Sunday 28 August 2016

Courgette and herb slice

I know it looks like we eat a lot of meat. We do. Especially at this time of year when clear, warm evenings make cooking outdoors appealing. But we also eat a lot of vegetables - sometimes without a piece of meat in sight.

One of my former flatmates used to make the most delicious zucchini fritters - heady with herbs, given an added punch with crumbled feta. This slice, which is almost like a less-eggy frittata, is inspired by those but without the labour of making little individual fritters. And as I live in a country that calls zucchini courgette, that is what I will call them. You can call them baby marrows if that's what floats your boat.

I start this on the stovetop and finish it in the oven - I feel like that prevents any danger of soggy bottoms and makes it easier to slice and serve.

Courgette and herb slice (serves 2-4)
3 eggs
100g self raising flour
500g courgettes (i.e zucchini), grated
75g fresh herbs (I used 25g each of mint, flat leaf parsley and coriander), roughly chopped
200g kefalotyri cheese, grated
Freshly ground black pepper
2tbs olive oil

Mix the flour into the eggs and mix in the other ingredients, except the oil. It will feel very dry initially. Allow to stand for half an hour - the liquid will draw out of the courgettes and loosen the batter nicely.

Preheat oven to 180C

Warm a suitable vessel (i.e a skillet or something that can go on the hob and in the oven) on a medium heat on the stove and add the olive oil. When it starts to sizzle, add the courgette batter and smooth down. When the edges start to crisp a little, put it in the oven and bake for about half an hour, until well-browned. It won't rise much, the self-raising flour gives just enough lift to stop it from being stodgy.

Allow to stand for at least 10 minutes before slicing and serving with salad. It's good warm or cold.

Sunday 21 August 2016

Barbecued short ribs

Shortribs rubbed with salt and pepper
The weather yesterday was pretty crumby. Which would normally be counter-intuitive for wanting to barbecue, but was actually perfect for what we had in mind. A long, slow cook, indirect and covered, with lots of smoke. Periods of rain are no barrier to that sort of barbecuing.
Two hours into the smoking
Paul had spotted some cheap but very meaty beef short ribs at the supermarket, and bought every pack on the shelf (there were only three), so I simply rubbed them with salt and pepper before we put them in the barbecue on indirect heat. We added smoking chips every half hour for 4 hours.

Then we wrapped them. We couldn't decide what seasonings to add, so we ended up doing each one individually. One we basted heavily in some Germantown Commissary Barbecue Sauce that a friend had brought over when she visited from Memphis. One we just added a bit of chicken stock to (would have used beef stock if I'd had any). The last had a good slug of red wine and several whole cloves of garlic. Then they went back in the barbecue for another 2 1/2 hours before resting for half an hour.

L-R Memphis BBQ, chicken stock, red wine and garlic
The meat had a deep bark and was beautifully succulent, slipping straight off the bone. The one with the chicken stock was the most moist, while the one in barbecue sauce had the best flavour. I was anticipating that the barbecue sauce would be a bit sweet, but it was deliciously piquant. The red wine and garlic one suffered a bit, because we managed to poke a hole in the foil, so it didn't retain moisture the way it should. It was still excellent, but the ratio of bark to tender meat was a bit off.

I think the next time we do short ribs, we'll add a bit of stock AND baste in the barbecue sauce. And make sure someone goes to Memphis to get us some more.

It's very rich meat - you really only need a green salad with it and maybe some pickles.

Sunday 14 August 2016

Forty Dean Street

Very much to my surprise my ninth blogoversary has come and gone without acknowledgment. And two months have slipped by since I last posted. I just haven't been feeling it. I have spent much of the last couple of months raging over the Brexit referendum and ensuing economic uncertainty and rise of racial and religious-based hate crimes and, well, none of that has added up to me wanting to cook much or write about food. Food is joy and love and caring and inclusion, which all feels a bit pre-Brexit.
Prawns with cherry tomatoes and crostini, and antipasto platter
Which means that this meal, at Forty Dean Street has felt like a wondrous time gone by. It was utterly joy-filled as well as being completely unexpected.

There can be a certain predictability about blogger dinners. They are on a Tuesday, of the 15-20 people there I maybe know a couple and PRs are scattered through to keep everyone happy. Everyone's on their best behaviour, determined to enjoy themselves and the networking-inclined hand out business cards. Very pleasant they tend to be, if not always memorable.
Linguine with seafood, spaghetti with fresh lobster
Dinner at Forty Dean Street was on a Thursday. There were only six of us - three PRs, three bloggers. And it ended up being less a dinner than a dance party with food. The description of the restaurant - affordable, family-run, seventeen years in business - had me anticipating something a bit staid, while "favourite with our regulars, the media crowd and tourists alike" didn't make me feel particularly confident. So maybe my utter pleasure in the food and atmosphere was born of low expectations, but I do think it was genuinely good.
Lamb chops
Mention had been made of the owner coming to tell us about the restaurant and talk us through the food, but he was far too busy joyously DJing an impeccably selected soundtrack for a 40th birthday in the corner, and dancing with anyone who would stand up with him.  The food didn't need any introduction though. More than two months later I am thinking about how richly flavoured the spaghetti with lobster was and how perfectly tender the lamb chops with mustard crushed potatoes were. Beautifully prepared and utterly delicious.

The selection of desserts wasn't quite as good as the savoury dishes - the tiramisu was almost as good as mine, the pannacotta wobbled delectably and the cheesecake was a fair example but... I dunno. I think I'd just eaten enough and was enjoying dancing at the table because none of it wowed me particularly.

The bottom line is that it isn't somewhere I would take a first date, or have a work lunch where I was discussing redundancies, but for very nice food at an extremely reasonable price with a jolly party atmosphere... it's just what you want. And god knows the more support we give the independents in Soho the better, otherwise soon it'll be acceptable but dull franchises as far as the eye can see. Which would be such a shame.


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