Thursday, 30 June 2011

Crayfish with Tarragon Mayonnaise

A few weeks ago the Ewing went to Oxford to visit the chiropractors and managed to return with with two crabs, a rhubarb and hazelnut cake, some pig's head terrine, asparagus and a big bag of signal crayfish. Just the usual really.  After enjoying the asparagus roasted, draping the charred spears with curls of Italian sheep's cheese, my thoughts turned to crustaceans.

After I had got over the disconcerting feeling of being stared at by a dozen beady eyes every time I opened the fridge door I decided the best way to eat these American invaders was simply with lemon, a bottle of white and some mayo.

Deciding to do it properly I set about making my own mayonnaise.  Despite pretty much drinking the stuff on a daily basis my only previous attempt at making it myself stayed resolutely liquid.  Alarm bells should have started to ring when the Ewing came into the kitchen and announced her previous efforts had been 'completely inedible', but, refusing to believe anything containing so much oil could taste that terrible, I persevered anyway.

Half and hour, and all the fresh eggs in the kitchen, later my hairdresser turned up at the house only to find the food processor, hand blender, several whisks and bowls and most the kitchen floor covered in trails of greasy gunge.  Despite trying every trick in book the texture was still far too liquid, although it was at least, sort of, edible.  Luckily stirring a few dollops of premade mayo saved the day, and my sanity.  The addition of plenty of chopped tarragon gave it a lovely aniseed flavour that worked beautifully with the sweet crayfish meat.

Not wanted to be defeated I bought some more eggs and tried the mayo again (different recipe, this time based on one from the Guardian) the next day. While it certainly worked better I won't be giving up on the blue and yellow jar in my fridge any time soon.

Crayfish with Tarragon Mayonnaise

Crayfish (or substitute langoustines, lobster, prawns or crab)
Mayonnaise (premade or see recipe below)
A small bunch of tarragon leaves, chopped (you could also use dill)
Lemon wedges

Serve crayfish with the mayo, crusty bread and plenty of napkins.


2 egg yolks
Generous pinch of salt
250ml groundnut or sunflower oil
25ml extra virgin olive, walnut or rapeseed oil
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 tbsp white wine vinegar or lemon juice

Make sure all the ingredients are at room temperature before starting
Take a large mixing bowl, and add the egg yolks. Beat well with a whisk for a couple of minutes.
Add the salt and beat well for 30 seconds until the yolk is thick and sticky. Add the acid and mustard.
Begin to pour in the neutral oil drop by drop beating all the while – don't be tempted to rush this if the mixture does not emulsify now it certainly won't later.
As the mixture thickens, you can start to add the oil in a thin stream.
Once your mayonnaise is near the consistency you want it (and you may not need to use all the oil), whisk in the olive oil.
Once it is all incorporated, beat the mayonnaise for another 30 seconds until thick and glossy.
If you would prefer a thinner mixture, (ha!) add a little water.

If the mixture remains uncompromisingly thin then take a clean bowl, add an egg yolk, and whisk with a pinch more salt. Pour the original mixture back in, bit by bit, while constantly whisking.  It (should) then emulsify.

Monday, 27 June 2011

Thai Pineapple Fried Rice

I ate a lot of pizza during my teenage years, and thanks to often sharing with my best friend Michael, lots of them were Hawaiian.  Yes, that's right, Hawaiian; the much derided and controversial combination of cheap plastic ham and tinned pineapple. Now I'm a little older I still eat plenty of pizza, and thanks to sharing with the Ewing, lots of them are still Hawaiian.

I'm quite happy to drive 30 miles for lesser galangal or take two trains just for a certain type of salami, but sometimes its good to just enjoy relaxing on the sofa with a slice of pie and a cold beer. I do however still have some standards.  It's still only acceptable as a topping on the slightly soggy, gloopy, deep pan stuff that arrives steaming in its red cardboard box, and it must be generously covered in a fiery rain of Tabasco sauce to balance the sweetness.  A truly discerning palate...

Digressions aside.  Pineapple is often used in savoury dishes to great effect.  Mexican al pastor and good old sweet and sour would be pale imitations without the tropical fruit.  Thais also feature pineapple heavily in their cuisine, and here mixed with a little curry powder and some prawns, it makes a perfect marriage of fruit and spice.  (For bonus tropical kitsch points serve the rice in a hollowed out pineapple half.)

This version features prawns, peppers, spring onion and the last asparagus spears, rescued from the depths of the salad drawer, but substitute what ever meat and veg are to hand.  I usually garnish it with plenty of coriander and maybe some roasted cashew/peanuts.  And of course a cold beer.

Thai Pineapple Fried Rice

200g Cold cooked rice
200g Large prawns (or substitute chicken, pork etc)
1 Red pepper, cut into strips
1 Bunch spring onions sliced
1 Bunch asparagus or handful of green beans
Half a pineapple, cubed and cored
1 Clove garlic, chopped
1 Medium red chilli, chopped
1 Tbsp Medium curry powder
1 Tbsp Soy
1 Tbsp Vegetable oil
Soy sauce to taste

To finish
Bunch of coriander, chopped
Handful of roasted cashews/peanuts

Heat the oil in a wok, add the curry powder, chilli, garlic and spring onion and stir fry for a few minutes.
Add the pepper, asparagus and pineapple and chilli and cook for a further five minutes.
Add the prawns and cook until pink (if already cooked just briefly heat through or they will toughen).
Finally add rice and heat through.
Season with soy to taste.
Garnish with coriander and/or roasted nuts.

Friday, 24 June 2011

Snacks in Soho: Paul A Young and Bubbleology

Heading in to town for a lunch date on the South Bank I decided to cut through Soho to check out Paul A Young's new flagship store before a quick refreshment stop at London's new bubble tea shop.

Holding a prime corner spot the striking new premises is far larger than his Islington and Bank shops.  He has also managed to secure the basement space of the neighbouring buildings and transformed them into a smart kitchen and potential workshop area.

The interior is spacious and classy, decorated in dark purples and golds with a wall papered in Cola and Son cocoa pod wallpaper. There is also an impressive counter made from an reclaimed wooden altar and a dresser stacked with various different pave and artisan bars.
A large, circular elm table, laden down with a cornucopia of delights, takes centre stage.  As well as the house collection, including the famous Marmite truffles, salted caramels and champagne truffles, Paul is also debuting his new summer collection.  Featuring intriguing combinations such as parsley and Limoncello, passion fruit curd and coffee, coconut water and lemongrass, and Kernel Brewery stout and dark muscovado.
Top picks of the chocs we tried included a tomato, olive oil and basil number, where the fruit and herb flavours evoked an Italian summer, and the Saint Germain liqueur with elderflower which combined sweet floral notes with a decent punch of alcohol. I'm also a big fan of the goats cheese, rosemary and lemon; a beautiful feather light centre with a lovely lemony zing. The Pimm's truffle, an old favourite, is another must try, especially during Wimbledon week.  Gently scented with mint strawberry and cucumber it's a match winner.

We also shared one of the very good new summer pudding chocolates.  A behemoth of berry and basil compote,  raspberry ganache and caramelised hazelnut covered in white a chocolate shell.  Despite their super size the delicious basil compote left me wanting more.

And then the legendary brownies.  First the summer berry blondie, a dense blueberry and raspberry studded confection that managed to be gloriously rich but not sickly.   Then a sea salt caramel brownie with pecans.  Pure salty, sweet bliss with a nice nutty crunch.

As well as being conveniently central the new store is also gorgeously opulent, and luckily it's full of fantastic chocolates to match.  A bit pricier than that other famous purple wrapped chocolate purveyor, but certainly worth it for quality products that are still hand made daily with all natural ingredients.

Bubble tea, a beverage that originated in Taiwan in the 80's, became a bit of an obsession on a recent trip to Hong Kong. The sweet milky drink, with a layer of gelatinous black tapioca balls, became a refreshing pick me up on sultry evenings while wandering the night markets.   Apart from a few Chinatown Cafes it was rarely seen here in London until now.

Bubbleology is a new Rupert Street cafe selling the 'boba' based drinks in a variety of different milk and fruit flavours.  A slick looking operation in a grimy area of Soho, it is set up to look like a laboratory complete with staff dressed in lab coats and the crazy glass flasks of potion bubbling away in the window.  There's even a little outside seating area to enjoy (those all too few) summer days.

From the myriad of flavours on offer we chose the classic plain Assam milk tea and a passion fruit green tea, both with classic black tapioca pearls. There is also a selection of flavoured jelly add ins as well as the option to have your drink half sweetened, served hot, or to combine two different flavours together.
The milk version was comfortingly sweet and milky, just as delicious as I remembered.  The pearls are an interesting addition. Sucked up and chewed through an extra wide straw you can't help but grin as you're drinking it. The passion fruit flavour was also good although time I would be tempted to have it half sweet, as it was a little sugary for me. I'm also looking forward to trying out some of the flavoured pearls and jellies too. 

A fab little stop to pick up a authentic, fun beverage.  After grabbing our drinks we crossed the road into Chinatown for some pork buns to create a sort of Asian version of tea and bacon sandwiches, the perfect breakfast!

Paul A Young Fine Chocolates on Urbanspoon

Bubbleology on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Taste of London, Regent's Park

Proudly billed as 'the worlds greatest restaurant festival' I have thus far avoided annual the Regent's Park event, dissuaded by the high ticket prices and corporate feel.  This year I decided to take advantage of a Friday off work and an online deal (at £13 each plus booking fee- just over half the advertised cheapest ticket price, though still hardly a bargain) and decided to drag the Ewing along for an afternoon of feasting fun.

Rather predictably the heavens opened on our arrival at the main entrance, but free ponchos given out on the gate and the promise of lunch and cocktails within were enough to keep our spirits up.  The place was already full of hungry punters, but numbers seemed to be kept to a manageable amount so the queues didn't get out of hand, and overall organisation was very good. (and the loos deserve a special mention for being the nicest I've seen at any festival thus far)  With the weather quickly brightening up we set of for some grub.

The festival currency is crowns, with two crowns equating to one pound.  This makes it easier for the stalls to take payment for their dishes , but also easier to spend huge amounts of money without really noticing.  I ended up feeling rather like the banker in Monopoly, peeling off huge wads of 'funny' money to pay for things.  Crowns can be redeemed at most stalls (all?) within the festival but cannot be exchanged back, so we started with five books of twenty crowns each, and bought more as needed. Luckily there are plenty of crown sellers, wearing bright pink t-shirts, dotted about the site if you're caught short.

Skylon's warm smoked Loch Var salmon, lemon verbena jelly and pickled cucumber and sweet rye kicked things off nicely.  Helena Puolakka's dish won second prize in Best in Taste and the delicate tranche of smoky fish paired nicely with the fresh jelly and cucumber.  The dense bread was topped with rich butter, chopped egg and dill mixture which the Ewing made light work of.

Launceston Place's Spit roast suckling pig and black truffle roll. We were lured over by the bronzed piglet turning on a spit and the wonderful roasted meat aroma.  The sight of Tristan Welch's twin sons happily being fed said snacks by their dad confirmed our next purchase.  Succulent slices of hot pork were interlaced with shards of crackling and generously covered in truffle shavings. A little piggy treat.

Gauthier Soho's Top-dog deluxe: smoked Strasbourg sausage hot dog, honey bacon mustard / mayo relish, golden soft and warm pain au lait.  Who could not fail to be charmed by the idea of a Michelin starred tube steak? While the gourmet in me was tempted by the summer truffle risotto they were also offering the gourmand wasn't to be swayed.  This was high end ball park fare.  The bacon was pleasingly brittle and contrasted with the soft smoked sausage and authentically slightly stale tasting bun.  All this finger-licking fun for a relatively 'bargain' 10 crowns. 

Scott's scallop and shrimp burger.  This was a whopper (size-wise, not because of its resemblance to any other famous fast food product)  The burger had a good, coarse texture and a fine fishy flavour that stood up well to the punch of the pickles and the spicy sauce. 

Club Gascon's foie gras burger with summer truffle.  This was the 2011 Best in Taste winner and it was pretty busy when we arrived at the tent.  Luckily we had Pascal Aussignac there to entertain us with some Gallic charm while we waited.  (The bowls of  Gascon mess he was putting together looked delicious too)  A thing of beauty: this tasted extremely rich and decadent, with a hint of sweetness coming from the glazed bun. Overall I found this slightly underseasoned, and the creamy dressing on the lettuce was too much for the fattiness of the liver.

Club Gascon's black salmon with celariac remoulade.  While I was getting my offal fix the Ewing was happily chowing down on her second salmon plate.  This time the fish came with crispy lotus root and was crusted with fennel seeds, which gave it a nice aniseed note.  The Ewing proclaimed this one her dish of the day.

The Modern Pantry's - Krupuk crusted soft shell crab, Singapore style sauce, pickled shimeji and cucumber.  Soft shelled crab is anther of the Ewing's favourites and when she heard it was on the menu we had to hunt it down.  The crab was freshly fried and crisp, and while I didn't care much for the Singapore style sauce the pickled shimeji and cucumber made a great accompaniment.

Asia de Cuba's Mexican doughnuts filled with butterscotch with a mojito sorbet.  I believe these were here last year, and after tasting them, I'm very glad they bought them back.  Just the right side of doughy; the piping hot cinnamon and sugar sweetness was offset by great sorbet that that really was boozy summer nights in a glass.

Le Caprice Cru Virunga chocolate crackle pot with raspberries.  Not one of my usual choices, but the Ewing loves raspberries and chocolate and I'd heard this was good.  It didn't disappoint; it was like a milky rich set custard, not too sweet and lifted by the sharpness of the berries.  And the addition of Pop Rocks make everything more fun.

Despite a slow start, not helped by hunger and a untimely downpour, we ended up having a good laugh and a fun afternoon.  Overall the food was decent although we found the simpler dishes (burgers, hot dogs grilled meats) to be the best, not to mention easiest, to eat when you're balancing on the muddy grass while trying to avoid losing an eye to an errant umbrella.  More fun than it sounds when you've had a few Cooper's Pale Ales already.

Yes, the whole experience doesn't come cheap, (although discount tickets can be found online, especially for Thursday and Friday) and there is a strong commercial feel not helped by the new 'Secret Garden' area, (which costs a whopping £95 pounds per ticket) but there are some bargains to be found and lots freebies on offer as you walk about.  There are also plenty of other things to keep you amused, including a demonstration theatre, cookery school, wine tasting, and producers market.

Despite all the entertainment on offer we found our happiest moment was late in the afternoon when, nicely full of food, the sun finally broke through the clouds and we could relax in the sunshine while sipping from a green coconut generously filled with Jamaican rum.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Tapas Trail, Madrid

Pigging out with the Madrileños.

As mentioned in my previous post I was lucky enough to spend a few days in one of the greatest cities in the world along with the Ewing, my sister Em and our friends Beth and Ellen.  Our guide for the trip was the wonderful Tom, an old school mate, local resident and, luckily for us, fluent Spanish speaker. While my poor attempts at schoolgirl Spanish always seem to end up with being offered cups of lukewarm tea, no matter what I'm actually attempting to order, Tom guided us seamlessly through some of the coolest markets, bars and restaurants in the city.

I have always found the food here to be almost uniformly excellent.  From the simple tapas plates of superb ham, tortilla,chorizo and olives to traditional feasts of suckling pig, cocido (a chickpea and meat stew) and callos (tripe, luckily we didn't have time for any on this trip!).  For a landlocked city there is plenty of seafood,  MercaMadrid is the largest wholesale market for perishable goods in Europe and the second largest fish market in the world.

With such a great variety of choice, and lovely company I couldn't wait to get stuck in to some delicious Iberian treats.

Museo del Jamon: The first stop every time I visit this is still one of my favourite places in the whole of Madrid. The 'Museum of Ham' combines a perfect place for a cold beer and a few tapas with the visual spectacle of seeing multiple cured pig's legs hanging from the ceiling.  My favourite branch is on the Carrera san Jeronimo, just off the Plaza del Sol, and we called in here every day on this most recent visit.

The pan tomaca, a ferociously garlicky tomato mixture served on toast and topped serrano ham, accompanied with a cafe solo and a glass of freshly squeezed zumo de naranja became my daily breakfast.  There is no finer way to pass the time than propped up against the u-shaped zinc counter, drinking a cold caña and eating chunks of chorizo and green olives.

The Mercado San Miguel.  This indoor market has only recently opened after extensive refurbishment and I was very excited about finally visiting.  I was not disappointed.  While rather small and pretty expensive the buzzy atmosphere and range of food and drink is excellent. On our two trips we enjoyed some lovely fishy pintxos, including salt cod with fish roe, tuna belly with anchovy and polpo gallego, We also sampled mini fois gras burgers, squid ink croquettas in a violent dark violet hue and prawn and pineapple skewers for the Ewing.

The pickled snack stall was also pretty fab; the highlight being some spicy chillies and an amazing creation that involved stuffing a gherkin with tuna and roasted peppers and then securing it with cocktail sticks speared with pickled onions and olives.

I shall definitely be saving some room on the next visit for the amazing looking scratchings, available in 'bacon rasher' or 'Iberican ham' flavour.  Perhaps washed down with something from the sherry stall opposite. 

Mercado de San Anton is enough new foodie addition that features a modern, multi leveled space with market stalls, bars and a restaurant with terrace on the top floor. On our visit the bottom floors were closing for the evening, but we enjoyed an nice aperitif of white wine and oysters on the middle level before going up dinner in the restaurant.

The food was good, if a little restrained in portion size. Probably a good thing, given our habit of over ordering.  We shared some mussels, salad and octopus to start before I enjoyed a lovely pork burger, made from pigs from 'the mountains of Jabugo'.  The juicy, lean meat was served slightly pink and was gorgeously dense and meaty in a way like no other pork burger I have tried.  It was served with those lovely, greasy slightly soggy, chips that seem to taste amazing when you're on holiday (less so at three o'clock in the morning outside the kebab van). The Ewing, along with a couple of the others, enjoyed a big piece of flaky bacalao, served with a langoustine and a little fish risotto.

A shared cheese board deserves a mention for being vast and having a good selection of perfectly ripe, stinking specimens, as well as a great goat and the obligatory, but lovely, Manchego.  A chocolate desert, with a strange orange sauce, was not a success, but they saved the best for last as my favourite part of a good meal was my rather unphotogenic arroz con leche.  A perfectly sweet and creamy cold rice pudding with lots of cinnamon.  Absolutely fabulous.

A lunch stop in the bustling Plaza Santa Ana.  As well as albondigas (meatballs),  tortilla and croquettas we enjoyed amazing Jamon Iberico with picos de pan and this rather lovely dish of fried aubegine slices with a salmorjo (bread, tomato garlic and vinegar garnished with chopped boiled egg) sauce.

Another night of great food, cocktails and company started with a refreshing summer drink featuring pineapple and basil  at a bar in Malasaña . We then moved down the road to La Musa for mojitos followed by red wine and vast, beautifully charred venison skewers, pictured here with my lovely sister Emily. 

We also enjoyed some 'bomba', with three slasas, which seemed to be meatballs that had been half breaded and topped with a tomato sauce and soured cream, fried green tomatoes with goats cheese, carpaccio beef rolls and baba ganouch with an alarming amount of garlic.

An afternoon stop at el Rincon for what Tom proclaimed 'the greatest tortilla in Madrid'.  As the Ewing and I had got caught in a rainstorm walking from the Reine Sofia gallery they very kindly nabbed us the last piece.  It was certainly worth getting wet for, beautifully light and creamy, just set it the midle with lots of sweet onions and potato.

The red vermouth was on tap, and came in little glasses with ice and orange.  Perfect with a dish of salty green olives.

Our final night was spent in the dark and lovely lamucca, a great little restaurant with a mixed menu of pizzas, tapas, fish and meat.  After sharing a cheese and meat platter, served with membrillo and pan con tomate, and some moreish padron peppers (my sister picking the only hot one) The Ewing enjoyed the fabulous seared tuna with a ginger sauce and spinach salad.  Although rather minimalist in its appearance the piece of fish was enormous, with a lovely texture and perfectly cooked.  I had the Pulpo Pizza featuring a incongruous sounding mixture of octopus, potatoes and paprika.  This was truly outstanding, slightly blistered on the bottom, smoky from the spices and loaded with cheese and seafood. 

Packs of Iberico ham bones, choritzo and pig fat to make Cocido madrileño at the el Corte Ingles supermercado, a favourite foodie stop.  No room in the suitcase this time but I did manage to pick up a mini wheel of Manchego cheese and some lomo embuchado (dry-cured pork loin).

My lovely friend (and sugar fiend) Tom with his froyo. This was from Cherry Pop, a fun, pay by weight, self serve frozen yogurt bar with a variety of different fruit, nut and chocolate toppings. We were lucky that the sun had just come out so we could enjoy eating our frozen treats in the sun on the Plaza Mayor.

Finally, I find myself immortalised in chocolate and sugar!  We found these eponymous doughnuts, as well as turron, sugared violets and polverones (a very crumbly almond shortbread), in the window of Casa Mira on the Carrera de San Jeronimo.

And finally, what night on the tiles in Madrid would be complete without some chocolate con churros on the way home.  The most famous purveyor of the deep fried batter sticks is the Chocolateria San Ginés; a traditional cafe with green wooden panelling, mirrored walls, and marble tables that that can be found hidden down a passageway close to San Ginés church near Plaza del Sol.  Although the churros are a little too oily for me the Spanish style chocolate is a triumph.  Rich and thick with a slight bitterness that make it perfect for dunking your donuts.