Sunday, 27 November 2011

anna maes darn fine southern street food

custard sunshine at primrose hill
it was a perfect sunday with custard sunshine. it has been a strangely warm winter in london so far and there is much to be grateful for. i've been enjoying london's many green spaces carpeted in leaves in their autumnal tones. today, after exploring overcoming challenges through change in yoga class with one of my favourite anusara teachers lisa sanfilippo i had planned to take a short walk up primrose hill to catch some rays of sun and enjoy the view. instead i got caught up in the primrose hill christmas fare. 

a 'fake' birthday with a chocolate guinness cake

o's chocolate  guinness birthday cake
it is k.b.t.'s birthday on fifth december and he (unlike me) is very fortunate to celebrate each growing year with his siblings. this year's celebration came early as one of his siblings  is travelling on his actual birthday. to me there can be no birthday sans cake so i baked a really fudgy and rich guinness chocolate cake. a rather petulant o kept reminding me that it is his fake birthday but that was before he cut and ate his cake. 

guinness chocolate cake has been on my list of cakes to bake for a while. it is to me a perfect birthday cake especially for grown ups. the bitter coffee like flavour of guinness compliments chocolate very well. whilst pales ales tend to lighten stews and batter, stout has the opposite effect by concentrating flavours giving a dense batter. in this chocolate cake the guinness makes the batter bake to give a close fudge texture with a very compact crumb. it has the same effect on chocolate as does espresso but with a sharper and slighter bitter edge. the cream-cheese frosting is therefore the perfect addition as its sweet creaminess balances the cake. nigella captures that relationship between the frosting and the cake as echoing the pale head that sits on top of a glass of stout.

my way of baking the chocolate guinness cake is a combination of gizzi erskine, nigella lawson and the humingbird bakery's recipes for this cake. i borrowed from the hummingbird bakery's recipe the use of buttermilk in the cake batter and the recipe for the cream-cheese frosting. from gizzi's recipe i took the use of chocolate in addition to the cocoa. i also used soft brown sugar in place of caster sugar. my reasons for doing so were confirmed in the final cake. the buttermilk adds an element of lightness and tartness to the batter as opposed to the sour cream called for by both nigella and gizzi. the chocolate along with the cocoa ups the chocolate factor in the cake and the brown sugar has a lesser sweetness than caster sugar allowing the cream-cheese frosting to take centre stage. here's my adapted chocolate guinness cake recipe. i used a deep twenty-one cm cake tin to give the cake more height as i like tall birthday cakes. all three of the original recipes call for a twenty-three cm pan.

250 ml guinness
250 grams unsalted butter
100 grams chocolate (i use menier 70% swiss dark chocolate)
400 grams soft brown sugar
35 grams cacao (i used green and blacks)
2 free range eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
140 ml buttermilk
280 grams plain flour
2 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
a well greased cake-tin (see above for size)

  place the first four ingredients in a saucepan on a very low heat so that they melt together. give the pan an occasional stir to ensure that they are melting evenly. once they have done so remove the pan from the heat, add the cacao and stir through the mixture.

at this stage you can pre-heat the oven to a hundred and eighty degrees celsius. whisk together the eggs, vanilla and buttermilk by hand in a jug or bowl before adding them to the sweet chocolate and beer mixture.

sift the flour and raising agents together into a large mixing bowl. then add the mixture from pan into the flour and whisk by hand just enough to get a smooth batter. your batter will look bubbly and effervescent. pour it into the cake tin and bake for 45 minutes or until a knife inserted in the centre comes out clean.

let the cake cool in the tin before you turn it out. this is quite a damp cake and it make have a tendency to stick to the sides. frost the cake only when it is absolutely cool. 

to make the cream-cheese frosting beat together 50 grams of unsalted butter with 250 grams of icing sugar until the mixture resembles coarse sand. then incorporate 125 grams of full-fat cream-cheese. whatever you do don't scrimp on the full-fat cream-cheese. you need a creamy soft icing for this cake! i frosted the cake in the morning leaving it to have a rough and wavy finish. i am sure gizzi's and nigella's cream-cheese frosting would taste reall good but thought it wouldn't be firm enough as the hummingbird bakery one which is why i chose it.i piped the initials of o's nickname k.b.t on top of the frosting in red. 

sadly, my birthday cake's are never as glamorous since i moved away from home. i am hoping that next year i'll be getting some 'mum-made' cake or perhaps something less christmas like than this year...

Sunday, 20 November 2011


if you are in london and you love food you've probably already been to brixton. everyone who is into seriously good food is talking about what's happening in brixton village. in fact i am convinced that jay rayner's article in the observer has been directly responsible for the increasing traffic. on the day that i went to eat at elephant the lines at honest burgers stretched out to double the length since i was last there. as excited as i am about honest burgers (they are damn good!) and lab gelato and kaosarn thai, what really makes me proud is a little place called elephant based in unit fifty-five. for the first time since being in london i can say i've had real pakistani food. sure there are lots of place in east london like lahore kebab house and tayyab's that cook pakistani food but there is an unmistakable indianess to their food. elephant is in total contrast to that as it is purely home-cooked pakistani food. 

aloo samosa's at elephant

a butternut beetroot spread

butternut beet spread
o loves beetroot. i usually get this sweet and earthy vegetable pre-cooked but lately the tightly wrapped plastic hugging the round beet bodies has irked me. increasingly i find myself walking the aisles of the waitrose and other grocery stores feeling sorry for food captured in plastic prisons. it's had the effect of pushing me to make the extra effort to buy beets uncooked. after all, the wrestle peeling of butternut squash doesn't make me want to buy the peeled and cut version. with beetroot it is the pink-purple stains that put me of. that being said beetroot stains are a small price to pay for cooking this vegetable oneself. 

this week i roasted a bunch of beets with some balsamic and sea-salt flakes. i even used some of the stalks. in roasting beetroot myself i am in control of how soft or firm i want the flesh to be. initially i kept it fairly firm so that i could eat it as a salad tossed with some sharp feta cheese and a handful of walnuts. i never got round to that as i had a glut of butternut squash roasted with cardamom, finely sliced red chili and brown sugar that needed to be eaten. i'd had it thrice this week as a packed lunch with a roasted garlic cream-cheese but since o isn't a huge fan of butternut squash i had to find a to combine it with something he likes. o and i make it a point to not waste food at all and its often led to creative suppers.

butternut squash and beetroot are a perfect marriage. they both have a natural sweetness that can be tempered by using something creamy, perhaps a tart creme fraiche or a thick greek yoghurt. if you want something more luxurious you can use some cream or cream-cheese. with that in mind i decided to make a butternut beetroot spread. spreads are fairly versatile because you can eat them on toasted bread and with crackers. you can add layers of other condiments like cheese, syrups, nuts and so forth to perk up or mellow the flavours. o and i had the spread as a late afternoon snack on toasted brown bread with a thin layer of cream-cheese. it's a deep red-purple with the butternut squash lending a smooth texture. there is a little heat as well from the red chili. you could always lengthen the spread with a good vegetable stock to make soup adding a swirl of single cream to enrich it. 

raw beetroot with stalks and leaves
roasting butternut squash and beetroot is very simple. just peel and cut the vegetables into equal sized chunks and toss lightly with some olive oil. add some aromatics like bashed cardamom pods or cinnamon or both and a generous pinch of brown sugar for deep caramel notes. then place in a roasting tray and roast at a hundred and eighty degrees celsius until the flesh is soft to knifepoint . sometimes when i need to hurry the roasting time i seal the tray with foil but since i like slightly caramelised and crisp edges i only do this when i am in a hurry. once cooled place the roasted vegetables in a food processer and process. i like the vegetables to retain a bit texture so i don't pulse them until smooth. you can do your's however you prefer. this would taste really good with a tahini spiked yoghurt and some crisp pita bread too.   

things to put on toasted bread; almond cream-cheese drizzled with honey

my husband's brunch palette is limited to eggs. over time i've managed to coax him to eat eggs in other ways than scrambled. in doing so i've added to the my repertoire of egg recipes - we love eggs baked in individual ramekins like the french do, north african style in a shakshouka where they are braised in gently spiced vegetables and changa eggs turkish style where poached eggs are placed on a garlic spiked yoghurt and topped with a melted chili butter. but what i really want is a batch of thin pancakes with powdered sugar and lemon juice or the small leavened american ones drenched in maple syrup. as those occasions are rare i now make things that are good solo. i inevitably land up having my brunch once o is half way through his so i figure it's only fair that i should eat what i like, rather than spend weekend after weekend eating eggs. 

this weekend i made myself an almond cream-cheese which is quite simply a generous teaspoon of savoury-sweet almond butter whipped into cream-cheese. to sweeten it i drizzle on a deep amber honey. the jar i am using right now has travelled all the way from pakistan and is sidr honey. it has a citrus like sweetness with the depth of molasses. i like dark coloured honey as they it has depth without being too sweet. the almond cream-cheese was slightly grainy in texture as i use organic butter made with whole unskinned almonds. eating it on a seeded wholemeal bread ups the nutty factor. 

last week i'd made myself ricotta-sesame toast. o had brought home a sturdy brown bread with a sourdough flavour. i topped it with a firm ricotta mashed roughly with a fork, drizzled with honey and sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds. i've got a couple of other ideas up my sleeve. next week i plan to make a glossy tahini cream-cheese and drizzle it with some date syrup which has a subdued almost savoury sweetness that i love. 

putting together my solo brunches have been so much fun. in fact they remind me of the time when i lived and cooked on my own. it made me realise that relationships shouldn't necessarily mean that you always have to eat what your other half likes. batches of pancakes are better for two or more but spreads and the like are perfect for solo eating. 

to make almond cream-cheese for one person you will need a teaspoon of organic almond butter, a teaspoon and a half of cream-cheese, honey to drizzle and two small thick slices of bread toasted. whip together the almond butter and cream-cheese. spread liberally on the toasted bread and drizzle with honey. 
this is perfect followed by a strong cup of tea. 

Friday, 18 November 2011

yum bun at eat street

up close and personal, veggie bun
assertive and meaty portobello mushroom tucked into the folds of a soft steamed bun. cucumber coins and crushed walnuts are added for texture and crunch. deep in the folded crease of the bun is a slick of miso glaze that adds sweetness. i would have liked a laquer of shiracha sauce not only for it's vivid heat but a bright spark of colour too. i missed out on it because the crew at yum bun were a little overwhelmed with the queue of people at eat street king's boulevard today.  

yum buns are comfort food redefined. they have a pleasing chewiness instantly collapsing in the mouth. it is small wonder that they are said to be pillow soft... the duo behind yum bun say that these buns were inspired by david chang whose famous pork buns at momofuku in new york are known to be sensational. i really wouldn't know about that simply because i haven't been myself and even if i did i don't eat pork. but i am very thankful for the vegetarian inspired yum bun as it is in a league of its own.  

Thursday, 17 November 2011

rosalind's kitchen

rosalind's kitchen window
rosalind's kitchen's twitter feed would make any food loving person hungry. they've been on my list of places to get breakfast or lunch for a while now. i must confess i haven't been inclined to wake up early and grab breakfast on the go from there, and on most days i sadly lunch at my desk. then one day i got lucky because i was in rosalind's neighbourhood. i really wanted to have fruit compote with granola. fearing that it would run out before i managed to get there i tweeted a 'please-keep-me-some-granola-and-compote'. almost instantly someone tweeted back to tell me that they'd keep me some.

rosalind's kitchen is a compact little space with a lovely flamingo pink mural on it's walls. an old fashioned cake stands holds the orange curd cakes which have become quite a twitter icon. those who know me well know that i find cup-cakes a sad excuse for cake but i've had to make amends as rosalind's are perfect. the orange curd cakes have just the right balance of tart, sweet and moisture and best of all they aren't topped with a mountain of frosting, just a dainty drizzle of orange icing. i am now wishing i had tried the passionfruit and chocolate cup-cakes as well. 

returning to breakfast (which i did have at my desk at work). there was a very generous helping of cinnamon spiced chunky apple compote with a layer of sharp yoghurt and a granola with lots of fig, cranberry and pumpkin seeds. it's one of the few really good granola, yoghurt and compote breakfasts i've had in london and makes you feel like you've been really good to yourself with all that nutty fruitiness packed into it. 

a few days from now i will pick custom made mince pies from rosalind. they'll be travelling to geneva, a present for a fellow food lover who can't get his in his hometown. picking them up will give me an excuse for lunch so you'll be hearing more about rosalind's kitchen from me soon.follow rosalind's kitchen @rosalindsW1 or 'like' them on facebook for the daily menu.

Rosalind's Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 13 November 2011

nigel slater's easy shallot chutney

one of the best things about the year coming to a close is nigel slater's bbc series on cooking. as is nigel's style, his cooking is always simple but this year it had a theme of 'marriage and relationships' between foods, flavours (sweet and sour, soft and crisp) and ideas (weird and wonderful). what i love about nigel is that his recipes are not just recipes. they are suppers put together with what is in the fridge and the pantry combined. this is a really cooking for the home-cook  because his ideas provide insight into making meals interesting. i know that i owe a lot of my creativity to the principles that i have picked up from his series and his wonderful book the 'kitchen diaries'.

cod poached in spiced coconut milk

cod poached in a spiced coconut milk
with basmati and wild rice
when it comes to southeast asian cuisine, i much prefer their clear broths. don’t let the clarity and lack of colour fool you, as not only do they pack depth but in most cases an unbridled chili heat. i like how the clear soup with its medley of flavours makes the taste-buds sing and sometimes the eyes water. needless to say o isn’t too keen on clear soups. he loves the heavier creamier cousins that mute the chili and awaken the senses only gently.

Friday, 11 November 2011

dhal chawal (lentils and rice)

dhal with a garnish of coriander and green chillies
i don’t know what it is about dhal chawal that comforts so much. it could be its cheerful yellow spruced with fresh coriander. oil warmed with cumin and garlic stirred through it brings a breathe of spice. dhal adjusts to the mood so when i want heat i add thinly sliced green chilli as a garnish. on early winter evenings i like to a squirt of lemon juice. i often make dhal on a sunday in anticipation of the busy week ahead. if nothing else, o can boil some rice scented with cumin and cinnamon on thursday night when i am at yoga late.

chili con carne; the perfect tv dinner

chili con carne on brown rice with crème fraiche
i have always taken love for chili con carne as granted. it is wholesome and comforting food that is very easy to make. but that was before i met o who didn’t really have that kind of affinity for chili con carne. in fact he wasn’t even a fan of minced beef dishes. i am convinced that this is because he didn’t eat keema (pakistani beef mince) at my house. i loved aloo keema with large chunks of potato that collapsed under the fingers when eaten with roti. keema mutter flecked with peas brings back memories of picnics near rawal lake and nasty oversized crows that would try and pick our plates. then there was keema simla mirch made with green capsicum, it’s slight bitterness tempered with cumin and spice. more recently mama starting adding channas (chickpeas) to the mix. my love for chili con carne is perhaps an extension of my love for keema because they have something in common. minced beef is only good when spiced right and cooked to a deep brown. when making mince the pakistani way i sauté it well to bring out its colour. this process of bhuno although tiring is what makes keema so tasty. in chili con carne the combination of frying the mince and then simmering it to let the flavours get to know each other well is what makes it good.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

paratha and chai at thirty-two

parathas at thirty-two
my phupi (aunt) tells me that the best way to eat a paratha is the way kashmiri's eat it. they  sprinkle it with salt and eat it washed down with a cup of strong yet milky and very sweet tea. i like the contrast of sweet and salty in this combination. i find eating paratha with something more substantial like a fried egg (which the way o likes it) difficult as the dough is rich with oil/ghee. my dadi (paternal grandmother) made the most delectable parathas. they were soft and flaky with lots of layers. she would often treat my brother and i to 'chirri roti', literally a paratha shaped like a bird. chirri roti was sweet because sugar was tucked into the centre of the paratha which would turn to syrup from the heat of the griddle. as i grew older i acquired the taste for achar, the spice heavy oil of would discolour my nails. i loved the pungent taste of it with the very mild bread. sometimes for sunday brunch my dadi would make stuffed parathas. she would boil potatoes and mash them with cumin, a little spice and some fresh coriander. the potato mash would be covered with dough, rolled out and fried on a griddle. these were best eaten with a cool yoghurt and a fiery mint sauce.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

remember remember the gizz-mo movember

movember at byron
i'm a girl and girl's don't do moustaches (of course there are exceptions to this rule but i am not one of those girls). being moustache-less however, doesn't leave me any less of a mo-sista because my appetite as a lover of food makes me a very effective one at byron. byron has a movember burger on its menu called the gizz-mo, fifty pence from which goes to the charity movember.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

chipotle mexican grill

the burrito and i became acquaintances on my first trip to chicago in the nineties. it was my cousin z who introduced me to taco bell. i don't remember much about them, perhaps an indication of the fact that they didn't taste that good. but all said and done, it was the nineties, we were teenagers and we thought we were so cool eating taco bell. we would also much prefer eating bean burrito's than home-cooked pakistani food. these ones came from the supermarket and were frozen. a short whizz in the microwave would reduce them to a crumpled mess of slimy and gooey cheesy and beans mashed to baby food consistency. we ate these too.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

hardcore prawn

indonesian crab bisque, hardcore prawn and black bean
sirloin steak skewers
there has been much ado about street-food this year which is nowhere near dissipating. the focus is now on specific locations in central london providing a home for mobile carts, vans and trailers so that more of us can try them out. the collective at the brand new king’s boulevard is the newest kid on the block. described as a micro-market, at kx is on from wednesday to friday. i was there last friday especially for hardcore prawn. had i been a couple of minutes late i would have missed the indonesian crab bisque. i got the last helping scraped clean from the bottom.