Friday, 19 November 2010

A vegetarian pie that isn’t ‘alf bad.

I have finally cracked it; a vegetarian pie that doesn’t make you weep for the meaty dream your pastry could have contained. I’m not saying you’d fall over yourself to order it above mssrs Steak and Kidney, but really decent vegetarian pie filling has eluded me for a while, so I feel like sharing.

The problem is gravy, or to be precise, lack of. Gone are the days when chucking a tin of Campbell’s condensed mushroom soup over a load of parboiled brassicas would do*. Filling a pie with tasty roasted vegetables is all well and good, but without a bit of ooze it’s all a bit one dimensional, texturally speaking. Here’s my way around it.

*having watched CDWM recently I realise, with a shudder, that those days are still alive and kicking in some kitchens.

Aubergine, sweet potato, garlic mushroom, roasted pepper, lentil and goats cheese pie (phew)

Serves 6
½ quantity of this pastry (or 125g shop bought puff pastry)
1 large sweet potato, peeled and cut into 2cm cubes
Olive oil
120g green lentils
500ml vegetable stock
1 large aubergine, cut into 1cm rounds, which are then cut into quarters
2 peppers, roughly chopped
1 onion, roughly chopped
50g butter
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 Portobello mushrooms
Handful flat leaf parsley
A little oregano
150g goats cheese (nothing fancy, chevre log will do) cut into chunks

Heat the oven to gas mark 7.

Roast the sweet potato in the pie dish with some oil, salt and pepper. When the potato starts to soften at the edges, add the peppers and onions and roast for a further 30 minutes. Rinse the lentils then simmer them in stock until they’re tender. The stock will gradually reduce which helps to make the ‘gravy’. While the lentils are cooking, cook the aubergine pieces over a high heat, in a heavy based frying pan. You’ll need to use a tiny bit of oil, and salt and pepper. Remove the auibergine from the pan and set to one side. In the same pan, over a low heat, melt the butter and gently cook the garlic until it softens. Turn the heat up a little and add the mushrooms, parsley, and oregano and cook for a further 10 minutes.

Once all the components are ready, add the mushrooms, aubergines and lentils to the pie dish, and mix. If you have quite a lot of stock left, add in just the lentils and further reduce the stock before adding. Season with plenty of pepper, add the goats cheese, and check to see if it needs any more salt. Roll out and add a pastry lid, ensuring you cut couple of air holes, before baking the pie for 15 minutes or so, until the pastry is crisp and golden.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

The Shed is CLOSED

The Shed supper club is now closed until 2011. If anyone is interested in joining us next year, drop us a line at and we’ll stick you on the list.

Until then, like the Queen, one has a Christmas message (ignore that missing apostrophe, I know it hurts):

See you next year


Monday, 15 November 2010

Cheesy herby rough puff pastry

If there's something that'll help ease the misery of cold, dark, wintery weather, it is a pie topped with this pastry. It's a relative doddle to make, though still clearly weekend cooking due to the chilling time. Crisp but giving without being too flaky, deliciously savoury and very moreish: the perfect lid for chilly-day pie. I slow-cooked some beef shin in veal stock with shallots, fennel, aubergines, parsley and garlic, and golly it was blummin' tasty.

We should all be eating more pie.

Makes enough for one huge pie, freezes for a month or so.
250g plain flour
1/2 tsp salt
250g butter, very cold and cut into small cubes
125ml ice cold water
Handful herbs of your choosing, very finely chopped - parsley and chives work well with beef, tarragon would be lovely with fish or chicken, whatever floats your pastry boat.
120g grated hard cheese - I used Lincolnshire Poacher but pretty much any firm tasty cheese would work.

Tip the flour onto a work surface and make a well in the centre. Mix the butter and salt in the well, and gradually work in the flour with your finger tips. Try not to overwork the mixture or melt the butter with the heat from your hands.

Mix together the chopped herbs and cold water, before adding gradually to the flour/butter, mixing gently to bring it loosely together. Again, don't overwork the pastry. Wrap in cling film and refrigerate for 20 minutes.

Knead the pastry twice before rolling it into a large, rough rectangle. Sprinkle with a quarter of grated cheese, lightly press in the cheese with your hands, before folding the outer two thirds of the pastry into the middle. Turn the pastry a quarter turn, then roll out again, sprinkle more cheese, press, fold, wrap and refrigerate for another 20 minutes.

Repeat the process again for two more 'turns'. Keep the pastry chilled until use, it'll need at least 20 minutes in the fridge anyway. I then rolled the pastry to size and chilled (again) before baking, but I don't think that's crucial. You should have enough pastry for a large lid, and an extra 'lip' for the outside edge. Make sure you cut some holes in the lid before baking.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Hawksmoor Seven Dials

The Sinking Spritz, taken by Tehbus on a proper camera, like.

The Twittersphere runneth over. The blog posts are trickling through. Only if you've been living under a rock will you be unaware of the new Hawksmoor in Seven Dials. Everyone else: I hope you had a great meal. Offering a 50% discount on food for their week-long soft-opening made for a full restaurant and busy kitchen. If staff were feeling the strain when I attended on their sixth day of madness, they sure as beef weren't showing it. I'd have felt bad about getting the food half price had we not so gallantly made up the bill with seven hours of cocktail consumption.

Here's a small selection of the other blog posts which on the whole are bigger, better, brighter, and have more pretty pictures.

And here's my top five. I'm not going to include the meat because it's "***king brilliant" and you all knew that already.

5. D├ęcor. Every reclaimed door, swirly leather bar stool, the art Deco lamps and sexy little cocktail glasses - they've all been chosen with such care and attention to detail that I'm almost surprised they let the general public in. The place is stunning, which really adds to the sense of occasion; you're not going out for steak, you're going out for steak at Hawksmoor.

4. The Lobster roll. The tender, succulent flesh from a whole lobster finished with hazelnut and garlic butter, served warm in a light brioche bun with Bearnese on the side. Absolutely stupendous, and deliciously messy to eat. Well worth the wedge.

3. Dripping cooked chips. Hard to describe without transgressing into a Homer Simpson-esque dribbly pool, these are serious potato fun times. Like the best roast potatoes you've ever had only with a higher degree of crispy surface area, more perfectly seasoned than granny on the olorosso.

2. Hawksmoor Tomato Ketchup. Yes, for real. It really is that good. If you're going to serve such high-grade meat you need a ketchup to match, and this definitely keeps up with the cow.

1. The bar, its staff, everything they make and do. Ever. Best appreciated in smaller numbers; as a party of two we had private audience with each of the talented bar team in turn. You might walk in thinking you know your stuff but these chaps will blow you and Your Mate Who Makes A Lovely Martini out of the water, and then some. Explore the painstakingly assembled list before going off piste and ordering a Sinking Spritz from Rich. Properly inspirational stuff. They have an impressive array of botanicals and bitters perched on the bar which they'll happily explain as you make your way down the menu. It would be educational if it didn't encourage you to drink so much.

So a bit good, then. Essentially, Hawksmoor sells you pleasure. They take wholesome chunks of beef, sex things up with butter sauces and bone marrow and medal-worthy chips, make you toe-curlingly fabulous cocktails before sending you on your way wishing you were as cool as them. You'll only have one question about your visit: when can I come back?

Friday, 29 October 2010

The Drapers Arms

Minutes away from Upper Street on a quiet norf Laandan street, lies the Drapers Arms. Occupying the vaguely uncomfortable spot between public house and restaurant, it's not the sort of place you'd go for relaxing pints on a Sunday, nor is it an all-out Saturday night bank-buster. If you're looking for a mid-week treat, however, the DA is your man.

We get off to a cracking start with a board of complimentary bread and butter. Decent brown bread - good amount of chew, nice crusty crust - and quality unsalted butter. The latter brought debate; I enjoy unsalted butter as it allows me to go nuts with the grinder, Mr Shed prefers his butter avec salt and sans effort. The bread was replenished after we devoured the first lot, a very good sign indeed.

I started with brawn, enjoying the look on (non meat-eater) MrS's face when I explained what it is. A little fridge cold, but loose and silky once it warmed a little, and most importantly tasted of good quality piggy. On it's own I would have found it the teeniest bit under seasoned, but paired with salty, acidic little cornichon, the whole thing was balanced beautifully. More of their lovely bread, this time toasted which helped to warm the terrine. MrS had a bowl of luscious squash and sage soup, very well made, even perhaps turning the tide on my sage hating ways.

We looked to the sea for main courses; gilt head bream and creamed black cabbage, and lemon sole with salsify. Both were PERFECTLY cooked, total A grade skillz. Stonkingly fresh, seasoned well without any heavy handedness, finished with a browned butter and nice crispy skin to boot. My salsify didn't do an awful lot for me, but did provide a nice enough vessel for transporting fish to mouth. A little squeeze of the lemons provided rounded both dishes off nicely.

After his whopping great bream - the size of the beast! -MrS eschewed dessert. A glutton to the end I had a wobbling, unctuous buttermilk pudding, a panacotta in ye olde Englishe if you will. The buttermilk gave a lactic, lemony note which I loved, something I'll be recreating at home. A dependable blackcurrant compote was perfectly nice, but to be honest it was a little superfluous: the pudding was good enough without. A pretty decent double espresso and we're done.

Niggles? Very few. I was a little disappointed to note that they've yet to add any of our superb English plonk to the wine list, especially with the menu championing British stalwarts like brawn, Arbroath smokies, smoked eel and beef and ale pie. If I were to nitpick, the main courses were a little long in arriving, but all is forgiven when the food is so pleasurable, and the dining room was very busy.

The damage: a very reasonable £65, including drinks and excluding service, the latter of which was friendly, and efficient on the whole. It represents, for me, a fairly extravagant mid-week haunt, but one which I hope to revisit in the not-too-distant-future.

The Drapers Arms

Thai sweet corn noodle soup

Yet another bad iPhone pic

It's the night before pay day and the wallet is bare. There is an assortment of ingredients in the fridge, none of which quite go together. Smoked mackerel, halloumi, feta - it's all salt, no subtlety. There, hiding at the back, is a jug of grade Awesome chicken stock, the kind that needs slicing once cold. Let dinner begin.

This is proper store cupboard cooking, so long as your store cupboard (or freezer) includes some thick, gelatinous chicken stock made from a flavoursome free-range chuck. The slow cooking of the onion, ginger, and garlic is crucial and shouldn't be hurried.

A particularly satisfying dish to eat alone, slurping to your heart's content.

Serves two (or one, twice)
2tbsp groundnut oil
1 white onion, finely sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
3cm piece of ginger - you want quite a lot - finely sliced
1tsp chilli flakes
750ml bestest ace chicken stock
300g sweetcorn (frozen / tinned / whatever)
1tsp palm sugar
Pinch salt
2 handfuls cook noodles
Handful fresh coriander, chopped
4-5 mint leaves, finely chopped
Fish sauce, to taste
Lime segments

Heat the oil in a saucepan big enough for all of the ingredients, and cook the onion, garlic, ginger and chilli flakes over a low heat until soft, sticky, ever so slightly golden and sweet. This will take about 30 minutes, and you may need to loosen with a tbsp or two of the stock (rather than more oil) if the contents get too sticky and start to catch on the pan. Add the chicken stock and sweetcorn, and simmer for a few minutes. Taste, and sweeten to your liking - start with a tsp of palm sugar and add more if desired. Add a small pinch of salt - the salting of the dish comes with the fish sauce - along with the noodles, and fresh herbs. Ladle into bowls before adding fish sauce and lime juice to taste.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Potted crab

Butter, spice, seasoning and seafood. What's not to love? Be careful when buying dressed crab; you don't want anything overly fussed with and freshness, of course, is paramount. By all means cook and pick your own if you can do so without eating most of the meat in the process. I can't.

Serves two as a generous lunch, a modest starter for four.
100g butter
2 medium banana shallots, finely diced
Cayenne pepper
Tiny splash of Pernod
1 dressed crab
Generous squeeze of lemon juice
S&P to taste
50g butter, clarified

Melt 100g of butter and gently cook the shallots without colouring. Add the spices - I useabout half a teaspoon of cayenne and a little shake of mace - and the Pernod (you do only want a tiny bit, half a cap full at most) and cook for a further 5 minutes over a low heat. Add the crab, lemon juice, and season. Add whatever you think it needs more of, before transferring to ramekins. Once it's cooled a little, cover with a fine layer of luke-warm clarified butter and refrigerate. Allow to come up to room temperature before serving with decent warm bread and a bit of leafy poncing should you wish. It'll keep a couple of days in the fridge, if not devoured in one sitting.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Orange cured salmon and herby maple salad

Like a seared beef carpaccio, cured salmon is one of those god-send dishes where the tastiness belies the absolute doddle it is to make. The most difficult part is finding decent raw ingredients, after which only a total pleb can muck it up. Probably.

For the first in what we're hoping will be a series of Shex Eats Food and Likes It supper club meals, Lex Eat and I prepared an early 'Christmas' meal for a group of lovely girlies, one of whom is moving far, far away so won't be here for the real deal. This was the starter; soft, orangy salmon, fragrant herbs - go heavy - a sweet maple dressing and crispy potato cakes. Even if we say it ourselves, it's a winner.

For the salmon
Bestest, freshest fillet of fresh Scottish salmon you can find
3 tbsp sea salt flakes
3 tbsp caster sugar
2 juicy oranges, cut into rounds

Slice the salmon in half down the length and cover with the salt and sugar. Lay the oranges on one half, then sandwich together, skin outer facing. Wrap tightly with cling film, place on a flat surface in your fridge, then weigh down with a chopping board and/or a big book. You want pressure applied along the length of the fish, but not so much that you actually squash it. Leave in the fridge for three days, flipping the fish over every 16 hours or so.

You can play around with the texture; the higher your salt to sugar ratio, the firmer the finished salmon will be.

For the complete dish, make;
- skinny, crispy rosti. Grate potato, salt, squeeze the moisture out, add grated onion, more salt, pepper, squish into large flat discs, fry over low heat until soft in the middle and crisp on the outside, which will take around 20 minutes. Keep warm in a low oven.
- a salad with lots of basil, parsley, and mint, with a little baby gem lettuce.
- orange segments, two or three per person
- Maple dressing (adapted by Lex from the Ottolenghi book)
60ml olive oil
3 tbsp maple syrup
1 tbsp sherry vinegar
1 tbsp lemon juice
Big squeeze orange juice
1 tsp grated fresh ginger
½ tsp ground cinnamon

Assemble with the potato cakes on the bottom - they want to be warm, not hot - then sashimi style strips of salmon, topped with dressed herby salad and segments of orange. We served pots of La Fromagerie creme fraiche on the side which was nice, but not essential.

Friday, 17 September 2010

My first grouse

Following a bad experience cooking pheasant I've tended to steer clear of game in the kitchen. Under the impression that I didn't have the skillz I avoided anything more robust than a free range chuck, until a chat with my boss revealed that it was the [over-hung] pheasant and not me. Huzzah, jubilations, a new culinary door opens up. Obviously this was months before the start of the season so I've had to wait until now to give game another shot, so to speak. (sorry)

Enter Gerald Grousington III. Cute, no?

And dare I say it was a succulent success. I had a little moment of panic - does one chop off the feet?, but as you can see below, that didn't last long.

Served with bubble n squeak patties, "sweet and sour" carrots, mushroom and kidney gravy and a spoonful of shallots, a mighty feast for the lone meat eater (meater?) of the house.

Here's what I did, all very simple homely stuff.

For the grouse
Grouse (oven ready - I'm not mucking about with feathers)
2 rashers streaky bacon
1/2 banana shallot, cut into rings

Bubble & Squeak cakes
2 handfuls mash potato
3 leaves savoy cabbage, finely sliced
1 banana shallot, finely sliced

1 large carrot, cut into batons
1tsp honey
knob butter
1tsp red wine vinegar
Small handful chopped parsley

Mushroom & Kidney Gravy
1/2 banana shallot, finely chopped
1 posh mushroom stock cube (yes, a stock cube)
200ml water
if required, smidge cornflour, loosened with cold water to thicken
1 cooked kidney from your bird (see instructions)

Heat the oven to 220 degrees / gas mark 7, and bring a pan of water to the boil. Fry the cabbage and shallot in butter until nice and soft, then combine with the mash and season well. Shape into little patties, and set to one side. Fry the chopped (gravy) shallot in a little butter, then add the mushroom stock cube and water, and simmer until reduced and a bit syrupy. I'd have liked to have thrown in some wine here too, but the booze cupboard was (unsurprisingly) dry.

Butter, season, and bacon your bird. Inspired by Oliver Thring's recent nutmeg post, I threw on a tiny bit of that too, just before the bacon.

Pop the grouse in the oven and roast for 15 minutes, before turning the oven down to gas 180 / mark 5 and roasting for a further 10.

Meanwhile, boil the carrot until just cooked, drain and mix with the other carrot ingredients. Leave it in the hot pan, with the lid on until ready to serve.

Just after you turn down the oven, heat a frying pan and fry the potato cakes until golden and crisp on the outside. Once the grouse has finished cooking, fish out a kidney (in the cavity), wrap the bird in foil, and leave to rest for ten minutes.

Whisk the cooked kidney into the sauce, adding the cornflour to thicken if needed. Pile the fruits of your labour onto a plate, and enjoy with a glass of wine, should you have any in the house.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Beetroot and Mackerel, a couple of recipes and a plea for more

I know, I know, it's terrible.

Following a vegetarian meal in The Shed, I had leftover an enormous bowl of beetroot mezze dip. Not because it was bad - highly acclaimed in fact, even by the beetroot haters - but because there is always something I make far, far too much of and have to eat for days and days.

Anyway, on spying this recipe on eating queen Hollowlegs' blog, the mezze is such an obvious pairing for mackerel that I am mildly ashamed it didn't before cross my mind. Salty mackerel, chilli kick, earthy heat of horseradish, botanical nuance from healthy handfuls each of mint/coriander, and a zip of balsamic to bring the whole thing together. Here's the recipe for the beetroot puree, which I heartily recommend dolloping over smoked mackerel fillets and devouring with a hunk of bread and token greenery.

Predictably, I over-ordered on mackerel to do the above. If ever there's a woman to have Eyes Bigger Than Belly engraved on her tombstone, I am surely she*. However, a surplus of mackerel is no bad thing and taking inspiration from Lizzie's recipe I made the salad below. If you don't own walnut oil, go out and buy some right now, it'll revolutionise your salads no end so long as you like walnuts.
*not that the belly isn't substantial in it's own right

I still have four mackerel fillets left; does anyone have a whiz-delicious recipe?

Beetroot & Mackerel Salad, to serve four as a starter
1 pack cooked beetroot (you get slightly more flavour if you roast or boil raw beetroot, but for heavens' sake who has the time after work?)
2 fillets smoked mackerel.
1 small read onion, finely sliced
2 handfuls sugar snap peas
6 big radishes, finely sliced into rounds
2 handfuls rocket
2 tbsp fresh mint, finely chopped
Handful toasted walnuts (optional but nice)

1 tbsp Dijon mustard
Juice of 1 lemon
1 dtsp honey
100ml walnut oil
Black pepper

Thinly slice the beetroot into skinny rounds and arrange on four plates in an attractive fashion. Whisk together the mustard, lemon and honey, before adding the walnut oil, whisking as you go, to create an emulsified dressing; season with black pepper.

Remove the skin and any bones from the mackerel fillets, and flake the flesh into chunky pieces. Combine in a large bowl the red onion, sugar snap peas, radishes, rocket and mint with the mackerel flakes, and toss the whole lot in the dressing; taste for seasoning, I found it needed no additional salt due to the mackerel. Serve the salad atop the beetroot discs, and adorn with toasted walnuts if you feel it necessary. Pieces of soft boiled boiled egg would also be a nice touch.

Monday, 13 September 2010

Salt beef pho: East meets East End

I'm not attempting any fancy posturing with all the greenery,
the garden is simply the only place there's any light

If someone were to offer me plane tickets to a destination of my choosing I'd almost certainly plump for Vietnam. I'm pretty pleased with where I am life-wise, but I do experience the occasional pang of jealousy at those who spent their early twenties flitting about the world, engorging a rich mix of culture and foreign grub. Then I remember I would hate pretty much everything involved in travelling of the backpacking sort, and resign myself to earning a fat pay rise and seeing the world in style, or at least from a proper apartment with fluffy towels, fewer insects and air conditioning.

So my experience of Vietnamese food is limited to London's offering, but as the chefs are Vietnamese the dishes must be a pretty good approximation, right? Regardless of authenticity, I love what I've tried so recently invested in Luke Nguyen's Songs of Sapa, which technically leaves me another £20 further away from those plane tickets, but happily has brought the taste of Vietnam (probably) into my Newington Green flat.

Having dipped into the book to steal dressings and dipping sauces for other dishes I finally attempted my first full recipe, his monumental beef pho. My local butcher didn't have quite the right ingredients, so off-piste I went swapping brisket for salt brisket, and oxtail for the biggest beefy bones you did see. The results were very agreeable indeed, just the satisfyingly savoury hit I was looking for.

This is most certainly a weekend recipe, but of the 4 hours cooking time most is spent simply waiting, spoon in hand, forlornly looking at flight prices. I've made a few other tweaks, more herbs and chillies, less salt to account for the salt beef. The broth freezes for up to 2 months accordingly to Mr Nguyen.

To serve 8 (or 1, repeatedly, several days in a row)

2kg raw rolled salt brisket
3 big raw beef bones
1 unpeeled bulb garlic
4 unpeeled onions
large piece unpeeled ginger
150ml fish sauce
2tbsp palm sugar
2 cinnamon sticks
8 whole cloves
5 star anise

To serve;
1.6kg rice noodles
500g raw beef sirloin, sliced into strips
8 spring onions, thinly sliced
4 birds eye chillies, thinly sliced
Big handful chopped coriander
Handful mint
Handful sweet basil
3-4 limes, cut into segments

Soak the brisket in water for 1-2 hours as time allows, refreshing the water a couple of times. On a griddle, dry cook the garlic, onions, and ginger over a medium high heat until the outsides are blackened and in insides are going soft (this will make your flat smell delicious, like your own little ockabasi). Discard the chared skins, and roughly chops the squishy, sweet insides.

Dry fry the spices then bash roughly in a pestle and mortar. You're not looking for a fine powder, just smallish chunks which you can strain out later.

Discard the salty beef water. Fill your largest pot with 6l water, and slowly bring the beef bone and brisket to the boil, skimming the water for 25 minutes to ensure a clear stock. You may have to divide the water and bones between two pots to begin with, reuniting the liquid once it starts to reduce. Lower the heat to give a very gentle simmer, and add the garlic, onions, ginger, spices, fish sauce and sugar. Go off and potter, leaving it the simmer very gently for 3 hours. Remove the brisket and strain the stock through muslin, discarding the bones and other ingredients.

To serve, cook the rice noodles as per the pack instructions, and divide the cooked noodles and raw beef sirloin by the 8 bowls. Slice the salt beef and chuck into the bowls as well, discarding any particularly fatty bits. Put the herbs, chillies, and limes onto a plate and place in the middle of the table. Ladle the stock over the beefy bits and noodles and serve, allowing people to add the botanicals as they feel necessary. Make sure you get plenty of slurping in, it's one of the few times it's truly acceptable.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Bangin' Bangra Bangers

I want to say from the off that these are made by a friend, and that I'm doing a bit of rudimentary [unpaid] PR for them. I also want to state that part of my actual real day job is, well, Food Taster and without being a bit of a nob, I generally know what I'm talking about, right? Errr, right.

Singhs Daljit & Vivek - the former a design wizz, the latter exec chef of The Cinnamon Club - have brought to life Daljit's grandfather's receipe for an Indian-influenced sausage. Daljit makes the best Indian food I've tasted; I would literally walk across London for his chicken tikka or lamb curry*. And he's not even the acclaimed, award winning restaurateur of the two.

Anyway. Unifying what are arguably two of Britain's favourite foods - curry and sausages - the original Bangra uses cardamom and sweet onion, with hints of aniseed and big chilli kick, where it's newer counterpart is an altogether more middle Eastern affair. Made with dates and apricots, with the signature hit of spice it's the North Africanesque equivalent to pork with apple and cinnamon, which just so happens to be my favourite sossy (I love you, Ginger Pig).

There's a rather jazzy recipe for spiced mash to go with, here, though I like just a blob each of mango chutney/raita and a bit of salad, wrapped up in a home made flat bread.

*thankfully, he lives across the road

Quick Mango Chutney
This isn't your slow-food, artisanal, leave-it-a-month-before-eating chutney, but it's a million miles better than anything you've had from the shop. It'll keep, covered, in the fridge for about a week.

Groundnut oil
1 banana shallot, finely diced
1 clove garlic
1 red chilli, finely chopped (seeds are optional)
1 tsp mustard seeds
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp caraway seeds
3 ripe, sweet mangoes, diced
2 tbsp white wine vinegar
2 tbsp caster sugar
1 tbsp water
S&P to taste

Gently cook the shallot and garlic in a little oil until soft, then add the chilli, spices and caraway seeds. Fry for a couple of minutes before adding the mangoes, vinegar, sugar and water, then simmer for 30 minutes, stirring frequently. Check for seasoning, sweetness, and acidity before serving - make the day before if you want it cold.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Delhi Grill

[apologies, as usual, for the dreadful photos]

For your average foodie type there are worse places to live than Newington Green. Minutes from my door I have the amazing fruit & veg shop, two Italian delis (this one good for ingredients, this one for pizza), numerous independent caffs for a lazy brekkie and decent coffee, Turkish grocers with their pulses, olives, spices, oils and baklava, and a very attractive, errr, roundabout on which to picnic should you feel the need. Nearby, the smokey delights of Green Lanes, a visceral trip down Ridley Road, or a gastronic splurge in Clerkenwell, all within an iskender's throw of the green. Decent curry, however, is elusive.

There's Rasa up on Church Street, serving what has to be some of the best veggie grub in the city, but other than that the Indian food around here is a bit drab and unreliable (though I'd be delighted if proven wrong). And sometimes a gal just gotta have some meat with her spice.

Delhi Grill are bringing a taste of Bombay to the delicate folk of Islington with a neat selection of Indian dishes. Taking more than a leaf from the bible (Qu'ran?) of Tayyabs, they have a limited menu emphasising flavour and freshness, rather than a reading list of potential disaster. Just a few staple curries and a selection of tandoori stuffs, they're keeping it simple which is no bad thing.

Lovely Hannah of Nourish PR was, well, lovely enough to organise a sneaky roti delivery in return for my thoughts;

The rotis were good with the right amount of chew, and made a handy vessel for the generous contents within. The three fillings - lamb sausage, paneer, and chicken tikka - were well charred with a satisfying whiff of smoke, teamed with fresh salads and various sauces.

The lamb sausage was well spiced (not quite a Bangra but pretty good) though could have done with a teensy touch more salt: a tasty snagg nonetheless. The chicken tikka nicely offset with a dab of raita, enough to make a difference but not so much as to destroy the bread, and the paneer - marinated and grilled - came with soft, smoky, sweet peppers and a welcome spicy kick.

Perfect lunch or lazy-evening fodder, without the usual bank of fat/calories associated with takeaway grub. A delicious introduction to a great local place; I cannie wait to try a full on Bombay blow out*.

21 Chapel Market
020 7278 8882

*which, incidentally, would cost you next to nothing, have you seen their prices?

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Courgette Falafel

Like many green fingered folk, I've been grappling with a surplus of courgettes. Not because I'm a wicked ace gardener, but because I bought a load for our birthday bash and, well, forgot to cook them.

A quick Twitter poll threw up some delicious suggestions, and in the last week I've eaten Courgette & Feta Fritters, Grilled Courgette Salad, and also added courgettes to Hot & Sour Tofu with Aubergines, which is possibly my new favourite dish ever.

And I still have some left, though I'm planning on making Courgette & White Beans with Goats Curd tonight, which should finish the buggers off.

Anyway, last night I made some falafel with added courgettes (I swear I'll explode if I have to type that word again), with home-made flat breads and spring onion raita. The c********e don't really add a lot in terms of flavour, but they make for a wonderfully light, fluffy texture. Add a few pickled chillies, cherry toms, and a squeeze of lemon before eating.

For four
1 red onion
2 fat cloves garlic
1 red chilli, or 1tsp powder
1 tin fava beans or chickpeas
2 medium courgettes (argh!), grated
1tbsp plain flour
1tbsp polenta
1tsp ground cumin
1tsp paprika
1/2 tsp ground fenugreek
Handful fresh coriander, finely chopped
Handful flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped

Very roughly chop the onion, garlic, and chilli, then transfer to a food processor and whizz until finely chopped. Add the fava beans or chickpeas, and blend. Transfer to a bowl, and add the remaining ingredients, season generously, then mix thoroughly - get your hands in and start squishing. With wet hands, form the mixture into little balls, about 3cm across. Leave the falafel to stand for 20 minutes which allows the outsides to harden a little and helps them to keep their shape, then fry in around 1cm oil over a medium / medium hot heat until brown and crispy.

Flat Breads
Makes 8 - taken from the Moro cookbook, recipe for 'Quick Flat Breads'
200ml warm water
1/2 tsp dried yeast
260g strong white bread flour
1tsp fine sea salt
1tbsp olive oil

Mix together the water and yeast, and leave for a few minutes to dissolve. Combine the flour and salt in a large bowl, then gradually add the water, mixing the whole thing together with your fingertips. Once combined, add the oil and kneed for a minute or so to make a smooth, elastic dough. Leave to prove for 20 minutes.

Knead the dough for 30 seconds, then split into 8 pieces. Flatten a piece with your hands, before rolling flat and quite thing with a rolling pin. In a hot, dry pan or over a griddle, cook each bread for a few minutes either side, until spotted with golden brown bits but still nice and soft - you can keep the finished breads warm in the oven while you cook the remaining dough.

Spring onion raita
3tbsp good Greek or natural yoghurt - never low fat
4tbsp cold water
1tbsp chopped coriander
1tbsp chopped parsley
1 spring onion, finely chopped
1tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cumin
Tiniest dash of white wine vinegar

Combine all of the above, add more of whatever you think it needs!

Monday, 16 August 2010


Ossobuco is perfect weekend cooking; lots of chopping, a slow braise, fiddle-faddle with a risotto and all the time in the world to savour your rewards with a glass of plonk. It's worth making friends with your butcher for several reasons, one of which is getting perfect ossobuco - a fat chunk of veal with a decent sized marrow-filled bone.

One thing you must totally never ever do is move the meat around too much while it's cooking, as you risk loosing your unctuous, gelatinous, glorious nugget of deliciousness. Leave well alone.

For two, easily multiplied for larger groups

2 Rose veal ossobuco (or is it ossobuci?)
Olive oil
1 white onion, finely diced
1 celery stick, finely diced
1/2 fennel bulb, finely diced
1 carrot, finely diced
2 fat garlic cloves
1 sprig thyme, whole
12 cherry tomatoes, skinned and diced or 1/2 tin of good quality tomatoes
250ml dry white wine
200ml chicken stock

Oil and generously season the ossobuco before searing in a hot pan an setting to one side. Gently saute the onion, celery, fennel, carrot and garlic until translucent, then add the tomatoes, wine, stock and thyme. Return the meat to the pan and push down to completely submerge - add a bit more wine or stock if you need to. Simmer, loosely covered (stick the pan lid at an angle) on the lowest possible heat for around an hour and a half, or until the meat is totally tender. Remove the ossobuco from the heat and leave to stand, covered, while you make the risotto - trust me, it makes all the difference in texture and taste.

To serve: gently place the meat atop risotto alla Milanese with a bit of the sauce, and sprinkle with gremolata.

Risotto alla Milanese
1 white onion, diced
Celery, diced
2 cloves garlic
Olive oil
150g arborio rice
Generous pinch saffron
750ml chicken stock
250ml white wine
Handful grated parmesan

I won't bore on about how to make a risotto, I'm sure you're all experts.

Zest of 1 lemon
Handful flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
1/3 garlic clove

Make a paste out of the garlic with a little salt, and combine with the grated zest and finely chopped parsley.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Boozy Sorbet Madess

Firstly, let me apologise for the terrible photo above. This apology goes not to the reader but to the sorbet; I'm sorry I failed to appropriately capture your beauty with this badly lit iPhone pic. My second point is to make clear the total awesomeness of sorbet. Delicious AND easy.

Essentially, so long as you've got a tasty liquid well balanced in the sweet / sharp stakes, you're quids in. The sweetness will fade slightly as the liquid freezes so it's best to be ever-so-slightly over-sweet than under.

I use an ice cream maker but I'm pretty sure you can make without, using some Tupperware and an hourly stir. These are the three I've made so far, you may notice a recurring theme...hic....

Cider Sorbet
Take a 500ml bottle of cider, add 1-2 tbsp of caster sugar and stir to dissolve. Add the juice of one lemon, and taste; it should be tangy and sweet, and - obviously - cidery. Churn until it starts to look like sorbet, then transfer to a tub and pop in the freezer. After an hour, give a good stir, and put back for at least another 4 hours.

Blackberry & Cassis
Put 8 handfuls of clean blackberries into a pan with 200ml water and 2tbsp of cater sugar, and simmer gently for 5 or 6 minutes. Push the berries through a sieve, and discard the pulpy pips. Add the juice of a lemon to the liquid and a good slug of cassis and taste; again, tangy, sweet, fruity - you may need more sugar depending on your berries. Leave to cool, churn, and freeze as above.

Pink Grapefruit & Gin
Heat 150ml water and the juice of 6 pink grapefruit with 2-3tbsp caster sugar until boiling point is reached and the sugar has dissolved. Taste for sweetness - adjust if necessary - and leave to cool. Once cool, add 60ml gin, taste, and churn as above.

Serving three boozy sorbets together allows you to make different 'cocktails' with each spoonful - what fun! All boozy sorbet suggestions welcome....I think margarita is next on the list.

Baked peaches and a rough guide to making caramel sauce

Baked peaches (or plums, or apricots) are my faithful standby, my I-can't-be-bothered-to-measure-or-time-anything pudding. With just a couple of ingredients and a tub of something creamy you have a sweet, syrupy, fruity hit which gives the false impression that you've made any effort at all. They make a delicious breakie the next day covered in yoghurt and sprinkled with oats, so make more than you need.

You'll need
1-2 peaches per person
Brown sugar (but not dark brown sugar)

To serve
Mascarpone, cream, or yoghurt
Caramel (see below) or honey

Heat the oven to gas mark 4/180 degrees. Cut the peaches in half and remove the stones. Lay them cut side up in a baking dish, and put a small nugget of butter on each peach half, around the size of a 20p piece. Sprinkle with a little sugar - the riper and sweeter the peach, the less you need - no more than a couple of teaspoons. Bake uncovered in the oven for 30 minutes, before flipping each peach and cooking for a further 15. Done! Serve warm from the oven, drizzled with a little honey or caramel and a big dollop of something really bad for you.

A few notes on caramel sauce
You can probably find better instruction out there, but this is how I do it. I think my biggest tip is hold your nerve. Actually my biggest tip is do not lick liquid sugar straight from the spoon, but other than that show no fear 'cos the caramel will smell it.

Into a small, heavy-based saucepan, put a tbsp of butter and about 8 tbsp caster sugar - you want way more sugar than butter. Place over a very gentle heat and leave until it starts to caramelise - do not stir at this point. Once the sugar starts to melt, turn up the heat and shake the pan to bring it together; you're looking for a relatively cohesive liquid. Here's the bit where you think it's all gone wrong; add 100ml of double cream, and stir like crazy. It will fizz up, and there will be lumps but don't worry; keep at it. Turn the temperature back down, and let it bubble away to a smooth consistency, before adding another 200ml cream and doing the same thing again if necessary - shouldn't take so long this time. You should have caramel by now....add some salt, and some brandy too if you're feeling cheeky.

Monday, 9 August 2010

Italian Salsa

This is the taste of Italianate summer. Serve with crisp bruscetta, spoon over fish, or eat straight from the bowl with a spoon. Your choice.

Makes enough for 6 greedy people

5 ripe plum tomatoes
10 ripe cherry tomatoes - the sweetest, most delicious you can find
1 smallish red onion
2 tbsp capers - rinsed if packed in salt
Handful each of basil and flat leaf parsley
1 dessert spoon white wine vinegar
Generous slug extra virgin olive oil
Good sea salt

Finely chop and combine the tomatoes, onion, capers and herbs, discarding any excess tomato juice as you go along. Add the vinegar, oil, and taste for seasoning. If using salt-packed capers, you probably won't need to add too much additional salt. Add more vinegar/oil/seasoning as you see necessary, and allow to sit in the fridge for an hour or so to get tasty. If you need to make a day in advance, leave the herbs out until shortly before serving.

The Shed is one!

Not the blog - though technically I guess this is one too - the supper club. And what a year it has been. If you ever feel a bit despondent or lose your faith in humanity, I urge you to start a supper club; you'll soon discover that people are amazing. You'll also realise that you're slightly bonkers but WHO CARES? it's a whole pile of fun. Go on, have a go, and invite me while you're at it.

Anyway, we had a party.

Bruchetta with Italian Salsa
Cured meats from Trealy Farm
Olives, Bread & Oil

Saffron Cream Pasta
Pasta Arabiatta

Griddled Prawns with Lemon Mayonnaise
Marinated BBQ Pork
BBQ Vegetables
Aubergine Parmagiana

Homemade Vanilla Ice Cream & Salted Caramel Sauce
Baked Peaches with Mascapone & Honey


All washed down with wine smuggled back from Sicily
£10 a head

We had 29 attendees and so did away with chairs, crockery, and cutlery in favour of mingling and disposable plates. Lex of Lex Eat made the most delicious - and attractive! - birthday cake we could have asked for; a rich, moist chocolate cake with a white chocolate and cream cheese frosting and Smarties. Bloody marvellous. What started as a moderately civilised garden party ended with shots of grappa while laying on the floor of the shed; a fitting celebration I'm sure you'll agree.

Thanks to Lex for the cake, Matt for the photos, and everyone who has been to The Shed for making it so damn special for us. You rock.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Slow roast, anchovy marinated lamb leg

A low risk, cook-it-for-ages-and-it's-still-pink leg of lamb that offers big returns for little effort. The image above was taken about two thirds of the way through the cooking, so the finished result is a little more lip-stickingly caramelised and gooey on top. I use Marky Market for my lamb, and it's second to none.

The night before

1 small tin of anchovies, complete with oil
2tbsp white wine vinegar
1tsp freshly ground black pepper
4 sprigs of rosemary, just the needles, finely chopped
1 white onion, finely chopped
I leg of lamb, as good as you can afford.

Mix all of the ingredients together, and smush a bit to break up to anchovies and bruise some flavour out of the onion. Make some slits in the fat of the lamb, being careful not to damage the flesh, and rub all over with the marinade. It's important not to use salt at this stage as it can toughen up the meat. Wrap in cling film and leave in the fridge overnight - you can do this in the baking tray, as it's going straight into the oven.

One the day

Take the lamb out of the fridge an hour before cooking to get it up to room temperature, and heat the oven as high as it will go.

Being careful not to dislodge too much of the tasty marinate, cover the lamb with a good slug of olive oil and a generous amount of salt, and add a whole garlic bulb sliced in two lengthways to the baking tray, as a pungent little cushion to the meat. Put into the oven, and immediately turn the temperature down to gas mark 1.5.

After 40 minutes, pour a small glass of wine and a small glass of water over the lamb, being careful to baste the whole thing. Return to the oven for 3-4 hours, basting every 30-45 minutes. After your 3-4 hours is up, turn the temperature up to gas mark 3, sprinkle with a tbsp of sugar and cook for one final hour, basting half way through.

Wrap in foil and tea towels and rest for ONE WHOLE HOUR, while you prat about with your accompaniments and reduce the sauce. Slice and serve, covered in the tasty juices. It should be a very light pink throughout without any runny blood, and the outside should be sticky and amazing. Mmmmmmmmmm.