Archive for January 2009

Crispy Chinese Roast Pork Belly.

January 25th, 2009 — 7:47pm

And there was me agonising over what to do with a gorgeous hunk of pork belly – Cider? Wine? Fennel? And then I remembered, it’s Chinese New Year tomorrow – a perfect opportunity to crisp up my belly with five spice, garlic and a damn good roasting. I absolutely adore Chinese food, but I also know next to nothing about cooking it myself. Lizzie pointed me in the direction of a recipe on Sunflower’s Food Galore for a garlic and five-spice infused belly, which I served with some choi sum (identified via a Twitpic), stir fried with garlic and chilli and steamed plain rice.

It was seriously delicious – if perhaps a little over ‘caramelised’ around the edges from an over enthusiastic grilling at the end. I had to leave a couple of ingredients out of Sunflower’s recipe (the bean curd and Chinese rose wine), simply because I didn’t have them. Overall, I was very happy with the results, which I attribute in (a major) part to the quality of the meat – from online farmers shop Paganum.

Based in the Yorkshire Dales, all Paganum’s meat is traditionally reared on family run farms. And it shows. It shows in the flavour of the meat, in the appearance of the meat, the texture of the meat. It’s good, really very good. The Paganum philosophy is this, “Our farmers respect the animals and our customers respect the product”. The producers concentrate on the best possible quality of life for the animals, using sustainable methods, and all meat is ‘hung, prepared and cut properly’. What more could you want, really?

Attitudes towards eating meat have changed drastically in the past few years or so. People are now prepared to pay more for decent products. Of course, quality costs more but we have asked ourselves, if the ‘bargain’ meat often found languishing on supermarket shelves is so cheap, what are we actually paying for? We are paying for the bare minimum that’s what. Even if we didn’t care about welfare, sustainable agriculture and proper butchery – the meat on the plate would ultimately be of poor quality and therefore make for poor eating. It’s a no brainer.

And now, you don’t even have to worry about accessibility. You don’t need to live near a good butcher or farmers market, because the meat comes to you, direct from the Dales. Hooray for people who care about producing good food, hooray for the internet and hooray for their happy happy union – place your order and it arrives by courier (guaranteed next day), all tucked up in the most ingenious packaging – sheeps wool. Yep. It’s natural and sustainable – even the plastic wrapper that keeps the wool out of your meat is biodegradeable.

I shall definitely be ordering more meat from Paganum and pork belly will again be on my shopping list. This piece (from a Pietrain Welsh cross pig) came on the bone. Oh happy joy. A meaty bonus in the form of tender, spiced, melting ribs. I wonder if they sell bibs?

25 comments » | Main Dishes, Meat

St. John

January 24th, 2009 — 12:46pm

St. John has been high on ‘the list’* for a year or so now, so I was chuffed to say the least when I (along with Helen, Lizzie, Chris and Niamh), got invited to eat there by wine blogger Rob McIntosh (of Wine Conversation and Thirst for Rioja) and winemaker Rafael Vivanco and Hugo Urquiza, from Bodegas Dinastia Vivanco. Our visit fell just one day after St. John received its first ever Michelin Star. Now that’s what I call great timing. I’m a big fan of the St. John nose to tail eating philosophy, I eat a fair bit of offal and I’m always up for trying new bits of animal, like a good foodie. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever turned down any food that was offered to me. Including a fried cricket. Which tasted, incidentally, like sawdust.

The purpose of our get together was to discuss the fascinating phenomenon that is social media (particularly Twitter), and to have a general all-round banter about the wine (all from Dinastia Vivanco), the food and well, everything really.

Before we got down to the business of ordering the nose, the tail and everything in between, we started the wine tasting with a white Rioja (above), which I loved. I’m sure I’ve tasted a white Rioja before, but I didn’t appreciate it fully as apparently, it is uncommon to find a white from the region.

As Helen says, it was around this time that Rob talked about the acidity of wine and how it really matters when matching with food. For example, some wines may taste a little too acidic for ‘just’ drinking but when paired with particularly rich or fatty food (St. John has a lot of this), it is able to cut through and balance.

A bit of acidity was most definitely needed with my starter – the St. John signature dish of roast bone marrow with parsley salad. I’d tried bone marrow before at The Taste London Festival and it didn’t really leave much of an impression. I hear so much about how it tastes so amazing, that I had to try it again in case my tastebuds had deceived me. It was better this time but again, I don’t quite understand the hype. Don’t get me wrong – the rich marrow, topped with the piquant parsley salad and a good spinkling of salt really makes for some lovely eatin’, but I think I was expecting the experience of a lifetime. A girl sure can make a mess eating it too. Check out the carnage below.

With the starter we also sampled a Dinastia Vivanco Rioja Crianza 2004 (that’s red, and fruity). It was at this point I had a mini epiphany about wine tasting, realising that I can actually pick up the aromas and flavours the rest of the table was talking about (check out Rob’s write up for more detailed notes). To me, wine tasting and matching is something I’ve always found daunting, thinking I will humiliate myself by making the most awful pairing ever known to man. Then I realised, I’m just trying to overcomplicate things. I actually drink a lot of wine, but I never write about it in case I get it wrong. Things will change!

For my main I ordered the roast kid and when it arrived, I was pretty chuffed to be honest. It looked stunning, served with white beans and kale – perfectly cooked and hearty. It tasted (unsurprisingly), like goat but milder. The meat was beautifully tender with excellent crispy fat. Yes, more fat. Detox schmeetox.

Our remaining wines were both red, a Dinastia Vivanco Rioja Reserva 2001 (I remember Rob saying look out for hints of balsamic and I amazed myself again by actually picking some up) but my favourite without doubt was the Coleccion Vivanco Rioja 4 Varietales 2005 (sorry about the photo). A really big wine for my really big plate of meat, beans ‘n’ greens.

When it came to ordering dessert I was drawn to the Eccles cake with Lancashire cheese – firstly because Chris mentioned that he loved it on his last visit and secondly, because I missed out on a similar dessert at the sherry and food pairing with Heston Blumenthal (I had to leave early. Gutted). The fruity, sweet cake was balanced well by the slightly sharp cheese although I couldn’t eat it all – the slice of cheese was big, as are all the portions at St. John. I had a touch of food envy over Lizzie’s wibbly wobbly rhubarb jelly, which seemed like a much more sensible option after two rich courses and much tasting of wine.

Overall then, St. John surprised me. I knew the food would be ‘rustic’, but I did expect a little more ‘refinement’ from a restaurant just awarded it’s first Michelin star and I think this was the general consensus among our group. That said, the ambience is informal, which I enjoy, despite the surroundings being even more stark than anticipated. The lack of any embellishment in the restaurant decor does focus attention solely on the food, wine and company though, which is, after all, the point. Perhaps it’s just the unfamiliarity of a total absence of ‘faff’ which caught me off guard. Makes you wonder if it’s all really necessary doesn’t it? Lizzie also wonders this in her write up.

I’ll definitely go back to St. John, although I wouldn’t dine there with any vegetarian friends. The emphasis on meat and offal, the stark, white surroundings (reminiscent of a butchers shop) and the ‘serious’ meat knives already present at table when you arrive, may prove a little unsettling if you’re not the carnivorous type. That said, the menu includes fish and vegetarian options, something to bear in mind for my return visit. Which, if Chris’s reaction to the photos is anything to go by, will be just as soon as payday arrives.

Oh, and I’ll be ordering some wine. And not apologetically like I usually do. I shall be asking for advice, thinking about it, remembering and most of all enjoying. If there’s one thing I’ve learned recently, it’s to stop giving myself a hard time over wine tasting. I don’t know much about it, but then there’s only one way to learn, right?

(The Bakery at St. John, above. I must add that the bread is excellent, Lizzie and I couldn’t stop eating it! Chris also recently tweeted that he thinks he may never be able to eat bread from anywhere else. I can see where he’s coming from..)

St. John
26 St John Street
0207 251 0848

*’the list’ is my ever growing scribble of restaurants I need to visit, like, yesterday. It’s a tatty little notebook, crammed with bits of paper which fall out all the time and have me scrabbling around on the floor like an idiot.

St John on Urbanspoon

11 comments » | Restaurant Reviews

Ottolenghi *Swoon*

January 4th, 2009 — 10:57am

Like many people who do a hefty amount of cooking, I don’t often follow recipes in books (which is not to say I don’t have a massive collection!). Instead, I prefer to use them for inspiration, to check techniques or sometimes just to look at the pretty pictures, quite frankly. There are, of course, exceptions to this rule and Ottolenghi is most definitely one of them. I adored the ‘New Vegetarian‘ series, I now adore the book and I hope that soon I shall adore the restaurant/deli too.

There is a bold simplicity to these recipes, which are based around a set of ‘star ingredients’, (listed in the front of the book) – essential flavours in the Ottolenghi repertoire, for example, yoghurt, tahini, sumac and pomegranate molasses. These ingredients I am already in love with, particularly since the release of books such as Moro East and Persia in Peckham.

This roast pumpkin with burnt aubergine and pomegranate molasses is a current favourite. Soft, sweet squash scattered with crunchy toasted seeds and nuts, accompanied by an aubergine sauce which is pure genius. I know I will continue making this sauce for many years to come. The aubergine is charred until wrinkly and often bursting – the smoky flesh then scraped and combined with natural yoghurt, parsley, garlic, lemon juice and that sticky, fragrant molasses. Great sweet and sour flavours and contrasting textures.

The squash didn’t make it onto a plate, I just plonked the sauce in the middle and we ate the whole lot, from the oven dish, on the sofa. The original sauce recipe calls for olive oil but I left it out (Christmas calorie guilt) and it still tastes amazing. In fact, I may even prefer it.

I picked up two more aubergines on the way home yesterday, to make a double batch this afternoon. I will be munching through it while thumbing through the book, trying to decide which of the ten or so earmarked recipes will be next on my hitlist. This is a true pleasure in itself, for the book is a beautiful thing. Glorious pictures of the Ottolenghi establishment/s, platters towered high with lush, vibrant salads, perfectly cooked meats and decadent cakes and pastries.

Glossy pages, beautiful photography and chef magic aside however, I reckon Ottolenghi is the perfect book for the home cook. The recipes are easy to make yet impressive and (at the risk of sounding a bit Jamie O), sexy. There is a sense of generosity, a celebration of ingredients, the flavour of each being clearly discernable – no fussing. The Ottolenghi passion has jumped right from the chefs to the book to the plate to my belly and – I think I may be in love.

Roasted Butternut Squash with Burnt Aubergine and Pomegranate Molasses (from Ottolenghi – The Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sammi Tamimi).
(I bought a big bottle of pomegranate molasses in my local Sainsbury’s for £2.50 ish. It is also available in delis and middle Eastern food shops).

1 large butternut squash (I used a small pumpkin)
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon pumpkin seeds
1 tablespoon sunflower seeds (I didn’t have any)
1 tablespoon black (or white) sesame seeds
1 teaspoon nigella (black onion) seeds
10g sliced almonds
10g basil leaves (I didn’t have any)
Sea salt and black pepper

For the sauce
1 medium aubergine
150g Greek yoghurt, room temp
2 tablespoons olive oil (I left this out)
1.5 teaspoons pomegranate molasses
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon roughly choppped flatleaf parsley
1 garlic clove, crushed

– Preheat oven to 220C/Gas 7/425F. Cut the squash into wedges, 2-3cm thick. Remove the seeds and arrange in a roasting tray, skin side down. Brush with half the oil and season well. Cook for 25-30 minutes until soft and slightly brown.

– Reduce the oven to 180C/Gas4/350F. Spread the almonds and seeds on a roasting tray and toast for 8-10 minutes, until lightly browned. Allow to cool.

– For the sauce, either put the aubergine directly onto a gas hob flame, turning occasionally, for 10-15 minutes, until the skin is dried and cracked and the aubergine smells smoky. You can also do this by putting the aubergine under a hot grill. The aubergine often bursts I find, but this is fine. Just be careful not to lose that flesh! It needs to be very soft inside.

– Scoop the flesh from the aubergine and discard the skin. Drain the flesh in a colander for ten minutes, then chop roughly and combine with the yoghurt, oil, pomegranate molasses, lemon juice, garlic, parsley and season.

– Arrange the squash on a plate, scatter over the seeds and nuts and serve the dressing alongside. Scatter over the basil and serve.

36 comments » | Books, Gluten-free, Healthy, Lunchbox, Side Dishes, Vegetables

Happy New Year! Best Bits 2008.

January 1st, 2009 — 11:22am

A very Happy 2009 to you all! I’ve already been recipe planning for the year ahead but before all that, here’s a few of my favourites from 2008.

From top left: Spring quiche - steak with salsa verde (a strong ‘death-row meal’ contender – well, last year anyway..) – fennel and orange salad with raspberry vinegar – wickedly indulgent omelette cake with ricotta, smoked salmon and greensbrussels sprouts with chorizorainbow chard and parmesan tart with carrot and oat crustStilton and pear tart with walnut pastry (which I since discovered is from 2007, oops) – thinly shaved asparagus with cheese and hamwatermelon, feta and olives with poppy seed dressing (I couldn’t get enough of poppy seeds last year) – Earl Grey smoked ducksmoky, sweet and spicy red pepper souprabbit lasagne with sage bechamel (now my ‘signature dish’ and featured on the Channel 4 website!) – beetroot, squash and halloumilavender and honey lambamaretto scallopsstargazy piecrab cucumber rollsPolish cucumber soup.

And some favourite moments….Scotch eggs at the Heston Blumenthal food and sherry pairing – developing a serious taste for Stinking Bishop – eating dried fish with butter and drinking beer in Iceland’s national park (I also loved smoked eel in 2008) – discovering Brew Dog beer and wet garlic and the most amazing buttery olives (and then finding out where we can buy them!) – eating more oysters than ever in 2008 (although I will try to top this in 2009) – winning The Tipped Chilli cook off – discovering I love rosemary in cocktails-  a very unsuccessful but hilarious attempt at growing potatoes on our balcony and finally – 2008 was, without doubt, the year of the cupcake. To top it all off, Food Stories got a little bit of love with an article on the Channel 4 website and my cottage pie got a mention in Simon Majumdar’s ‘school-dinners’ classics article for Word of Mouth. All of this aside however, the best part about food blogging in 2008 was undoubtedly meeting so many other bloggers face to face. Here’s to meeting many more of you in 2009. Cheers!

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15 comments » | Uncategorized

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