Monday, 3 July 2017

Clearing the pantry - spiced marmalade cookies

Spiced marmalade cookies - raw
And so it continues... honestly, it may not seem like it with this endless stream of posts but I am definitely making progress. I am finding that an unfortunate side effect is that some of the dishes I am producing are really, genuinely delicious but because it's the end of a jar of this and the last of a packet of that I will never, ever be able to reproduce it.
The other night I unearthed two UFOs. Or at least Partially-Identified Frozen Objects. One was labelled lamb, the other mutton. Neither was big enough for a meal for two people. Sure, I could have heated them separately and each of us eaten one, but as they thawed it looked like the mutton was with barley and the lamb was a shank cooked with haricot beans, so I combined them with some tomato paste and extra seasoning. It was good!
cassoulet nachos
Another UFO had a label half hanging off it which said cassoulet - I was initially concerned that the label may have fallen off something else, but when I thawed it, it was cassoulet. It didn't stay cassoulet though. When I reheated it I added smoked paprika, coriander, cumin, chilli, oregano and thyme to give it more of a Mexican flavour profile. I layered it with cornchips and cheese, baked it and topped it with guacamole for a very rich nachos.
Peanut sauce
Last night I made a stonking satay-ish peanut sauce to go on some barbecued chicken legs. The chicken legs were marinaded for a couple of hours in the dregs of a bottle of teriyaki sauce, a lot of crushed garlic and black pepper. Then the sauce itself was around 1/4 cup of anchovy, chilli and shrimp sauce, around 1/3 cup of crunchy peanut butter, 2 sachets of coconut cream, a load of garlic, a little brown sugar and tamarind until the balance was right, boiling water until it all came together and a gentle simmer for a couple of minutes. The meal emptied 3 jars, a box and a bottle AND it tasted wonderful, so I was extremely pleased with it. And there's enough for two lunches - noodles tossed with the peanut sauce and topped with cucumber and a boiled egg.
Leftover peanut sauce
The final dish for this round of decluttering used up the end of a jar of marmalade. I'd normally use golden syrup for something like this but the marmalade was good. It makes quite a cake-y sort of cookie. If you like gingerbread, you will probably like these.

Spiced Marmalade Cookies (makes 36)

125g butter, softened
90g brown sugar
250g marmalade
2tsp ground ginger
1/2tsp ground cinnamon
1/2tsp ground allspice
1 eggyolk
75g rolled oats
320g SR flour
2-3tbs pearl sugar

Preheat oven to 160C

Cream butter, sugar and marmalade together until light and fluffy. Beat in spices, eggyolk and oats, then fold in flour and mix to a smooth-ish dough.

Roll dough into walnut sized balls. Dab the tops of the balls into the pearl sugar. Space out well on a baking-parchment lined baking sheet. Bake for 12-15 minutes until risen and lightly golden brown. Allow to cool on the sheet for a couple of minutes before attempting to transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Continuing the clear out

Project clear the freezer continues. As it will for the next month until we move I am sure!
pork scratchings
When I was sorting through for all the parcels of poultry bits for my stock (which, by the way, has turned out to be one of the best broths I have ever made) I discovered that I had a lot of pork rind. Not entirely sure why, as I seldom take it off a piece of meat. They turned into some really excellent pork scratchings, seasoned with fennel and smoked paprika. Most of which we gave away to a pork-obsessed friend. But I have to say, a genuinely good pork scratching crumbled on top of a boiled egg on toast is a most superior breakfast and I can't believe all the posh brunch places don't do them.

I used up ground almonds, caster sugar and a jar of boozy plums making a very simple cake. It was just a creamed mixture of 2 eggs, 120g butter and 120g sugar with 100g ground almonds and 100g SR flour folded in, then the plums pushed into the batter. 5 minutes before it was properly cooked (about 45 minutes at 180C) I poured the rest of the boozy syrup over it. Very successful! I will have to do something similar with some of the cherry backlog.

About once a fortnight I make a vaguely Chinese sort of braised aubergine dish with lots of chilli heat, some pork and whatever greens I have to hand. This time I used up some lup cheong sausage and finished it with a good shake of sesame seeds. Also delicious. And I have a couple more sausages.

Monday, 12 June 2017

Clearing the freezer and pastures new

It has a roof now
There were definitely times when I wondered if it would ever happen, but we've finally, after 11 years of marriage and several ups and downs, bought a house. We've bought off the plan in a new development in a very pretty town a bit north of London, and in the next month to six weeks we will be moving.

I bloody hate moving.

We've lived in this house for 9 years, which is about as long as I have lived anywhere, and have accumulated all the possessions that you would imagine a pair of packrats would accumulate over that time.  So the process of sorting through our stuff and figuring out what actually needs to come with us is underway. Part of that process is, of course, clearing out the freezer and pantry.

Flapjacks, waiting for another layer of oat mixture
My cooking is likely to become increasingly eccentric over the next few weeks as I try to run down stocks of things. But this weekend it is relatively sensible. Barbecued pork ribs (with a glaze incorporating a couple of sad apples and the remnants of a jar of jelly), flapjacks (reducing stock of various baking bits) and soup (using up all the odds and ends of poultry wings and giblets in the freezer).
Flapjacks ready to eat
My flapjacks are based on this recipe from Sue from Mainly Baking. I kept the amount of butter, sugar and golden syrup the same but used 130g unsweetened dried sour cherries, 200g oats and 40g desiccated coconut. I pressed half the mixture into the tin, scattered with a few chunks of leftover dark chocolate Easter egg and then added the rest of the mixture. Very successful.
We've tried barbecuing pork ribs before, but I think these are the most successful so far. I made up a rub of salt, pepper, fennel seeds and smoked paprika and let them sit in that for a couple of hours, then we slowly smoked them for 3 hours before adding the apple puree mixture.

While they cooked for another couple of hours the apple dried down to a thick, rich glaze without burning. The racks unfortunately were not the same size - the smaller rack was perfect but the larger could have done with another hour. Of course, they were so good that Paul now wants a rematch, which will necessitate buying more of the ingredients I was trying to see the back of.

The leftovers, pulled off the bone and chopped, are providing me with very nice lunches.

When I started ferreting in the freezer for poultry bits for making stock, I had no idea quite how much there was. Chicken, cockerel and duck giblets, chicken wing tips, cockerel backs. Loads of stuff. It made a very good broth. And tonight I flavoured some of the broth with lime juice and fish sauce and cooked pork meatballs and some veg in it, then added coriander leaves, chopped chillies, slices onions and more lime juice.

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Blacklock City, Foxlow Soho and Bellanger

Blacklock City pre-chop bites
I'm not deliberately moving the blog towards more reviews, it's just been working out that way. This past week I have eaten out an unprecedented three times. Well, it may not actually be unprecedented but I can't remember the last time I did (while not actually being away from home). And now I am coming to think about the three meals, I think they are quite representative of the way I prefer to eat out in London. Independents or small chains. Not stuffy or fussy, not enormously expensive but good ingredients and generous hospitality.
All in. Why not?
On Monday I had lunch with Mimi and her lovely baby son at Blacklock City. We originally planned to meet because Mimi was embroiled in an imbroglio, as Wodehouse would have it, over the appropriation of Burmese culture and I'd offered to be moral support in her meeting with the unrepentant appropriator. But then Mimi decided that he wasn't worth the time, so we just had lunch. I'd been to Blacklock Soho for their (exceptionally good) Sunday lunch, but this was the first time I'd been to the new City venue. While the Soho branch on a Sunday is pretty mixed, a chophouse in the City on a weekday might as well have "NO GIRLS" on the door: some of the suited and booted diners looked slightly horrified to see women with a pram.

We went "all in" - pre-chop bites, chops piled on grilled flatbread and a couple of sides, for a very reasonable £20 a head. The pre-chop bites, int the same vein as the anchovies I had at Foxlow recently, were Peter's Yard (probably) rye crispbreads topped with salty, delicious toppings. The nicest of the three was topped with egg and anchovy - so good we ordered another round of those in lieu of pudding. The chops (beef sirloin, pork belly and lamb t-bones) were delicious, the chips perfect and the salad just what was needed. A couple of £5 cocktails and extremely friendly staff going above and beyond to accommodate the baby made it just about perfect.  
Lenny Henry as a Depression-era gangster
On Wednesday I had a quick, early dinner back at Foxlow before seeing the excellent Resistable Rise of Arturo Ui at the Donmar. We had a table towards the front of the restaurant, which was a reasonable height so my feet were able to touch the floor comfortably.

I almost never order chicken burgers, because the chicken is so often woolly and bland, but with the memory of their delicious fried chicken fresh in my mind I felt confident to have the chicken burger, with an optional kimchi topping. Messy. Very messy. But absolutely delicious. The service was a bit scatty - my friend had specifically asked if there was mayonnaise on the Foxlow burger, had been told no, and then it arrived with a massive load of mayo on it. She complained, and the staff member complained to went to get the staff member who'd taken the original order, who said it wasn't mayonnaise it was KEWPIE MAYONNAISE. And it then took much longer than it should have to bring a replacement, mayo-less bun.
Chicken burger with kim chi, fries and cherry tarragon sorbet
I decided that I couldn't forego ice cream on a very hot day, so I ordered a scoop of salted caramel ripple and a scoop of cherry and tarragon sorbet, both of which were gorgeous. Then we strolled off to the theatre.
Rose weather at Bellanger
And finally on Friday I had dinner at Bellanger before a dance show. Turned out to be a slightly less good idea because the show wasn't at the venue we thought it was at, so we ended up having to hustle to get there in time. But Bellanger is a Corbin and King restaurant, and I love what they do so, so much, so it's never going to be a terrible idea, even if it results in a more expensive Uber. The Delaunay, Brasserie Zedel, Fischers - all good food, professional service, some of the nicest loos in London and reasonable prices. You know you are in safe hands.

It was a really hot day, and I couldn't quite bear the idea of choucroute garnie, or even one of their huge, delicious schnitzels. The salad section of the menu appealed but it was a bit tricky to fathom what size the salads were. The waitress advised us that the crab and smoked salmon salad, at £13.95 was a starter size, and the beef, endive and roquefort salad at £14.50 was a main course size. Which was slightly confusing. We took her advice and ordered the salads, with a tarte flambee to share. The portion size was perfectly judged to leave space for dessert. The last time I had a knickerbocker glory it was a tragically disappointing waste of calories. This one restored my faith in them, with strawberry and vanilla ice creams, not-too-jammy berries and whipped cream.
Crab salad, tarte flambee and knickerbocker glory

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Foxlow Soho

Anchovy and goats butter on rye crisps
Hawksmoor - either Air St or Seven Dials - is one of my happy places. The food is always good, the staff are always friendly and competent and the atmosphere inviting. You step through the door and take a deep breath because, for a couple of hours, nothing bad can happen. Unfortunately, Hawksmoor is priced to make that particular happy place quite a rare treat. Once a year, if I am lucky. A few years ago, presumably recognising that people want good food, nice staff and a welcoming atmosphere more often than that, the people behind Hawksmoor opened Foxlow, pitched as a "neighbourhood restaurant". The neighbourhoods they started in were Stoke Newington, Clerkenwell and Balham though, none of which are convenient for me to drop in on or particularly enticing as a destination in themselves. The new Soho branch, however, is very convenient for getting home from.
Shaky Pete's Ginger Brew - the head is deliberate
The soft launch was this week, with a very appealing 50% off food, and I managed to be quick enough on the booking button to get a table for last night. I started with one of Hawksmoor's most famous drinks, Shaky Pete's ginger brew - a fabulous take on a shandy and the best possible use for London Pride. Paul had a beer, but he was very impressed when I gave him a sip of my drink.
Five pepper squid
I knew I wanted fried chicken as a main course - I've been having a craving lately - so chose the lightest possible option for my starter. It was 3 little (almost certainly Peter's Yard) rye crispbreads, topped with whipped goats butter, plump curled anchovies and rings of crunchy red onion. Perfect appetite-whetting mouthfuls, with enough salt to make the ginger brew sing. Paul had five pepper squid. Which was nicely crisp but slightly underpowered for something claiming five peppers. The devilled mayo could have had a little more tang as well. But it's always nice to see tentacles on the plate as well as calamari rings.

We'd ordered a bottle of pinot noir (the wine list is very reasonably priced) to go with our mains. They didn't have it, and in what may be a world first for wine waiters, they suggested an alternative that was actually cheaper than our original selection. I was a little surprised by the assertion that the flavours in the suggested Chilean carmenere were similar, because the carmeneres I have had in the past were pretty big, fruity wines with a bit of smoke, whereas the pinot noir we were anticipating was a lighter, more refined affair. As it happened, the recommendation was absolutely on the money: a much lighter bodied and very drinkable wine.
Rib eye with green salad
Ever since he first had a kimchi burger at Hawksmoor Seven Dials, years and years ago, Paul's been devoted to them, so I was slightly surprised that he pulled himself away from the Foxlow burger, with an optional kimchi topping, opting for a rib eye steak with peppercorn sauce and a green salad. The steak was excellent. Perfectly cooked, perfectly seasoned and a very nice piece of meat (as you'd expect from them, really). Also, as you'd expect from the team that brought you the best salad in the world, the green salad wasn't just a garnish, but a properly dressed assembly of leaves. The boy a couple of tables down wasn't having such a positive experience, holding forth loudly about how the flat iron he'd ordered wasn't a flat iron. Not that he said anything to the waitress when she checked on him.
Fried chicken
My longed-for fried chicken absolutely nailed the craving. I had a slight language barrier with the waitress though - they offer 2 or 4 piece portions, and I'd asked if a piece was a joint like a drumstick or if it was divided into smaller pieces. She said "Oh no, smaller!" and indicated a size with her hands that led me to believe I wanted the 4 piece. Fortunately Paul helped me with the last piece. But it was SO good - really crisp, well-seasoned and the flesh had that melting quality that certain famous chicken chains achieve with a pressure cooker. The accompanying habanero vinegar, apple and fennel slaw was just the right tangy, acid counterpoint to the richness. Although I couldn't actually detect any habanero heat in it.

For dessert Paul had whiskey and I had gorgeous pococello. And a couple of scoops of lime and mascarpone icecream from Poco Gelato. The icecream had almost the chewy texture you get with Middle Eastern mastic-based icecreams, which I like, but not quite enough lime. So I poured half my pococello over it and that was absolutely perfect.

It was the soft launch, of course, so you don't expect everything to be absolutely right and there was very little wrong. Except the seats. I'm not the tallest woman you are likely to meet, but at 5'6" I'm not really short enough to have my feet swinging 3" off the ground. And I noticed that most of the other diners on the similar seats were swapping places half way through the meal. If I sat right forward at the edge of the seat my toes touched the ground and took some of the pressure off. But they really might like to offer footstools.

Monday, 1 May 2017

Bank holiday barbecue

It's a bank holiday weekend, and unfortunately it has played into the British bank holiday stereotype of shit weather. We haven't had much in the way of rain for weeks, but it's been threatening all weekend and just been unpleasant to be outside in.
Pulled harissa lamb
We could've made plans to do something indoors, but we haven't, despite actually getting as far as looking at cinema screentimes. So I have been reading and Paul's been whacking aliens on the computer and the cat has been patrolling the lawn in between lengthy naps.

On Saturday, though, we did a nice, long, low & slow barbecue. A shoulder of British lamb, seasoned with salt, pepper and cumin, smoked gently for 5 hours, then wrapped in harissa paste and vegetable broth and cooked for another 2 hours before resting for an hour. We had it piled onto bread flavoured with dukkah, hummus laden with wild garlic leaves and grilled courgettes in a preserved lemon and coriander dressing. It tasted perfectly springlike even if the weather felt very much like late winter.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Picture restaurant and thoughts on blogging

For Christmas, Paul gave me a day-long silver jewellery making course. Which I thoroughly enjoyed. One thing that startled me, though, was that when we were introducing ourselves at the beginning of the course, a couple of the other participants announced that they were doing this (absolute beginners) course because they intended to make a career out of it. Without any real background in jewellery making or knowing whether they had any aptitude they were determined that this was going to be their thing. On the one hand I admired the confidence, but on the other that just seems bonkers to me.
Warm sourdough rolls and whipped butter
And I have to say that I am feeling much the same way about food blogging these days. Back lo, these many years ago, when I started blogging, it mostly seemed to be people who liked food or liked writing or both, using a free platform with a shitty layout and rubbish photos. And enjoying it. We made friends with people with similar interests, spent time commenting on other people's posts and took our time over things.
Delicious basil martini
Now it seems like a lot of people have decided that there is money to be made and they decide they are going to be Food Bloggers. They come in with professional-looking headshots in their profiles, a business plan, a brand identity and an SEO strategy. They have media kits. They have business cards. They hustle. It's a valid approach, but it's not my approach and it does make me a bit wistful for the days when we made friendships, not networking opportunities. I deeply admire, though, the people who started around when I did who have actually been able to cope with change and adapt to the new environment.
Beef bites
The whole landscape is different. I've stopped accepting PR invitations and removed myself from a couple of databases, because if you want a blog to promote your thing I'm really not your girl. I don't care about my reach. I don't know how many, if any, readers I have. I seldom bother cross promoting my blog posts on other channels (I will put them on the Foodycat facebook page but I won't pay to boost posts, so not a lot of people will see that). I'd rather leave that stuff to the people who are passionate about making their blogs pay.
Asparagus, pea and wild garlic veloute
It also occurred to me this week, that while there are products that I have continued to buy and use after initially being sent them to review, there's only one restaurant that I have been to for a blogger event that I have subsequently been back to on my own dime. Since I don't have a lot to offer a restaurant in terms of generating buzz, the point of me really is going to a place, being inoffensive to staff and paying for my dinner - so I have a pretty terrible track record.
Beetroot tartare, goats curd
I first went to Picture, on Great Portland St, with a bunch of bloggers in 2014. And then again less than a week later. Then somehow I hadn't managed to go back. I knew they'd opened a second restaurant in Marylebone, but I'd never made it to that one either.
Pork, pickled carrots, granny smith apple
This week, though, I was looking for a venue for a dinner with a friend (same friend I'd had lunch with at Picture before, as it happens) and Great Portland St ticked the boxes for her to get to Waterloo or Vauxhall and me to get to Baker St or Marylebone after. I'd assumed we'd go a la carte - didn't think I could stretch to the £45 6 course Spring menu (still very reasonable, but once you add drinks and service charge that's probably £65. Not on a Wednesday). But then when I booked I discovered they were doing a Taste on London deal of the Spring menu and a cocktail for £35.
Roast cod, charred gem, salsa verde, merguez
It was all wonderful really. In a perfect world the skin on the cod would have been crisp. And the merguez tasted more like chorizo. But plate after plate of delicious, well-seasoned food with interesting contrasts of taste and texture can't really be sneered at. The first time I was there I noted that the menu had moved from veg to pork to fish in a slightly confusing way, but that the fish had been a necessary palate cleanser between rich pork and rich beef. This menu went with a similar formula with the clean, pearly cod breaking up the lightly smoked, meltingly tender pork and the voluptuous lamb. But even so I couldn't possibly have faced a cheese course, either before or after the chocolate mousse.
Lamb, sprouting broccoli
Chocolate mousse was the pudding the first time I ate at Picture too. But they make such a good one it hardly matters. The presentation was better this time! I wasn't quite sure about the blob of cream being almost the same size as the mousse, but it actually concealed the delicious milk jam (basically condensed milk, for those of us who adore it). The mousse was very light, just the right sweetness and although I had my doubts at the beginning I actually managed to finish the whole dish. In addition to the £35 deal, we had a beef bite each and shared a carafe of wine. So with the service charge it came in at £50 a head. Definitely worth it.
Chocolate mousse
Showing the milk jam


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