Archive for June, 2011

June 26, 2011

Last Night’s Dinner: Fricasee of mushroom, broad bean, new potato and asparagus

Saturday 11 June

We invented this dish as a result of wanting to bring three in-season ingredients together in one dish: asparagus, broad beans and lovely baby Jersey Royal new potatoes. Simple, with the addition of some lightly cooked button mushrooms and some careful arranging on the plate. It really does look so fresh and vibrant with the joys of early summer that it deserves some TLC as you’re plating up to capture the glorious colours and make each mouthful a true representation of the dish.

You’ll no doubt know how to cook each of the ingredients here and with this dish they remain cooked separately and only brought together on the plate. So, first, get your new potatoes boiling (slice in half any that are larger than a mouthful). You’ll want about 7 or 8 small potatoes per person. Then boil a couple handfuls of podded broad beans for three minutes. Drain and slip the little green beans out of their withered outer cases. Set aside. Now steam four asparagus spears per person until they’re just about tender, chop into bite-sized pieces and set aside. Finally, fry a few mushrooms per person in a little olive oil with a finely chopped clove of garlic. Add a squeeze of fresh lemon as they’re frying. When they’re nearly done, add a little single cream, mix in, season, mix again and take off the heat.

With the potatoes done, plate up quickly. Start with the largest items (potatoes) and leave the smallest (broad beans) to last, making sure to intersperse each item attractively around the plate. And there, you’re done.

One last tip – it’s really important not to overcook a thing on this plate. A plate of grey slop just won’t cut it.

Eat and enjoy. We did!

June 26, 2011

Recipe: Lettuce, pea and cucumber soup

We saw this recipe from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall here in the Guardian yesterday and made it today. We didn’t use lovage, the ‘main’ ingredient because, quite frankly, even in the middle of London, I wouldn’t have a clue where to find some on a Sunday afternoon. Or any other day for that matter. Anyway, after a hot afternoon in the sun this was a perfect summer’s evening soup. And no, it wasn’t chilled, although I reckon it could be.

June 26, 2011

Last Night’s Dinner: Broccoli, Squash and Goat’s Cheese Salad

Friday 10 June

Something of a ‘superfood’ salad this, and a fallback for us on many an occasion. Oh and yes, you’re right, there’s a beetroot version of this somewhere in the lush green hinterland of this blog. Search it out.

We roast small chunks of butternut squash, lightly steam some broccoli, let it all cool and mix together with leaves, goat’s cheese and some toasted seeds. Or you could toast some walnuts or almonds instead. Oh and add a little olive oil, garlic and lemon juice dressing. That’s it. Go, make.

June 21, 2011

Last Night’s Dinner: Moong dhal with browned onion with chickpea flour pancakes

Wednesday 8 June

For my birthday last month, lovely cousin Ruth got me a selection ‘East End’ treats for the kitchen. These included some amazing dried chillis, an assortment of spices, a rather lovely pan and the 100 Essential Curries book by Madhur Jaffrey (you can order it here). I’d really rather forgotten about Madhur Jaffrey – it seems an age since she was the only person cooking non-European food on TV in the UK. The little book is really rather good. We fancied a dhal and something to go with it. As I had half a bag of chickpea (gram) flour in the cupboard these pancakes (properly known as tameta kandana poora – chickpea flour panckakes with tomato and onion) really fit the bill. Really easy to make – like all pancakes – and a nice change from rice or bread. No recipe – as it’s not mine you’ll need to buy the book. There’s meat in the book, but plenty of vegetarian options. Worth it.

June 18, 2011

Recipe: Vegetable casserole with artichokes, fennel, peas, broad beans and leeks

It’s sunny outside but the weather over this last week has been gloriously British: sunny and warm one minute, rainy and cold the next. Indeed just as I typed that, the sun that was filtering in through the ETP window disappeared. It’s now so dark I might need to turn a light on.

Changeable weather alters what you want to it. Late spring ingredients are currently in abundance, but what to do when the weather becomes inclement and a salad of those delicate greens just won’t do? Well, you could do worse than make a casserole of them, as this fab idea in the Independent newspaper demonstrates. Artichokes, fennel, peas, leeks and broad beans are all here, but in a slightly less summer setting. Read it

Pouring down again, dammit. And thundering.

June 18, 2011

Last Night’s Dinner: Tofu with lemongrass and chilli

Monday 6 June.

In the East End of London, along Kingsland Road, you are spoilt for choice when it comes to Vietnamese food. There are so many cheap and cheerful restaurants from which to choose but our favourite is the Viet Hoa – it’s website is here.

Ella’s regular choice is their rather fine tofu Bun Xa noodle dish, whereas I change what I eat there a litle more regularly. I like their fried rice – but you can probably tell by now that I’d eat fried rice nearly every day if I could. On our last visit the fried rice came with Tofu with lemongrass and chilli. A few weeks later I thought I’d see if we could replicate it and this a pretty decent attempt. Not sure of the authenticity, but it works.

Serves 2.

First, take a standard block of firm tofu, cut it into little-finger sized strips, no more than 1cm thick. Place them on a plate, sprinkle some dark soy sauce over them and set a side to marinate for 15 minutes. When the time’s up, fry off the tofu in a large frying pan with some sunflower oil until it is golden. Take care not to break the tofu strips. Set aside.

Next, take two stalks of fresh lemongrass and chop them finely. Peel a 2cm piece of fresh ginger root, roughly chop 2 cloves of garlic and finely chop 2 small green chillis and 2 medium shallots. Put all these in a blender, add a splash of rice wine vinegar and blend until you have a paste. You may need to add a little water to help you on your way, and scrape down the sides of the blender part way through the process.

Now roughly chop a red bell pepper into bite-sized pieces, slice six shiitake mushrooms, chop the ends off 6 spring onions then slice into thirds to create segments about 3cm long. Then slice up some fresh red chillis into rounds (as many as you like!).

Heat some sunflower or groundnut oil in a wok and when it’s hot add the fried-off tofu. After a couple of minutes add the bell pepper, mushrooms, spring onions, red chillis and the lemongrass paste. Dry for around 5 minutes, stirring as you go. The pepper and onions should just start to soften a little. When that happens, mix 2tsp of cornflour and a little water in a small cup, stir well and pour into the wok. Add a few splashes of dark soy sauce (but not too much) and stir. After a minute or so this should create an almost translucent ‘sauce’ that will coat the tofu and veg. This ‘sauce’ shouldn’t be watery or overly sticky – it’s neither a gravy or a glaze. Somewhere inbetween is perfect.

Serve with rice.

June 16, 2011

Last night’s dinner: Shiitake mushroom and Chinese leaf broth

Sunday 5 June

This broth is all about the stock that gives it its depth of flavour. The essential ingredient is dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked in hot water for an hour to leach out their earthy flavour before making the soup/stew. The rest of the method is mainly about adding spice – and greens. We got the basic recipe from a Japanese friend, who passed it on from a Korean friend. I’m not sure where it originates.

So, first, soak a small pack of dried shiitake mushrooms in hot water for an hour or so until they are soft and you have a litre or so of earthy brown stock. Next, in a large soup pan, fry a medium onion in a little oil (a mix of sunflower and sesame oil works well). Then add fresh sliced shiitake mushrooms (oyster or chestnut will also be fine) – about 10 of them, or a typical supermarket tray of them. Fry for 5 minutes. Next, add a 2-inch piece of grated fresh ginger, a finely chopped clove of garlic and some chopped fresh chilli (as much as you can take – it should be hot!). Then add half a head of roughly chopped chinese leaf, followed by the dried shiitake mushrooms and their stock. Add around 750ml of boiling water and then simmer down for around 40 mins until the dish is somewhere between a thin broth and a hearty stew. When just about done, add a handful of rice noodles and heat through for an extra 5 minutes until they’re cooked through. Serve immediately with a garnish of coriander leaves. To reiterate, the soup should be as spicy as you can take it! Serves 2.

June 15, 2011

Restaurant review: Sketch Lecture Room and Library

One of the reasons that we haven’t been posting so many Last Night’s Dinner entries to the ETP blog of late is that we have been celebrating. Yes, it’s been my birthday and a fairly significant one too (ahem). So we’ve eaten out, indulged in too much Champagne, stayed up too late and had that strange next-day feeling that can only be described as a food hangover. We’ve eaten some rather lovely veggie food too. Top of the meals was at the Lecture Room and Library at Sketch in Mayfair.

Now, we’ve eaten at Sketch before, downstairs in the Gallery restaurant. We’ve utilised the egg-shaped pod toilet cubicles and we’ve been gloriously drunk on free cocktails in the sunken, circular members bar. We’ve even been to a party in the Gallery and drunk little bottles of Pommery through a straw while watching Tracy Emin dance with her mum to Roy Orbison’s ‘Pretty Woman’. But upstairs at the Lecture Room and Library? No. Not a chance. Not a big enough wallet. Too posh. Seen the reports about the prices. Ain’t nuttin’ doin’. Except…

Except the Gourmet Rapide lunch menu offers three generous courses for £48, including a half bottle each of mineral water, a half bottle each of wine (and yes, that means you get a whole bottle of wine on a table for two), plus coffee and petit fours. Oh and an ongoing supply of bread, and a round of amuses bouche appetisers to get things going. You can even do two courses without wine for £30. Now, given that some of the main courses from the a la carte rock in at the £50-£60 mark (seriously!), this is astonishingly good value, especially as there was no real sign of compromise on the quality of the food they delivered: all of it impeccable Michelin-starred elegance.

And yes, a vegetarian route runs right through the prix fixe menu. First, those amuses bouche: not one little taster but a selection including some miniature parmesan biscuits, crisp cumin scented crackers and a cleansing seaweed consomme. The first course came as four separate dishes and was listed, slightly confusingly, as “Tomato Jelly and Nasturtium Flower / Thao’s Avocado / Tamarillo Sorbet / Rhubarb / Brie and Gingerbread / Hibiscus Syrup / Celery”. But you get the picture – four tantalising plates with delicate combinations of taste, texture and temperature. It was a little journey all of its own, beginning with the fresh zip of tomato – the prettiest of small plates, dotted with nasturtium. Then a richer, deeper sorbet, followed by a tiny open sandwich of oozing brie on a gingerbread biscuit atop a sour rhubarb reduction that perfectly cut through the richness of it’s rivals. And then onward again, with the clear notes of celery to refresh your palate for the main.

That main only needed two dishes: one for a lettuce velouté with Ratte potato gnocchi that demonstrated a light springtime touch with a classic formulation of spuds and greens; the second for a salad of artichoke and pear with a not-overpowering gorgonzola ice cream.

We took a choice of desserts, Ella opting for a selection of cheeses (including a fine Stinking Bishop) at a £10 supplement – it came with sarasson cream, mostarda di Cremona, crackers and grapes seasoned with olive oil and Maldon salt. Cheese courses sometimes disappoint. Not here. I went for the dessert ‘Pierre Gagnaire’ (for it is that chef’s name which sits at the top of the menu). It came as two separate dishes: a salad of strawberries and raspberries and a good slab of chocolate dessert that I can remember little about other than that it was eaten enthusiastically.

It’s been a while since Ella and I have eaten at such a top-end place. Sketch really is a destination restaurant but, after the hype that surrounded its opulent rooms and exorbitant prices died away a few years ago, it seems almost to have been forgotten about in the press. A new tranche of fine dining places have come to the fore – Hibiscus is just round the corner and Heston Blumenthal’s new venture, Dinner, is serving up headlines for the foodie hacks at about the same rate Sketch did a decade ago. But it’s still an amazing room. And, with the fixed lunch menu, surprisingly affordable too. For a special occasion, of course. Which this was. Thanks Ella.

June 15, 2011

Last Night’s Dinner: Broccoli and cheddar soup

1 June 2011

Whenever I eat broccoli, I really enjoy it. And yet I so rarely feel the urge to cook it. In a stir-fry it can be nutty and sweet, it adds depth to a cheese quiche and here, as a soup, it’s a big bowl of savouriness.

We often make this soup in winter, combining the broccoli with a soup base of potato, onion and, perhaps, leek. You can use Stilton too, instead of cheddar. It works, as here, in a slightly lighter, more summery version.

So, slice up one medium white onion and gently fry it in a little olive oil in a large pan or stockpot. Dice a handful of new potatoes and add them to the pan. Cook for 5 minutes. Finely chop a clove of garlic and add to the pan too. Then finely chop 6-8 spring onions and add them as well. Next, take one whole head of brocolli and break it up into small florets. Add to the pan and top up with a light vegetable stock. Season with a little salt and pepper and half a teaspoon of ground nutmeg. Bring to the boil and simmer until the brocolli is soft. Leave to cool and then blend with a hand blender. Return to the heat and add around 100g of cheddar cheese, grated. Or, if you like, use a mix of cheddar and parmesan. We like the cheese to add a creaminess to the big bowl of green but not become overpowering. A cheese soup this is not! Serve with a dollop of cream or creme fraiche. Depending on the size of the brocolli and how thick you like the soup, this will feed 2-3 hungry people easily, or around 4 regular servings.

June 7, 2011

Last Night’s Dinner: Cajun Black Bean Soup with Smoked Tomato Nachos

Friday 20 May

Ella treated me to this Paul Gayler recipe a couple of weeks ago. We’d been eyeing it for some time but for one reason or another (maybe just habit) we use Gayler’s Pure Vegetarian recipe book less than some of our others. Somehow it gives the impression of being dinner-party food – worked-up recipes, with hard-to-find ingredients and tricky instructions. I suppose it could be because Gayler was known as a pioneer of vegetarian haute cuisine. In fact, many of the dishes are rustic and straighforward, just like this one.

It hardly requires a recipe – but if you want it, you can buy the book from here.

Basically, it’s a blended vegetable soup with black beans, eaten with nachos made by chopping corn tortillas into triangles and shallow frying them, then topping them with a rough tomato sauce made with garlic and smoked paprika, then topped with cheese and placed under the grill. The soup was very good. The nachos were amazing.