Archive | February, 2011

Store Cupboard Cooking

25 Feb

Lots of cooking at the moment as it is the safest way to avoid eating out too much. It’s getting harder though, a new place just opened across the road called Van Horn, apparently they do a killer fried chicken sandwich,  plus I am beginning to get pizza withdrawal symptoms especially as I torture myself by checking out the Slice blog way too often.

Here are a few things I have made this week in no particular order…..

Having tried a little of Brooklyn Larders signature couscous salad I had it in my mind to make some of my own. After the gym today I was hungry so raided the store cupboard. The good thing about cooking lots is that you suddenly find you have a fridge full of ingredients and a store cupboard worthy of the name. This was  a case of find it, chop it, season it and eat it…..Very delicious it was too. Red onion, bell pepper, coriander, parsley, toasted almonds, lime juice and extra virgin olive oil.


Came across a Skye Gyngell recipe page in the Independent focussing on oats. This flapjack recipe seemed like a good compromise between sweet and healthy. It took all of five minutes to make and is a great snack for after dinner.

Here is the link because I am too lazy to write the ingredients and method.

I actually went freestyle after the sugar, butter and honey and added dried apricot, raisins, pumpkin, sunflower and sesame seeds. As long as the dry ingredients are in ratio to the other stuff you can do what you like….I think….

Dinner last night were these chickpea cakes….

I have been meaning to make this recipe for years, the furthest I ever got was the salad Delia recommends to serve on the side. That salad is amazing, it is a must for any BBQ, it’s so refreshing it cuts through anything heavy, spicy and is even great with a simple piece of fish….I didn’t make it tonight though as I ran out of onion……a simple rocket salad did the job….. .

It’s another of those recipes with a long ingredient list, but as I said we are getting a pretty good store cupboard now, so apart from the fresh coriander everything was on hand…..well almost, the chilli I had was so mild that I added some cayenne pepper and I cheated a little as I used ground spices.

The method seemed pretty good, the only problem came with forming the patties. The mix was so loose that as soon as I dipped it in the egg it began to fall apart. Out of desperation I ended up pouring the egg into the mix and just flouring the patties and this seemed to work fine. Delia recommends to form them as soon as the mix is are cool enough but I think next time I will let the mixture sit a while first.

In the end they firmed up nicely having rested for 30 minutes and turned out be delicious.

Before I left London I decided that I could not carry lots of cook books back so just took photos of a bunch of recipes. Hopefully this is clear enough to be able to follow.


The Best Fish and Chips

21 Feb

I learnt many things while working at Melrose and Morgan but possibly one of the most enduring is that as much as people love to go out and eat all kinds of fancy food there is nothing more appealing  than the simple things done well.

With some left over Red Snapper fillet I was reminded of one of those very dishes. It was a regular Friday favourite, house made fish fingers, bakers fries and minted peas with tartare sauce. I picked up a little cod to supplement what we had and set about recreating a classic.

What is quite strange is that having spent literally hours watching the chefs at work create dish after dish of food, nearly all the cooking I am doing now is for the first time. I could say that it was time constraints, after all many working days were long, and the last thing anyone wants to do after a long day is to cook for one. However looking back I was in a privileged position of having all the hard work done for me. All I had to do was pick out the already prepped ingredients and put them together.

The truth is I rarely cooked as more often than not when I did I was unhappy with the results. The down side to working around food and being a stickler for quality is that nothing is ever quite right. However since most of what I cook now is from scratch I tend to be a little less tough on myself. Sure not everything comes out just right but the difference is without putting the pressure on myself I can chalk it up to experience and get it right the next time.

On the other hand sometimes its just so simple that you cannot fail to nail it first time…….

Feeds 2 people

300g Fish (I used red snapper and cod, but salmon, pollack, coley, haddock would all work)

50g Panko (or bread crumbs)

Egg, flour, salt and pepper

1 tablespoon chopped parsley or tarragon

Scroll over pics for instructions……

Pre heat oven to 180, drizzle potatoes with olive oil, salt and cayenne pepper bake for 45 mins

Frozen peas

Mint, garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper

Boil water add peas and 2 garlic cloves, when peas are cooked drain, remove garlic add mint and olive oil and blend/mash. Do not over blend as it is nice to keep the texture of the peas, season to taste.

Tartare sauce

Hellman’s mayo, capers, gherkins, red onion, lemon juice

Chop the capers, gherkins, red onion into small dice, add mayonnaise and stir season with lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste.




The Jim 2

19 Feb

All of my early New York eating adventures were inspired by a list and that list was supplied by Jim.

He was a regular at my last place of work and everyday he would come in for his coffee and a quick chat. Sometimes football related, (somehow he and his son Adam had become Wigan fans, I am not sure how that happens to a Canadian and a New Yorker but it did), but mainly we would discuss food. It often centered around where he had eaten the night before or various spots that I should try on my travels. On one such occasion whilst still doing the long distance thing between NY and LDN he gave me a list of  places to eat at and a link to a very handy food map that Adam had created.

From this point on I was never lacking in places to go and in many ways it was that original list which inspired this blog and certainly my own Eating Maps on the home page. Last week I got an email to say he was in town so it seemed fitting that if I was going to break my 3 week burger fast it should be with him.

Jim suggested Bill’s which was not my favourite burger from last time round, and I suggested Burger and Barrel. I won. I was interested to see just how good this burger was having decided that after my all time favourite, The Little Owl, this was the best I had tried in the previous 3 months.

As a burger on its own it did not disappoint. The patty is so juicy and their sauce so tasty that it really stands up on its own without the need for condiments. The burger was cooked to medium rare perfection. The fries are ok, crisp, but I imagine as it comes with 2 onion rings that they fry them in the same oil which does nothing for the flavour of the potato.

That aside this is definitely a top burger and one I would return to again and again. They also have plenty of wine by the glass, beers on tap and Adam had a mean looking spiked Caramel and Bourbon milkshake.

So in honour of Jim and his list I dedicate this post…….

Almost Aloo Gobi

18 Feb

Many years ago I spent several months traveling in India for no better reason than I liked the sound of it. While I did not “find myself” I did discover some useful things. Firstly if you want to lose weight there is no better diet than 3 months traveling and secondly that Indian food is quite tasty.

Before I arrived in Chennai I had never stepped foot in an Indian restaurant! I have to admit it was not an instant love affair, besides not knowing any of the dishes, there were the health implications of dining in India and my natural resistance to trying new things. It was not until I met fellow travellers Frank and Silvia (with whom I still remain good friends to this day) that my eyes were truly opened to the joy of Indian cuisine. It was only with their cajoling that I realised the joy of the unknown, this also extended beyond the food as with India almost everything is unexpected.

India holds special food memories for me, not only was it the last place that I ate a McDonald’s, it was the only time I have tried vegetarianism (I realise the contradiction here) and it was also where I discovered Aloo Gobi (potato and cauliflower). Although not a complex dish I tried many variations ranging from the mild home-cooked version I had in Kodagu to the unbelievably spicy version I could not eat in Kodaikanal.

Whilst I have often wished to recreate Indian dishes at home I have always found the list of ingredients off-putting. Everytime I open a recipe there is at least one spice we are missing which means another trip to Sahadi’s to stock our ever-expanding collection. However this almost aloo gobi recipe is as simple as a curry can be.

The recipe is straight from a blog post so I cannot take credit, but here is the method.

They have swapped the potato out in favour of chickpeas allowing for the addition of rice and adding protein without the need for meat. Serves 3-4

1 tablespoon canola oil
/better with ghee if you can get it

1 tablespoon minced or grated ginger

3 large garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 teaspoons garam masala

2 teaspoons curry powder


½ medium head cauliflower, cut into small-medium sized florets

(15-ounce) can diced tomatoes

(15-ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed

4 ounces frozen peas
1. In a large skillet, heat the canola oil over medium heat. Add the garlic, ginger, garam masala, and curry powder. Cook until fragrant, 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly.
2. Add the cauliflower and toss to incorporate with the spices, then stir in ½ teaspoon salt, the chickpeas, and the tomatoes with their liquid. Cover the pan and simmer over medium heat for 10 to 15 minutes, until the cauliflower is tender, stirring occasionally. Stir in the peas, cover again, and continue simmering for 2-3 minutes, until the peas are heated through. Serve over rice, topped with plain yogurt and mango chutney, if desired.
We served this with some home-made garlic naan and a spicy coriander chutney. The recipe does not include any hot spice, feel free to add chilis or cayenne pepper to taste with the rest of the spices.

The bread I made from scratch, it is based on a Lavash recipe but makes perfect Indian style flat bread, and is so simple to make.

300g white flour

200g water

15g honey

6g salt

3g instant yeast (9g fresh yeast)

Mix ingredients and develop into a strong smooth dough, shape into 75g balls, cover and allow to rise for 1 hour at room temperature. Refrigerate for a minimum of 1 hour and no more than 24 hours. When ready to cook pre-heat a pan to a high heat. De-gas dough balls and use a rolling-pin flatten , add some oil/ghee and place dough in pan allowing the dough to bubble and brown, flip and continue for approx 90 seconds each side.

The Gym 1

18 Feb

It has been a week since I joined the gym and things have been going well. The first thing that I should point out is that as with life nothing is ever as simple as it appears.

I arrived with a print out receipt for my 30 days for $30. Tony the affable manager smiled and took me to his booth where he began to hit me with his spiel. Two minutes in and I was dizzy with the different options, money-saving offers and too good to be true deals. As I tried to convince Tony that all I was interested in were the 30 days I had planned, he could not fathom why I would not sign up to his clearly better deal.

I was sucked in to the point where I felt my will beginning to bend and while in hindsight I should have just manned up and told the truth “I am here for 30 days no more, just want to take advantage of your silly offer, I have no intention of joining your gym.” I squirmed trying to explain how my indecision was chronic and that I should ‘think about it a little more’. I eventually managed to convince him to let me be and that after a quick workout I would comeback with a decision. He relented and I went on my way.

In my earlier post I joked that since I had not entered a gym for well over 10 years the only machine that I may be able to use was the exercise bike. It turned out I was almost correct. For 5 minutes I peddled furiously wondering why none of the buttons would work and why there was no resistance even when I tried to increase the tension. Turns out the machine was broken…ooops

Thoroughly embarrassed I sheepishly moved onto the next machine, a kind of step thingy which again I could not turn on until I worked out that by starting to step the machine lit up, I managed 10 minutes and burned 125 calories, almost enough for a burger bun!!! Next onto to the weights, again a bad idea, especially stood next to some Schwarzenegger type, I over exerted myself and felt the rip as I tore my muscle fibres to shreds. Back to the exercise bike and another 100 calories. By this point I was pooped, sweaty and ready to confront Tony.

Luckily by this stage he was exasperated from dealing with an irate client and was easily persuaded to give me my temporary membership without any more cajoling. Finally I was on my way. I have since returned every day and after 2 weeks healthy eating and 3 days of gym have dropped 5 KG. Happy Days!!!


16 Feb

When I posited the question of Valentines to my girlfriend and she responded with a shrug and asking “are we really doing anything for that?” How can you not be happy?

For this alone she deserved a gift. Since I had time on my hands I figured that just buying chocolates and flowers was a little trite so I decided why not make some chocolates. I have never tried before but my recent experiment with the ganache chocolate pots gave me the confidence to think that I could pull off some simple truffles and while thinking of what else I could do I was struck by the idea of turning the seasonal citrus bounty into candied peel.

So here goes, Meyer lemons, Blood oranges, lots of sugar and a first attempt at tempering chocolate………

First up the ganache.

  1. bring water to boil and place bowl over the top not in contact with water
  2. add 200g chopped Valrhona chocolate and 300ml cream
  3. add pinch of seal salt and stir gently
  4. once the chocolate had begun to melt you can remove from heat and continue stirring until melted and combined
  5. refrigerate overnight
  6. using a melon baller or spoon, scoop out small balls of ganache and roll in cocoa powder
  7. refrigerate or freeze in an air tight container for up to 8 weeks

Something wasn’t quite right here, (I should say that I free styled and did not stick to the above recipe) I think I may have used too much cream in relation to chocolate, otherwise it is just that I did not use Valrhona and nothing quite compares….All this said still very tasty….Next is the slow process to candid peel.

  1. slice into the skin trying not to pierce the fruit
  2. pull back the peel and remove from the fruit
  3. with the back of a knife scrape as much of the white pith from the peel as possible
  4. place the cleaned peel in cold water and bring to the boil
  5. repeat this process twice
  6. add 2 cups of sugar to 4 cups of water and bring to a boil stirring the sugar into the solution
  7. reduce heat, add the peel and simmer until the liquid has reduced to a quarter of the starting level (approx 1.5hrs)
  8. allow mixture to cool and then remove the peel wiping off excess syrup
  9. dredge peel in sugar to coat and allow to dry on racks for at least 1 hour
  10. They maybe stored in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks

Next up is the tempering, this is essentially carefully heating the chocolate, cooling it and then reheating again all in effort to get stable glossy chocolate.

  1. chop 350g of chocolate and place in a bowl above a pan of bowling water
  2. using a kitchen thermometer heat the chocolate up to no more than 115 F (from my experience remove from heat at about 110 and stir gently using a plastic spatula it should continue to rise up to 115, if not replace on the heat for 5 seconds and continue stirring)
  3. Add 150g of chocolate to the mix and stir to bring the temperature back down to 84 F. If you reach this temp and there is still unmelted chocolate remove and save for another use.
  4. return to the heat and again stirring gently take the chocolate up to 88 F and no higher than 89 F
  5. Your chocolate should be tempered. Do a spot check by smearing a small amount on some parchment paper and allow to cool. It should be shiny and crack when snapped
  6. once you are happy the chocolate has been tempered dip/roll your ingredients ensuring that the chocolate stays between 84-89 F

My first attempt at tempering chocolate was not a total success although it seemed to work to some extent. My tempered chocolate began to streak on the candied peel but did maintain a satisfactory snap upon eating…..My experience taught me that the more chocolate you use the easier it is to control, and to remove the chocolate from the heat well before you get close the desired temperature as it will continue to rise without the heat source.

The important thing was that my girlfriend was very grateful for all the effort I had gone too, and I was very grateful for not being in a cheesy restaurant struggling to make romantic conversation for the sake of the Greeting Cards Industry!!!!

Cookie Bar and beyond

12 Feb

The term ‘Pop Up Cookie Bar‘ should be enough to get any self respecting sugar addict excited.

Cookie Bar Pop Up (Window design John Crash Grafitti Artist)

Well I was and while my first thought was that it was not conducive to my healthy eating plan I decided that since it was the last  day of the event I was in little danger of a relapse irrespective of how good the cookies were.

The next term, ‘the early bird catches the worm’ is one of those meaningless clichés that only comes up when someone wants to say I told you so. In this case myself. It is like many a cliché, so obviously true that when someone points it out the only normal response is a punch in the face.

Having got to the cookie bar literally just in time to watch the last cookie being handed over I decided that to then punch myself in the face as well would be adding insult to injury, and instead I should lick my wounds and head somewhere else for cookie therapy. I would add that I was consoled in the best possible way by Dorie Greenspan (whose pop up it was) when her husband seeing the disappointment on my face rummaged around to find the last albeit slightly damaged cookie and offered it to me free of charge.  It was the best all butter cookie I have ever had, so I left happy with a rueful smile thinking of how things could have been had I got up earlier…..or not gone to the gym!!!

Since I do not travel into Manhattan all that often it seemed to make sense to at least make the most of it. The Pop Up  Cookie Bar was on 59th and Lexington in a hair salon of all places, and I know of two good sweet spots that way. One is Dylan’s Candy Bar which I am sure I will come to in another post and the other is the ever reliable Bouchon Bakery. For my money they serve the best cookies in NY barring pop ups….It is Thomas Keller after all who is according to many one of the greatest chefs ever.

The Bouchon Bakery is in the Time Warner Centre and while not exactly cheap it is the only way to sample his food without shattering the bank balance. There is a simple cafe where you can enjoy fancy salads, sandwiches and soups and then a take out bakery counter where all manner of sweet treats beckon. They even sell Foie Gras doggy biscuits, pretty distasteful to my mind but not enough to start boycotting the place.

With sweet fix in hand I decided to check out ‘Wichcraft, Tom Colicchio’s sandwich place. Colicchio has a small empire of upmarket restaurants across NY, but ‘Wichcraft is his attempt to offer the same guiding principles behind his food at a lower price point. This concept mirrored in Keller’s Bouchon is something that is missing in the London eating scene.There are simply too many high-end restaurants who do little to widen their reach, short of the excellent Fino-Barrafina connection I cannot think of any.

They offer gourmet sandwiches priced slightly above the normal take out joints but not dissimilar to if you were ordering in a restaurant ($9-$11). My  free range chicken and cauliflower with olive aoili was generously filled and with interesting flavours. The chicken was perhaps a little dry having been warmed up, and it was unfortunate that the curried cauliflower was fridge cold not making for a great contrast. However overall it was a good sandwich with excellent ciabatta roll. They have many locations across the city, many take away only but if you are nearby The Lincoln Center they have a branch with plenty of seating.