Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Mamta's Lucknowi Biryani for National Curry Week

Turns out it is National Curry Week. I was unaware of this, and actually unaware that curry was particularly in need of promoting in this country. Although based on the quality of many of our local curry houses, maybe there is a need for awareness of what constitutes a good curry?

As it happens, though, on Sunday night we had a biryani, which, for the purposes of this post, I will consider a curry.

It was one of Paul's requests, but unfortunately he didn't like it very much. I used Kavey's mum's recipe for Lucknowi biryani, reducing the quantity of rice to 300g to fit Paul's aim for more meat and less rice. It still made four generous portions! With the fresh mint and coriander, the hint of rosewater and the pieces of lemon (I used a small lime) it ends up smelling quite unlike any other curry I have made - much more like a North African dish. I thought it was lovely. I think Paul had in mind your regular curry house "biryani" of mutton curry stirred through rice. Oh well. I enjoyed not having to fight him for the leftovers.

Monday, 13 October 2014

Meat Free Monday: eggs baked with cream and asparagus

This simple but rich and gorgeous dish is just a take on oeufs en cocotte, born out of the need to use up a bit of double cream and the existence of British autumn asparagus.

The asparagus spears were very skinny, so I washed them, cut them into 1" pieces and microwaved them with a small nut of butter and the water still clinging to them for a minute. Then I broke on two eggs and the cream - a bit more cream than I'd thought was left, actually, about 1/4 cup. Then I baked it until the eggs looked set. By which time, of course, they were a bit overdone. But delicious.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Picture, Great Portland Street (back so soon!?)

Just in case you were wondering, the food at Picture is still really good even if you have to pay for it yourself.

My regular dance partner and I happened to be in the neighbourhood at noon today and decided to take advantage of the Saturday light lunch deal, of two savoury plates and a dessert for £16.50.

We both started with gin and tonic. Mine was a fairly standard one, done well, with Sipsmith gin and Fevertree tonic. Sharon's was a prettier and more seasonal affair made with damson gin and garnished with blackberries.
Damson gin & tonic
As much as I'd enjoyed some of the dishes I'd tried the last time I was at Picture, I decided to order entirely differently this time. But as I'd thoroughly recommended the broccoli with goats curd, and the beef, Sharon had those.

I started with ravioli of greens and ricotta. Three ravioli, served on a smear of chestnut puree and topped with tiny little tender brussels sprouts and some sprout tops. I swear this would turn around the most ardent sprout hater, and would, in fact, make a brilliant main course for a vegetarian Christmas. Buttery, herbal, with superbly silky pasta, I would happily have eaten it twice.

For my second savoury dish, I had wild boar sausage with braised celery, apple and hazelnuts. I wasn't sure how sausage would work as a small plate, but I needn't have worried - it was one generously sized sausage cut into chunks. The flavours were superb, but the apple chunks were served chilled and I thought they should possibly have been warm.
For dessert I chose a blueberry and almond tart, which was absolutely gorgeous. Incredibly thin, crisp sweet pastry, with a slick of blueberry jam, a frangipane and fresh blueberries, it was served slightly warm and topped with some of the best frozen yoghurt I've ever had. I like fro yo to be very yoghurty, and this was - light, tart and velvety. Just lovely.

So, the two dishes and dessert, with more of their lovely sourdough and whipped butter, made a satisfying but not bloating lunch. With a gin and tonic a piece, a (very good) coffee and service charge, it came to £30 each. Slightly more than I had planned for a quick bite, but definitely worth it.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Picture, Great Portland Street

I've made a new friend this year. It's quite exciting really, because the difficulty of making new friends in your 30s and 40s is conventional wisdom. Anyway, she's recently moved to the UK and posted in one of the dance groups on Facebook that she wanted someone to jam with and I had the time to do it. Of course, we've ended up spending much more time gossiping and drinking coffee than actually dancing, but never mind.

It meant that when I received an invitation to join a group of bloggers at Picture, on Great Portland St, a five minute walk from her house, on a day that we'd planned a jam, there was no earthly reason to turn it down. Serendipity!
Photo courtesy of Picture restaurant
Of course, with the gossiping and drinking coffee, I ended up having to rush that five minute walk, so I arrived a bit warm and out of breath, making the welcoming glass of prosecco with elderflower very refreshing. And I don't even like elderflower.
We were experiencing Picture's six-course tasting menu, which comes in at an exceptionally reasonable £35. Manager Tom and chefs Alan and Colin had previously worked together at the highly regarded Arbutus group of restaurants (I've only been to Le Deux Salons, but one day I will get to the others!) so I was reasonably confident that we were in good hands. The excellent sourdough bread with whipped butter confirmed that belief.
The first course was a squash veloute. I was disproportionately thrilled by this, because one of the (few) laments I have about living in the UK is that people here don't really seem to understand the winter squash family. It isn't a staple the way it is in Australia. Fortunately there was a fellow Antipodean at my end of the table, Emma from Adventures of a London Kiwi, who agreed with me that butternut or pumpkin soup is one of life's great pleasures and a winter essential. The veloute was very good, with a nice bite of cumin, if not the most exciting bowl of soup I've drunk.
Grilled tenderstem broccoli, with fresh goats curd was better, although I could have done without the broccoli and just smeared the goats curd on some more of the lovely bread. Not that there was anything wrong with the broccoli, I just really like goats curd, especially with good bread.
Picture used with permission of Kavita of Kavey Eats
Pork cheek was up next. With celery, celeriac and hazelnuts. I don't know if it is because of the current ubiquity of pulled pork, or I am at an age where I appreciate having all my own teeth, but I am getting a bit tired of spoon-soft meat. I like to chew! So this was a bit of a disappointment because the meat was as tender and sticky as can be. If "melt-in-the-mouth" is your measure of success, this was a winner. It was quite a large portion for a tasting menu too, and I honestly don't think I could have eaten more of it - particularly knowing there were still three courses to come.

The fish course was my dish of the day. Perfectly cooked sea bream with chard and a scattering of lentils: it was beautifully fresh and deliciously seasoned. I'd been a bit confused by the menu moving from veg to pork to fish, but it was a very intelligent decision - the pork was so rich that to go from that straight to the beef wouldn't have shown either of them to advantage. As it was, the bream was almost a palate cleanser.

28 day aged beef with kale, sweet potato and salsify was quite heavily smoked, to the point where it almost tasted like bacon, but the meat had a lovely (chewable) texture. I always like eating salsify when other people prepare it too. The sweet potato and kale made it all taste very autumnal, which seemed a little incongruous two weeks ago when the weather was lovely and warm, but now seems like just the right thing.
The photos haven't done it justice, but the crockery at Picture is beautiful. The only bum note was the dessert plate - a brown plate just doesn't show a lovely chocolate mousse to its best advantage. And it was a lovely chocolate mousse, if a little sweeter than I usually like it. That extra sweetness did the blackberries a bit of a disservice, making them taste a little sharp by comparison. The peanut cream also didn't entirely float my boat - taken in a bite with the mousse and a bit of blackberry, it was a balanced mouthful, but by itself it was a bit flat. Of course, I was very full by this stage of the evening, so being pickier than I would otherwise have been.

So, overall verdict? A fantastic neighbourhood restaurant, which I would happily frequent even if I had to pay for it myself. I will have to maintain my new friendship in order to provide opportunities to do just that. Maybe on a Monday night, when they offer free corkage for BYO? With any luck, our husbands will even get along.

 Many thanks to Picture restaurant and Sarah and Jenny at Salt PR for a lovely evening.

Saturday, 27 September 2014

British Turkey Awards and a 5kg bird

On Thursday I had dinner at The Savoy. This is not, it pains me to admit, a normal sort of weeknight activity. But it was the British Turkey Awards, where I found myself crowned (no crown actually involved, but I got a trophy and a certificate) British Turkey Blogger Recipe of the Year for my turkey b'stilla.

It was a very grand event. Champagne reception, grace, Loyal Toast, the whole shebang. There were several women in floor-length gowns and opera-length gloves and all but one of the men wore a dinner jacket. Paul, the notable exception, looked like Columbo.

I felt very lucky to be seated next to Robert Clark and Karen McQuade, veterans of the British Turkey Awards, who were able to explain some of the elements of the night. Like the bizarre "heads and tails" charity collection game and the boo-ing at some of the award nominees. Every group has its traditions! Anyway, unfortunately we had to hurtle off mid-ceremony, to catch the last train. Everyone else seemed settled in for the duration, so I suspect The Strand was populated by very hungover turkey farmers and retailers on Friday.

It only seems appropriate for me now to share a turkey post.

One of the things that British Turkey is trying to do is get people to see turkey as an every day meat and not just a Christmas thing. Which means that fresh turkey is increasingly available outside the Christmas season.

At Easter, in fact, we bought a 5kg fresh free-range Bronze turkey at a 50% discount, so it was £22. Clearly, for a family of two people a 5kg bird is a ridiculous size, so I assembled poultry shears and a sharp knife and watched a couple of youtube tutorials on jointing poultry and set to work. I vividly remember laying out the pieces on the board to take pictures of them, but I can't find any pictures of the completed butchery.

We ended up with a turkey crown, 2 wing portions, 2 thigh portions and 2 drumsticks, and the carcass, wing tips, leg joints and giblets for stock. All but the crown went into the freezer for later consideration.
Roast turkey crown
The crown, which weighed 2.2kg, we ate roasted. I lifted the breast skin and smeared the flesh with a compound butter, flavoured with lemon zest, garlic and anchovies. I gave it 30 minutes at 200C, then 45 minutes at 170C. We had it hot with roast potatoes and peas and it was just delicious - crisp-skinned with moist, flavourful flesh. The potatoes were also some of my better roasties.
Of course, 2.2kg is still a big roast, even if that includes a fair amount of bone. It left 700g meat to be stripped from the carcass. That meant two portions of a warm noodle salad with a chilli peanut dressing...
My 6" springform tin pays for itself again and again
... and three portions of pie. The pie was very Christmassy, really, with bacon, sage and onion, some of the jellied juices from the roast, a couple of tablespoons of dried cranberries and 50g Stilton, broken into chunks.
As you can imagine (or have experienced at Christmas), after that turkey-filled week we were quite happy to leave the rest of the pieces in the freezer for a fair while after that. But eventually, we were ready to face turkey again.

I boned out the wings and stuffed them with minced prawns and waterchestnuts, then pan-fried them. They were delicious as part of a dim sum meal, but would have made a good supper just with rice and vegetables.
The thighs I also intended to bone-out and stuff, but I ended up with much more stuffing than would fit. I butterflied them and made sort of a sandwich with the stuffing (which was rice, spinach and 'nduja) in between and baked it.The dark thigh meat has enough flavour to stand up to robust 'nduja without being completely overpowered.
Turkey thighs sandwiched with rice, spinach and 'nduja.
Then the drumsticks got a Mexican-inspired treatment. They were barbecued with a lot of smoke so that the skin was crisp and lacquered, and the meat falling off the bone, and served with a spicy peanut mole sauce.

That just left the bag of bits for stock. I added the turkey trimmings and giblets to a couple of roast chicken carcasses and the usual aromatics and simmered them to a rich broth. Some of the broth I then reheated with a couple of dried porcini mushrooms steeping in it, while I made some dumplings filled with minced turkey, more dried porcini and herbs. I roasted cubes of butternut and some sage leaves. Then I cooked the dumplings in simmering water before serving them in the broth with Asian mushrooms and the butternut - and there were three portions of that. My freezer is now empty of turkey and I am ready to start planning Christmas (I know it's still September!). We might have turkey this year.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Haggis & Apple Cottage Pie - an act of union

 I am very sorry for the disappointed Yes voters, who had good reasons for wanting independence, but at the same time sentimentally I am pleased that Scotland isn't leaving us. I wouldn't say that Scotland puts the great in Great Britain, exactly, but if you look at any list of British achievements, a fair whack of them are Scottish. Hypodermic needles, pneumatic tyres, thermos flasks, the telephone, the television, waterproof fabrics and penicillin, all invented, discovered or developed by Scots. And of course, the haggis (although that might be Roman...)

So, to celebrate the continued existence of the United Kingdom, I bought a haggis. I was intending to serve it with chips, peas and gravy, but then Rachel McCormack tweeted her recipe for a haggis, apple and potato tart, which I thought was brilliant. Hers was very elegant-looking - a flat puff pastry tart, filled with slices of potato and apple with crumbled haggis. Mine is not elegant, but it is tasty and a good entry point for people who are scared of haggis but still intrigued.

Whenever I make a recipe that needs a carrot/onion/celery base, rather than trying to find a single stick of celery, I make a large quantity, sweated down in a bit of oil, and then freeze it in portions for later. A thawed bag of that - on this occasion celery, leeks, onions and carrots - was my base. A couple of dessert apples, peeled, cored and finely chopped, and a haggis, broken into large chunks.

I made up some instant gravy paste, and flavoured it with some cider brandy, and made a strongly mustardy mash (hence the lurid yellow colour). As I dolloped the Colmans mustard into the pan of spuds, I realised that I had ingredients representing all the parts of the United Kingdom - leeks for Wales, potatoes for Northern Ireland, apples and hot English mustard for England and the haggis for Scotland. My sense of kitsch got the better of me, and instead of roughing the mash up with a fork, I traced a union jack onto the surface with the point of a knife. When it came out of the oven, I was delighted to see that it had held. There's a metaphor there.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Spiced chocolate caramel peanut popcorn

This is yet another version of sweet, salty and spicy popcorn, this time inspired by the Snickers bar. It features chunks of turrón, salted peanuts and a spiced chocolate caramel. It's very hard to resist! The key to it keeping its crunch for a couple of days is that it's slowly baked after coating, which also helps get an even distribution of the caramel.

I made this as a snack for a three-hour dance class, and as a thank you to Kavey for a jar of her homemade kimchi, but the leftovers were still good three days later (and a little softer but still tasty the day after that).

Snickers-inspired spiced chocolate caramel peanut popcorn

1tbs vegetable oil
120g popping corn
100g roasted salted peanuts
100g nougat (I used soft turrón de Jijona which has a texture similar to halva, but hard, Alicante-style turrón duro would be better), chopped into small chunks
Pinch chilli flakes (I used chile de arbol)
Pinch Maldon salt (i.e good quality seasalt)
Pinch ground cinnamon
Pinch ground nutmeg
2tbs good-quality cocoa powder
100g salted butter
100ml golden syrup
125g sugar

Heat the oil in a large saucepan with a lid, and add the popping corn. Cover, and shake until the corn has popped, then pour into a large, baking parchment-lined roasting tin, holding back any unpopped kernels if possible. Scatter over the peanuts and chunks of nougat.

Combine the salt, cocoa powder and spices in a little ramekin or bowl. Give it a stir to make sure the cocoa powder doesn't have any lumps, and have it standing by while you make the syrup. In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine the butter, sugar and golden syrup over a medium heat, and swirl gently until the sugar dissolves and it comes to the boil. Boil rapidly for a few minutes, or until it changes colour to a rich golden brown.

Take the caramel off the heat and tip the cocoa quickly into it. Keeping your fingers well clear, stir with a silicon spatula until well combined and pour the caramel evenly over the popcorn. Stir it through. It won't coat all of the popcorn but that is part of the charm - every bite is different.

Place the roasting tin in a slow oven - mine only goes down to 120C, but if yours does 100C that would be better - and bake for an hour, giving it a stir every 15 minutes. Allow to cool and harden before packing in an airtight box or gift bags.


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