Monday, 29 November 2010

Crushed Tuscan Bean Soup

With this cold weather settling in for the long term. I really have to start forgetting about those light summer dishes and concentrate on hearty soups and stews to warm the bones and soul in the coming months.
I am a lover of pulses in a major way. T’was probably the reason I could of eaten Colombian frijoles on a daily basis, and very nearly did.
I cannot remember where I got this recipe form, maybe from some Italian cookbook or a restaurant somewhere. Who knows. I’ve never written this one down, so that is why I think maybe someone told it to me.
Anyhows this is my ideal soup, it’s thick and best served warm. Not hot, but warm. Too much heat will kill of the wonderful taste of the beans, and warm it is comforting.

The recipe is quite simple. 
Dried Cannellini beans (soaked for at least 10 hours). No exact measurements but you know how much you normally eat
A small bunch of sage
2 garlic cloves
Large handful of parsley leaves
Salt n pepper
Virgin olive oil
Extra virgin olive oil

  1. Cook the beans with the sage until soft. Skim the scum off the surface as it simmers away
  2. Drain the beans, but save the cooking liquor
  3. Crush the garlic into a purée with salt. Finely chop the parsley
  4. Heat a pan and add a generous amount of olive oil. Add the garlic. When you can smell it and it has changed colour a little. Add the parsley and stir together
  5. Add the beans and mix well
  6. After a few minutes add some of the cooking liquor. Remember this is a thick soup not a thin one. So err on the side of caution. Cook for a few minutes
  7. Once the beans start to break up a bit and release their milky goodness, you can begin to crush them with a ladle or in my case a potato masher. Not to hard as you don’t want a purée
  8. Turn off the heat and season generously with salt and pepper. Pour in some of the virgin olive oil
  9. Ladle into bowls and pour on some of the extra virgin olive oil to give the soup some pepperyness
  10.  Serve with some toasted sourdough bread. Enjoy

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Shahi Spice

With the wife away enjoying a free trip to Nicaragua for the week, and me not being in the best of moods lately. I really haven’t been in the mood to cook. As Lina isn’t too keen on takeaways, I’m taking advantage whilst she’s away.
Shahi spice is on Blackstock Road and the corner of Gillespie Road. I’d walked past it many a time thinking I’d like to get a takeaway from there one day.
After a disastrously boring day at work when our server had melted the processor and no work was done for the 2nd day. Why did I go in.
So thinking all day that what I was gonna cook for tea tonight. I’d brought some flat rice noodles as I was thinking of making a version of mapo tofu without the tofu and with noodles. All I needed was some mince y voila. Most of everything else is in my cupboards.
But when I got to Barons Court on the tube, I just couldn’t be arsed to get off, as it was soooo damn cold outside. So within seconds I’d made the decision for a Ruby Murray. Brill.
Shahi Spice actually looks shabbier on the inside than from the outside. It has the large counter that props up the drunks on a Friday or Saturday night, and allows them to try and make their choice without collapsing on the floor.

There are some chairs to relax on whilst you wait for your meal to be cooked. But no fruit machine or pac-man to play on. Very disappointed I was. But the shop opposite does sell cheap cans of lager to accompany your meal. So by the time you paid, strolled across the road, brought your favourite tipple and wandered back. Your curry is almost ready. I would have been scared if it was there waiting for me when I got back.

I ordered a chicken chilli fry, pilau rice and some keema naan. I also go some fresh crispy popadums, the ubiquitous onion salad, and some bright orange chutney. That I was sure was radioactive.
The chicken chilli fry was ok, the chicken was a little dry, but the gravy had good heat, and lots of whole green chilli’s for me to munch on. Many years ago I used to have a book called Curry Secrets, and it explains that all Indian restaurants have one base sauce and by just adding cream, chilli or other spices makes our favourite dishes. This was definitely one of those sauces.
The pilaw rice was cooked well, nice seasoning. Although it had illuminous green and red things in it. I’ve no idea what they were.

The keema naan was below standard. It had that bright red filling that only comes with a pre-brought naan from some mass supplier.
The papadoms were freshly made though, as they were still really crispy. The onion salad was an onion salad. The bright orange nuclear chutney was supposed to be mango I think. It had no taste, or maybe the chilli’s had destroyed my taste buds. But it did cool my mouth down a bit.
I brought some chutneys from India before I came home. They are the real deal and are very strong, but they are so good.

All in all Shahi Spice is your typical knock them out Indian takeaway. Not the best I’ve ever had by a long way, but also not the worst I’ve eaten either.
Would I return? Maybe, maybe not, there are better choices on this stretch of road to have. Plus there are many more for me to try.
Shahi Spice on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

San Daniele Del Friuli

I really do not know what to say about San Daniele Del Friuli. Another disappointment from a small family run restaurant.
Everyone says to eat locally, eat at small independent restaurants. But what do you do when the food you are served is just really not that good. Sometimes you loose faith.
San Danielle is quite a large restaurant on the top of the hill that lads down to Finsbury Park.
We hadn’t expected to eat there. Our first choice was Garufa. Packed. Second option was Juniper. Again it was full. We’d already tried some of the other restaurants on this strip like Au Lac. Let’s not mention that place again. Worst Pho we ever did try. San Danielle was pretty empty. There was a reason for this, but hunger got the better of us. 
Whilst we were looking at the menu, the restaurant reminded me of a typical tourist trap that you would find in either Rome or Florence, which caters to large tour groups.
The menu has all your typical Italian for Beginners dishes that you would recognize form Teesside to Timbuktu.
It wasn’t very inspiring, but Lina got excited at the thought of having lasagna, whilst I had some glee that they had calves liver on the specials board. I am a sucker for offal. It's my first choice every time. 
All what we were hoping for never came to be. What came was a very big disappointment. My liver was over cooked and was very under seasoned to the point where I believe alt is banned in the kitchen under the penalty of death.
The lasagna wasn’t much better. It came in its own dish, and was quite sweet and watery. It had obviously been cooked beforehand and frozen for defrosting at a later date. It’s not hard to cook a decent ragu, but why do some people find it impossible. Ahh who knows.
All I can say is that eating in small local restaurants can be hazardous to your belly. 

San Daniele Del Friuli on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 21 November 2010

The Breakfast Club in Hoxton

I’ve eaten at the Angel outlet of the Breakfast Club on many a Sunday morning, and for me it is still the best place to have brunch, although Caravan is giving it a run for its money.
The Hoxton branch is a lot bigger and has the feel of a diner rather than a small quirky novelty that the Angel place has. But thankfully that does mean shorter queuing times, as on cold days like these the last thing you want to be is waiting outside for half an hour or so.
Everything else though is the same, the menu, the service, the juices and the coffees.
The food wasn’t up to the same standard of my beloved Angel.
I’ve never had the Green Eggs and Ham before so different place, different choice. Normally it’s the Full Monty I have, but today I felt like a change.
Maybe I should have stuck with the normal, as my scrambled eggs were a tad more overcooked than I like them. The eggs had started to form lumps and were bordering on dryness. The chunks of ham mixed in were nicely cooked. The potato wedges were the best I’ve eaten outside of Cusco. Where Los Perros, if it still exists has the best potato wedges on the planet.

Lina Eggs Benedict wasn’t up to it’s full potential. Sorry but after serving a million and one Eggs Benedict, Florentine or Royal I know how they should be. Runny yolk on a perfectly formed poached egg, the hollandaise has to be slightly but not over tart, and the muffin has to be toasted.
Her eggs were part runny, part set. The hollandaise was a tad too buttery and the muffin was not toasted. Disappointing. But when it comes to Eggs Benedict. I am an unforgiving soul and demand perfection. But she was happy with it, and that’s all that matters. I was told that until I regularly make her Eggs Benedict, I cannot complain about anyone else’s. But I will.
I’m doubting whether this winter I will ever venture back to the Breakfast Club in Angel, as those damn chilly mornings are putting the fear of god into me. Maybe I should try the third instalment in the trilogy. Soho.

Breakfast Club on Urbanspoon

Friday, 19 November 2010

Foto Friday # 26

Some beautiful fish for sale in the market in Tahiti. It was kinda sad, as we had been diving with them only the day before.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Yildiz - My Local Anatolian

It was a kind of a mixed bag with Yildiz. I was hoping for another Mangal, and one on my doorstep. But alas no, but these dreams of mine never ever materialise, especially on this particular strip of Blackstock road.
The décor of Yildiz is pretty simple belaying the neighbourhood feel about the place. As you enter the giant Ocakbasi greets you will a grand smile and in these now dark cold nights its warmth hugs you like an old friend.

The menu is pretty much the standard that I have become accustomed to of Turkish food. Except that this is an Anatolian restaurant. As if I would know the difference. But if you look a little closer you see a few extras that I’ve never noticed on other menus. The infamous Iskender Kebab stuck out like a sore thumb.
Some foods have their DOC’s, but the inventors family in Turkey has trademarked these kebabs. I’ve never heard of this before. I wonder why no one has been sued for cooking this dish.
We ordered a simple starter of some grilled Turkish sausage. It was tasty, but a tad over cooked. I think someone forgot it was there on the grill. Shame.
I had to have the Iskender Kebab, I mean it’s not everyday you eat a trademarked food.
Lina opted for the liver, but to her disappointment they were finished. So she ordered the quail.
All mains come with some nice warm bread, a mountain of rice and a tonne of salad. Which to be honest I would have been happy with just the bread.
My Iskender Kebab was pretty damn good. The thinly sliced grilled lamb was slightly overcooked, but the lovely tomato sauce with thick curds moistened it up somewhat. Those thick yoghurt curds really made this dish and it was a pleasure to eat.

Unfortunately lina’s quail was really over cooked. It was pretty dry and not that nice. I think the grill chef either had a day off or he needs to take some lessons at Mangal.

The service is very warm and friendly and it seems to have a good local clientele. Just a shame the chef needs to be more on the ball. I hope it was just an odd night for him.

But overall it was ok, I mean it's not Mangal, but then again what is. 

Yildiz on Urbanspoon

Monday, 15 November 2010

Il Bacio

I kind of knew what we were going to get even before we entered Il Bacio. My expectations were not that high, and I was not disappointed.
Il Bacio seems to be part of a growing chain in North London, and by the amount of people inside eating every time I have walked past. It seems to be a very prosperous one at that.
The menu is what you would expect to find in any tourist restaurant in Rome. It’s Italian for beginners really. It has all the favourites, the portions are big and the service is with a smile. Sometimes.
As I am still trying to find a decent pizza joint near to my house I wanted to give them a try. So I ordered the margherrita. If they can do that right then all is well in the world. Lina opted for the milanessa and specified no spaghetti. I am still mystified as to why they have as one of their sides, a portion of spaghetti. I mean who wants a portion of meat with some spaghetti. What is the world coming to? Is this how tourists eat in those crap restaurants in Italy you see?
I think Il Bacio get quite a few people asking for no spaghetti, as it was changed with no fuss with patate fritte. I.e. chips.
They have peroni on draft so I was happy, but kinda was wondering why there was a large flat screen TV on the far wall with MTV on it, but no sound.
My pizza came and had a tonne of gooey mozzarella, which was rather nice. The base was a tad hard but it was ok. It was nothing to write home about, or much to put in a blog about. So I’ll stop.
The milanessa baffled me. It was 4 small pieces of slightly burnt chunks of breaded chicken with some rather nice oven chips. Oh memories came flooded back of my teens where my mum hit those culinary heights. Oven chips and fried eggs. God how I miss the 80’s. She still has them now, I am sure of it. 
When the bill came, Lina almost flipped. They had charged her for the chips, instead of replacing them with the spaghetti. Amazingly she bit her lip, paid the bill and left. The manager called to us and said goodbye. She gave him a hard stare and a curt nod of her head in a way that in other circles would have meant a death sentence.
I’d only seen her act like that once before. It was in an Italian restaurant, well actually it was in Italy. It was not long after we got to know each other, and we found ourselves in Italy camping our way through the country. Shame we really had no money, as we ate pretty shit in those days.
In one restaurant in Rome, we had a good meal. Simple and nice. The bill came and it had il pane on it. Which means bread. But also as we found out about 10 years later, it means service charge or similar. Lina thinking and rightly so that they were charging us for the bread. She flipped. She gave that poor woman a torrent of abuse in Spanish. I’m not sure if she was understood as no move was made to take il pane off the bill. Actually she just stood there behind the counter and stared almost in disbelief at this crazy Latina going off on one.
It was kinda amazing really to see this woman kick off over a 2 euro charge. Needless to say we never went back, and I know for a fact we shall never venture into Il Bacio again. Damn as I kinda liked the naff pizza.

Il Bacio on Urbanspoon

Friday, 12 November 2010

Foto Friday # 25

Why is eating a shawarma in a restaurant is considered a highlight of a trip to Istanbul? But eating one here in the UK is not. I am still trying to figure out why.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Brunch @ Caravan

What can I say that hasn’t already been said about Caravan. Apart from saying the same as everyone else that it is great.
We hit Caravan around noon on a fine Sunday. The sun was out, the sky was blue and freshness was in the air. A glorious day.
The industrial interior of Caravan was heaving at the joints, but somehow we were found a good table by the window. Great for people watching. But I was distracted from my favourite past time by the fact that the girl on the table next to us kept bursting into tears over a telephone call from a soon not to be boyfriend. Good for her.
Anyhows back to the important stuff. The food and coffee. Well this is the reason why we were here, well that and just to enjoy ourselves.

The menu is pretty eclectic for brunch but damn fine reading it was. It was a toss up between the Caravan Fry-Up or the Grilled Ham, Bubble and Squeak, poached eggs and hollandaise sauce. I choose the former. Good choice, but I am sure the other would have been also. It will be next time.
Lina opted for the back pudding, caramelised apples on sourdough toast topped with a fried egg. I think she would have preferred the baked eggs, but that is for next time we eat here.

The food was excellent and well cooked. The flavours contrasted and worked well with each other. A hard feat for some chefs it seems these days.
The only let down was the coffee. It was pretty average to say the least. I had to have two just to make sure. Yeah it was so so. I could of gotten a similar cup across the road at Café Nero.

But apart from that, Caravan now tops my list over the Breakfast Club in Angel for breakfast cum brunch place in north London. Rock on. 

Caravan on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Delhi Grill or Delhi Let Down

I have to say with all the hype surrounding Delhi Grill, I was expecting more, much more. I was hoping for something that I had been eating in India those past months. Alas all I got was better than average typical Indian restaurant fare. Very disappointing.
I had eaten their kebab wraps before on Sundays, as once in a while I do a bit of shopping at the weekly Farmers market on Chapel Market. Those I found to be ok, but way to much rabbit food for my liking. Plus I wasn’t overly keen on them squirting sauce on the kebabs. Surely any flavour should come form the lamb itself. Shouldn’t it.
They have being doing some good PR recently, as the place was pretty packed, and I think it’s the first time I have been asked if we had a reservation in an Indian restaurant. Damn good PR work.
Thankfully there were a few seats available at the far end of the narrow restaurant, as only a sandwich had somehow sustained me all day. Shame we were so far away from the good vibe of the place, but we were content to sit next to a couple who were talking about what great business deals they had done recently. Boring.
I like the décor it does look quite funky in there, lot’s of pre-made newspaper clippings on the wall. This wouldn’t look out of place in a trendy Delhi or Mumbai cafe. They call themselves a dhaba, which I’d love to see one as clean and tidy as this on any Indian highway. Plus there were no fat Punjabi truckers loitering around sipping cups of chai, talking to all and sundry and trying to put the world to rights. A shame.
Thankfully I find a restaurant that knows its limitations and have done the sensible thing and kept the menu pretty short and sweet. I only wish a lot of other places would learn from them and do the same.
What we had was a pretty mixed bag really. The chutneys were pretty much the highlight of the show. A shout goes out to the beetroot chutney, and also the carrot chutney deserves a special mention. The papadums were pretty good also. Straight from the oven. Well an Indian meal isn’t complete without papadums is it.
After a brief scanning of the menu, we ordered the lamb chops as a starter, and prayed they were as good as the ones in the New Tayyabs. Sadly they were just above average. Nicely cooked but lacking any real flavour, and no hint that they had been cooked in a tandoor. Boo Hoo.
As we seem to be eating a lot less these days, we only ordered some naan, the chicken karahi and the tarka dhal. The dhal tasted as good as I make it, but it was too much like a soup rather than a dhal. It had that raw spice flavour I like so much in Indian food. The Karahi was nicely flavoured but far too watery. It doesn’t take much to cook the sauce down a bit more. The Karahi was far too reliant on chilli to give it life. Shame.
I have to say that some silly schoolboy errors let this place down. The naan was pretty nice, but I don’t think it had seen the inside of a tandoor oven.
I will return, as I could see there was room for improvement here, and hopefully next time all will be better. But based on this visit, I’d rate the Delhi Grill as an above average modern Indian restaurant. 

Delhi Grill on Urbanspoon

Friday, 5 November 2010

Foto Friday # 24

Mole Paste for sale in el Mercado la Merced in Mexico DF. Maybe the best market in the world.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Tube Strike Wednesday @ Ossie's Jerk Chicken

These tube strikes are becoming a little annoying now. Well only because I now have an extra days work to do and one day less to do it in. What a pain.
So with no way of getting to work as that damn Piccadilly line was suspended all the way out West, I was left with a free day. What to do, what to do.
After some house cleaning and a little washing, I was feeling a little peckish, actually I was bloody hungry. So I found myself in Chapel market buying some veggies for the next few days, and lo and behold I was standing outside Ossie’s Jerk Chicken. Lunch sorted.
I’d eaten in there a few times now. It’s a small shop with a few tables if you decide to eat in. There are no plates, everything is served in plastic containers with plastic cutlery. It may sound pretty crap but the service is friendly, the lunch specials are very well priced, and the food is great. What more do you need.
I’m not much of an expert on Caribbean food, but I’ve eaten enough Costeña food from Colombia to know how things should be.
My sister in law cooks the best coconut rice on the planet, although they don’t put beans in their rice along that coastline. That is left to the mountain folk of Medellin to mix rice and beans.
Ossie’s rice has some great coconut flavour and with the beans are sublime. It goes particularly well with the yummy brown chicken stew, the unxious oxtail stew and the thick mutton curry. I’m pretty sure it does, although I haven’t tried it yet, but the jerk chicken must go well with it as well. Kind of criminal really, that I haven’t eaten their star dish. But it does mean I always have a reason to go back. Although with what I have eaten there already I will always be a good customer.

Ossie's Jerk Chicken Takeaway on Urbanspoon

Monday, 1 November 2010

Empress of Sichuan

My love affair with China Town is continuing with a recent visit to the Empress of Sichuan. This was a recommendation of my now Guru in all things about Chinese food. Mr Noodles.
Trying to compare the Empress with the other Chinese restaurants I have been to is a tad difficult, it’s a bit more upmarket in a modern but still quite old fashioned way. They have white tablecloths, a large selection of wines, nice subtle lighting. A lot different from the bare wooden tables and Chinese styling I am used to in other places.
As with the name, the food is as far as I can gather is from Sichuan, but I am no expert so I cannot affirm that entirely. But there were enough dishes that I know come form Sichuan to make me believe that.

I was kinda hungry so I ordered one or two dishes more than I would normally. But I wish I had ordered more. First off were the pig’s ears in chilli oil. This was really quite a good dish, nice thin slices of pigs ears, the chilli oil was piquant and mouth numbing. Only downside was that it was still a little fridge cold. A tad more time out of the fridge and it would have been perfect, as it was by the time we got to the last few morsels.

The hot and sour soup was a nice way to moisten my taste buds before the main event. It wasn’t particularly hot nor sour as I had hoped for, but it was well seasoned and was thick. Or maybe my taste buds were still shot to shit after the pigs ears. A possibility. But it was a damn fine soup none the less.

The Gung Pao chicken was really good, lots of chillis, although I am used to this being served on a bed of spinach. It did come on a green plate to make up for it I suppose. Maybe they ran out or maybe this is how it is served in Sichuan. I’ve had it there, but memory failing at my age means I cannot remember how it was.

We also ordered a pork knuckle, which was wonderfully shredded at the table by our waitress. Who was looking more and more bewildered as to why we were taking pictures of her. But with this instant fame she kept her nerve and did a good job.

The dish doesn’t look all that good, but boy did it taste good. There is something about fatty pieces of pork served to me with the fat as well. I was hook line and sinker.

I’d say this was one of the best meals I’ve had in China Town, well if you include Ba Shan and Bar Shu as being in China Town. If not then it’s the best.

Empress of Sichuan on Urbanspoon