Saturday, 26 December 2009

i am chicken roast

christmas diaries: christmas day lunch

this was o and m's first christmas. this was also the first christmas that m cooked a full roast lunch. there was roast chicken with sage and onion stuffing, thyme and bay leaves. for veg there was red cabbage braised with a combination of tart and bright citrusy notes of orange, lemon and red wine vinegar and the slightly piney crushed juniper berry, roasted parsnips and potatoes and boiled carrots and florets of broccoli. there was also cranberry and apple sauce.

the slater recipes were taken from two different cookbooks. the red cabbage from his kitchen diaries which my mum sent to me earlier this year and the roast from real cooking which o got bought for me i love slater's recipes. they are easy to follow and bring together very simple flavours. plus there isn't too much fuss. for dessert we decided to go for a pear upside down cake. i paired it with a dark chocolate sauce to make it richer and more festive.

Monday, 21 December 2009

la maison du chocola hot chocolate

pretty much most of my many fellow foodies concur that hot chocolate should be rich and full bodied. of course sometimes we all prefer a soothing milky version, the kind that we’ll make at home with some cocoa powder, sugar and hot milk on a cold night. but when we go out, we want something rich and luscious and decadent. for a long time it was hot chocolate from paul’s and apostrophe that hit those notes. white cups holding chocolate so thick you ‘d have to finish off with a spoon. carluccio’s does a pretty good one too. i recently tried the chocolate milano at caffè nero which was really good. not as thick as the one’s mentioned above but with a lovely velvety and strong chocolate flavour (especially for a chain).

o and i tried paul young’s hot chocolate at the beginning of the cold season. since he is a fan of water based chocolate his is a combination of strong dark chocolate and water. consequently it is a very thin but very very hot and can be enhanced with chilli, cardamom or ginger. his is the kind of hot chocolate that you have to share since it is incredibly rich and dark. 

for a long time now i have been wanting to try la maison du chocolat’s hot chocolate, a french chocolaterie with a boutique in may fair. and so i finally went there this afternoon with my flat mate who first introduced me to their truffles and ganaches. there are two different kinds of hot chocolate here – one infused with vanilla and one plain. j goes for the one with vanilla and i, for the plain one in agreement that it would be best to try both. maison du chocolat’s hot chocolate isn’t thick but the flavour is really really intense. in fact both of us are glad that it isn’t as thick as it’s so rich. we work our way slowly, savouring each sip. j’s is milkier and creamier and slightly sweet with vanilla, mine is a shade lighter than the colour of a solid bar of 70% dark chocolate but is slightly sweeter and creamier. 

we figured it best to add a really rich treat to the season of snow and festivity...if you are a connoisseur of chocolate and you haven’t tried this, hurry up and get here. you’re truly missing out. 

Sunday, 20 December 2009

note: ottolenghi recipes

we have a somewhat cult-ish following of ottolenghi. i got i a signed version of his cookbook which she then recommended to a friend of hers who is in love with it too. a colleague at work went and bought it and declared it to be food porn. of course i own an ottolenghi cookbook and religiously collect recipes that appear in his observer column every week.

the thing about these recipes is that they can appear quite complex. initially i was both daunted and felt reluctant using them because of the length of the ingredients lists and the steps involved. i’ve overcome that fear now and feel confident enough to offer you this advice. what one has to realize about ottolenghi is that they tend to use an elaborate list of spices and herbs which add considerable length to the ingredients list. insofar as the steps involved, i often find that a little bit of creativity and adventure through adaptation and tweaking can help.

last night my flat mate and i cooked an ottolenghi dinner. we had roasted chicken with sumac, zatar and pine nuts and an apricot cous cous. it actually turned out to be quite simple as the chicken was left to marinate overnight and the cous cous really didn’t take that long. Instead of soaking dried apricots and chopping them i used the shortcut and got pre-chopped soft apricots. although this time j and i followed the spirit of the recipe closely, next time i will do away with frying the pine nuts in butter and blotting them by pan roasting them instead. It saves me extra dishes to wash, less paper towel used and tastes just the same.

so here is the thing, don’t let the cookbook intimidate you. instead read through the ingredients and steps and rationalize and tweak them. cheat where you can (after all delia and nigel do it too). and then sit back and enjoy with a glass of wine.

i must say that our roasted chicken was mild and flavourful. it’s quite remarkable how ottolenghi combines an assortment of flavours and neither one of them overpowers each other. our chicken was roasted with sumac, zatar, thinly sliced rings of lemon and cinnamon. the pine nuts added richness and chopped parsley, freshness. our cous cous was perfectly fluffy and slightly sweet with apricot and caramelised onions with the cool refreshing flavour of a trio of fresh herbs – mint, tarragon and parsley.

if you have an ottolenghi cookbook. try it. you won’t be disappointed.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

broadway market and a touch of snow

saturday afternoon found i, d, o and i at broadway market. what started off as a crisp winter day with a hint of snow got momentarily washed out by rather heavy rain making us run for cover. when the sun reasserted itself we all emerged from the bookshop to feed our rumbly tummies. the unanimous decision was burgers. a beef patty each in a soft white bun with grilled onions and if you want some stilton. there are big bottles full of ketchup, brown sauce, garden chutney and extra strong mustard to dress up the burger further. o went a little too easy on the mustard and suffered too peppery an experience. they were good burgers but, every time i have a burger in london i pine for an american one.

american burgers have a thick patty which is gloriously juicy and slightly medium rare served with a large slice of tomato, some gherkins and american mustard. o prefers his bun lightly toasted, for me it’s about the freshness. if the bun is absolutely fresh i am not fussed.  

we tasted the offerings from different stalls; an assortment of brownies from different stalls revealed different shades, textures and density of chocolate. there was a fabulous pesto perched on bite sized pieces of white bread. o went oil tasting whilst i tried pumpkin ravioli which despite being luke warm was luscious with the warmth of nutmeg and pumpkin. a chicken banh mi turned out to be disappointing whilst o, i and d loved their sugary vietnamese coffee. i indulged myself in a crepe with grand mariner that was handed to me with a full set of instructions and extra tissue to catch syrupy liqueur. we also had a winter warming spiced apple served hot with ginger or lemon.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

haozhan literally a great place to eat

i and i had our tastelondon girlie dinner date last night. post two tastelondon dinners i have now been accused that i am responsible for what i call ‘a moment on the lips, forever on the hips’ syndrome. i’s contention is that we are eating more than we would do without the tastelondon card. blame it on tastelondon i, not me! anyway, haozhan is a rather glamorous chinese restaurant in the heart of china town. it’s modern and minimalist with its black furniture and clean lines. i points out that the Christmas lights are slightly cheesy but on the whole it’s nothing like its regular counterparts that feature big red lanterns and lots of tacky gold.

at haozhan we order in pairs – two appetizers, two entrees and two desserts as its 241. on the side we order a pot of green tea (and only later do we discover that there was quite a tea selection that we had missed). it takes us a while to figure out what we want and there is much balancing of ingredients between the appetizers and entrees. eventually, we settle on aromatic crispy duck and curry softshell crab to start with.

the curry softshell crab is lightly battered and fried golden with curry leaves and the heat of sliced red chillies. it’s a wonderful melange of flavours, soft and mellow with a little spice. I and i pick at the little bits of batter with our chopsticks till we can lift no more. next is the aromatic crispy duck that has been deftly shredded and removed from the bone.we both assemble our crispy duck, finely julienned cucumber and spring onions in paper thin pancakes smeared with a deep slightly molasses flavoured hoi-sin sauce, roll them and tuck in. i love the contrast of flavours in Chinese cuisine – sweet, salty, spicy and soothing.
our entrees arrive and both i and i stop to admire the presentation. the hoazhan tofu is squares of tofu in two tones with its cover of chopped spinach and white of scallop with a crown of salmon roe served in a row on a long white platter. the haozhan beef rib eye is served in a shallow white bowl in a contemporary shaped basket of fried vermicelli. previous reviews of this place say that haozhan’s tofu is so good it can convent non-tofu lovers. our first bite proves the point. the tofu is silken and tastes almost like a warmed custard. the scallops are fresh and tender. the only pity is the salmon roe which is more texture than flavour. but its lacking qualities do little to mar the experience as the tofu itself is excellent. i found it to be too rich after eating two pieces, a feeling that i don’t echo.
there was a brief pause before i and i tasted the beef and for a moment after that there was complete silence. the beef was tender and juicy and packed full of flavour. there was a hint of sweet that cut through the black pepper and the red wine with the onions adding a little crunch and wholes cloves of softened stir fried garlic coming together to make a fantastic entree.

i and i chose not to order any rice or noodles, a wise decision as we really were quite full at the end of the meal. we spent considerable time swapping stories about the men in our life and their eating habits, a conversation that continued through dessert.
we had thought of splitting one dessert but the waiter suggested two. it was practical advice based on 241 but not so practical for our waistlines. it was well worth it though! I was more partial to the haozhan cream of pumpkin which came in a martini glass. it is a chilled pumpkin and cream puree with a scoop of vanilla ice cream dusted with a bit of cocoa and some steamed black rice to add texture to the smoothness. i really liked the stronger nuttier flavour of black sesame ice cream with crunchy vegetable seeds.
we’ll definitely be going back here!

Saturday, 5 December 2009

caramel cake with brown butter frosting

my other half celebrated two and a half decades of his existence on saturday. last year i made him a really intense chocolate cake which was a little too sophisticated a birthday cake for a bar. so this year i decided to do something with frosting to be eaten in large thick slices or chunky squares. maya angelou’s caramel cake with caramel frosting was the perfect answer. there was one slight problem though – the recipe is far from simple. although relatively easy to make provided you follow the instructions it is really the tedium of it all and the various pots, pans, mixing bowls and spoons that get dirty making it. 

to start with there is the caramel syrup which calls for a constant swirling of the pan whilst the sugar is on the heat. the addition of hot water into the caramel is slightly scary as the sugar sputters and spits furiously with the liquid introduction especially when you are stirring it.

creaming the sugar and butter in the absence of a beater was a bit of a challenge (partly my fault as i didn’t manage to get the butter at room temperature in time). after the creaming was the sifting of the dry ingredients into a separate bowl and the beating of eggs with more sugar in yet another dish. 

once i had the cake safely in the oven (i used a square cake tin instead of two round ones) i turned my attention to the caramel frosting which called for browned butter. browning butter is all about care, the heat shouldn’t be too low so as not to get the butter hot but not to high either so as to burn the butter. i would recommend using a stainless steel pan so that the change in colour is visible. it took me around ten minutes and the butter was browned. i set this aside to cool and took a ‘dish washing’ break. 

once cooled i added icing sugar to the butter and having forgotten cream decided to improvise using the left over caramel syrup to soften the frosting. it gave it a really nice caramel colour and a deep earthy sweetness.

the cake emerged perfect from its square tin and was frosted thickly sitting on a red square base. the verdict: all of o’s friends loved it.  maya angelou’s caramel cake is a labour of love. and should you want to labour away you can find a little bit of conversation with the poet at her table and the recipe too.