Sunday, 27 March 2011

oeufs en cocotte

'ouefs en cocotte' is a classic french dish and is named after the dish in which it is cooked. ouefs en cocotte are perfect for individual eats as an egg is cooked in a ramekin. you can customise the egg by adding veggies and some kind of creamy or rich element like butter, a full fat soft cheese like boursin or cream. i wanted something light with a colour profile that says spring - soft yellow yolks paired with something green, so i choose to include some grated courgettes sweated in a little bit of olive oil. for seasoning i added a bit of paprika although i imagine a bit of the iranian spice sumac would add a nice tartness and some flaky salt. 


spuntino is a cosmopolitan sophisticated diner. it is also the intersection at which new york meets london. it’s façade is almost industrial and is somewhat incongruous in the middle of the gritty sexiness of soho. that industrial theme is felt inside as well with high ceilings and earthy tones giving this otherwise small space a feel of openness. credit definitely goes to nifty utilisation of space! there is a rectangular u-shaped bar seating that seats around twenty people and a small table in one corner. we were lucky to beat the queue by about fifteen minutes as the pace started to pick up around half six.

Friday, 25 March 2011


trying to eat dinner on a friday night in soho without out having to queue for at least half an hour is virtually impossible. o and i tried byron, busaba, wahaca and dong san in poland street but with no luck. eventually i dived into the nearest newsagent to get a snack whilst o called up colbeh to see how long the wait would be. it was a curt phone call that ended in no luck there either. at this point o was ready to give up and go home but i wasn't. i was thinking of places where we could eat in islington when o suddenly suggested goodge street. 

we did a quick recce of charlotte street and goodge street eventually settling on koba. we were seated promptly after being told that we had our table till half nine. koba is bare simplicity and the staff are excellent and attentive. we started with dehydrated hand wipes. the tiny capsule sized compressed napkin grew about an inch in hot water after which we used it to clean our hands. 

my fondness for korean food is recent. i first ate it when my dad introduced me to it in pakistan in the late nineties and at that point i didn't take to the mix of sweet and salty or to the sharpness of pickle and the heavy slick of garlic that some dishes have. now i love trying it and wish i had someone to talk me through the cuisine and where i can find authentic korean in london. 

i picked a pajeon to start with. it is best described as a thick pancake made with rice flour, green onions and sea food. koba's pajeon came piping hot and had a light melt in the mouth texture. there was a generous amount of shrimp in it. the dipping sauce that came with it was slightly sweet. o and i polished this of rather quickly. 

i had japchae as my entree as i love noodles. the noodles in japchae are made of sweet potato cornstarch and are the colour of glass when cooked. texturally, they are slightly chewy. i love the meeting of sweet and savoury in this dish with a hint of sesame and the crunch of vegetable. the thinly sliced beef made it quite substantial. o had one of the bibimbaps which came in a hot stone bowl and was given a furious stir by our waiter when o agreed to some chilli. 

on the side o had beer whilst i had ginger tea which aside from being liberally sweetened with honey was made even more interesting with the addition of some pine nuts in it. i'd definitely like to come back to koba but the next time for the bulgogi and korean barbecue.

for dessert o and i popped into yog. this was to make up for o's snog craving which he had been deprived of since we couldn't find a place to eat in soho. we had the pom yog as there was no chocolate yog. i have to say i had to search for the flavour of pomegranate which to me was evident only in the pale purple-pink tint of the yoghurt. it tasted more like a plain frozen yoghurt to me and if i think of it as such it was good, especially with the chocolate coated seeds. 

whitecross street market

go was in classes second week of march to prepare for his cfa (chartered financial analyst) exam. his version of the acronym is much less kosher as it involves expletives and rude terms. his classes take place in the city near moorgate. the monday that he started was commonwealth day. as this is a privilege holiday for me i decided to meet my other half at whitecross street market for lunch.  by half past noon the street was full of professionals standing in long queues waiting to be served for lunch. there is quite a wide choice - vegetarian, indian, mexican, italian, spanish and middle eastern to name a few. i was quite tempted by the venison steak sandwiches. although i told o he should go ahead and get whatever he wanted to he decided to have the same. i sometimes don't understand why he lands up having things that he isn't very keen on. he doesn't like sandwiches or anything un-toasted. he much prefers hot things. 

making a basic white spelt loaf

spring has arrived. everywhere i go trees are breaking into blossoms. last weeks shy wavy green stalks have broken into yellow and buttercup daffodils. below them in ranks are the snow crocuses. up near highbury the magnolia blossom trees have little white buds. soon they will be in bloom too. i could smell freshly cut grass in the air in the morning. 

spring is my favourite time of the year in london. it erases the length and despair of winter. so much so that sometimes i forget that there could have been those incredibly short days. this year i have seen spring in a different way. a yoga teacher of mine (way back in november) said to me that we must look upon winter as a hibernation, as a time for resting and recharging because come spring we all emerge into a dance of life. there was something about the connections she made between the seasons and concepts of rest and rejuvenation that have made this spring so much more.

today made me happy. 
it made me want to make something basic and simple. 
it made me want to bake bread. 
believe it or not i have never baked bread myself. i have done so with my mum when i was a little girl but once i moved out i never managed to get round to it. i guess part of it was the magic of baking bread with mum. i miss helping her cook. i miss the smell of yeast dough. and i miss the little knotted french rolls that she would make effortlessly. i figured in the spirit of spring i should bake and start a new memory.

i had thirty two to myself as o is out so working in silence i mixed together white spelt flour, salt, sugar, yeast, water and oil to make a basic loaf. kneading the dough reminded me of reading m k fisher who wrote '[breadmaking is] one of those almost hypnotic businesses, like a dance from some ancient ceremony. it leaves you filled with one of the world's sweetest smells... there is no chiropractic treatment, no yoga exercise, no hour of 
meditation in a music-throbbing chapel that will leave you emptier of bad thoughts than this homely ceremony of making bread." 
i couldn't agree more.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

chickpeas in star anise and date masala

i came across a recipe for chickpeas in star anise and date masala on the new york times. the combination of spices (cumin, cayenne, cardamom, star anise and black pepper with dates) is to me quite unusual. the star-cum-flower like shape of star anise makes it one of the prettiest spices. i love the strong piney and aniseed smell of it but am hesitant to use it because of the strength of its flavour, particularly the strong liquorice notes. so when i saw the recipe above i figured i'd give it a go and see what it is like. 

the eight pointed flower shaped star anise
i had to substitute the cayenne for paprika which worked just as well with the other spices. o and i ate it with seeded bread and some yoghurt on the side. both of us liked it and i was surprised at how much the masala mellowed the sweet dates. i had thought that the dish would have been much sweeter but the dates basically blunted the spices as if i had added a tablespoon of date molasses instead. next time i made this i am serving it with a slightly thinned down yoghurt with a little lemon and some naan bread. or it would be really nice for brunch with a poached or fried egg. 

Saturday, 12 March 2011

good bread -

julia child apparently once asked 'how can a nation be great if its bread tastes like kleenex?' it seems to me that more often than not we settle for eating bread that tastes like 'kleenex' [metaphorically speaking of course since i've never tried kleenex and am not inclined to either]. mediocre bread has become a part of our 'on-the-go' lives. the other day i had a pret sandwich after a long long time and the bread tasted like card board. that's the problem with eating good bread. you get spoilt and then you don't want to eat card-board with a strange soggy texture in the centre and a slightly dry crust.

i try, as much as possible to buy fresh organic bread. we don't have an artisan bakery in our neighbourhood so i try to pick bread up from euphorium in angel when i am around upper street. on saturday after a leisurely brunch at gail's exmouth market i brought home some sour dough. o and i were going to the eight fifty showing for 'the adjustment bureau' and since we usually have popcorn at the cinema the sour dough was just the right thing to have for an early dinner.

i baked thick slices of ricotta after frying it lightly in olive oil and made a quick cherry tomato jam. there was left over butternut squash which i had roasted with a little salt, a sprinkle of sugar and some olive oil. the thickly sliced lightly toasted sour dough was the star of the dinner. 

to make my quick cherry tomato jam you will need:
a five hundred gram punnet of washed cherry/plum tomatoes 
three tablespoons of olive oil
three tablespoons of demerara sugar
three tablespoons of balsamic vinegar
half teaspoon of salt
teaspoon of kirmizi biber * [these are turkish red chili flakes made by rubbing red chilies with olive oil and then roasting them until they are brick red. i love sharp and smoky heat of these].

combine all the ingredients in a shallow roasting tin and place in a two hundred degree oven for twenty to twenty five minutes until the skins of the tomatoes are blistered. once this is done transfer the tomatoes with their juices to a pan and reduce to the consistency of a preserve. this jam has an sharp quick from both the tart tomatoes and chili along. the sugar and vinegar combines to a dark caramel note. it tasted really good with the very mild ricotta and butternut squash! 

gail's artisan bakery

over the last couple of months, i have been to exmouth market a fair bit. there is something quite charming about this little street. during the day there is the calm bustle of people shopping in independent stores like family tree and bagman and robbin. i particularly love the bookshop clerkenwell tales which reminds me of the intimacy of small bookshops that my mum and i frequented when i still lived at home in pakistan. i love the smell of paper and ink and the feel of the spine of books. that probably explains why although i can see the reason for buying a kindle (especially if you are commuting on the tube), i still have not ordered one. 

Thursday, 10 March 2011

gilak: northern iranian

zolbia bamyeh
spring is hesitant to arrive this year. we are in the first week of march and the temperature is still in single digits. although there are daffodils appearing in parks and peoples garden patches they aren't in full bloom yet. with weather like this o and i want food that warms and comforts, with a little spring on its palette. and iranian food ticks all these boxes, especially the deep yellow of saffron which is like the colour of a low setting late summer sun. we have been meaning to try gilak for a while now especially since it had been mentioned to me by an iranian cabbie and strangely an iranian dentist. so o and i took the four up to archway on a cold so-called spring night. there isn’t much to say about gilak’s interior except that the ceiling decorations (folds of net draped in what i am sure is meant to be artistic but looked more like a childish version of a persian fantasy with little christmas baubles hanging from it) were peculiar. 

o must always have mast-o-khair (yoghurt with chopped cucumber, garlic and mint). i usually like to try something new and so picked the kale kabab ( smoked aubergine, garlic, herbs, walnuts and sour pomegranate juice). this didn’t turn out to be as good as i had thought as the garlic bullied the subtle oily nuttiness of the walnuts and the tang of the pomegranate juice. the aubergine however was well smoked with a woody smoky aroma. the flat bread was a tad bit disappointing as its thinness rendered it crisp rather than the leavened bread at colbeh or patogh. i know that o didn’t take to it much.

a lover of all things grilled o predictably chose the chellow kebab koobideh. this always amuses me as he claims he doesn’t like lamb but always ends up eating it at iranian restaurants. i felt like stew and ordered the khoresht fesenjan. i have always been curious as to why in some entrees rice is chellow and in others polo. it turns out that chellow is rice which is steamed separately and over which kebab’s or sauces are served. polo rice is closer to a pilaf or pulao in that other ingredients are incorporated into the rice whilst it is being cooked.

the helpings here are very generous. o’s koobideh came with a mound of two-toned rice, white underneath and saffron on top, two slightly charred tomatoes and a small smattering of greens. it never ceases to amaze me as to how much flavour iranian kebab can pack with the simplest of seasonings and good quality meat. the koobideh was delicate and just collapsed in the mouth. my stew had the richness of walnut oil cut by the sour and dry fruitiness of the pomegranate juice. the chicken itself fell of the bone with a mere nudge of my fork. and the chellow was perfect. there is nothing that pleases me more than perfectly cooked rice with saffron. if i had to, i could eat only that for dinner.

despite all the eating and endless cups of sweetened persian tea, o and i decided that we must have dessert. and for the first time his choice was better than mine. he ordered the bastani – saffron ice-cream with pistachio’s and i for some silly reason chose not to order the recommended reshte khoskhar (a traditional sweet from northern iran ) and went for the zolbia bamyeh instead. there wasn’t anything wrong with them and infact they reminded me of the gelabi’s that i ate as a child. swirls of batter fried in hot oil and then dipped in sugar syrup. i would have liked to have a dominant note of rose water. and the saffron was conspicuously absent in both colour and spirit.

there will definitely be a next time at gilak. but one that doesn’t end on the sugar rush of zolbia bamyeh. 

Gilak on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

la fromagerie

toasted granary with farmhouse butter, smoked 
cheddar and waterloo
number thirty-two was bread-less on sunday. so instead of running out and getting some we decided to brunch out instead at la fromagerie. the la fromagerie has a tasting cafe. the one at the highbury location has a concise menu and the best cafetiere coffee. o and i started out with the coffee over the observer [reading the newspaper here is a bit of a navigational nightmare with all the cups and cutlery and breakfast].

o had a bagel with smoked salmon. i had slices of toasted granary with strawberry preserves and seville orange marmalade. the marmalade was excellent with a sharp edge and slightly acid sweetness. o and i also spilt some cheese - he chose a lovely smoked cheddar and waterloo. the waterloo is texturally similar to brie but much milder and less creamy.

i love the fact that la fromagerie has so much attention to detail. the coffee and tea cups are warm to touch and even the simplest things like bread, preserves and butter are served in a pleasing way... 

La Fromagerie on Urbanspoon