squeezed out
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
2 cloves garlic
1 small bunch fresh mint (the ready cut packs you get in the supermarket)
1 small bunch flat leaf parsley
2 tsp red pepper paste (or use 1 tsp tomato paste)
1 tsp pul biber, or 1/2 tsp cayenne

You can chop all the herbs and onions by hand, though they won’t be as fine as if you do it in the food processor. Make sure your knife is really sharp, as parsley can be a right pain to chop, I have no idea why. If you do do things by hand, work the spices and herbs into the meat well, it should turn into more of a cohesive paste. That makes it easier to push into the peppers. Don’t worry about overfilling as the meat will shrink back as it cooks. I used the food processor for mine, as my hands ache after too much knife work.

Pulse the herbs, onions and the garlic together until they are very fine.
Add in the lamb, carrots, cumin, cinnamon, salt, red pepper paste and pul biber/cayenne.
Blend well until they make a fine paste. You could add in some currants and pine nuts at this stage if you wanted to, or grated courgette, then pulse again. It’s a good way of adding extra vegetables to a family dish.



Once everything is combined, push it into all the crevices of the peppers, and then mound slightly in the centre.



Place the stuffed peppers in a baking tray with sides, drizzle with olive oil, and then bake at 170C fan for half an hour. The peppers will wilt slightly, and the filling will shrink inside the cases.




5 minutes before the end of the cooking time, I crumbled over some feta, drizzled that with olive oil, and topped with a bit more pul biber.
    



Lovely to eat hot, and equally as good cold – though I let them come to room temperature first.

The filling makes very good meatballs too.

I’ve successfully fed two colleagues and me with these!

04/05/2016

Aubergine is marmite.

Well no, not actual aubergine marmite (though...hmm....) but aubergine really is the marmite of the food world. 

The amount of people that loathe it, and the amount that adore it, seems to be about equal amongst my friends and, to be honest, given how I have had it cooked in this country, I can see exactly why people hate it. If I didn't know just how lovely it can be, and had only had past restaurant versions of it, I'd steer well clear too.

I'm very lucky. I was brought up eating the well cooked, silky version. The kind where the flesh of the vegetable almost disappears into the dish it's in, or else is the smokey, garlicky staple into which you repeatedly dip your bread because you can't get enough.  

I will readily admit that there are problems with aubergines.

Sponges, soaking up oil like there's no tomorrow, worse even than mushrooms and thrice as rubbery.

The whole point is that they cook down, and that you must cook them for twice as long as you think you should. Also, that oil? Make sure that it is a good, well flavoured one, because it becomes a part of the taste of the dish, not just an unguent.

Salt is important. These days not so much to draw the bitterness out, as that seems to have been bred out over the years (except from the tiny pea sized Thai ones), but to draw the moisture out. If you want to grill them till they are crisp, salt them first, then wipe the salt off, and pat them dry with a kitchen towel. Don't add any more salt, obviously, as they probably won't need it, but you can salt afterwards if you like. You can add, but you cannot take away, when it comes to salt.

I will eat them any way I can get them, but one of my favourite ways, and one of the most simple, is just to roast them with olive oil and salt. That's it. I also add honey sometimes, and cinnamon, but they are good just on their own. 

Take one large purple aubergine. Or cosh, as my husband calls them. 

Cut it in half lengthways, then make scores into the flesh with a sharp knife - but do not pierce down through the dark skin. 

Liberally douse the cut side with decent olive oil. Remember, the oil is a part of the dish. 



Sprinkle with salt, place on a baking tray with sides, and set to roast in a 170C fan oven. 

After 15 minutes, give them a check. They should have started to brown a little.

Pop them back in for another 15 minutes. 

After this set of 15 minutes is where I would add honey, sea salt and cinnamon. You do not have to do this. You can just roast them as they are, and then eat with a smattering of sea salt.



If you choose the No Honey way, then roast them until they are a deep, golden brown, and the slits have opened up. This may take longer than you think. It does depend on the aubergine.

If you do add honey, roast them until the honey has caramelised, and the slits have opened up. 

My aubergines today were quite large, and also quite watery, so I had to turn the grill on for 5 minutes to finish off the browning process, but usually I do not have to do that. I think, all in all, it took 45 minutes including faff time.



These are good hot or cold, but I like them at room temperature, eaten as a side with meat, or just on their own with some good bread and feta cheese. 

You can wait until they are cooled, chop them up and add to couscous or rice if you like.

17/04/2016

Tarhana. Trahanas. Call it what you will.

Trahanas is a soup or, rather, it is the ingredients that go into making a soup.

It is not pretty soup. It is comfort soup. Sustaining soup. Very filling soup.

It is Cypriot trahanas. Turkish tarhana. Egyptian kishk. Iraqui kushuk. Kurdish tarxane. Cracked wheat and yoghurt at its most basic form. Dried in the sun, then revived when needed. Some add eggs, some add halloumi. Some use chicken stock, some just water.

It's nourishing. Warming. Tangy.

Persians, Bulgarians, Iraqis, Cypriots, Greeks, Armenians, Egyptians - we all eat it, we all love it.
We're none of us so different at all, really.

From Wikipedia: these are names for a dried food based on a fermented mixture of grain and yoghurt or fermented milk, usually made into a thick soup with water, stock, or milk (Persian ash-e tarkhineh dugh آش ترخینه دوغ). As it is both acid and low in moisture the milk proteins keep for long periods. Tarhana is very similar to some kinds of kishk.

I remember mum making this when I was small, and me being excited about it because I thought she was making avgolemono, and then being disappointed when it wasn't.

This is heavier, and possibly more bland in a way, but it also has that back tang of the yoghurt to lift it. It has a slightly granular texture, but it is soft at the same time.

I only acquired a liking for it when I brought some back from the markets in Cyprus. It was golden in colour, instead of the usual beige, and it looked....well it just looked more appealing. I'd just had a wisdom tooth out and was on liquids for two weeks, so the thought of a nourishing, substantial but above all SOFT soup was very appealing to me. As I was able to eat more, I added cubes of halloumi to it, bulking it out even further.

On a winter night, a big bowl of this with some cheese and a bit of bread would leave you wanting nothing more than a blanket and a good sleep.

A handful of trahanas sticks - probably about 6 pieces for one person who wants leftovers

I cover them with water, and soak them overnight, but you probably don't have to. I just prefer there to be no lumps.

Once they are soaked, I add another cup or so of water, and add a chicken stock pot. I have a huge amount of affection for chicken stock, and it just livens the soup up. The Knorr ones are nice, as they are fairly light. Of course you can use vegetable stock.

Let this simmer for a good half an hour. The stock will gradually get absorbed so keep an eye on it.

I usually have mine just as it is, but some cubed halloumi simmered in it for 5 minutes just to warm through is rather nice too.





16/04/2016

Breakfast for Dinner

I'm a great believer in comfort food. I don't mean the usual British nursery or school dinners style food - all sponge puddings, mashed potatoes and a lack of chewing, though they most certainly have their place - I mean all kinds of food that give comfort because of what you, the eater, associate them with.

More often than not it will be foods of your childhood, whatever and wherever that childhood was for you, but it can also mean foods that you simply associate with feeling safe, and happy. Holiday meals near the sea maybe, with that odd tang of salt on your lips, or that first time you went out to eat in a restaurant on your own, with your mates not your parents, feeling oh so grown up as you handed over your cash in Pizza Hut after playing Salad Bowl Structural Integrity. The first ever popcorn at the cinema, or the novelty of eating something in a foreign country, that you have never, ever tasted before. That's the thrill of discovery, and those early tastes get imprinted. To be fair, they do not always imprint in a good way, but you can mostly overcome that if you try. You are allowed to dislike things, and there will be some things that you simply cannot bear, no matter how beautifully they are cooked.

Comfort foods for me are usually the things that my nan or Mum cooked whilst I was growing up, but sometimes, not often, a dad dish creeps in. 

He didn't cook that much for me, as he was rarely around when I was awake. Old fashioned barbers keep long, long hours. Every once in a while, on a Sunday, he would cook loukanika sausages, with fried potatoes and eggs. I would eat the potatoes first, then the sausage - having tried to pick out the coriander seeds - and then the eggs. These days I seem to eat the eggs first. 

This weekend I'm oddly discombobulated, as Tex is away, and I have to work on Sunday, so my routine is shot. Add to that attending a Terry Pratchett memorial - all emotion and joy and laughter and sheer grief rolled into one - and it lead to me wanting food to soothe, easy enough to put together, a dish that wasn't going to try my patience, and wasn't going to take too long either. I knew I had some Cypriot sausages in the fridge, though not loukanika, and after a bit of a rummage I found a tired old potato that was begging to be used before it turned up curly spindly rooty toes and died.

1 large baking potato, peeled and cubed
1 pastourma sausage, skinned and sliced 
3 eggs, beaten
olive oil

Heat the olive oil gently.
Pat the potato cubes dry, and add to the pan. 
Cook them on one side until well browned, turn them over, sprinkle with a little fine salt, and cover so they steam and cook through.
When they are browned all over and tender all the way through, push them to one side, and add the sausage slices. They will shrink as the fat comes out.
When the slices look cooked, drain the fat off, move the sausages and potatoes to one side of the pan and then pour the eggs in.
Stir to scramble the egg as it solidifies, then gradually mix the cooked egg into the sausages and potatoes.
Serve and eat as soon as you can. This is one Greek dish that is better hot.




10/04/2016

Chiquito's, Leicester Square

It's a long time since I've been to a Chiquito's. Probably about 20 years, if I'm honest. I wasn't that impressed, I admit, so I never bothered to go back, especially when Wahaca surged into the forefront of Mexican food in the UK. 

Wahaca aren't as good as they used to be, which seems to be the way of things when more and more branches open in quick succession, sadly. When a friend posted on instagram that she'd been to Chiquito's, and expressed glee that the new menu was excellent, I thought I'd give them another try. A lot can change in 20 years, after all! (I am aware that Wahaca's premise is different, before anyone says anything.)

My friend K and I went along on a balmy Tuesday evening. School holidays made for a rather packed restaurant, but to our surprise and pleasure, the noise level was completely manageable. The music didn't intrude, the staff were extremely attentive and lovely to everyone - great move there, they kept the kids occupied - and it was an altogether pleasant experience. 

The tables are a little too close together, but it's a premium venue, on a prime location, so I imagine they have to pack in as many as they can. 

We were brought a small dish of spiced popcorn, which both of us loved, and then we got to work on the menu.



They have a large array of drinks, and I was happy to see a non alcoholic cocktail, so I went for a Virgin Colada. I am so fed up of just being given the lemonade/cola choice, that it was a real treat to see care taken over the non alcohol imbibing people.  It was more like a slushy, having a lot of crushed ice, but once I'd burrowed down with the straw, it tasted gorgeous. Pineapple and coconut is a real treat for me. The glass was very tall, and I ended up having to take it off the table to get a slurp!



K got a Mojito, which looked the part, but suffered from over syrup-ing. They are meant to be zingy, and tangy with the fresh lime and mint, but this was...well, it tasted like a Mojito Solero ice lolly. Way too sweet for a grown up drink. (All you need for a mojito is mint sprigs muddled with sugar and lime juice. Rum is added and topped with soda water. That's it. There should be no sugar syrup.)

We went for barbecue chicken wings and sweet potato chorizo croquettes to start.  

The croquettes were also very sweet, as was the jalapeno jelly they were sat on. It had a good kick, but the sweetness of that, plus the chorizo, plus the sweet potato made the overall taste a bit lacking in zing. "Needs lime." we muttered.



The wings were fabulous. Good sized, very meaty, and sticky, with a good smokey depth to them and properly crispy edges. Might I suggest more napkins, or finger bowls though.




K went for Spiced Coconut Chicken as her main. 
"Fresh chicken breast, ginger and red chilli in a spicy aromatic coconut sauce. Served with Mexican spiced rice, tortilla puffs and a dollop of whipped feta & honey"

It was a rather attractive presentation, and had me coveting the dish, though a small plate to go with it would have been useful, so you could mix things up. (We asked for, and very quickly got, a plate, so that worked out just fine.)



After tasting the rice, we pronounced it to be lovely, and perfectly cooked. Each grain separate, and coated in flavourful spices. Just right. The sauce for the chicken was....well, ok, it was tasty, yes, but again, far too sweet and there was no heat or discernible ginger to it. There was a large amount of chicken - this is a very generous dish - and the tortilla puffs were a thing of salted, golden beauty.  

That sauce though...again we muttered "It needs lime." I think we'd hoped for that glorious smoke that comes with chipotle or ancho chiles, and it was missing from this. The coconut didn't come through very much either. We actually asked for a plate of lime wedges, and added the juice. It did help lift it, but not enough to make it better than just ok. It's got promise, but needs work. 

I had three of the Street Food items.

Crispy Tacos (Two crispy tortillas filled with spicy chicken, melted cheese and topped with sour cream), Chilli Beef Empanadas (Crispy parcels, filled with your choice of: Spicy Chicken, Roasted Vegetables and Feta (v) or Beef Chilli) and Whipped Feta with Honey (A creamy feta & honey whip, served with toasted tortilla triangles and sprinkled with pomegranate seeds). 

The tacos were brilliant. Crisp, but not to the point of shattering when you bit into them, and with a generous amount of filling. 


Empanadas are one of my favourite things, and these did not disappoint. The beef chilli had smoke, and heat, and seriously rich depth. Next time I might get a platter of those, all to myself. Look at that glorious, pointed end. It was all crunch and soft, juicy insides.


The whipped feta and honey was exceptionally creamy, which make me think that there's not purely feta in there, because there was no salt tang at all. Feta is very distinctive, and I couldn't taste it. I'm Greek, feta is Important. The tortilla pieces that came with it were soft, not very toasted, and just didn't contrast with the dip. Now, the tortilla puffs would work amazingly well with the feta, as they are slightly salty, and that feta needed salt to work with the sweetness of the pomegranate seeds. 


We did look longingly at the dessert menu, because there were Churros, but we were very full, so decided not to be piglets. I also ate way too many churros in Madrid last year, and I'm still not ready for any more.

Overall, we did enjoy our meal, and the staff were all properly lovely and kind.

Some of the dishes do need work, but I would be more than happy to go back and try again, as everything had promise, and some of it was outstanding. Plus I want to try their Pina Colada prawns!

K and I ate as guests of Chiquitos.