Monday, 25 August 2008

the breakfast chronicles; balans soho

breakfast martini
i and i have a breakfast ritual that often gets subsumed in the chaos of daily life.

every so often we defy our schedules and meet - this time it was to celebrate the completion of i's final dissertation draft. however finding the right place proved more challenging than i had thought. i'd been craving eggs...scrambled ones. a forty-five minute web trawl and a dedicated breakfast blog later (that's london review of breakfasts) i had found a place.

balans has a pretty extensive breakfast menu including classics like the full english, omelets and benedicts. there were also pancake stacks and french toast for which we had no space. i had to construct my breakfast - scrambled eggs with a side of field mushrooms and grilled tomatoes. that's the only downside, they don't have a veggie breakfast. i landed up with the eggs benedict which she enjoyed. i have to admit that for a busy place balans scrambled eggs were really good. the real treat for both us were the bloody mary and breakfast martini. as someone who isn't particularly keen on bloody mary's take it from me when i say it was good. the breakfast martini finished off on a nice rounded taste of bitter marmalade and like its counterpart cocktail was really good. we've already earmarked the pancakes and french toast for a return visit. but meanwhile if you are in a mood for eggs i'd say give balans a try. 

Sunday, 24 August 2008

the nordic bakery - once again

i am back at the nordic bakery.
this time with h. this was a the ultimate sugar rush brunch because aside.
aside from a cinnamon bun each h decided we should sample the oatmeal cookies that were sitting in front of the till, still warm from the oven. definitely made with lots of butter because they had spread themselves thin. their edges were dark and crisp and they were studded with whole hazelnut and chocolate chips.i haven't always seen them around so if you happen to visit and you do see them, do have them. they are well worth the calories
in any case, if happiness had an index to measure it it would be the calorie.
if all else fails remember
weekend calories don't count
(at least that's what a very close friend of mine told me!)

the photographers' gallery cafe

i collect cafes. especially independent ones that don't have replicas sprouting up on every high-street. the photographers' gallery cafe has high ceilings and a linear seating made up square tables joined together to form a rectangle that cuts through the centre of the room. the walls, spotlit always have something interesting to offer. i am here to write my dissertation. i love writing at cafes. it gets my creativity going. it's got to do with the people and the space as well. there is the sporadic sound of the coffee machine. i had tea, not the best earl grey ever but my thick slice of lemon cake was sheer perfection. there was the sharp clean scent of citrus, a hint of grated zest and the whole thing just melted on the tongue. there is a nice selection of cakes (which made it hard to choose), apparently all supplied by Jo's who makes them at home. and there are also sandwiches which i haven't tried yet. however judging by the cake it's unlikely that the experience will be disappointing.

Thursday, 21 August 2008

from the kitchen of 90, highbury and islington

cooking for people who love eating is always a pleasure. last night we did just that and it was very much a communal enterprise. i and i with the help of s and e threw together a rather successful meal that was accompanied by lots of cold citrusy white wine, laughter and fantastic conversation. dinner was… parcels of foil baked haddock accompanied by a new potato salad tossed in a generous glug of olive oil with flecks of fresh dill and dijion mustard. pan-fried asparagus rubbed with olive oil and placed on a bed of finely chopped garlic to flavor it spinach sautéed in olive oil in which i had fried plump cloves of garlic and then sprinkled some balsamic over there was also a large round of bread cut and spread thickly with garlic butter (press garlic through a garlic press or pound in a mortar and pestle, then combine with butter. you can add some dried herbs if you fancy) which we wrapped in foil and put into the oven for a good twenty minutes, at the same time as the fish was baking.

we finished of on a fruity note with grilled peaches that i basted with a syrup that was made of honey and balsamic vinegar warmed slightly over the stove for the two of them to mix together. they were served with greek yoghurt lightly sweetened with honey. there were also red red strawberries tossed with whole leaves of fresh mint, a liberal sprinkle of sugar and a couple of tablespoons of balsamic vinegar. 

the final note of the evening was fresh coffee served in large white cups 

i must admit that for me the best part of the evening was the time spent in the kitchen with i, chopped, washing, cleaning and cooking. we got substantial attention from the host and lots of help in putting everything together. m in particular had a field day mixing coin sized thick slices of new potatoes with olive oil, mustard and dill. there was much picture taking of the food as well as smelling of herbs that had been chopped. of course the garlic chopping was shied away from by the boys and i really didn’t want to have i chop garlic when she was all dolled up and looking lovely in a red dress. 

the food itself was thoroughly enjoyed (and no i am not making that up). i think the only leftover’s we had were the potatoes.

here are the recipes
for the fish 
get fresh fillets of haddock (one per person)
preheat oven to a hundred and eighty degrees celsius. 
place a fillet on a piece of foil large enough to wrap and seal it in
baste the fish with olive oil, sprinkle liberally with fresh dill (parsley works really well too)
grind some pepper and salt on to it 
top with a thick ring of lemon

fold the foil over and then seal the edges to make sure none of the juice escapes during baking. 
bake for twenty minutes of when the fish flakes easily

the new potato salad
boil new potatoes in generously salted water (they should be firm, don’t over do them)
cut into thick slices and when still warm toss with a liberal amount of olive oil, dijion mustard and lots of freshly cut dill.

pan fried asparagus spears
wash spears and then do away with the woody bit of stem at the end
rub with olive oil and toss with some finely chopped garlic

heat a frying pan with a little bit of oil until it is smoking hot
then lay the spears on and fry for five to seven minutes
season with a sprinkling of balsamic right before you tip them out of the pan

sautéed spinach with whole cloves of garlic
wash and roughly chop up the spinach leaves (you can use baby spinach if you like)

in a wok heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and sauté whole cloves of garlic until they caramelize. 
then toss in the spinach leaves and let them wilt 
(the leaves should retain the brightness of their color. don’t over cook or you’ll lose the flavor)

Sunday, 17 August 2008

a food filled saturday

the large window at nordic bakery
i did a walkabout london yesterday with a friend who is visiting from back home. soho revealed a host of new places to sample. in between i had a quick lunch at 
flat white. it’s a tiny café on berwick street with a very distinct vibe and a really dense smell of coffee. lunch was bite sized pieces of baked butternut and grilled mozzarella with a generous amount of caramelized onion chutney, sandwiched between two slices of crusty well toasted white bread. i finished of with the trade mark flat-white which bore a perfect fern in its foam top (just in case a flat white is an antipodean style coffee which is served as a strong shot of espresso served in a small cup with textured milk). a short walk (including a walk-out of maison bertaux) owing to indecision over dessert and my friend’s craving for cinnamon buns we landed up at the nordic bakery.

golden arches for the sophisti-cat

Saturday, 16 August 2008

the d-i-y breakfast chronicles

jamie oliver calls it pukkola, it’s sold in grocery aisles as muesli, there is the soaked version called bircher muesli but whatever the name it is a brekkie food that i absolutely love. so here’s a home grown recipe. part of it is inspired by my mum and part of is my own addition. i am not particularly pushed with the measurements just because you can make it bulk and when you serve it’s really up to you how much you can tuck into and what consistency you like…
 making it…
two cups of pinhead/steel-cut oats (or rolled oats with do. i prefer the texture of steel-cut /pinhead oats)
a generous handful of pumpkin or sunflower seeds
a generous handful of nuts – almonds hazelnuts pecan nuts (basically whatever you fancy)
a handful of plump raisins
some chopped dates or apricots
i like to dry roast my oats which is; preheat your oven to 325 degrees farenheit/160 degrees centigrade. spread the mixture of oats, nuts & fruit on a baking tray and roast for 5-7 minutes. be sure to stir in between as you don’t want the oats to burn. the oats should turn a light golden brown color. once that is done mix in the dry fruit and store in an airtight container.
putting it together & eating it
try and let the oats soak over night. it really does wonders for the texture. i like to soak mine in organic apple juice or milk. spoon out a measure of oats that works for you into a ceramic bowl. cover with apple juice or milk, cling wrap and put in the fridge. in the morning pull out the bowl of soaked oats and add milk or yoghurt to loosen up.
for the final touch here are a couple of ideas.
a couple of tablespoons of rachels organic yoghurt
a table spoon of runny honey
a mashed banana
grated apple
summer berries that leave streaks of color when stirred with a spoon

Sunday, 10 August 2008

cold courgette and ricotta tart

sometimes life gets so busy that i forget the joys of cooking, experimenting, impressing my non-foodie friends with my modest culinary abilities. but one day, all of a sudden, i remember how nice it can be to spend a whole afternoon in the kitchen, covering every available surface with flour, onion peels and milk stains, leaving chocolate smears on barely used cookbooks and filling the house with clashing scents of fried peppers and sprinkled cinnamon.

a little over a week ago i had one of these revelations and therefore decided to invite a random friend over to taste my very authentic, if not very traditional, italian cuisine. as i hadn't done it in a while, it took me a good couple of hours and a bunch of useless conversations to decide on the menu. the result was quite bizarre, a strange combination of grandma's winter dishes and summery picnic foods, with my mum's stuffed peaches as an eccentric conclusion. however, the dinner seemed to be appreciated by the guests (and the flatmate who ate the leftovers), so i thought i would share the recipe for the ever-successful cold courgette and ricotta tart.

as finding the right ingredients for an italian recipe is sometimes more difficult in england than in mozambique (i.e. finding them at an affordable price), i immediately gave up on the idea of courgette's flowers. if you find some, chop them up and add them to four sliced courgettes which need to be sauté in a shallow pan with a moderate amount of (extravirgin) olive oil.

on the side, mix 250 grams of ricotta (that's easy enough to find, thanks god), with two tablespoons of grated parmesan, 100 grams of feta cheese, an egg, a pinch of salt and abundant nutmeg. once the courgettes are ready, mix everything together, pour the mixture in an oiled baking pan, sprinkle with pine nuts (don't give up on them, they are the key) and bake at 200°c until brown on top...depending on your oven, consider at least 15-20 minutes. as the name of the dish suggests, this tart is better served cold, so prepare it early...

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

books for cooks and more

books for cooks 
i wrote this at the beginning on two thousand and seven. mum and i had a week in london. this is the story of one saturday in notting hill. after circuitous walk around portobello – lost in stalls stacked high with retro curios, antiques of dubious antiquity, books and compact discs. and having been rained down on and bought umbrella’s for three quid each later mum and i finally stumbled upon books for cooks

a bookshop dedicated to chefs complete with a cramped and cozy café at the tail end, serving up the days cooking at the classes conducted on the floor above. i tucked into a pear honey & polenta cake with a side of yeo valley’s organic yoghurt with a swirl of warm chocolate sauce out of a pan that sat on the hob. i’ve always had this fascination for polenta. it’s something about the texture – the feel of it on the tongue melting but with a soft grittiness, much like the semolina that mama used to make for me as a child. the bookshop itself is a tiny space lined to the ceiling with shelves with book upon book detailing food… the ABC of food – it’s origins – how to cook – when to cook what – culinary dictionaries and what-not

a little further up the road are melt and ottolenghi two places that i had bookmarked. melt has much to do with my new found passion for sea salt caramels. i’m not sure why but sea salt does something more to enhance the flavor of caramel than regular salt does. on the flight to london, mum and i got bumped up to club on ba and they served the most delicious sea salt caramels from a store somewhere on sloane street which i am hoping to track down on my next trip to London! melt’s charm isn’t only in its sea salt caramels but also in the fact that you can watch chocolate being tempered in the shop!

ottolenghi was white-walled accompanied by white crockery; perfect to emphasize the color of the food. red peppers grilled and splashed with olive oil and dotted with balls of fresh white mozzarella – aubergines bearing lines of the grill tossed with vinaigrette. chocolate tarts dark red brown and dusted with cacao and meringues bright white with streaks of chocolate and berry breaking through. mum and i returned there for breakfast on sunday to enjoy a melt in the mouth frittata and red pepper salad with hunks of sour dough bread, washed down with coffee. we couldn’t resist the meringues and bought one to go, a big mound of egg white. the eating of the meringue returned each of us to our childhoods – making us look like two little girls laughing silly. the center fluffy and sticky – satisfying like the ones we baked when i was a little girl and mum taught me how to beat my egg whites and fold in the vinegar and corn-flour. that shiny mountain of white that would transform into pavlova, crowned with fruit and cream.

one night we landed up at wagamama’s whose spartan décor, conveyer belt handling and quick food still makes me feel good. we tried sake that was served warm and tickled the back of our throats. somewhere in the midst of it all this we managed to visit the food court at selfridges, walking away with a bag of champagne truffles from leonidas that disappeared within seconds. there was the wednesdaysdale cheese sandy from marks and sparks, eaten on the run between getting to places…

kennards good foods [now closed]

kennards good foods
is a delicatessen-cum-grocer on lambs conduit street.
its façade is eggplant and when it’s open fresh fruit and veg sit out front in crates. after having discovered the small space with tables and stools at the back of the shop the three of us have returned as frequently as we can. there was an evening of wine tasting accompanied by a morrocan food demonstration.
a taste of several different reds, whites & rose accompanied by some easy do-it-yourself moroccan creations the three of us friends who were there were more than satisfied…then there was an afternoon lunch where both of us landed up with a crab and butternut lasagna; a combination which i had never tried but worked very well together. best of all was the day spent dissertating. we started off with brekkie – i had by far the best muesli with a creamy thick greek yoghurt. i’s ginger and polenta slice had a sharp tang followed by a buttery pasty and the slight grit of polenta.
needless to say the coffee and tea is truly good. we stood deliberating between the teas stacked neatly in little slots on the counter that separates the eating area from the shop. & we’ve also made friends with the staff. a young friendly brazilian who smiles over our agonizing dilemma’s over what to choose to eat and a young white south african woman who told us much about south africa now. in the window in the seating area are four letters arranged to read
‘L O V E’.
kennards couldn’t have chosen a better way to s-p-e-l-l out there love for all things f-o-o-d.

Monday, 4 August 2008

eternal dissertation

café eterno
there are few places in london where one can study undisturbed for a couple of hours and enjoy decent tea at the same time. at times, starbucks is all that the city offers. but today i picked one of my favourite hidden spots and sat in café eterno for the whole afternoon, sipping delicious chai latte and reading about media and humanitarian interventions. café eterno is "hidden" by the bustling action of covent garden, being superbly located right on neal street. however, even at lunch time on a busy summer day, it is an island of peace. 

the atmosphere recalls south american corner bars, thanks to the comfy couches, coloured walls, mismatched vintage furniture and, above all, the café's slogan "esta revolucion està eterna". however, the revolution promoted by this establishment is not che guevarian, but rather surprisingly christian. a part from the little leaflet that accompanies the menu, however, nothing hints at the link between this cozy, family-run little café and london city mission. so i left my agnostic doubts outside the door and gave in to the pleasant sensation of being in the muffled sitting room of some old grandma with an excellent taste for music.

after regaining some energies thanks to a reasonably-priced mexican/sandwich/salads menu, i spent the afternoon sunk in a welcoming armchair, enjoying the jazz and world music in the background as well as the odd few words exchanged with the chatty and relaxed staff. and it felt a bit like home, only in the middle of london's hectic heart.