Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Christmas lunch #1

Gathering together around the ritual of food and wine is one of my favourite things about Christmas. Over the course of December, I'll get together with most people I know at some point for a meal. Working with a bunch of lovely foodies means that the team Christmas lunch is something to look forward to indeed.

I work in the leafy inner-suburb of Muswell Hill, which has more boutiques, cafes and delis than you could ever need. Yet, for all that muesli money, there's very little in the way of nice independent restaurants or decent pubs. So for our Christmas lunch we went to the Woodman pub at Highgate tube. The Woodman used to be a run-down spot for ageing and under-age drinkers, positioned unfavourably at a junction on grimy ol' Archway Road (A1).

It got 'done up' almost two years ago and now it's a cosy, but spacious, unpretentious pub, with a great kitchen, well-picked wine list and massive outside area. The menu has French, British and Mediterranean influences and the Christmas menu reflected all those.

I had braised Lamb shoulder with aman bayaldi (slow cooked aubergine and other med veg) with olive mash. Joyously, massive bowls of traditional trimmings were placed in the middle of the table so that even non-traditionalists could enjoy pigs in blankets, red cabbage and roast potatoes and parsnips.

To finish I had a chocolate cheesecake, which was unsurprisingly rich and luxurious and had a lovely, caramelly biscuit base.

Most people will have had their Christmas meals by now, but bear the Woodman in mind if you're ever up in that neck of the woods (literally - Highgate and Queens Wood are both within spitting distance of the Woodman!) - it is a welcome change from the chain pubs and restaurants of Highgate Village and Muswell Hill.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Big brunch

I hate breakfast for the most part. I've gone through almost every cereal brand there is, tried every topping on toast you could think of and experimented with all kinds of milk substitutes - oat, almond, soy, rice. And I've never settled on any one breakfast that I can sustain for any length of time. But one thing I can always come back to is french toast or eggy bread.

As a teenager, it was one of the first things I learnt to cook myself. I can't remember being shown how to do it - but my mum must have shown me at some point. My favourite topping is cooked apples, bacon and maple syrup. On weekend days when I wasn't working at Boots I'd put a CD on and leisurely go about pulling it together.

This is how I do it. For the eggy bread, beat together a couple of eggs and a reasonable splash of milk. Mix in some cinnamon. Get four slices of thick, soft white bread and dip them in the egg mix so that they're covered in the mixture. Heat up a pan with sunflower oil until hot. Fry on both sides until nice and brown.

Meanwhile, you'd have peeled some a big cooking apple, cored and diced it. Fry in another pan in butter. On the other side of that pan put in four rashers of bacon. Cook over a medium heat - adding a handful of currants and a generous pinch of cinnamon while you're at it. Once the apple is soft and the bacon crispy, spread evenly over the eggy bread.

Plop a couple of dollops of greek yoghurt and swirl some maple syrup over it and you're good to go!

Friday, 18 December 2009

Roasted love

Now that it is certifiably winter, there's no better excuse than to be cooking delicious roast dinners. One thing I've learned is that there are whole different worlds of roasting. Thinking about all the roast dinners I've had in my life, I can attribute different styles of roasts to different people. I'd say my mum's are French-inspired - real herbs, lemons and nice vegetables cooked alongside. My grandparents' roasts are much more traditional, served with lovely rich gravy and root vegetables, often straight out their garden. Mmmm.

When it comes to cooking a roast myself, I'm quite a fan of rubbing, marinading and then slow cooking. I tend to buy less classic cuts of meet - lamb and pork shoulders recently. I like grinding up spices - like cumin seeds or fennel seeds - with garlic, salt and chilli, and maybe paprika. Then cooking for hours and hours on a low temperature. I cooked a shoulder of lamb for 13 hours in anticipation of dinner last Sunday and it was just so, so tender and moist. The meat was literally falling off the bone as I took a knife to it, while the exterior was crispy and spicy.

Accompaniments matter too. I've been inspired by my recent visit to Moro and served recent roasts with braised cabbage topped with yoghurt and sumac. Celariac mash accompanied a pork shoulder...

...and a full Ottolenghi-esque mezze accompanied the lamb. I served it with roast potatoes and artichokes with lemon and olives, grilled peppers in green tahini, beetroot with yoghurt and dill, lemon braised fennel, and braised cabbage with yoghurt and sumac again. It was delicious.

I'm going to experiment with some other roasting styles over the Winter. I have the Silver Spoon and a friend recently gave me Ripailles, so there should be lots of new inspirations!

Sunday, 6 December 2009

A taste of Kenya

At work I've been lucky enough to have been joined by a lovely Kenyan lady called Nancy on a Commonwealth Fellowship placement. Of course, much of our discussion has been of food, especially lunches. Together we've explored the difference between lasagnes from M&S, Sainsbury's, Planet Organic and Cafe on the Hill, we've delighted in worktime snacking on flavoured rice cakes and cake bars. We googled and googled for Kenyan restaurants in London and, shockingly, there ain't none. The closest we could find was a Ugandan restuarant in Tottenham Hale. Finally, on Friday evening, Nancy cooked Kenyan food for the team and I can taste those amazing flavours!

Nancy prepared:
A goat stew
A banana stew
A bean stew
Ugali (Maize cake)
Sweet potatoes

It looked a little something like this:

The goat stew was my absolute favourite. I'd eaten goat meat before but not for a long time. It was so sweet and tender, with a rich, strong flavour. I can't understand why we don't eat more of it. The sauces were all fairly sweet and mildly spiced. There is a large Indian population in Kenya and their culinary influence is clear - chapati is served with most meals and the spice mixes are similar but subtler.

The bases of the dishes were mostly tomatoes, garlic and onions, before stock was added. Despite being fairly 'conventional' ingredients (bananas excluded, of course) but the flavours were distinctive and exotic. I guess that's the goat and the banana for you! Nancy wasn't able to get quite a few ingredients hat she wanted, even in the multicultural mecca of Finsbury Park. Ingredients, such as ground peanuts, would have showcased a completely different set of flavours if they'd been available.

If you're interested in trying to make some Kenyan food, visit this website