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The best vegetarian recipes of 2016

I've been cooking vegetarian in 2016. It's about climate change: meat-eating is a big part of our carbon footprint, and it's something we can change. So here I'm sharing some of the best veggie recipes I found this year. Most of them are not too complex, the point is everyday meals not dinner parties.

Note: you don't have to go full-vegan - phew. You can do meat-free Mondays, you can try Veganuary, you can give up beef, or whatever, it all makes a difference. It's true that vegans have the smallest carbon footprint but it's pretty unlikely we're all going to go that far, and a more vegetarian diet makes a big improvement. (Here's an article with some data about that...)

So here we go, the best vegetarian recipes of 2016 - as judged by a meat-eater! ;)

Spring

Untitled

Summer

  • Asparagus, pea, feta and mint salad - great combination.
  • Pea, mozzarella & lemon tart (from Take One Veg) - wasn't quite as "speedy" as the recipe's name suggested (40 min when I did it...). But maybe it gets quicker once you get handier with the puff pastry. It was really nice, fresh-tasting.
  • Untitled Sweet onion and puy lentil stew - I was so impressed with this, one of those simple meals that if you do it well is really satisfying. The texture+flavour contrast from the onions on top is the key.
  • Grilled orange, carrot & halloumi (from "River Cottage Fruit") - ace, just an ace combination of three flavours, lightly dressed. Easy to make and the ingredients are not exotic. Really handy.

Autumn

  • Untitled Jackfruit "pulled pork". This is extremely handy - it fills a gap that a lot of veggy stuff doesn't, i.e. it's a big barbecue nom with a meaningful texture. Really all you need is to keep a tin of green jackfruit in your store-cupboard, it doesn't need anything else exotic. It's easy to cook (just a pan on a gentle heat for half an hour, really). (However, one tin of jackfruit feeds about me-and-a-quarter. If only we were perfectly size-matched...)
  • Big aubergine and lemon tagine - OH YEAH is really all I've got to say about this.
  • Roast pumpkin and aubergine spaghetti

Winter

  • Butternut squash toad-in-the-hole
  • Untitled Slow-roasted tomato lasagne (from Take One Veg) - great flavour, and easy to make - though the tomatoes take a while to slow-roast, so do note that it's slow even though really easy. Also note that you need loads of tomatoes, you'll be surprised. I was low on creme fraiche so I used half creme fraiche half greek yogurt, that worked fine and makes it a bit lighter.

These are all ones that were new discoveries. Of course there's plenty of standard stuff too. Anyway - pick a recipe, give it a go.

Thursday 22nd December 2016 | food | Permalink

Vegetarian food in Paris

While in Paris briefly (on my way somewhere else), I decided to go only to vegetarian restaurants. This helps to narrow down the list!

The curiously-named Sense.eat is an Italian veggy restaurant right in the centre of town, just a touch south of the river. Friendly and efficient atmosphere, and lots of really nice flavours. It was a good sign when they served a little starting-taste of creamed sweet potato garnished with wafer-thin slices of yellow beetroot - delicious flavour, expertly done. Then, for my starter, I had a puree of... well I don't really know how to translate what I had, but let's say a puree of some sort of pea, with courgette flowers, topped with fried kale and pumpkin seeds. It tasted ace.

For the main course I went for the fancy-sounding tofu crusted with quinoa, served with a big mushroom and a mushroomy broth. The tofu was fine, but to be honest not really more than the sum of its parts. The mushroom and the broth tasted really deeply though. You can't tell from a photo whether it's just a mushroom or something more, but rest assured it was really flavourful:

Untitled

Later the same day I ate in Brasserie Lola. The fun thing about Brasserie Lola is that it's vegan but they basically keep that a secret - you can't tell from outside, in fact you can't really tell from the menu unless you peer really closely and wonder why the cheeseburger involves "seitan".

I had said cheeseburger and chips, and it's good. I also had a nice starter of leeks in vinaigrette. The sorbet I had for afters was a bit marred by being covered in cream (wtf?) but never mind. The place is nice and has a good feel to it, classic French brasserie style.

I've got to give credit to happycow.net for helping me find both these places.

Sunday 30th October 2016 | food | Permalink

Vegetarian armoury: things you might need

I've been cooking more and more vegetarian food this year. It's better for the climate and why not. You don't have to give anything up, in my opinion - you don't ned to go full veggy, just go in that direction.

So, to mark World Vegetarian Day here are my secrets, as a meat-eater, for how I'm cooking vegetarian for myself and not going hungry or getting bored. It's not really a glamorous list. The point is everyday eating. These are things that I didn't always have in the past but are now really handy go-to things to have in the cupboard:

  • Halloumi - lasts ages in the fridge. It's a classic veggie standby but the main reason I've added it is I've worked out a few different recipes with it - it's not just a one-trick pony. Most veggies will tell you "just grill it and eat it, it's lovely" but you need to have a few options. One unusual but easy and good is griddled halloumi+carrot+orange - a trick I got from the "River Cottage Fruit" cookbook - those three flavours go together great as a fast warm salad.
  • Black beans - a tin of black beans is really handy. A full flavour, and versatile. My top tip is my "black bean chorizo": Drain & mash 1 tin black beans, marinate with red wine, paprika, fennel, crushed garlic, salt&pepper. Then keep that in a sealed box in the fridge - it lasts for weeks and weeks and you can add a dab to stews or whatever to add a deep developed flavour that sometimes is missing from veggy life. Other things you can do with black beans include putting them in a wrap/taco, using them in stews, salads, you get the idea.
  • Puy lentils (ready-cooked and vacuum packed) - a pack lasts for ever in the cupboard, can be an emergency meal in itself, and is a great ingredient for a roast tomato lasagne, or a stew. The roast tomato lasagne is a great recipe in Take One Veg by Georgina Fuggle.
  • Chickpeas - kinda obvious, but: chickpeas are (a) handy for curries or tagines, (b) can be whizzed up for a nice fresh hummus at the drop of a hat, and as a bonus trick, (c) the water from a tin of chickpeas can be used for those bonkers vegan meringues.
  • Spinach - lasts ages in the fridge, and versatile - it can be salad, or cooked, or put into curries etc.
  • Cauliflower/broccoli - in British cookery, the tradition is to have these as just a veg on the side of your meat dish. But a cauliflower or a broccoli can totally be the centrepiece of lots of good veggie main courses. Cauliflower cheese is an obvious one. Roasted cauli/broccoli makes a good basis for a warm salad like this one. This year has also seen lots of recipes for "cauliflower couscous" or "cauliflower pesto" in which you put a cauliflower in a blender. Not my favourite thing to do with a cauli, I'll admit, but at least it's showing its adaptability.
  • Nuts! I've now got an old ice-cream tub full of different types of nuts. peanuts (plain), almonds, pine nuts, walnuts, etc etc. again, they last forever, they add protein and sweetness and variety, and yeah loads of recipes.

None of this is big news, especially not to anyone who's already a vegetarian. But if you're a meat eater, try getting these things in stock, and adding a couple more recipes to your inventory.

There are a couple of things not included in that list above. I'm too impatient to spend a lot of time with tofu (I don't see why I should spend ages marinating tofu to add some flavour to it, when I could just fry some halloumi or some paneer instead), though I love tofu in a thai green curry. Avocados are great but they don't last long, they're expensive, and although people do various weird things with avocados (like make cakes from them), I usually find the best thing to do with an avocado is just to eat it!

Sunday 2nd October 2016 | food | Permalink

Food in the Bavarian Forest

Just back from a trip to the Bavarian Forest - hiking, eating, wandering around. Here are the highlights of what I ate!

Traditional:

  • Pork Schnitzel Wiener art - classic around here, and in Eisensteiner Hof in Bayerisch Eisenstein I had a really excellent one. The meat was tender and flavourful, and the coating delightfully smooth with some lemon juice sprinkled over.
  • At the Schwellhaus'l guesthaus a lovely deer goulash, with red cabbage and spaetzle (soft dumplingy noodles).
  • Trout is a main fish around there, and at Haus zur Wildnis in Ludwigsthal they did a delicious smoked trout salad. For afters a nice traditional pancake, with a date preserve (I think that's what it was!).
  • I also had very nice little pancakes at the Eisensteiner Hof - that time I did manage to write down what they were: "liwanzen" apparently, Viennese. This time served with a nice and tart berry compote.
  • At Poeschl in Bayerisch Eisenstein I had echt Bayerisch brotzeit ("bread time"), having two boiled white sausages, with a pretzel, plus apfelschorle and some baerwurst to wash it down.

Not particularly traditional:

  • Utaty in Bayerisch Eisenstein is a vegan indian restaurant, open only on Friday and Saturday evenings, and with a set menu written in a notebook in a very dear-diary style:
  • Also on a veggie tip - I've been searching for veggieburgers worth making/eating. Most are... a bit meh. At Adam's Brauerei in Bodenmais I had one of the best veggieburgers I've had. So what was it? In fact it was just a straightforward veg pattie, but you couldn't tell since it was overwhelmed by: two slices fried courgette, a fried egg, tomato, cheese, and some micro salad leaves, all in a beautiful "alkaline" burger bun ("alkaline" according to automatic translation of "Laugen-Burger-Broetchen"...) with guacamole on the side. So that's how.
  • Best ice cream was at Cafe Charlotte in Zelezna Ruda. I had a berry one and another one whose name I couldn't translate.

But my special prize goes to this which is... not traditional but has some "tradition" to it:

  • "Country" pizza on the German/Czech border (in the village of Zelezna Ruda, and almost the closest eatery to the border there - a place called Cukrárna Sněhurka), featuring sauerkraut, sausage, ham, and soured cream. Whether a cynical invention or not, it's a great combination, and a nicely done pizza base, I was very nicely surprised.
Sunday 31st July 2016 | food | Permalink

Bacup test kitchen July update

OK a brief PAUSE on my vegetarian year as we report back on the latest iteration of our ongoing project to develop the bacup.

Bacup chef

This time I had some of my black bean chorizo in the fridge so we did bacups with a layer of black bean chorizo, then an egg on top, then some grated cheese on the egg.

Bacups coming out of the oven

After pre-cooking the bacups we wanted to take them out of the little pots so they would crisp up properly in stage two, but they weren't holding together enough for that so we kept them in the pots. Added the fillings, blast them about 10 mins in the oven, and look at this lovely result:

Bacups on yr plate

The egg almost-perfectly cooked, slightly runny yolk, protected from the oven by the cheese - and complemented perfectly with the dark chorizo-y bean mix. Crispy top of the bacon, even though not crispy all through. Best bacups on record, IMHO - taste-wise, at least, even though we still need to work on structural issues.

Sunday 10th July 2016 | food | Permalink

Getting better at vegetarian food

I've decided to cook more vegetarian food. Meat-eating is one of our biggest contributors to CO2 emissions and climate change, and certainly it's the biggest one that I can do something about. The nice thing is you don't have to go vegetarian - it's not all-or-nothing - just eat a bit less meat than normal, and you're on your way to improving your carbon footprint.

I'm not a fan of the "fake meat" vegetarian route (quorn, lentil sausages, etc) so what I've done is asked friends for some good new everyday veggie meals. So how's it going so far?

  • The top award goes to Warm spiced cauliflower and chickpea salad with pomegranate seeds. It's easy to do and it makes a proper main course out of a cauliflower. The recipe is by Nigella Lawson, and thanks to Kitty for sending it me! I know pomegranate is not the most everyday thing ever - I've made it without them and it's OK - but if you've got them it's nice, and fancy.
  • African peanut stew is a great way to use some peanut butter from the storecupboard to make a stew into something rich and hearty. (Thanks Chrystie.) You can also do it with chopped peanuts, as I discovered when I didn't realise I was out of peanut butter...
  • While we're on the subject of cauliflower, by the way, you can't beat a classic cauliflower cheese, flavoured with a dab of mustard and nutmeg, served with crunchy bread/toast and a few leaves.
  • A butternut squash is a handy thing to have on standby. Roast it for an hour with walnuts, garlic, chilli, and some whole sprigs of herbs - covered for the first half an hour - then finish it off with the juice of half a lemon just before serving.
  • And here's another thing you can do with a squash: curried lentil, squash and apple stew (thanks Felix)
  • Veggie moussaka is good, more interesting than veggie lasagne cos after all, the aubergines are still key, so put them together with green lentils and there you go. Warning - this recipe takes a while to put together because of pre-cooking the things and then assembling them. (Thanks to Rachelle and Miranda.)
  • This one might be obvious if you're into Indian food. With lentils and a few other things from the cupboard you can easily make a dhal, to have with some chapati (or other flatbread). I haven't found a recipe I'm particularly into yet, to be honest, but it's a simple thing to do when I'm out of ideas!

Some other nice little recipes I came up with are beetroot nisk soup and kale and rosemary flatbread.

I've been adapting/replacing meaty recipes as I go along - a nice example is to adapt the fab standby tupperware chorizo recipe and simply use mashed black beans (or kidney beans) instead of pork mince. Hey presto you've got this stuff you can keep in the fridge for ages and fry it into a simple meal to add some depth and complexity. Of course the texture is nothing like pork but that's not what I was trying to do.

I'm still eating meat but definitely less, and I find now that I don't need to have meat always in stock as a default fallback. Just add a handful more everyday veggie recipes to your lineup.

Sunday 20th March 2016 | food | Permalink

Mushy peas three-way showdown

Lunchtime showdown: three different tins of mushy peas!

  • Harry Ramsden
  • Sainsbury's
  • Batchelors
Mushy peas line-up

All served up with a bit of black pudding.

Mushy peas throw-down

The verdict:

Sainsbury's mushy peas are not very nice - there's a kind of minty flavour (mint is not in the ingredients) which tastes like it's masking something.

Harry Ramsden's are nice - chip-shop flavour, with a decent hint of savoury flavour.

Batchelors mushy peas are pretty similar to Harry Ramsden's, but with not so much of the savoury depth. They're fine, but just short of the chip-shop flavour I'm looking for.

Monday 14th December 2015 | food | Permalink

How to cook the perfect Lancashire hotpot

Lancashire hotpot is a classic dish where I come from. Lamb, onion, potatoes, slow-cooked.

There's a short version of this post: Felicity Cloake's "perfect Lancashire hotpot" article in the Guardian is correct. Read that article.

Really the main way you can mess up Lancashire hotpot is by trying to fancy it up. As Cloake says, don't pre-cook the potatoes or the onions, or the meat. With the meat, lamb neck is a good choice, easy to find in supermarkets and good for slow cooking. (I bet Cloake is right that mutton is more traditional and would suit it well, but I don't tend to find that in the shops.) Cut the meat into BIG pieces - not "bite-size" pieces as in many stews, and not the bite-size pieces you get in supermarket ready-diced meat. Bigger than that. At least an inch thick.

I'm pretty sure I remember there being carrots in the regular school hotpot, so I add carrot (in big chunks so it stands up to the long cooking). Floury potatoes (not waxy) is the right way to do it, definitely - and for the reasons mentioned by Cloake: "the potatoes that have come into contact with the gravy dissolve into a rich, meaty mash, while those on top go crisp and golden – for which one needs a floury variety such as, indeed, a maris piper." I've got a standard recipe book here which says to put some potatoes on the bottom as well as the top, and that seems a bit odd at first glance but it gives you a good ratio of crispy potato to melted potato...

In a sense this is basically just a stew/casserole and you can do what you like, so I can try not to be too dogmatic, but it's one of those minimalist recipes where if you mess about with it too much you have "just another stew" rather than this particular flavour. It's traditional to use kidneys as well as meat (my grandma did that) but we didn't have that at school and certainly when I'm cooking just for me I'm not going to bother. However, I'm shocked to see Jane Horrocks suggest putting black pudding in underneath the potatoes! It's also mentioned by commenters on the Guardian article, so I assume it must be a habit in some bits of Lancashire... but not my bit.

That aside, the recipe to look at is Felicity Cloake's "perfect Lancashire hotpot" article in the Guardian.

Sunday 1st November 2015 | food | Permalink

The invention of cooking

I found this great old book in an Edinburgh library a few years ago, about the invention of cooking. It's called "Food in History" by Reay Tannahill, published 1975.

I copied out a fascinating couple of paragraphs, let me quote them here:

But how the process of boiling was discovered - as it appears to have been long before the invention of pottery or the development of metalworking techniques - is a much more difficult problem. Fire may turn up by accident, and roasting may be the equally accidental result. But hot water is a rare natural phenomenon, and cannot be produced either accidentally without containers which are both heatproof and waterproof.

It is usually argued that food in prehistoric times was boiled by the following method. A pit or depression in the earth was first lined with flat, overlapping stones, to prevent seepage, and then filled with water. The water was brought to the boil by heating other stones or pebbles directly in the hearthfire and manhandling them (by some unspecified means) into the water. While the food was cooking, more hot stones were added to keep the water at a suitable temperature. In fact, this pit method sounds like a late development, a mass catering technique designed for large social gatherings which may have been spread by migrating tribes of advanced peoples. These, passing through the territory of backward communities, would repay their hosts by giving a feast. The backward communities, impressed by the new boiled food, would imitate the method - and continue to imitate it - because it was the only one they knew. 5000 B.C. appears to be the earliest date at which there is proof that the technique was used.

Long before this, however, many widely scattered peoples had their own more logical and far less tiresome ways of boiling meat, making use of pre-pottery containers which not only allowed them to use water in their cooking but may even, in some cases, have inspired the idea - either because without some form of liquid the food would stick to the container, or because food cooked in them produced its own moisture in the form of juices or steam.

In many parts of the world, for example, large mollusc or reptile shells must have been used, as they still were in the Amazon in the nineteenth century, when the naturalist Henry Walter Bates sampled a dish made from the entrails of the turtle, "chopped up and made into a delicious soup called sarapatel, which is generally boiled in the concave upper shell of the animal."

In Asia, that productive tree, the bamboo, was probably used. A hollow section stoppered with clay at one end, filled with scraps of meat and a little liquid, then stoppered again at the other would answer the purpose well. The method is still used in Indonesia today.

In Central America, in the Tehuacan valley near the south-western corner of the Gulf of Mexico, the people who lived in rock shelters around 7000 B.C. and gathered wild maize for food had begun to use stone cooking pots. It seems likely that a pot, once made, was sited in the centre of the hearth and left there permanently. It would be very heavy, suitable for use only when a community was firmly fixed in its abode or willing to fashion a new pot each time it moved its cave.

Before the advent of pottery and bronze, there was at least one type of container which was widely distributed, waterproof, and heatproof enough to be hung over (if not in) the fire. This was an animal stomach. In paleolithic times, the hunter, having killed his prey and carved up the flesh for transport, rewarded himself with a banquet of the more perishable parts - the heart, the liver, the brain, the fat behind the eyeballs, and some of the soft internal organs. Like twentieth-century Eskimos, he may have regarded the partially digested stomach contents of his kill as a special treat. It would be a logical development, as his liking for cooked food became a habit, to cook the contents in one of the stomach bags, and finally to use the same container for other dishes, some of them not too far removed in their finished effect from the modern casserole.

As late as the fifth century B.C., the nomad Scythians still cooked their food in a stomach bag when they had no cauldron available. "They put all the flesh into the animal's paunch," said Herodotus, "mix water with it, and boil it like that over the bonefire. The bones burn very well, and the paunch easily contains all the meat once it has been stripped off. [The rumen of a twentieth-century cow has a capacity of thirty to forty gallons.] In this way an ox, or any other sacrificial beast, is ingeniously made to boil itself."

Lots more interesting detail in this chapter ("Food and Cooking before 10,000 B.C."), The focus in this passage is on boiling, coming after some earlier developments such as roasting although roasting "was wasteful because of the shrinkage inevitable with high-temperature cooking."

This book came out in 1975, and it seems it was re-issued in 2000, so you should be able to find a copy. I might get one too. Inventions such as the wheel are well-known cliches - similarly, there must have been so many little revolutions in prehistoric cooking. I wonder if the research on this prehistory has developed further.

Sunday 14th June 2015 | food | Permalink

Best places to eat in Cambridge

I've been staying in Cambridge recently, on a research visit. (Cambridge UK, that is.) So I've had lots of opportunity to try the local eateries. So! Now you get to find out which are the best places to eat, if you ever need to eat in Cambridge:

  • Bibimbap, Mill Road - delicious Korean eatery. Like many amazing places, there's not much choice - you choose from veggie bibimbap, beef bibimbap, pork bibimbap, or a few others, but that's it. What you get is great: a pot of rice and veg and a fried egg, plus sauces and your optional meat. They make their own soy-like sauce which is rich and deep. There's also a "senna tea" (?) which is apparently made from some sort of bean - very savoury and surprisingly moreish.

  • Rainbow Cafe - vegetarian food in the hippy style. I had a delicious artichoke filo parcel. This place has been open for at least a couple of decades and it's still going strong, definitely a top recommendation, even if you aren't veggy. Light food or hearty food, all good.

  • The Sea Tree, Mill Road - sustainable tasty fish and chips - and make sure you don't miss the thoroughly great mushy peas. they also do various other fish dishes but I was definitely in a fish and chips mood.

  • Rice Boat and Cocum - two good places to get a dosa (south Indian savoury pancake). Cocum does a nice set of pickles (I had chicken, veg, fish, and bitter lemon pickle); Rice Bowl's "inchy curry" (gunpowder-ish strong little thing) is a top side-dish.

  • North China Dumpling - does what it says on the tin. A homely little Chinese dumpling cafe.

  • Hot Numbers - hipster coffee place. Good place to taste different coffees (they grind their own) but also they do a good salmon salad, and some surprisingly tasty panini. The food can be a bit over-sweet though - whatever you order (salad or bacon sarnie) it'll be sweetened.

Those are my definite recommendations. Here's a map with them marked on. Thanks to everyone who gave me tips on where to eat! Also some honourable mentions to:

  • Gardenia - fast food takeaway in the town centre. the special burger from Gardi's is glorious: comes with cheese, feta cheese, tzatkiki, gherkin...

  • The Mill - a well-known pub in prime position by the river, they do some decent food, and it's much less painfully trend-hunting than their sister pub The Brew House.

  • The Green Man (Grantchester) - another well-known pub, out in Grantchester.

(I also previously blogged about sushi in Cambridge...)

Monday 25th May 2015 | food | Permalink

South Woodford: the nom review

All these years I've been living in South Woodford I've been tweeting food things from my @nomnomdan twitter. Now, as I prepare to leave South Woodford, what will I miss? Or to put it another way, if you're in South Woodford what should you definitely eat?

  • International Supermarket - great range of cheap fruit, veg, herbs and more. They manage to outdo the Sainsburys, M&S and Waitrose, all nearby in the same precinct. Lots of international foodstuffs: great pittas, turkish delight, dudhis, and for some reason about 500 different varieties of feta.

  • Kistruck's Bakery - fantastic breads, especially the corn bread, the beetroot bread (Saturdays only), the danish bloomer, the lionheart, the German sourdough. Nice pastries too. The continental breads (croissants etc) are just there to fill out the roster. Ignore those and get a couple of their great loaves of bread. They keep for longer than the Sainsburys bread, too.

  • Casa Castelo - friendly little Portuguese cafe. Their pastel de natas (custard tarts) are addictive, and they also do great hot pork sandwiches, and feijoada (pork stew).

  • Cafe on the Lane - it's quite unassuming from the outside but there's quite a lot on their menu that they do just right. Such as: eggs benedict, the "wickerman" burger, and their posh full-english breakfast.

  • Turkish Mangal - for a great iskender. They've changed hands a bit though so things might have changed.

  • Wood Oven - for a great adana kebab.

  • Little Woodford Cafe - friendly little caff, for breakfasts, sarnies etc.

Restaurant-wise, there's plenty of stuff to choose from. Turkish Mangal I've already recommended. Also good are Ark (fish restaurant), Wildwood (italian chain), Nino's (italian), Morello (italian).

So now you know what to eat! (BTW - if you agree or disagree, let me know on twitter. For example, Welshbeard says Bella Naples is great, I didn't get round to trying it.)

Sunday 10th May 2015 | food | Permalink

Cambridge sushi review

I'm surprised that Cambridge doesn't have many sushi places. Surely they've always had plenty of Japanese students around, and plenty of posh metropolitan types? Or does it not work like that? Anyway, I have found two proper sushi restaurants in Cambridge (UK) so here's a quick review.

(Actually, as well as these two, in the middle of town there's a Yo Sushi and soon-to-be a Wasabi too. I've nothing against those chain shops but I don't think of them as proper sushi, simply because you can usually only get tuna and salmon stuff, they don't have a proper sushi selection. Good for convenient food but not the full deal.)

  1. U-Sushi near the Grafton Centre is a friendly little place that does a lot of takeaway. The fish could have been fresher, but there's plenty of variety on the menu and I particularly liked their vegetarian california rolls, made with asparagus, avocado, cucumber, shitake mushroom and pickle.

  2. Japas just off Lensfield Road has a bit more of a restauranty vibe, if that's what you're after. They also seem to do plenty of takeaway. The fish is the same quality as U-Sushi and the range is pretty similar too. I wouldn't bother with their deep-fried ice-cream for afters though, it's nowhere near as much fun as it should be.

Anyone got any more tips? Let me know. There must be a secret sushi palace secreted around here somewhere...

Saturday 11th April 2015 | food | Permalink

Ale in Dartmoor and Devon

While walking around Dartmoor we had some great local-ish ales. Breweries around here seem to be doing a good selection of British ales, not quite as US-influenced as some of the other UK breweries I've sampled recently? Or maybe I'm imagining that.

Here's my list, in roughly descending order of excellence - though they're all good:

  • Bays Summer Ale - light and summery, the tiniest hint of fruit. Very refreshing.
  • Dartmoor's Dartmoor IPA - I liked this one a lot. Lovely clear IPA, golden light colour, hont of pepper, slightly creamy finish. Yum, and Ph says so too.
  • Teignworthy's Moor Beer - very nice session beer. Apparently this is the "Rugglestone" Moor Beer brewed by Teignworthy and served in the Rugglestone Inn (the best pub we found in Dartmoor!). There are a few "Moor Beer"s around.
  • Exmoor Ale - definite quality, full-flavoured but I can't pin it down with any adjectives. I've had their beers at All Tomorrow's Parties before, good stuff.
  • St Austell's Proper Job - a good hoppy IPA, not crazy pokey but a lovely tang.
  • Sharp's Cornish Coaster - refreshingly watery but with a honeyish body, good after a long walk.
  • Devon Ale - good, amber, medium hoppy with some caramel. However, I didn't write down which brewery this is from and now it's not obvious which beer this is actually likely to be...
  • Dartmoor's Legend - decent light and touch of caramelly.
  • Dartmoor's Jail Ale - a worthwhile session ale.
  • St Austell's Tribute - this is decent but too deep in the melon/peach axis for me - not my kind of thing.

Plus a couple which are definitely not from the Devon/Cornwall area, including Lakeland - rich and dark, had it before, like it.

Monday 19th August 2013 | food | Permalink

Boulder Colorado IPAs

Not only is Boulder Colorado the Hebden Bridge of the USA (I'm told it's "where all the hippies went"), but it also has a really impressive amount of craft beer. Following a tip-off (thanks Bob), tonight I went to sample a few IPAs in the Mountain Sun pub. For the education of no-one except myself, here are my tasting notes - first in visual form:

Untitled

then in words:

  • Illusion Dweller IPA: described as "biscuity" and "english-style" but still with a hoppy sour tang at the back of the mouth, very clear and nice. Tastes like a modern American IPA to me, doesn't remind me of England - but a great balance of tang and biscuit, super drinkable.
  • Vagabond IPA: almost a pure grapefruit hit, reminds me of that Metal Man which I loved in Ireland.
  • FYIPA: "piney" is the main impression. However it's not got the sharp piney poke of Becherovka which I really like. Maybe it's unfair to compare a beer against a spirit, but Becherovka integrates its alcohol flavour in with the pine, whereas FYIPA has a kinda noticeable alcohol taste separate from the pine, which is a bit of a shame IMHO.
  • Hop Vivant: yes it's a hoppy IPA, but more balanced, multivalent, colourful than the others I'm tasting tonight. Not a session beer, a bit too rich for that.
  • Cat Burglar: black IPAs are really confusing. Erm. I like it less than the Thornbridge Raven, but I don't know why.

Not to look a gift-horse in the mouth, these are all lovely beers, very well served, but when they're sitting next to each other I have to compare them. Hence the ups and downs in the notes. The winner for me is definitely the Illusion Dweller. The ratings over at ratebeer tell almost the opposite story for some reason, with Illusion Dweller the only one not scoring ninety-something. Who knows what to make of that.


Updates - more beer I've tried from Mountain Sun:

  • Java Porter - a lovely perky porter, coffee flavours as the name suggests but not too exaggerated.

More beer from other breweries:

  • 90 Shilling by Odell - I was not into this at all. Too caramely I think?
  • Old Elk Brown Ale by Walnut Brewery - really really straightforward brown ale. Not too sweet which is good.
  • 1123 IPA by Walnut Brewery - really very nice IPA, perky and floral, assertive yet balanced.
  • Hoppy Knight by Twisted Pine - this black IPA is much nicer than the Cat Burglar, IMHO. It does remind me of Thornbridge Raven, both of them having a kind of clarity to the taste that other dark things like Guinness have (though they don't taste like Guinness! much hoppier etc etc etc). This has a very refreshing taste up-front, with a clearly-separated coffee flavour at the end - neat! And not weird either.

My faves, I think, are 1123, Hoppy Knight, Illusion Dweller.

Sunday 19th May 2013 | food | Permalink

Sandwich of the week

The Little Woodford Cafe does a nice line in sandwiches. They often have a Sandwich Of The Week which adds variety. Here I'm just noting down some good ones they've done, for the purposes of sandwich-filling-inspiration:

  • Salmon, freshly-poached, with cucumber and a homemade tartare sauce
  • Tuna fiorentina (with boiled egg and spinach)
  • Christmas special (turkey, sausage, cranberry sauce, stuffing - oh my)
  • Roast chicken, with a grainy seedy mustard
Tuesday 16th April 2013 | food | Permalink

Chutney from 2004

We found this jar of chutney in the back of the cupboard - dated 24/8/04, made and kindly given to us by Lucy and Gen:

Untitled

So, eight years on, how is it? Nice - a sour and tamarindy taste, and it complemented very well the cheshire cheese we had for our lunch. (I do hope tamarind was one of the ingredients!) I wonder how much it has changed since 2004...

Sunday 10th February 2013 | food | Permalink

The best recipes of 2012

If you follow my @nomnomdan feed you'll have seen me trying out various recipes throughout the year. As we go into 2013 it occurred to me to wonder, what are my best recipes of 2012, things I definitely want to make again?

So here they are, the top hits of 2012. The recipes are mostly not invented by me but each one of them is gorgeous, and they're not very difficult - go on, try at least one of them:

Fish:

  • Poached sea bass, thai style - this is a beautiful way to treat sea bass; and so eeeeeeasy. I prefer to use noodles rather than rice, and it means you don't need any advance preparation.

  • Mackerel (or herring), de-spined and coated in english mustard then in oats, fried 3 mins each side. Served with kale & spuds. The combination of the oily fish with the hot mustard is surprisingly lovely, and kale is a great complement to it. (Kale has always been a bit odd-one-out in the past, but here it goes really well.)

Meat:

Untitled
  • Chairman Mao's red braised pork - apparently a famous Chinese recipe, and it's lovely. I would never have thought to use the sugar to make it caramely sticky, but it works great. I didn't use pork belly but something a little bit less unhealthy.

  • Honey chicken with hoi-sin plantain - sounds like a crazy combination, but again, delicious, and this is very very easy with only a handful of ingredients.

Salad:

  • Lime tabbouleh - always wanted to be able to make this at home, now I know how.

Afters:

  • Rhubarb in the hole - spent the summer experimenting with rhubarb, and this invention was one of the best things I tried. The ginger jam goes really well with the tangy rhubarb.

  • Rhubarb snacking cake - in this one, the magic is the way the fruity lemon bottom layer goes with the tangy rhubarb top layer.

So there you go. Try one of them. And let me know @nomnomdan how you get on...

Saturday 12th January 2013 | food | Permalink

Four Alls Inn, Higham

The Four Alls Inn, the pub in Higham where I grew up, has just re-opened with a bit more of a focus on food than before. So I thought it worth giving the food a bit of a write-up.

Photo of the Four Alls
Photo CC-BY-SA Neil Clifton

The photo above doesn't show it since the refurbishment but it does show the original sign that illustrates what the "Four Alls" actually means (see closeup here). The original sign is preserved of course for historic interest.

Inside, they've got some tasteful new upholstery and carpet, but of course it's still a fairly small place with about 7 tables in the main area (apparently it's sometimes been difficult to get a table booking - everyone's been trying it since the relaunch). They've still got decent local ale on tap (Moorhouse's Pride of Pendle, recommended) and an open fire.

Of course I had to try the black pudding starter. A single slice of black pudding but perfectly done and served with a poached egg and some delicious mustard mash. The mustard mash was excellent, and the poached egg was cooked just right (though it had cooled a bit by the time it got to me).

(My dad thought one slice of black pud wasn't enough, but in combination with the mustard mash and the egg I think it's the right balance. If there's one thing that a food place can do to disappoint me, it's cock up the black pudding starter! So I'm glad to report they've done a good job with it...)

For main course, I was definitely tempted by the butternut and ricotta ravioli but one of my sisters ordered that, so instead I had the steak and ale pie, and snaffled a taste of the ravioli. The pie was great, really tender meat; and the ravioli was also lovely - the pasta perhaps a little thick, and perhaps swimming in a bit much sauce, but the filling was very nicely flavoured, and overall my sis said it was lovely. My other sister had the cheese and onion pie and grandma had the chicken, both of which were apparently good.

For afters, the sticky toffee pudding was fine, as it should be; and the cheesecake was "alright" apparently (not very strongly flavoured - not always a bad thing IMHO, but then I didn't actually sample the cheesecake).

Everyone in this area knows that the Fence Gate just down the road has claimed a massive slice of the gastropub territory round here. (And justifiably so, it has some really good food.) So it's nice to report that the Four Alls has good food worth the mention. There's no reason that all pubs should be gastropubs, of course, but the Four Alls was having trouble staying open as it was, so it'd be good to see it develop in this slightly different direction. Since there's a whole new set of commuter-village houses being built next door to it, it seems like a canny move. Oh and just so you know, they've still got the pool table in the little room.

Wednesday 28th December 2011 | food | Permalink

RMLL has free beer (as in speech)

Rencontres Mondiales du Logiciel Libre is the free software meeting for the french-speaking world. This year the meeting was held in Strasbourg, and it was a friendly event, with workshops, exhibitors and performances - plus their own beer, custom-brewed for the event - nice touch!

As a beer-drinker and open-source kind of person, I was keen to try it: they'd taken a Creative Commons beer recipe (invented by some students in Copenhagen) and commissioned a local brasserie to brew it up. The result, "Affichage Libre", was lovely - a light blonde ale, almost lagery but with more body, and a mild suggestion of fruity lemon. Perfect for the hot Strasbourg summer.

Bire libre

The idea of open-source beer is perhaps a little bit gimmicky - after all, the "recipe" for beer is pretty well known, and a lot of what makes a good beer is not written in the recipe: the specific flavours of the ingredients, the learned craft of the brewer. Open-source cola makes more sense than beer (such as Cube Cola), since tweaks to the cola recipe can be shared and improved worldwide. But that didn't stop any of us from enjoying a nice beer with a Creative Commons licence.

Friday 15th July 2011 | food | Permalink

Real ale in West Ireland

Staying in the city of Galway, of course there's plenty of stout about, but there are some really nice ales that are definitely worth trying. These two are available in various of the pubs:

  • Galway Hooker is a delicious well-balanced pale ale. It's got a lovely piney tang, with a bit of hoppiness to balance it. (For more tang, see Metal Man below.)
  • Smithwicks is an interesting ale, kinda unusual to me - it's a reddish ale but a bit fizzy and watery almost like lager. That gives it a kind of refreshing taste, and it makes for a good shandy on a hot day. (We didn't have many hot days though.)

Lucky for us, we rented a little place not far from the Oslo Bar in Salthill - an upmarket place with its own microbrewery, and a great selection of ales on tap.

You can see the microbrewery (Bay Brewery) room through a window - they make an ale and a lager. The ale is a good, soft medium ale. The lager is not great, I'm afraid, but never mind.

The other Irish ales that were on tap in the Oslo when we were there were:

  • Metal Man - delicious - really zingy pale ale, a grapefruity tang (or maybe metallic... given the name) with a slightly dry finish. Despite the zinginess it was easy to drink a good few of these. I think it might be a bit too tangy for some people, so you might rather have the more balanced Galway Hooker, but I loved this beer.
  • Belfast Blonde - good blonde
  • Trouble Brewing - good (can't remember it now though)
  • Helvick Gold - unpleasantly yeasty. The bar staff agreed with us on this, apparently it hadn't been popular.

So to sum up, get a taste of Metal Man if you can; but in the Galway area you can fairly easily get a pint of Galway Hooker which is well worth it.

Tuesday 7th June 2011 | food | Permalink

Eating out in Galway

Galway is a great little city. We ate out in various interesting places, so here are some reviews. First, in Galway town centre:

  • Tigh Neachtain - a well-known pub in the middle of the old town, with a nice interior with loads of old wood cubicles. We expected pub grub - and we were hungry - but no pies were to be had. Instead fancy salads (chicken and mango salad with cheese and croutons), sandwiches (chicken with brie and rhubarb jam), and desserts - all nice. Good pint of Galway Hooker ale to go with it.
  • Revive Caf - just next to Tigh Neachtain. Their brownie is definitely recommended (Philippa went back the next day for more); the snickers cake was OK, as was the rhubarb pie.
  • The Malt House, again in the middle of the old town, was our choice for a special meal. They recommended us a great wine, then we both had the special: john dory with asparagus, fondant potato and lemon beurre blanc. It was all done perfectly and presented perfectly, with both baby and full-size asparagus, and the lemony beurre blanc was exquisite.
    Then for afters I had chocolate fondant while Philippa had rhubarb crumble - both delicious (though both a little colder than they should have been). Definitely recommend this place.
  • Kashmir, an Indian, unfortunately not great in our opinion. My paneer bhuna was too sweet and tomatoey, and Philippa's dhal wasn't up to her high dhal standards. (I quite liked her dhal and would happily have swapped it for my bhuna!)

And some places in Salthill (the seasidey suburb on the south-west of Galway):

  • The Office - a pub/B&B. The service was slow and confused. All we ordered was a couple of cooked breakfasts - the toast arived ages before the fried breakfast, and the black puddings were stone cold (literally; we're not sure if they remembered to cook it). Decent interior but not a good choice in Salthill for food.
  • Gourmet Tart Company - good place for a bit of fancy-sandwich lunch with fancy afters. My lemon meringue tart was OK but Philippa loved her plum and walnut tart, a nice combination.
  • Oslo Bar - nice steak sandwiches (but too much dressing IMHO), but expensive - on Mondays the place is rammed cos of their 2-for-1 offer. The range of delicious beers, though, is definitely recommended, including their own micro-brewed ale on the premises. (I'll blog separately about ales.)

Finally a couple of places in towns outside Galway which we visited:

  • The Boot, a pub in Oughterard (north-west of Galway), served up a nice bit of homemade beef and Guinness casserole. Philippa loved it.
  • Kettle of Fish was a fab fish and chips takeaway in Gort (south-east of Galway). All was perfectly done, though it took a while as quite a few orders came it at the same time as ours. Special mention has to go to the excellent mushy peas. They also do homemade burgers and other stuff.
Tuesday 7th June 2011 | food | Permalink

Eating out in Limerick

We were in Limerick for two nights, and luckily we had two good meals out:

  • Freddy's Bistro served us nice Galway Bay mussels to start. The the cod with chickpea and chorizo - good combination but it didn't quite come together. (Technical detail: I think they should have cooked the chorizo into the sauce more, so it came through as a counterpoint to the fish.)
    My chocolate-and-orange pud was lovely, but special mention has to go to the profiteroles, which Philippa was sure were "the best I've ever eaten". She let me try half of one, and they really were delicious.
  • Cornstore had been recommended to us (by the woman in the great fish and chip shop in Gort), and it didn't disappoint. Actually, I was disappointed with my beef carpaccio - it and its salad were overdressed, they should have let the flavours speak for themselves more. But the main course - turbot - was lovely, with a lemony mash and a bed of perfect veg (broad bean, pea, tomato). Philippa had a great nut loaf (aka "wild mushroom, chestnut and brown bread dumpling") with a different set of perfect veg.
    I finished off with the cheese board - nice cheeses and one in particular (Glebe Brethan) which had an amazing complex taste.
Tuesday 7th June 2011 | food | Permalink

What to do with limequats

Philippa was getting us some fruit & veg and saw some tiny lime/lemon-like things. "What are they?" "Limequats. Cross between a kumquat and a lime." "What do you do with them?" "Dunno, we haven't sold them before." So she bought some.

The internet didn't have much useful advice for us - apparently you can make preserves with them but, well, what about food for tonight?

We've tried a few things. I did a baked fish thing with them that was blooming dreadful, but I think I just picked the wrong fish at the market, that's the main reason. Philippa made a sauce for gnocchi where she squeezed the juice from a handful of them and used that, which worked fine but given how tiny they are it's a lot of effort to juice them all, and the flavour is pretty mild cos you're using the juice and not the peel (they're also too small to have a good go with a peeler...)

So what I recommend is: rinse them, chop them in half, and then throw a handful of them into a sauce, letting them cook for 5 minutes or so. That way, you'll get flavour from the juice and the rind, and also the flesh softens nicely and can be scooped out and eaten.

It makes for a very decorative dish - you don't want to eat the entire things so you'll be leaving the rinds on the side of your plate, but that's not too much of a faff.

We've cooked them that way in a pink wine sauce for gnocchi, and a meaty tomato sauce for pasta. They add a nice zesty flavour and a bit of interest. The flavour's not much different from lime or lemon, so using the whole (halved) fruit like this kind of makes the most of their unusualness.

Friday 17th September 2010 | food | Permalink

The best recipe book is

I've got lots of recipe books of course, some good ones - but for Christmas I got given the latest Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall book River Cottage Every Day and it's spot on.

I've got HFW's Fish book and that is like a massive encyclopedia; it's good, but I haven't cooked many of the recipes cos they're not really compatible with the kinds of thing you can get from an ordinary supermarket. But this new book is much more appropriate for an ordinary person cooking at home - loads of variety and the ingredients aren't crazy.

A lot of recipe books have "easy" "everyday" stuff that's really obvious (as long as you know how to cook the basics), and some of the more interesting books have stuff in that's far too intricate or rare to ever get round to trying.

It's a rare trick to have a full set of interesting, do-able recipes that taste really nice and don't involve too much messing about.

Here's a couple of things I've made from the book:

  • Lamb with lemon and barley
  • Tupperware chorizo carbonara
  • Bloody mary beefburgers
  • Beetroot and walnut hummus
  • Salt and pepper squid
  • Curried fish pie
  • Easy rich chocolate cake

Well it's up to you what you make of that list - it's only the ones I decided to make, and frankly they were all bloody lovely.

Monday 1st March 2010 | food | Permalink

Seafood adventures: sardines, scallops, mackerel, herring, catfish

Since reading about why we should focus less on tuna+salmon+cod and eat more from the bottom of the seafood chain, I've been trying out lots of seafood that I haven't really had before. Here's some good and bad ones:

  • Scallops: I had these marinated with chorizo and parsley (they were sold ready-marinaded, at the fish counter). It's very easy, you just fry them in the pan for 6 or 7 minutes. It was blooming delicious - the scallops had a very gentle smooth flavour, and they go really well with the more aggressive chorizo taste.
  • Sardines: These are easy too! Just grill them for 2 or 3 minutes either side. Nice meat to them - kind of reminds me of the dark kind of meat you get on a chicken thigh, although obviously the flavour is different. The bones could potentially be annoying since they were too big to ignore and slightly too small to get them all out easily.
  • Rollmop herring: I've had this when I went to Denmark a couple of years ago and it was really tasty. Unfortunately the version in my supermarket is really over-sweet and I just hated that flavour. Would be nice to try and find some nice-tasting version though.
  • Mackerel fillets: Nice big fillets, they were sold already marinated with vinegar, garlic, pepper. They have quite a strong flavour, and the marinade itself was very strongly-flavoured, which made a good combination. Though I think Philippa found them a bit too strong.
  • Basa (a type of catfish): In the shop this looked like standard white fish. I baked it in foil, and to be honest it was a bit odd - a very dry sort of texture and a slightly odd flavour. So I'm not sure I'd go for that again.
  • Smoked mackerel in a packet: Made a lovely kedgeree on Thursday.
  • Tilapia: frozen fillets with a paprika+chilli butter. This was really nice - a fairly normal sort of white fish with good firm flesh, sort of between plaice and cod in texture. And the sweet spiced butter (melted over it in the oven) makes a really good combination.

So what are the winners out of that lot? I liked the scallops, mackerel, tilapia and sardines, although the scallops were more expensive: 2.70 was a reduced price for a single portion with the chorizo etc, which is loads more than the other things, none of them cost even that much for two portions. The tilapia was a really nice white fish and the Marine Conservation Society says tilapia is good eating so I'll definitely try and buy that again when I can.

Saturday 4th July 2009 | food | Permalink

For sausages: The Cock, Hemingford Grey

The Cock in Hemingford Grey (Cambridgeshire) serves amazingly good sausages. We ate there last night - I had asparagus with lemon hollandaise for starters, then the "Boathouse" sausages (pork with nutmeg, ginger, and some other stuff I think) served with red wine sauce and garlic mash. Cor it was nice, some of the best sausages I've had in a long time. Recommended. Apparently the other sausages were good too...

Other sources of good sausages: S&M Cafe in London (not quite as gourmetish but a nice atmosphere and a good selection), and Lucy/Gen/Meredith's house when they made their own gourmet sausages that time.

Sunday 1st June 2008 | food | Permalink

Cube Cola, or an open-source drinks pilgrimage

This time we were lucky. This time that we travelled all the way to Bristol, the Cube Cinema was open - the location of an open-source cola I read about ages ago. I marched in and said "We have come to try your fine cola" and they were certainly flattered, but also a bit distracted cos there was a film playing in the next room and I was talking too loud.

Dispensing Cube Cola

So then they dispensed us some of their open-source cola, and in whispers we tried it and were duly delighted.

Drinking Cube Cola

It's nice stuff. You should try it. It's not like cheapo supermarket cola, it really has the rich and slightly herby taste of a proper cola. They told us how they brewed it on the premises (they'd just done a batch the day before). They also told us about the film that had just started - a once-banned film about witches with live accompaniment played on a dulcimer - but alas we had to leave...

Sunday 24th February 2008 | food | Permalink

Souffl day: The results!

Well as everyone knows :) January 11th is souffl day, so we went for the big one: souffl for main course, souffl for afters.

Here are the two recipes we used, the recipes were both brilliant and worked OK:

I've got photos too! Yes!

Making the souffls Making the souffls was OK. The timing was a bit tricky (put the main course in the oven, then get started quick-sharp on the dessert) but apart from that it all went smoothly.

We knew a few tips about souffls: fold the whites in with a plastic or wood spoon (not metal, that deflates them). Don't over-fold when putting the whites in, you don't need to get the mixture looking 100% mixed in. ... and it worked, tadaaa:

Courgette souffl

It was a dead nice souffl. Seriously, next souffl day, try this one out, it really does taste creamy and nice.

Eating the courgette souffl

And for afters we had a lovely rich chocolate and orange souffl, basically tastes like a very very light chocolate orange cake. Lovely.

Chocolate orange souffl

Friday 11th January 2008 | food | Permalink

Reggae reggae sauce

Prompted by the Dragon's Den programme last night, I got some of that Reggae Reggae Sauce today. It's a very nice sauce, but unfortunately the chicken I used it on was a bit rubbish for some reason.

It's kind of clever that you can use it either as a dip/condiment or as a marinade/sauce for cooking, but because it's a new thing there aren't any real instructions anywhere for how much to use etc. So, just for future reference here's what I did: marinated 5 chicken drumsticks in about 1/4 of a bottle of reggae reggae sauce for a few hours, then cooked them in a hot oven (200ºC) for 20-25 mins. (Those quantities are just about right, you don't need to use a whole bottle or anything like that. Someone on the internet dumped a whole bottle of the stuff over their chicken...) I slashed the chicken drumsicks with a knife before marinating, to help get the flavour in, BTW. But for some reason the drumsticks themselves didn't come out very well, although the sticky sauce on the outside was lovely...

Thursday 19th July 2007 | food | Permalink

Eating in Inverness

We ate at a few places in Inverness but overall, the tendency is for expensive and very average food. There are two specific places I'd recommend:

  • The Oakwood is the #1 recommendation - outside Inverness in Dochgarroch. Delicious meat dishes (casseroles, "very local" venison steak, haggis, etc) and lovely veg served in a friendly antique-shop environment - the place actually is an antique shop, you see! And the puddings were lovely too.
  • Number 27, just near the castle, served really nice food, at a decent price and in a pleasant environment - a relaxed (but busy!) bar-stroke-restaurant feel to the place.

Also highly recommended is the Jeera indian restaurant, although there was a small mix-up with our order, plus I was a bit put off by the various photos of Gordon Ramsay grinning down at us (the restaurant had been on one of his programmes).

Another great recommendation is the café in Leakey's second-hand bookshop, a great place for a light lunch (including lovely cake).

The lovely warm Leakey's bookshop

Friday 1st June 2007 | food | Permalink

Eating in Edinburgh

Edinburgh is a great city. This time we had only 48 hours there but we raced round some of our favourite places, including a nice walk past the parliament and over the hill (Arthur's Seat). Top places for eating and/or hanging around:

  • Howie's - completely outstanding fish dishes we had (mine was trout with coriander, stir-fried veg and noodles). The desserts are noticeably average compared against the other courses; this time I had the trio of Scottish cheeses which was an off-kilter combination of the bland and the ridiculously strong. Definitely have starters rather than puddings here - last year I had a haggis-and-filo starter which I still talk about sometimes.
  • Voujon - classy indian restaurant that makes really tasty food. My lamb with fenugreek was gorgeous. The starters are big, so big that we couldn't get all the way through our main courses in the end.
  • Black Medicine Coffee Co - great relaxed world-music atmosphere for a cup of tea and a piece of cake. Nice smoothies/milkshakes and ciabattas/soup too.
  • Backpackers - friendly youth hostel, handy for a quick cheap drink and a game of pool. (I think there are a lot of Edinburgh hostels with that name since I can't locate it internetwise.)
  • Chocolate Soup - nice independent coffee/tea shop in a handy location. Their "theme" is their massive range of bizarre variations on hot chocolate. They also do sandwiches, soup and porridge.
Saturday 19th May 2007 | food | Permalink

ISO standard for a cup of tea

There is actually an international-documented standard for making a cup of tea! ISO 3103.

Abstract: The method consists in extracting of soluble substances in dried tea leaf, containing in a porcelain or earthenware pot, by means of freshly boiling water, pouring of the liquor into a white porcelain or earthenware bowl, examination of the organoleptic properties of the infused leaf, and of the liquor with or without milk or both.

Sunday 12th November 2006 | food | Permalink

Make cold iced tea in your sleep

I wouldn't have believed it, but you can make lovely iced tea just by putting tea into cold water and leaving it in the fridge overnight. More details here. It works particularly well with green tea, if you like that kind of thing.

Since tea is now officially healthier than water, what have you got to lose?

Saturday 7th October 2006 | food | Permalink

North Finchley Indian Supermarket / The Dudhi and the Karela

I can't believe I've never visited North Finchley's Indian supermarket until now! It's tucked away by the market car park and doesn't look like much, but they've got some great things on offer:

  • More spice mixes than you can possibly imagine
  • Paneer (indian cheese), with spices in if you want
  • Fresh mangos
  • Tiny aubergines!
  • Big bunches of coriander for very cheap
  • Mango lassi (indian yogurt drink)
  • All sorts of naan breads
  • Falooda mix (falooda is a very silly drink made with milk, raspberry flavouring, pearls of semolina or something, and ice cream)

And this tops it all off: they have the two vegetables I thought I'd never see again: the dudhi and the karela.

These vegetables were the stars of a vegetable review I wrote for Emancipation fanzine (issue 8) many years ago. Here's what the review said:

the DUDHI
"Zucchini!" shouted an italian woman in the supermarket, but I don't think it is. It's a big bald pale green thing, and it tastes like a cross between a cucumber and an advocado. In a stew, it becomes even more gorgeous, being all meltingly buttery in the middle, but still with a cucumbery firmness. Why aren't all vegetables like this? I don't know.

the KARELA
It looks like a banana that someone's stuck bits of broccoli all over, and as a result feels nice to the touch. Raw, it tastes horrible and bitter and tough; "fried with indian spices", as I was instructed, it tastes really horrible and bitter and tough and REALLY REALLY HORRIBLE AND BITTER! This is the nastiest vegetable IN THE WORLD - don't eat it! A friend of mine has encountered this fiend under a different name, with similar results, so look out!
Friday 2nd June 2006 | food | Permalink

Edinburgh Restaurants

We found some top places to eat in Edinburgh. The Red Marrakech is a classic little Morrocan restaurant serving really nice lamb tagine among other things (follow the link, the review sums it up quite nicely). The Rutland is a pub in a very conspicuous position right at the end of Prince's Street, and serves good-quality meals like lamb kofti and pasta dishes, although the chocolatey dessert wasn't particularly impressive. The Kebab Mahal, despite the dodgy name, is a long-established and traditional place serving proper indian dishes - it was very busy and we were lucky to get a table, but the food was great.

For our official posh meal we found a restaurant called Howie's, again at the West end of Prince's Street. We sat on the covered terrace, and I had some of the nicest food I've had for quite a long time.

For starters I had spiced haggis with light filo pastry and an orange sauce. It was really delicious; I like haggis a lot so it's nice to try new combinations with it, and this was really successful. Philippa had a mackerel paté which was also very good indeed. Both dishes were really well thought-out and the different elements worked well together.

For main course I had hake, with potato rosti, kale, and a balsamic vinaigrette, and it was absolutely fantastic - the fish so perfectly cooked and very well complemented with the kale and the acidity of the vinaigrette. Philippa had stilton-leek-walnut wellington which she said was quite good, although by this time I was getting quite full so it looked quite suspiciously filling to me.

The puddings were OK but didn't live up to the amazing other courses. The service was really good, being friendly and knowledgeable. I'd recommend this restaurant on the strength of the haggis or hake on their own - they really were that good. (We even tried to go back to Howie's on a different day, although they were booked up so we didn't quite manage that.)

Monday 1st May 2006 | food | Permalink

Pizza Rubbish

The BBC's recipe site is normally really quite good, and I use it quite a lot to check how to cook something. But tonight I wanted to make a pizza from scratch (didn't have any ready-made pizza bases anywhere) so I searched the site and ended up with a pizza recipe which included a pizza base made of plain flour, salt and olive oil.

Hmm, I thought, slightly odd to make a pizza base that way, and without resting the dough or anything... but I went ahead and did it anyway.

When it came out of the oven it looked lovely (I'd used spinach and red pepper for the topping, with an egg on top). But the base was awful! It was so pathetically awful (more like crumbled biscuits than a pizza dough) that I had to throw the whole thing away. I couldn't eat it. Those daft chefs on Ready Steady Cook have some questions to answer...

So, in the mood for pizza I rang up my local pizza shop and asked for my favourite: parma ham and rocket pizza. The pizza shop has changed its name recently, and as it turns out they've also given their pizzas silly names - this one is now called the "Charlito" or something. Hmm. Not promising. Anyway, when I got it home it turned out that they'd stuck pepperoni underneath the ham, which they never did in the past. Nothing wrong with pepperoni normally, but blimey it ruins the taste of the ham and rocket! Cor, does anyone know how to ruin a classic combination?

I ate the pizza, of course, but it wasn't actually all that nice. Better than my own attempt though...

Wednesday 29th March 2006 | food | Permalink

Browning your meat

I found a really informative webpage about why you should brown meat before incorporating it into stews etc. I've always wondered why recipes insisted on browning the meat, and assumed there wasn't much logic to it. But as this gaudy but really educational page describes, it's for a very specific reason - to cause a reaction to occur in the meat (the Maillard reaction) which improves the flavour, and which would never have a chance to happen at any other point during the cooking.

I tried it while making a very nice lamb tagine, and the results were very nice indeed (Philippa thinks so too). It's a very nice recipe anyway, actually - loosely based on this tagine recipe but with prunes instead of sultanas, and generally a little less faffing. Highly recommended recipe.

Friday 13th January 2006 | food | Permalink

Indian food in Britain

A radio article (about the first indian restaurant in the UK, opened in 1810) reminded me of the old chestnut about how "indian food" in the UK is nothing like food eaten in India or in Bangladesh.

It's quite an old mantra. Chicken tikka masala (the most popular dish in the UK, and fast spreading throughout the world) was invented by Bangladeshi chefs (in the 1960s, according to Wikipedia) specifically to cater to the tastes of British diners. Madhur Jaffrey once wrote quite vehemently against the balti, saying that "balti" meant "bucket" and just didn't exist as a dish. (She's changed her mind, apparently, since she now not only sells Madhur Jaffrey Balti Sauce, but also Madhur Jaffrey Balti Dishes.)

The onion bhaji, too, has an unknown provenance. "Bhaji" refers a type of curry made with vegetables, so the reason that in Britain we have traditionally used it to mean a deep-fried onion snack is completely mysterious. (Some kind of clerical error?) A more appropriate indian term would be to call them onion pakora. Although, having said that, indians don't typically make onion pakora - they prefer to use other vegetables such as aubergine.

Other dishes have just been slowly modified. The name "vindaloo" refers to wine and garlic ("Vinho de Alho"), but its firm place in Britain's cultural fabric is as one of the hottest dishes you can order. Even hotter is the "phaal", and although I haven't found much evidence about this I expect it was simply invented for to cater to the chilli-bravado that you often get when a group of blokes go to an indian restuarant.

Anyway. Far more interesting than being smug about our knowledge of what's indian and what's not, would be to find out where, when and how these new cultural traditions arose in Britain. Are there any books or research papers about the subject? Do we know exactly how curry came to be associated with rice (since indians typically have theirs with bread)? Are there any clues about the mysterious onion bhaji?

Thursday 29th September 2005 | food | Permalink
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