Friday, 25 May 2012

capri lemon pasta - Maria Elia recipe

capri lemon pasta
Have been eyeing up the recipe for capri lemon pasta in Maria Elia's The Modern Vegetarian for a little while and, since I had both leftover lemons and leftover double cream, I thought the universe was trying to tell me something.

I decided to skip the asparagus as no English asparagus was available and I'm rather of the opinion that bad asparagus is worse than no asparagus. So just podded broad beans, peas and the double cream and lemon sauce. And some parsley because I had some parsley and a handful of chopped parsley never hurts anything.

I usually like her recipes but I thought this one wasn't written quite right - her suggested ordering leaves you with no time to pod the broad beans which is the most time consuming bit of the whole dish - and, if I'd followed her directions to the letter, I think the sauce would have ended up too liquidy. I skipped the cooking water she directs you to add and, even then, had to let it all simmer together for a couple of minutes to get the sauce thick enough.

 The resulting dish is lovely, though, like a lemon posset with added yummyness. My husband thought it was too lemoney, though, and would have preferred it as a side dish. It occurs to me that it would be a lovely way to serve broad beans and/or peas as a side dish. Mmmm.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Garlic fried potatoes

Ta da!
My life is pretty good so I don't have many problems.  There are, however, two that I have been wrestling with for a little while:  my lovely husband doesn't much like potatoes but I do; and what the right side dish for Ottolenghi's stuffed onions is.

The answer to both of these questions seems to be garlic fried potatoes.  I've been messing around with these for a while and I think I now have it right.  What I do is: 

Frying potatoes
  • take eight or nine new potatoes
  • slice them up roughly into quarters or thirds depending on the size of them
  • heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a frying pan
  • fry the potatoes for about 10 minutes - until they start to give out some juice
  • then crush 4-5 cloves of garlic in
Almost at the garlic stage
  • continue to fry until they go crispy and golden brown on the outside (this stage usually takes another 20 minutes)
  • add salt and black pepper a couple of minutes before I take them off the heat
And then eat!  I suspect that frying them in butter might make them tastier but, for health reasons, I prefer not to.  A word of warning:  these are really quite garlicky!  

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

How to cater for vegetarian guests

I posted on this subject over at Dollymix.  I have a post forming in my head on tips on how to host more generally - feel like I've learned a lot about this over the last few years when I've been regularly hosting.  Stay tuned!

Saturday, 19 May 2012


I have a friend who has been telling me for years that it's not that hard to make your own pastry but, somehow, I never really believed her. It always seemed like something that only 50s housewives would do. But, actually, it is quite easy. Also, I have extremely cold hands and this is about the only thing that I have ever found that helpful for so I sort of think that it's something I should therefore do.
Grated butter and flour
Grated butter and flour

Grated butter and flour
Grated butter and flour
I found a basic recipe for pastry somewhere and have been using it ever since:  275g plain flour, 225g butter, pinch of salt.  You put the butter in the freezer for about half an hour before you want to start.  Then you put the flour in a bowl, grate the butter into it (quickly, well, that's what the original recipe said, because I have ultra cold hands, the butter really doesn't melt on them and I can kind of take my time!), then gently mix the butter into the flour and gradually add cold water until it becomes dough-like.
You can wrap it by alternating strips
Or you can wrap it up like a parcel
All wrapped up like a parcel

Wrap in clingfilm and put in the fridge for about half an hour.  Then roll it out till it's about 3 or 4 mm thick, put some filling in it, wrap it up, put it in the oven at around 200 degrees for about 30 minutes.  If you glaze it by brushing beaten egg over it, it looks prettier.

Ready made pastry is still a glorious invention and I won't stop buying it for the times when I just can't be bothered to make my own but it does genuinely taste better when you make it yourself and it's actually not that time consuming to make.  I'd say it's only about 20 minutes worth of actual effort (and some freezer and fridge time.)

I have tried out a few fillings.  Last time I made pies, I made two, one spinach, broad bean and feta using the filling from this Nigel Slater recipe.  And mushroom, chestnut and stilton pie from my own invention.  I just kind of made it up but, roughly, what I did was:  slice up some mushrooms quite thickly, fry them up with some sliced garlic, add some chopped chestnuts, fry it for a bit longer, then add some salt, black pepper, parsley and stilton at the end.  Pretty damn good.

Spinach, broad bean and feta filling
Spinach, broad bean and feta filling
Mushroom, chestnut and stilton filling

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Roasted tomatoes, inspired by Nigel Slater

Nigel Slater's Kitchen Diaries has a couple of recipes that involve halving then baking tomatoes with olive oil, a bit of garlic, and chopped fresh herbs on top.  All well and good, I thought, but not enough garlic.  This is quite a frequent thought, I have.  I love garlic and so do tomatoes.  How to get more garlic into this dish?  I decided that the way forward was to try slicing some garlic and then sliding it into the tomatoes.  It works rather well and you end up with lovely roasted tomatoes with little bits of roasted garlic inside them.  I recommend having some bread to mop up the juice with.

Mmm, tomatoes
Putting garlic into tomatoes
Putting garlic into tomatoes

Tomatoes ready to go into the oven

Recipe:  slice tomatoes in half, slide bits of garlic into tomatoes, drizzle with olive oil, fresh herbs (I think parsley and/or rosemary stand up better to baking than basil, myself, but it's up to you - I've also used coriander before as I am more likely to have it in the house and that also works), a little bit of balsamic vinegar, salt and lots of black pepper, bake for about half an hour or until they look tasty.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

cookbook review: Rachel Allen's Bake

I love taking cookbooks out of the library because it gives me a chance to test them out before committing to buying them. I'm glad I took this one out before buying it because it didn't really work for me.   I took it out to try the peanut butter and white chocolate blondie recipe as my lovely husband loves baked goods, peanut butter and white chocolate, so it sounded like a winner all round. 
Peanut butter and white chocolate blondie
They were nice but they weren't nearly squidgy enough to be called "blondies" which I think of as the white chocolate equivalent of brownies - they were more like cake - and the cooking instructions were rather unclear.   They didn't need anything like as much time as the recipe suggested but we were a bit indecisive about when to take them out because the instructions were so vague, "almost firm in the centre" isn't - in my view - desperately helpful.

I also tried the soda bread recipe.  One of our friends invited us over for dinner a while back and made soda bread and I was filled with envy watching her do it by eye (also she added garlic to it which was yummy) that I've been meaning to try soda bread ever since.  It's fun to make and pretty quick and easy.  I think I'll be making it again. 
Soda bread with coriander

But probably using live yogurt instead of buttermilk, as suggested by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall as I usually have that on hand, and maybe rye flour as I have some to use up.  Am also quite tempted to make it in scone form with black pepper and cheddar cheese.  Mmm.  Anyway, I wasn't wildly impressed with Rachel Allen's recipe.

Despite saying in the blurb, that this is made every day in her kitchen, the recipe tells you that you need somewhere between 350 and 425 ml of buttermilk.  

Soda bread with coriander
This is quite unhelpful for a few reasons.  Firstly, if you don't have actual buttermilk but are doing the lemon juice in normal milk thing, do you make 350ml and then make extra if you need it?  Or do you make 425ml and potentially waste some of it (I hate wasting food)?  Also, if you make this everyday, surely you can be a bit more precise here!

As someone who'd never made soda bread before, I wasn't entirely sure what the dough should look like so I wound up (I think) making the dough too liquidy due to the lack of direction on the amount of buttermilk necessary.

The bread itself actually turned out ok, though, I think it could have been better with less buttermilk.  I put coriander in it (she suggests that you can put in rosemary, sage, thyme, chives, parsley or lemon balm but coriander was what I had on hand) and it was really nice and fragrant. 

I'm not a terribly confident baker, though, so perhaps that's why the book wasn't a good fit for me.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Mexican restaurants in London

Unlike most British people, I've had quite a lot of exposure to Mexican food, as I have visited Arizona frequently over the years due to having family there.  Unfortunately, Britain has not generally been good for Mexican food but that's slowly been changing over the years.

I've sampled a few Mexican restaurants in London so I thought I'd do a quick round up of them. Short version:  go to Lupita.  It is awesome.

I've been to the Wahaca on Wardour Street a few times.  It has some interesting vegetarian options, I especially like their vegetarian main course salad, and the fact that they experiment with interesting combinations, such as lancashire cheese and black bean.  They put the same degree of creativity into their vegetarian options as the rest of the menu which is really nice.  They also have a really interesting drinks menu - various types of tequila are perhaps to be expected but they also have some Mexican non-alcoholic drinks that are interesting and a bit different to what you would normally get at a Mexican restaurant.

They lose points for me for other things though: atmosphere - the place is incredibly noisy and not all that comfortable);  and the fact that they bring the food to you at random intervals, which they claim is about the authentic street food experience (um, wouldn't that involve an actual street?) but seems to me to be more about laziness about co-ordinating things in the kitchen, I love tapas/mezze style eating but not when it's forced on me and I don't get any choice about what dish comes when.

Because it's geographically quite handy for me, I've also been to Tortilla on Southwark Street a few times.  It's a nice place to go if you're after a relatively cheap and cheerful meal in the area - two of you can have a burrito each and a pitcher of (very tasty) margaritas for around £20 which is pretty good value in London.

I went to Mestizo for Sunday lunch a few months ago as they do an all you can eat lunch, with as much wine and beer as you like, and that seemed like a good idea.  It wasn't.  The food was ok - though the vegetarian offerings were more minimal than the website suggested - but the main issue was that the service was pretty surly, we had the strong impression that they resented us for not being Mexican and we got significantly worse service than anyone else there.

I've been to La Perla on Charlotte Street a couple of times.  The vegetarian options aren't terribly exciting but they are well executed and it has a tequila flight which is nice for those of us who haven't had a chance to try much nice tequila.  It's a pretty nice all rounder, the only reason why I wouldn't go there more often is because it's not Lupita and Lupita is only a short walk away.

On that note, Lupita, on Villiers Street is, hands down, my favourite Mexican restaurant in London. The food is delicious, with many and varied interesting vegetarian options.  I'm a particular fan of the "Chicharron de Queso" which is essentially a thin piece of deep fried cheese.  Nothing wrong with that!  Last time I went with a vegetarian friend and we had the vegetarian platter for two which, at £18.50, is quite expensive but gives you an extraordinary amount of very nice food.  The margaritas are also very very good.  The only real downside to Lupita is that the atmosphere isn't great - it's crammed full of tables and is quite noisy.  The downstairs is a bit quieter but still not great.  Given the food, though, I don't care!

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Barley, tomato, feta and garlic risotto - Ottolenghi recipe

This is how much garlic goes in!
I've been meaning to try pearl barley risotto for a while now and, last week, the bag of barley that I bought started guilt tripping me with its forlorn stare so I had a quick google for a recipe and came up with this one from Ottolenghi whose recipes I generally enjoy.  Any recipe that starts with two whole heads of garlic is good with me.

Seriously, you actually put this much in!
It was amazing.  I can see why Ottolenghi initially intended it to be a stuffing as it's extremely intense.  It kind of tastes more like tomatoes than actual tomatoes do.  Admittedly, some of its intensity may have been down to the fact that I put three times the amount of a little more paprika, chilli and black pepper that was suggested.  I am totally making this again.  Once I've stocked up on garlic.


Once everything has been added in
Tomatoes, garlic, feta, coriander, what is not to like?!

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Lebanese food Friday

It's my lovely husband's day to cook on Fridays, and he decided to try Foul Mudammas from this recipe, halloumi (Asda sell chilli halloumi which is awesome), hummus (that I prepared earlier in the week) and pitta. 

 Due to a slight lack of clarity in the recipe, he didn't add the cooking water from the beans which meant that it was a bit more solid than intended but still lovely.  I am always amazed at the amount of flavour you can get from lemon juice, parsley, olive oil, salt and black pepper.

Foul Mudammas
Foul Mudammas
Mmmm, halloumi!
Mmmm, halloumi!

Saturday, 5 May 2012

A couple more articles I read this week

An interesting article from The Independent on the science behind flavour.  The thing that I found most interesting from it was the sections about how we perceive things to taste differently based on how they're described and on how they are presented (their example was coffee in a flimsy cup Vs coffee in a proper cup).  I think this most often happens to me on holiday - like most people, I've had the experience of trying an amazing local liqueur on holiday, bringing it back only to find that it doesn't taste the same at home.  Somehow everything tastes lovely in Italy or France when the sun is shining and your wine glass is full.

On that note, another article from The Independent on the differences between the way that French children are treated more as adults in the food department and encouraged to try different things than British children tend to be.  My (East African Indian) family was much more similar to the French in this sense than the British.  I still find the concept of "childrens' food" somewhat bizarre.  Growing up, the norm was for children to eat whatever the adults ate but, if needed, with a different balance - e.g. if they were struggling with the spiciness of a curry, they'd be encouraged to add more yoghurt or rice or use more bread, but not to eat something totally different.

In particular, I notice huge differences in the realm of vegetable eating.  British and American parents often seem to treat vegetables as "medicine" - "it's good for you, eat it" or "I've hidden it in some cheese, eat it".  Growing up in my extended family, vegetables were just food.  They were an integral part of the meal, not something shoved to the side.  I also think that the article picks up on something important when it talks about mealtimes/snacks - I grew up with the idea that you ate at mealtimes, not between meals, unless there was a special reason to do so.  Mealtimes, sitting down, with a proper plate and utensils and proper food, all of that changes how the food tastes, bringing it back to the first article's point in some ways.

Also, between meal eating is a major reason why we are becoming more obese.  According to an analysis of USDA food consumption data by David Cutler at Harvard University, 90 percent of the increase in calorie consumption in men in the United States since 1977 has come from between-meal eating. For women, it's 112 percent -- calories from meals have actually gone down. (Journal of Economic Perspectives "Why have Americans Become More Obese?" Page 101), via the No S diet page

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Places I love in London: L'art Du Fromage

I was going to do some kind of list of "my favourite five restaurants in London" or some such but then I got indecisive about how to rank them and it all seemed needlessly numerical. So, as the mood strikes me, I'll write about my favourite places to eat and drink in London.

Today, L'art du Fromage.  I know I said I wasn't going to get numerical about this but this might well be my favourite restaurant in London.

I first went there during their opening week, when I spotted it on the "new restaurants" page of London Eating.  I've been back at regular intervals, so regular that the staff recognise me, I've taken various friends there and, every time I visit, I love it more.

The lovely co-owners, photo from The Guardian
It's a French restaurant focussed on cheese.  I could just stop there because, frankly, that was all it took to get me there the first time!  But that's not all it is, it's not a restaurant with a gimmick, it's fundamentally one of those lovely places that you find in France so often where they keep it simple but stylish:  the d├ęcor is all warm wood, it's comfortable but still feels special, the staff are attentive but calm and unobtrusive, the wine list is carefully chosen, and - crucially - the food is delicious.  If you like cheese, the place also smells terrific.

I often have the Bleu D'Avergne fondue (which is mysteriously not on the menu on the website but there when you go in person), like all the fondues, you can get as much as you like - including switching to a different type of fondue - and they serve it with a flourish, setting some brandy alight and pouring it in.  I've tried all the fondues (I did say that I've been there a lot!) and, while they are all delicious, the Bleu D'Avergne is the one I always come back to - it's just the most interesting of them and the one that I suspect would be hardest to re-create at home.  I have also had various of the cheeseboards - the only real difference between them is how much of the tasty cheese you want.  They are all beautifully presented and with a real attention to detail - every single cheese is clearly handpicked and is at exactly the right stage for eating.  Sometimes, you'll order a cheese board at a restaurant, even a good restaurant, and find that - say - the brie isn't quite ripe enough or the camembert is disappointingly ungooey.  That does not happen at L'Art du Fromage.  Ever.

I think the only negative thing I can find at all to say about the place is that, location-wise, it's a bit of a faff to get to - it's about as far from a tube station as you can possibly get in central London, but it is on a couple of convenient bus routesAlso, the location stops me from spending ALL MY MONEY ON CHEESE.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

A couple of articles I read this week

I read a couple of interesting articles on Indian vegetarian food this week.  Very different, though!

The first was an utterly charming restaurant review from the Telegraph on their restaurant critic's visit to the vegetarian restaurant in Neasden Temple.  So nice to see the food of my childhood/family described so well.  I thoroughly recommend to anyone who likes Indian food or vegetarian food a trip up to the many delightful Gujarati restaurants in North London. 

The second was an article about "food fascism" in India and the covert way that people eat beef.  I'm not quite sure what to make of it.  On the one hand, I am firmly in favour of secularism and I don't approve of imposing your religious beliefs on other people.  But I do agree with a couple of comments that make the point that, somehow, Hindu beliefs about beef and meat in general just don't get taken as seriously as Muslim or Jewish food beliefs.  The tone of things "holy cow" in inverted commas and saying things like "vegetarianism in India is a load of bull" is just not like the sort of tone that gets taken when Jews talk about keeping kosher or Muslims talk about halal.