Wednesday, 9 December 2009

A Persian Feast from the London Cooking Club

A couple of months ago Kels and I were invited to dinner at The London Foodie's home. We had met at the Wahaca Autumn Menu tasting and connected right away with each other. That meal was absolutely AMAZING and deserves it's own blog post (coming soon).

Over dinner we talked about doing a meet-up with each of us contributing a course -- kind of like an American-style pot-luck. Fast forward 8 weeks and our first gathering happened two weeks ago.

Three couples participated and in addition to the courses we chose we also added to the mezze and brought 2 bottles of wine to go with our dishes.

The theme, as the title says was Persian food. Most of the recipes came from The Food of Life cookbook with the exception of my mezze and the Persian Love Cake which came courtesy of Pikelet and Pie.

The menu was:

Fresh baked bread with black sesame seeds
Cheese and walnut dip
Aubergine dip
Lemon and garlic harissa spiced chicken wings
Chickpea, feta and red onion salad

Jeweled rice with roast Guinea Fowl

Lamb shanks with herb sauce

Persian Love Cake with yoghurt

We're planning another gathering in January with the theme being Scottish food in honour of Burns Night. I'm envisioning this cooking club growing into something along the lines of a Basque Txoko or gastronomic society. People meet regularly to plan and cook menus and then eat the results with family and friends. Many of them have multiple generations of members with waiting lists for new memberships. Only recently they have accepted female members. Some have their own dedicated meeting places and kitchens. Every January there's a big festival in San Sebastian where the various societies compete for a much coveted award for best meal.

I'm thinking a future venue that can accomodate more people might be the Underground Cookery School where some fellow food bloggers met up for Ghana Food Night this past August.

Here's a link to our facebook page. Please add your name to the fan list if you'd like to participate in future meet-ups. I'll be organising a planning meeting after the new year for the January meet-up and we'll take it from there.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

meeting one of your food heros

In Old London town we have had a flutter of Mexican activity lately. One event that Mel was particularly looking forward to was a Mexican Food Evening at the British Museum which involved a panel of food experts talking about Mexican Food followed by a wee taster of goodies from Wahaca's table. Mostly Mel was looking forward to this event because one of her all time food heros was going to be talking. This hero was Diana Kennedy and she did not dissappoint. Mel was also asked to write a guest posting about the event for Wahaca's blog and you can find a link to this here.

Monday, 26 October 2009

Rabbit and Prunes

A couple of weekends ago, when the season started to turn I started fixating on Rabbit. All the recipes I've come across feel very autumnal. Most feature some sort of fruit or sweetness. I've never cooked or eaten rabbit before so it was a mini-milestone of sorts for me. The week before I phoned my ma who i usually consult for cooking tips. She's got a very acute sense of smell and said it could get quite smelly during cooking. Kelsie at rabbit growing up and seconded that opinion. In fact I had to promise her I wouldn't stink up the house if she'd let me give it a go.

After lots of hemming and hawing I decided to go with a variation on a French recipe I found in Laura Washburn's book Bistro.

I decided to mark the mini-milestone by getting a nice bottle of red wine. The folks at Soho Wine Supply were very helpful and recommended this:

NOTE: the book recipe said to marinate the rabbit overnight. Because of last minute change of plans the rabbit was marinated for almost 48 hours!

Rabbit with Prunes (serves 4)
adapted from Bistro, by Laura Washburn

1 rabbit, jointed into 7-8 pieces
1 onion, chopped
1 carrot chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 fresh bay leaf
2-3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bottle red wine
250 ml brandy or cognac
a few peppercorns

2 Tbs sunflower oil
30g unsalted butter
200g lardons (i used smoked back bacon)
100g well seasoned flour
2 onions, sliced
400g prunes
125ml port
1 Tbs creme fraiche
coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

  1. The day before, mix the marinade ingredients and place in a glass or ceramic bowl with the rabbit pieces well immersed. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

  2. When ready to cook, remove the rabbit from the marinade and pat dry with kitchen roll. Strain the marinade and reserve the liquid. Also keep the bay leaf and thyme.

  3. In a large pot heat 1 Tbs of the sunflower oil and half the butter. Add the lardons and onions and cook over high heat until brown, about 5 minutes. Remove and set aside.

  4. Dredge the rabbit pieces in the flour, shaking off the excess. Add the rest of the oil and butter to the casserole. When sizzling, add the rabbit pieces and brown all over. Add the reserved marinade liquid, bacon and onion mixture and port. Add the reserved thyme and bay leaf and season with salt and pepper. Bring to the boil, skim off the foam, then lower the heat, cover, and simmer for 45 minutes. Taste for seasoning.

  5. Remove the rabbit pieces to a plate. Raise the heat and add the prunes. Cook until thickenedf, 10-15 minutes more. Stir in the creme fraiche, return the rabbit to the casserole and cook just to warm through. Do not boil.

  6. Serve with fresh tagliatelle and a glass of delicious red wine.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

A Smokehouse Open Day at Forman and Sons

The twitterverse has been kind to us recently. We found out about the Wahaca Qype event on there and soon after also heard about an open day at a local smokehouse, Forman and Sons.

Having lived in Scotland for 5 years, I had images of the Achiltibue Smokehouse circulating in my head. We visited there a few years ago and were captivated by the lush surroundings.

Forman and Sons however, is distinctly urban. It sits in an industrial complex directly across from where they are building the Olympic village. Not exactly windswept dunes, but, in its own way still an oasis in a very urban landscape.

The smokehouse has been in business since 1905. In the entryway there is a wall-sized photo of Harry Forman the founder of the business. He was the one who developed the "London Cure' which uses less smoke than other smoked salmon you find.

The open day featured stands and presentations by some of the producers whose products Forman and Sons distributes under the name Forman and Field. They have a diverse offering of fine meats, cheese, chocolates and patisserie items which you can buy online. This was a great chance to meet the producers, sample their products and buy from a generously discounted selection of their goods. Visitors also had the chance to win a whole side of salmon by guessing the total weight of four sides they had hanging.

We also had the opportunity to take a tour of the smokehouse operation which was fascinating. We saw how they prepare other cured salmon with a traditional gravadlax cure, a pink beetroot cure and a pungent wasabi cure. The fish is expertly prepared for smoking and nothing goes to waste. Particularly interesting to me was their mechnical slicer with which the operator can slice the finest thin slices off the fillet in minutes.

After our tour we went upstairs to their bar/restaurant which at the time was still in the process of opening. A recent check on their website says they're now open for business. I hope to return for a lunch or dinner there, especially given the views of the work in progress at the Olympic stadium and of course the fine ingredients they have at hand.

Forman & Sons, Stour Road, Fish Island, London E3 2NT
tel: 0208 5252 390

Smoked Salmon on Foodista

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Autumn/Winter Flavours at Wahaca

Last Thursday, Kelsie and I along with 28 other luck Qypers, decended on the Westfield outpost of Wahaca. I've been to the Covent Garden one once, and rated it then though at the time it was a 'team lunch' with my new teamates, at my then new job, and I had to keep my focus on the team and not the food.

Always the eager beavers that we are, we were the first to arrive and were expertly guided to the mezzanine seating area which was still being set up for the evening feast. A couple of cold Modelo's soon arrived and then we met charming and enthusiastic Cecilia who runs the Wahaca blog. She recognised us from our twitter postings about Pozole making and my other comments in the blog. It was definitely cool to match an online entity with a name. Soon after that we met Tomasina and had a fabulous conversation about Mexican food, chiles, posole, one of my food idols Diane Kennedy (who btw is coming to London soon!), Tommi's recent recipe competition for creative chilli recipes and more. Alas, duty called and she had to get back to the prep as more guests arrived.

Creamy guacamole and zesty salsa were passed around with proper tortilla chips and fantastically light chicharones. Our server recommended a squeeze of lime on the crackling which made all the difference. Su-lin and I honed in on that and nearly finished a bowl ourselves.

Finally we were seated and Tommi and her business partner Mark welcomed all the guests. We got the run down on what we'd be served this night, and to my delight Mark also told us about a trio of tequilas that would be served alongside the dishes.

And then the food started arriving. The menu is split between Street Food; Soups and Salads; and Platos Fuertes.

We started with a selection of some of the new street food dishes. First up was a tostada with MSC smoked herring topping. The oiliness of the fish beautifully complemented by a sharp Veracruz style tomato sauce with flavours of olives and capers. This dish is definitely one to come back for.

Next, a taco filled with Pork Pibil. Succulent shreds of slow cooked pork, with an altogether different sauce.

And last from the Street Food section a Huitalcoche Quesadilla. I was really excited about this one as huitalcoche is a peculiar fungus that grows in between corn kernels, and not easy to come by here. As a result, for this recipe the corn fungus was mixed with sweetcorn and british mushrooms to round out the filling. I have to say I couldn't really make out a distinctive huitalcoche flavour but it was a good quesadilla nonetheless.

The next set of dishes were centered around the Soups and Salads section. First up was earthy black bean soup. I missed the assembling of it but enjoyed the texture and flavour layers in it. This could easily be a meal unto itself.

The Winter Fuerza salad was one of the evening's highlights for me. Frisee, avocado, crispy fried ancho chilies, queso fresco (or was it feta?), locally grown spelt, roasted squash all festivally presented in a big bowl to share. The vinaigrette tasted of lime but didn't overpower the ingredients.

Without missing a beat, the main dishes started arriving.

There was a pollock cooked Veracruz style, which arrived in a foil packet. I loved the big hits of cinnamon flavour coming through in the sauce, but was a bit underwhelmed by the fish. Not sure why, but it didn't seem to carry the sauce as a complete unit it felt like fish + sauce rather than fish in sauce. If that makes sense.

The absolute hit of the evening was next: a classic Baja-California Fish Taco -- crispy fried fish with just the right kick of chipotle mayonaise served in a soft taco. I could have eaten a whole tray of these alone and am now contemplating throwing a fish taco party in the near future. High marks for this one.

Next up was chicken enchiladas served with Oaxacan (wahacan) mole sauce. Think rich, chile/chocolate/spicy sauce. A perfect foil for the shredded chicken and tortillas.

The last main was a vegetable burrito. By this time we were glassy eyed and really struggling to find room for this. I powered on, heard snippets of conversation about cabbage not belonging in the burrito (i wholeheartedly disagree btw), and managed to finish my 1/4 burrtito.

Miraculously we all found room for the dessert which was a platter of light crispy churros served with a bowl of hot chocolate. Another inspiration i am going to try making these at home.

Add to the wonderful food an absolutely exhuberant group of people to share the love of good food and drink and it was an evening to remember for a long time. I had great conversations with, sulin, and made a new friend of thelondonfoodie.

Thanks again Qype and Wahaca for putting on this event!

Wahaca on Urbanspoon

Monday, 28 September 2009

A Dim Sum Feast at Leongs Legends

When I lived in NYC, one of my frequent Sunday brunch destinations was the Vegetarian Dim Sum House on Pell street. I was a vegetarian then, but even if I hadn't been this place rocked. You'd have to get the timing right otherwise you'd have to join the ever increasing queue of people wanting the same thing: impecable dim sum of all shaped and sizes. My dining partner and I would systematically work our way through the entire list from start to finish back to start again over several meals. We even saved a copy to rate the ones we particularly liked/disliked.

Fast forward quite a few years and now that Kelsie and I living in London I've been hoping to resurrect this tradition. Lucky for me, World Foodie Guide has done a stellar job of providing a list of the best dim sum places London has to offer.

On this particular Sunday we had organised a reunion of sorts as our dear friend Cat was on her way home to Aberdeen via London, our other friend Kim has recently moved to Londonm as has our friend David and Jorge who happen to have moved quite close to where we are in Crouch End. We were also joined by Marco, another Aberdonian transplant.

The best thing about going for dim sum with such a large group of people is that you really can try everything on the list in just one go! And that's exactly what we did. Unfortunately i wasn't as systematic as i was in the past, and couldn't really tell you what all the dishes were. But they were delicious indeed. And we're hoping to organise another dim sum fest really soon.

Here's a selection of Kelsie's photos from the afternoon:

Leong’s Legends on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Sunday Lunch at The Peasant

As you know, Kels and I take turns each month choosing where we're going to eat out. For September Kelsie wanted to try out Clerkenwell. We already know there's a ton of great restaurants there. The tricky bit, as usual, was narrowing the list down to one choice. Kels did pretty well, and managed to come up with a shortlist of 2 places.

The first, unfortunately was closed. But we're definitely planning on going back when they're open. If you've eaten there let us know what you think!

We had a nice meander up to Kels' second choice, The Peasant. It was a pretty dull day when we went last Saturday. The sky was awash in grey, there was a cool breeze blowing, the streets were mostly empty, and it felt like summer was definitely shut for the year. Perfect conditions to hunker down in a warm, welcoming pub like the Peasant. Our server was from Carluke up in Scotland. We had a nice convo about the weather (of course!) as well as some of the best bacon that comes from his hometown.

To start we opted for a pint each of their guest ales. They have a pretty extensive beer list which i look forward to exploring next time we go. Unfortunately i have totally blanked on what we had. But they were nice. The menu had some interesting dishes on offer, definitely not your average pub food. (Is this what gastro-pub food is like?) I honed in on the Ploughman's which two people could share as a starter. Kelsie chose the roasted cod on cabbage with a poached egg and a hollandaise-like sauce.

The ploughmans was everything i'd want and more: properly grilled bread, generous wedges of Somerset cheddar, hefty slices of ham hock terrine, home made piccalilli, marinated beetroot and a nicely dressed salad. The ham hock terrine was a definite inspiration, as was the piccalilli. I'm going to try both at home to see if i can recreate.

Kelsie's dish was less inspiring. Everything was well cooked and presented, but it wasn't a wow like the ploughmans was.

We both had desserts that in hindsight we didn't need to order. I opted for New York style cheesecake with fresh berries, and Kelsie chose Bannoffee pie with ice cream. The pie and ice cream were served on slate which, when the ice cream started melting didn't seem like the right thing to serve it on. The cheesecake was ok. Base was too thick and the texture was heavier than i prefer.

Total bill for ploughmans, cod, 2 pints, 2 desserts, 1 double espresso and 1 glass of oloroso + service came to £53.

Would we go again? most definitely!

The Peasant / 240 St. John's Road / 0871 332 9046

Peasant on Urbanspoon