Sunday, 28 March 2010

Fishy Fridays

As part of my fish odyssey I'm using Fridays' traditional status as Fish Day to expand my skillz with cooking fish. So far that's included fish pie, paella and portuguese shellfish stews (yum). Last Friday I decided to cook tuna steaks in a Moro-esque style.

Tuna steaks in pomegranate with grilled fennel salad

You'll need:
2 tuna steaks
3 tablespoons of pomegranate molasses
olive oil
teaspoon of cinnamon

2 bulbs of fennel
Bunch of flat leaf parsley
sherry vinegar
Handful of coriander

Mix together the pomegranate molasses, two tablespoons of olive oil and the cinnamon in a bowl before adding the tuna steaks and making sure all sides make contact with the marinade. Let it marinade for a couple of hours if you can, but half an hour will be fine.

Start heating up a griddle pan.

While the tuna is marinading, chop the fennel top-to-bottom and douse in olive oil. When the griddle pan is smokin', throw on the fennel and let it cook til it is becoming translucent and is charred in the right places. Remove from the pan and put in a salad bowl. Mix up a dressing with sherry vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper and pour over the fennel. Roughly chop some flat leaf parsley and mix into the salad.

Now it's time to cook the tuna. Ensure the griddle pan is still sizzling hot and place the tuna steaks on. Depending on the thickness of the steaks and how you like it, you could cook them for as little as one minute each side.

I served it with fried potatoes and a garlic yoghurt, which worked really well. I love the rich tanginess of the pomegranate molasses combined with the sultry saltiness of the tuna steaks, and the parsley and fennel with their own fragrant notes. It's amazing how a few exciting (but easy enough to find) ingredients can teleport you to Mediterranean holidays, al fresco dining, warm breezes, sea air... Speaking of which, I've just booked my summer holiday - two weeks in Croatia and Bosnia. Mmmmm.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Middle East, made easy

A few weeks ago I went with friends to check out Le Comptoir Libanais, a new mini-chain of stylish little canteens serving Lebanese food. I think the first one popped up in Marylebone early last year and now there are branches in Bayswater, Swiss Cottage and Westfield. They've already received heaps of praise from the likes of Time Out, and it seems everyone else went to try it months and months before I did, but hey...!

We started with drinks - I had a zingy rosewater lemonade, which was sour, aromatic and refreshing all in one. The others had similarly zingy and flavoursome fruit drinks, such as pomegranate and orange blossom lemonade. Yum.

We shared a mixed mezze platter, which had everything you would expect. Fresh humus, smoky baba ganoush, citrussy tabbouleh, falafel, cheese samboussek, a rice salad and picked vegetables. It was all very nice, but not radically different or superior to mezze platters you would find at other Lebanese restaurants in the neighbourhood.

Next up we had wraps - I had half a chicken taouk wrap and half a haloumi and olive wrap. The flatbread itself was nice, wholesome tasting. Maybe I'm a bit more used to greasy street food, but I felt the wraps could have benefited from smatterings of the magic triad of salad, tomato sauce and garlic yoghurt sauce. In sensible quantities I hasten to add! This would have presented the wraps from being a bit dry.

Overall, it was a pleasant experience - nicely decorated, friendly service, the food was nice and the bill was very reasonable. But I've had tastier Lebanese food elsewhere in London. The Independent's review likened it to a Middle Eastern Carluccio's - I wouldn't go quite that far, but it did seem to be Middle-East made easy - for people who might not have considered venturing into a 'proper' Lebanese eatery. This is no bad thing really - anything opens up people's palates to the joys of Middle Eastern cooking is a good thing. But don't go to Le Comptoir Libanais expecting much more than an introduction.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Mexican, my way

When Guardian Media Group hinted that The Observer newspaper might be closed down to cut the company's losses, my heart sunk. Not because the Observer is a very nice Sunday paper, or even the world's oldest Sunday newspaper, but because it could spell the end of Observer Food Monthly (OFM), my monthly food and lifestyle bible. As a teenager I would flick through it, especially enjoying the supermarket product comparisons, strangely. So I was very relieved that OFM got to stay, while Observer Women, Sport Monthly and Music Monthly all wound up. And last weekend, the first 'revamped' OFM was on the shelves!

It was definitely a good edition with some interesting new columns and features, including Lunch with Mariella (Frostrup) - it was Alistair Campbell this month. But what inspired me the most was an interview with Thomasina Miers, the founder of Wahaca, and excerpts from her new book Mexican Food Made Simple. I've yet to cook any of the recipes, but it got me thinking of tasty Mexican inspired recipes to make myself.

Sweet potato and edamame tortillas

You will need:
3 medium size sweet potatoes
100g frozen edamame/soya beans (I buy mine from Japanese supermarkets)
Pinch of cinnamon
Pinch of allspice
Pinch of cumin
Clove of garlic
Small red chilli
Handful of coriander
Splash of soy sauce
Olive oil
Sour cream
Refried beans
Mature cheddar
Tortilla wraps

Peel and chop the sweet potatoes into 1cm cubes. Put on a baking tray, splash on a bit of olive oil, add spices and roast until soft inside and a little crispy on the outside (about 20 minutes). Meanwhile you would be bringing the edamame beans to the boil. Drain when they are ready and combine with the sweet potato cubes when they're ready.

Separately, mix up a de-seeded and finely chopped chilli, crushed garlic and roughly chopped coriander with the juice of a lime, a splash of soy sauce and a glug of olive oil. Pour over the sweet potatoes and mix together.

Now assemble your tortilla - heat it up first, under a grill preferably, spread on some refriend beans and some sour cream, add the mix, top with cheese, fold it up. Enjoy!

I liked the slight oriental tang to it, mellowed out by the sour cream and the cheese.

I enjoyed it so much that I made it again on Friday for friends, along with Wahaca's Pumpkin and chorizo, classic tomato salsa, avocado and lime slop and the usual toppings.

Every last morsel was wolfed down and guests were happy. The chorizo and pumpkin worked incredibly well and the sweet potato and edamame also worked a treat. I'm now excited to get a copy of the Mexican Food Made Simple and hone in my Mexican cooking skillz!

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Russian through London

So it's confirmed; we're moving a bit east to Newington Green in May. My friends who live in NW postcodes are now determined to make sure I make the most of this part of London's offerings before moving two miles east, never to return, obviously.

So today I toddled over to Primrose Hill for lunch with friends at Trojka, a Russian restaurant that is a bit of an 'establishment' among the Primrose Hillbilly types. I love Russian and Eastern European food - hearty stews, sour cream, dill, stuffed things; and then the influences from its neighbours, from Georgia, Armenia, Uzbekistan and beyond. I went to Moscow a few years back and my friend took me to restaurants serving all kinds of cuisines you would be hard pushed to find in Britain, although I've found both Georgian and Armenian restaurants.

The menu at Trojka covers lots of Russian classics, as well as many favourites from around the bloc. Given my love for this part of the world, choosing a dish was hard, but I plumped for a Coulibiak, a hearty pie filled with salmon, spinach, rice and buckwheat, topped with sour cream and dill and surrounded with a sweet tomato sauce. It was a perfect combination of flavours and textures and was incredible value at £7. My friends had Pelmeni (cheese and potato dumpling) and Gypsy Latke (gypsy-style goulash with potato pancake), both delicious.

To start we shared an 'Armenian salad', which was a simple but winning combination of beetroot, grated carrot, avocado, pepper and new potatoes.

I also had a tea with raspberry syrup - which was bizarre but nice. I remember from my time in Moscow that there's a fondness for sweet things - Russian 'champagne' is so sweet that your teeth feel coated after one glass of the stuff. And raspberry syrup tea was actually quite nice. Without milk, obviously.

The service was a tad slow, but it was a busy Sunday lunch (and Mother's Day of all Sundays), but the food was well worth it. The atmosphere was buzzing with a mixed set of Americans and Russians in London, as well as your usual north London bobo types, and the d├ęcor was bright and luscious. I would like to go back for an evening meal at some point - try some of their Georgian wines, Russian vodkas and hear the live music.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

New brunch options

Our landlady has decided to sell-up, so we'll soon be upping sticks and finding somewhere else to live. I love living where here (Dartmouth Park), but it's exciting to think of all the new foodie opportunities in a different neighbourhood. I've lived in the Tufnell Park area for 5 years and still haven't been to every restaurant - I can now focus my energies on visiting the rest of the places I want to try out, such as Nuraghe, Spaghetti House and back to 500 for one more delicious meal. Incidentally, they're all Italian! Yum.

Today Pete and I had took a stroll around an area we are quite keen to live in - Newington Green/Mildmay. It was a lovely sunny Sunday and all the locals were out enjoying the weather, brunching away, playing on the green. We walked around the local shops, restaurants and bars and found great grocers, lovely little neighbourhood restaurants and nice pubs too. Definitely a go-er.

We had a lovely little brunch at Tina, We Salute You on King Henry's Walk, N1. It was a light, nicely decorated cafe filled with super-laid back educated hipster types reading the sunday papers. I had a (now ubiquitous) flat white and toast with cream cheese, cinnamon and honey, both delicious. The coffee was rich, creamy and fruity almost; the toast smacked of New York somehow - the tartness of the cream cheese, the muskiness of the cinnamon, the sweetness of the honey. Delicious.

We're hoping to view a flat around the corner from Tina's next week, so fingers crossed that we can make this our local!