Monday, 31 May 2010

At Home: Slow-cooked beef

Drizzly Bank Holiday Monday. Grey limbo, and ripe ground for spiritual malaise. Days like these call for a soothing soulful slow-cooked beef stew. Nothing heavy about this stew, though. It's a vibrant dish, no thickening agents or heavy stocks required. The orange peel and fresh thyme add a zesty Mediterranean note, perfect for a cool May evening. Serve with new potatoes and braised lettuce with minted peas.

Slow-cooked beef
Serves 3-4
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 500g chuck/stewing steak, cut into generous bite-sized pieces
  • 10-12 shallots, peeled but left whole
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 4 rashers of smoked streaky bacon, chopped
  • 2 sticks of celery, chopped
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled but left whole
  • 2 sprigs rosemary
  • 1 sprig thyme
  • 3 ripe salad tomatoes, or 10 cherry tomatoes
  • half a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon, or similar hearty red wine
  • 350ml chicken stock (Marigold or Kallo brand is fine, if you don't have fresh)
  • 5in strip of orange peel
Heat the olive oil in a heavy-based casserole. Season the meat generously with salt and pepper, and brown it in two batches over a high heat. Remove each batch of browned meat to a plate. Place the whole shallots, bay leaves and bacon in the hot casserole, and fry until the bacon has rendered its fat and the shallots are golden, about 5 minutes.

Add the celery, carrot, bay leaves, garlic, rosemary, and thyme, and fry for a couple of minutes before adding the tomatoes, followed by the browned meat and its released juices, the wine, and the stock.

Simmer over a very gentle heat for 3-4 hours, covered with a lid on the hob (or in a preheated 150C oven). Stir once in a while, to make sure the meat isn't sticking to the bottom of the pan. In the last 30-40 minutes of cooking, add the orange peel. Remove the bay leaves and herb sprigs before serving.

Monday, 24 May 2010

At Home: Cheat Macarons

This isn't typical Corrigan fare. More commonly associated with earthy uncomplicated meat, game, and fish dishes, Richard Corrigan has been a key player in the revival of British and Irish food over the past 15 years, his seasonal ingredients-led cooking elevating comfort food to glittering Michelin heights (at Lyndsay House, now sadly closed). Visit Corrigan's Mayfair, I urge you. Or, the lovely Bentley's Oyster Bar and Grill.

I discovered this jewel of a recipe buried at the back of the beautiful and accomplished The Clatter of Forks and Spoons. Corrigan doesn't churn out lazy over-illustrated ghostwritten cookbooks like so many of his contemporaries. His first cookbook - now out of print and highly sought after, grab it if you see it - was published in 2000.

Faithful to his 'keep it simple' mantra, these moreish, chewy treats (I call them 'cheat macarons') are quick and easy, and impossible to mess up.

Almond Biscuits
Makes 20-25
  • 500g ground almonds
  • 300g caster sugar
  • seeds from 1 vanilla pod
  • 4 egg whites
  • 50ml Amaretto
Preheat the oven to 160C/Gas 3.

Mix together the almonds, sugar and vanilla seeds.

Fold the egg whites (don't whisk them) into the mixture along with the Amaretto.

Have ready a baking sheet lined with greaseproof paper. Take small spoonfuls of the mixture and dot over the sheet. Bake for 10-15 minutes until golden. Transfer to a cooling rack and leave to cool.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

2010 destination wish-list update

Back in January, I listed all the London restaurants and bars I want to try out this year. Well, with some ticked off, and some struck off, it's time for an update. What's on your list?
  • Koya
  • Viajante
  • Dock Kitchen
  • Gauthier Soho
  • Bistrot Bruno Loubet
  • The Draft House
  • The Summerhouse
  • Harwood Arms
  • Barrica
  • L'Anima
  • Bar Boulud, Mandarin Oriental
  • Wild Honey
  • The Breakfast Club
  • Wolseley for breakfast
  • Quo Vadis
  • Hibiscus
  • Dinings
  • The Ledbury
  • Eastside Inn
  • Hunan
  • Franco Manca
  • Chilli Cool
  • Savoy's American Bar, reopening this summer
  • new St. John hotel and restaurant, opening in Leicester Sq this summer
  • Cay Tre
  • return visit to Rules
  • Umu
  • Downstairs at Terroirs
  • Pollen St.
  • Galvin La Chapelle
  • Dean Street Townhouse

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Hawksmoor steakhouse

This East London steakhouse and cocktail bar has had bloggers buzzing, posting, and tweeting for years. Hawksmoor has a venerable reputation as one of the few places in the capital that knows how to grill a decent steak, but for some reason it took me 4 years to get myself through the door.

A juicy steak is a rare treat, as I refuse to cook it at home. I like my meat bloody on the inside, charred on the outside, and no domestic grill or oven will do the job. Most professional kitchens in London get it badly wrong, too (the Gaucho all-style-no-content chain for one), but word of mouth made me confident that we were on to a good thing at Hawksmoor. The last great steak I had was over a year ago in NYC: a hanger steak salad at Bourdain's lovely Brasserie Les Halles, so I'd had a long wait.

A simple sparsely-furnished space on Commercial Road, the restaurant clearly focuses all its creative and financial efforts on pleasing punters palates. The brunch menu is a celebration of meat, most notably meat from the traditional and noble Yorkshire longhorn cattle bred by The Ginger Pig. They offer 7 dry-aged steak cuts, the house favourites being Bone-in prime rib, Porterhouse (similar to T-bone), and Chateaubriand. LondonEater, a rather wonderful food blogger, recently posted a 'study' on steak cuts and London's grills, so I'll hand you over to him to elucidate on the nature of each cut.

On cuts, it would have been helpful to see the cuts before choosing them. They bring the slabs of meat out on a board to help you choose at the much-lauded Goodman steakhouse (Mayfair) and Hix's Oyster & Chop House.

Seated and served excellent pale ale, red wine, and a refreshing virgin cocktail (I left the components up to them: suffice to say their creation was as exciting as a non-alcoholic beverage can get) on a rainy Sunday we wasted no time, skipped starters and headed straight for the protein fix. I've been getting a few concerned looks - being 38-weeks pregnant - when ordering meat 'rare', but Hawksmoor staff didn't bat an eyelid, clearly confident in the superior quality of their meat.

I shared an 800g rare Porterhouse with N, while the boys - averse to the concept of sharing food (naturally) - did their own thing, ordering a 600g bone-in sirloin and a hefty 750g Porterhouse. Sides: chips, steamed spinach, piquant tomato salad, a beautiful fluffy-soft bearnaise.

This 750g Porterhouse was immense. My greedy companion topped it off with an order of two fried eggs, and bone marrow, as if setting out on a collision course with his gut, not a pleasurable gustatory experience. I eat my words: he ate and loved every morsel.

My shared Porterhouse was a beautiful sight, the fierce heat having seared the bone as well as the thick, juicy, and intense strips of meat. With bone marrow alongside, it pushed every carnivorous button. I seem to remember the table going quiet for a few minutes, as the pleasure of eating overcame us (this is all beginning to sound a bit erotic, forgive me. It's been a while...).

The triple-cooked chips were light, fluffy, and crispy, as they should be. We ordered two servings to share between four of us, believing that would leave us satisfied, but ended up with four. All sides were £4 each.

Energised by the protein rush, bones chewed, and plates clean, we dived headlong into the dessert menu. Don't expect sorbets, foams, or fruit salads here: they do proper classic puds, and do them well.

Chocolate brownie with salt caramel ice cream. £6.50. I'll leave the picture to do the talking.

Rhubarb trifle, £6. This was devoured by the 750g Porterhouse + marrow + eggs companion, ordering lunch as if this was his last meal on earth.

Scoops of cornflake ice cream (a clever nostalgia hit, made from milk that has had cornflakes soaked in it overnight, apparently) and rich, dark, salted caramel ice cream hit all the right notes, and brought the meal to a suitably decadent conclusion.

The savvy duo behind the restaurant, Will Beckett and Huw Gott, are opening a second branch in Covent Garden in the autumn, bringing to life what is currently a culinary wasteland between Soho and the Thames (save for the exceptional Terroirs and Rules, and serviceable Wahaca).

It wasn't cheap (£239, incl. great service, for 4. Yes, ouch.), but I'd have worried if it was. A small price to pay for a month's protein quota, top quality produce, and a memorable meat-fest. Next on the list is Goodman, currently jostling with Hawksmoor for London's top 'steak' spot.

Hawksmoor Steakhouse
157 Commercial Street
E1 6BJ
Tel: 02072477392

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

At Home: Chocolate mocha cupcakes

Choclette, this one's for you.

A few days ago, I came across a chocolate mocha layer cake recipe on Choclette's lovely blog, attributed to the Primrose Bakery Cookbook, but tweaked with the addition of Greek yogurt and coffee.

Being more of a savoury girl, my baking repertoire largely consists of simple cupcakes (my favourites: lime cupcakes drizzled with Absinthe, chocolate cupcakes drizzled with Frangelico - I'm a sucker for boozy cake) and little else. Not the massive American-style ones, I should add.

This recipe produces the lightest cake texture, and trumps the lot. Maybe the yogurt is the secret. Here it is, adapted from Choclette's adaptation of a Primrose Bakery recipe.
  • 200g 70% dark chocolate (I used Green & Blacks)
  • 170g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 350g soft brown sugar
  • 3 duck egg yolks
  • 185g wholemeal plain flour
  • 185g white plain flour
  • 1½ tsp baking powder
  • 1½ tsp bicarb of soda
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 250g Greek yogurt
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 150g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 300g icing sugar, sifted
  • 2 tsp instant espresso coffee (dissolved in a little water)
  • 1 tbsp semi-skimmed or full fat milk
For the cupcakes (makes about 16)
1. Preheat the oven to 180C. Melt the chocolate in a bain marie and leave to cool.
2. Cream the softened butter with the sugar until pale and fluffy. Stir in the yolks, followed by the melted cooled chocolate.
3. Sift the two flours with the bicarbonate of soda, baking powder, and salt. Fold into butter mixture, along with 250ml water.
4. Fold in the yogurt and vanilla extract.
5. Spoon into paper muffin cases sitting in a muffin tray, and bake for 20 minutes on the middle shelf of the oven. Turn out onto a wire rack to cool. Careful: they are light in texture so very delicate!

For the icing
Beat the butter with the icing sugar, coffee, and milk until smooth. Spread or pipe over each cooled cupcake.

In the absence of chocolate-covered coffee beans, I gave mine two different toppings: grated white chocolate, and blueberries.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

At Home: Trout fillets en papillote

After an interminably long winter, and a surfeit of gutsy, rich, earthy food, I'm starting to crave lighter fare. This is a quick and simple supper for two, perfect for weeknights. (Or for one: keep one of the cooked fillets for a zesty, herby trout & noodle salad the next day.)
  • 2 trout fillets (skin on, to keep them in one piece as they steam)
  • 3 spring onions, sliced
  • Thumb-size piece of fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1 red chilli, deseeded and thinly sliced
  • Handful of coriander leaves, chopped
  • 3/4 thin slices of lime
  • 3 tbsp sake
Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4. Place all the ingredients in the middle of a large folded square of foil or greaseproof paper, the fish sitting on top of the spring onions. Pull up the sides of the foil or paper and scrunch together to form a loose but tightly sealed 'envelope'. Place carefully on a baking tray and bake for 15-20 minutes.

Serve each fillet on a pile of steamed rice and pak choi, drizzled with the juices from the cooking 'envelope' and a little light soy sauce.

Sunday, 9 May 2010


In shops for less than a week, Plenty Yotam Ottolenghi's new cookbook already has five stars on Amazon, and hoards of devotees. Ottolenghi's vibrant fare is manna to food-loving vegetarians, releasing them from the grip of the usual suspects: quinoa, sun-dried tomatoes, goats' cheese, pasta... unimaginative and lazy ingredient combinations that blight restaurant menus nationwide.

To get to the point, though I'm a fan of his New Vegetarian column in The Guardian, this was the first time I'd eaten at one of the four London establishments, and it certainly lived up to the hype. The Upper Street restaurant-bakery-deli branch was packed, the late lunchtime queue a confused gaggle of voyeurs, those patiently waiting for a table, and others fighting for attention at the deli.

The pan-Med menu offers their deli dishes at £3.50-£4.50 each, suggesting that you combine two or three to create small/large plates. It being 3:15pm, they had sadly run out of the famous chargrilled broccoli with chilli and garlic. Instead, we had: Gorgeous moist cornbread spiked with red chilli, Seared beef fillet with coriander dipping sauce, Marinated aubergine with tahini dressing, and French beans and mangetout with hazelnut and orange. Bold food, confidently composed and inspiring to the palate.

Seasonal, local produce is not their thing, and prices are rather cheeky, but it's not worth holding a grudge. Ottolenghi is stirring vegetarian food from its slumber, confronting healthy food prejudices and preconceptions (which I am all too guilty of), and offering a unique experience: virtuous salad fare alongside the most sinful sweets I have ever seen. New Yorkers are going mad for Yotam's two books, so no doubt he'll be hopping across the pond before long.

The Islington branch offers reservations for evening, daytime is free-for-all.

These are two of the sweet treats I took home and devoured in one sitting:

Raspberry meringue. Pass any of their outposts and these will be the first thing you notice in the window: mountains of the beasts, in assorted colours, tempting you in.

Passion fruit tart: soft pillowy meringue on top of a passion fruit curd filling. Positively achingly sweet.

A fat moist chunk of apple and vanilla cake didn't remain in the box long enough to be photographed, i'm afraid.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

At Home: Jersey Royal and Wild Garlic Tortilla

Courtesy of the great Mark Hix and The Independent, this one. A sublime case of serendipity, I came upon the recipe having just picked up a bunch of wild garlic leaves from the local farmers' market, along with the Sunday papers.

Foraging and city life aren't likely bedfellows (blackberry picking on Walthamstow Marshes is about as 'wild' as I get), so Britain's finest hedgerow, orchard, and woodland treats rarely find their way on to my plate.

This is the first time I've tasted or cooked with wild garlic leaves, I'm ashamed to say, but - thanks to 'lordmelbury' tweeting that Epping Forest is groaning with the stuff - it won't be the last. Keeping it simple, combining them with organic eggs and new season's Jersey Royals, is definitely the way to go. Although they smell pungent, once cooked the leaves mellow and add a delicate piquant garlicky-herby lift to the buttery, rich eggs.

By the way, I didn't bother peeling the potatoes. And, I would shred or chop the leaves rather than leave them whole: I couldn't encourage them to spread evenly through the omelette mixture. This is noticeably flatter than Hix's creation, as I only had a large frying pan. A smaller frying pan, as he suggests, would make two thicker tortillas.

If you find wild garlic flowers, use these to garnish the tortilla.