Tuesday, January 31, 2012
Which explains how an entire restaurant has opened that serves only baked potatoes.
I admit, I was dubious.
Don't get me wrong, I love the tuber and all its various incarnations (roasted, scalloped, fried, the list is endless...), but I wasn't sure just how bowled over I was going to be by a baked potato lunch, despite the quirky website's (their slogan is "Eat Me"....erm, quaint?) promise of "serious food envy".
It's a small restaurant, tucked away in a small storefront in the Covent Garden area. You're presented with a number of "fillers" for your chosen baked potato (a sweet potato option is also available if you want to be *really* fancy). These range from your bog standard butter and salt to more elaborate options of goat cheese and lentil stew (which I sampled).
And, I have to say, I was impressed. For about 4 pounds, you have a full lunch (and I mean *full*). If elect to eat in, you also have the chance to visit their downstairs eating area which features fun Tiffany-esque lamps on each of the tables and an eclectic if fun soundtrack. It wasn't too busy when we went, but we were having a late lunch around 2pm.
All in all, it was a great cheap way to grab a weekday lunch in central London. The menu may be a tad small, but instead of going the "salad bar" route where you'd pick each individual topping yourself, the owners have taken time to find good and complex combinations of flavors that highlight the simple potato, elevating it to fun, trendy, but affordable cuisine. Thumbs up.
Saturday, January 7, 2012
How wrong I was.
As usual, we were faced with the typical veg-box conundrum. How to use up all the gloriously fresh vegetables before they went...well, not so fresh? And with the other option being 5,000 stir fries, gazpacho is the clear answer.
Since being home in Arizona for the last few weeks, I have gloried in the wonders of 80 degree heat in December and January. But I still longed for my soups, eating hot broths often in just a tank top and shorts. Gazpacho let me have my cake and eat it too. It was a triple crown: soup, using up the veg box, and cheesy croutons. I call that a win, win, win.
80g dry breadcrumbs
Sunflower or canola oil, for frying
200g halloumi, cut into 2cm dice
1 egg, beaten
1 tbsp thyme, chopped
Salt and white pepper
3 celery stalks
2 small green bell peppers, seeded
2 long cucumbers, peeled
3 slices stale white bread (I used baguette)
1 fresh green chile
4 garlic cloves
1 tsp sugar
1 1/2 cup walnuts, lightly toasted
6 cups baby spinach
1 cup basil leaves
4 tbsp chopped parsley
4 tbsp sherry vinegar
1 cup olive oil
3 tbsp Greek yogurt
about 2 cups water
9 oz ice cubes
2 tsp salt
For the Soup:
Roughly chop the celery, bell peppers, cucumbers, bread, chile, and garlic. Add to that the sugar, walnuts, spinach, basil, parsley, vinegar, oil, yogurt, most of the water, the salt and some white pepper. Blitz it all with an immersion blender until smooth. Stir in the ice cubes. Add more water, if needed, to get your preferred consistency. Taste the soup and adjust the seasoning.
For the Croutons:
Mix the breadcrumbs with the thyme. Pour enough oil into a small saucepan so that it comes 2.5cm up the sides and place on medium heat. Once bubbles begin to rise to the surface, turn down the heat to medium-low and leave for a minute. Dip the halloumi in beaten egg, shake off any excess and then roll in the thyme breadcrumbs. Deep-fry in batches for a minute, until golden-brown – make sure the oil isn't so hot that the cheese sizzles vigorously when it goes in. Transfer the cooked croutons to kitchen towel to drain.
Serve the soup immediately with the croutons on top.
And it was delicious. I rarely serve zucchini in a salad-type setting, but I'm going to have to do it more. And the recipe also gave me a chance to use my oft-neglected griddle pan, allowing me to make those lovely little charred marks on each zucchini slice. Adding a touch of class to the whole dish.
1/3 cup toasted hazelnuts
7 small zucchini (1 3/4 lbs in total)
4 tbsp olive oil
salt and black pepper
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
1 1/4 cups greens (e.g. lettuce, spinach, etc.)
small handful of basil leaves, torn
3 oz Parmesan, broken up or thinly sliced
Optional: 2 tsp hazelnut oil (if you happen to be one of the 5 people in the world who have this on hand)
For toasting the hazelnuts: Preheat the oven to 300 F. Scatter the hazelnuts over a baking sheet and roast for 12-15 minutes, or until nicely browned. Let them cool down before chopping roughly or just crushing lightly with a large knife.
For the salad: Place a ridged griddle pan on a high heat and leave it there until it's almost red-hot, at least 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, trim the ends of the zucchini and cut them on an angle into 1/4 inch slices. Place them in a bowl and toss with half the olive oil and some salt and pepper. Place the slices in the hot grill pan and char-grill for about 2 minutes each side; turn them over using tongs. You want to get distinct char marks without cooking the zucchini through. Transfer to a mixing bowl, pour over the balsamic vinegar, toss together, and set aside.
Once the zucchini have cooled down, add the remaining olive oil, the basil, greens, and hazelnuts. Mix lightly, then taste and adjust the seasoning accordingly. Transfer the salad to a flat place, incorporating the Parmesan, and (if you're using it), drizzle over the hazelnut oil.
It's ridiculously simple and open to plenty of variation. Being the lazy cook I am, I refused to peel the hazelnuts, even after I toasted them. I don't think it took a thing away from the overall bread. If anything, I think it made it nice and "earthy".
The hazelnuts on top are also a good touch, both for eating and viewing purposes.
Makes either one large loaf or 12 muffins
1 1/2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour (or whole-wheat flour)
1 cup all purpose (plain) flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground allspice
2 large eggs
1 cup nonfat/lowfat buttermilk
2/3 cup brown sugar
2 tbsp butter, melted
2 tbsp canola oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups diced peeled pears (about 2)
1/2 cup chopped toasted hazelnuts, plus more for topping
Combine the first eight ingredients in a large bowl.
In a medium bowl, whisk eggs, buttermilk, brown sugar, butter, oil, and vanilla.
Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients bit by bit, stirring until just combined. Add pears and hazelnuts. Stir until just combined (don't overmix).
Transfer batter to the prepared pan. Top with additional hazelnuts, if desired.
Bake until golden brown, until a wooden skewer inserted into the center comes out clean, 22-25 minutes for muffins, about 1 hour for the large loaf. Let cool in the tin (15 minutes for muffins, 45 minutes for a loaf) before turning out onto a wire rack.
I can hear the hisses now.
I know, I know, I've been told thousands of times just how wrong I am, how *amazing* tomato soups are. I would like to believe you. Lord knows, I've tried the so-called "best" tomato soup hundreds of times. And yet? Well, I haven't been bowled over. So needless to say, minestrone soup has never been on my top ten of favorite soups. Too much tomato.
But then, as if by magic, the Guardian realized the horrors of my minestrone-less lifestyle and compensated accordingly. In their regular column on how to make the "best of" anything, Felicity Cloake featured a minestrone recipe that was tomato-free!! And to call it the *best* minestrone recipe...well, obviously I was immediately on board.
And, well, it was. It was the best minestrone soup ever. Easy, light, but perfect for cold winter nights. The best part was you could substitute any vegetable you had at hand in the recipe. So the soup changes with the seasons and with your whims. Perfect.
The secret glory to this soup is the Parmesan rind. Throw it in with the broth and you'll create the most wonderfully rich broth. Thicker than just a standard vegetable or chicken broth, the rind infuses the broth with a great hint of cheesiness (of course, adding Parmesan on *top* of the soup at the end also doesn't hurt).
Don't feel obliged to stick to the vegetables below. These just happened to be what I had on hand that evening. But, at the very least, I highly recommend some spinach, pasta, beans and the potato. Together they give a great variety to the soup. But experiment with any of your favorite veggies. You almost can't go wrong.
3 tbsp olive oil, plus extra to serve
1 onion, chopped
1 clove of garlic, crushed
2 carrots, cut into 1cm dice
2 sticks of celery, cut into 1cm dice
Seasonal vegetables of your choice (at the moment, 2 summer squash, diced, handful of fresh or frozen peas or broad beans, half a head of broccoli, diced, a large bunch of Swiss chard, shredded)
1.5l good quality chicken stock
1 potato, cut into 2cm dice
100g cooked and drained cannellini beans (or one can)
200g pasta (any variety, but I like bow ties in particular)
Grated Parmesan and a few basil leaves, to serve
1. Heat the oil in a heavy-based pan and add the onion and garlic. Soften over a medium heat for 5 minutes, without allowing them to colour, then add the carrots and soften. Repeat with the celery.
2. Add the rest of the seasonal vegetables in order of cooking time (zucchini and broccoli will take longer than peas or fresh beans for example) and allow to soften slightly – they don't need to cook through at this point. Stir in the potato.
3. Add the stock, the beans, the Parmesan rind, and pasta. Bring to the boil, then turn down the heat and simmer for about 15 minutes until the potato and pasta are cooked. Season to taste.
4. Serve with a drizzle of olive oil, a grating of parmesan and some torn basil leaves.
And soup was the perfect answer. It started off the meal with a neo-traditional punch (there's a great smokiness to this recipe. Not hot, but a nice warmth) and it let everyone in the room know we meant business. And it was gobbled up. Literally. The soup went in about 5 minutes flat, an indication of a crowd pleaser if ever there was one.
Now, I prefer this soup with a nice hearty garnish of cilantro/coriander, but I know how some people feel about the stuff. Taking that into consideration, the soup does just fine with a garnish of peanuts, giving it a great texture.
Also, don't worry if you can't find unsalted dry roasted peanuts. The first time I made this recipe, I searched high and low for them in vain. I eventually relented and bought some salted peanuts, fearing that my soup would resemble a salt lick. But never fear! As long as you decrease the salt you add alongside the vegetables when cooking, your soup should remain thankfully un-salt licked.
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger root
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 pinch ground cloves
3 medium tomatoes, chopped
2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped (feel free to add more if you want a more sweet potato taste to the soup)
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
4 1/2 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup chopped, unsalted dry-roasted peanuts (plus more for garnish)
1 pinch cayenne pepper
3 tablespoons creamy peanut butter
1 bunch chopped fresh cilantro
Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Saute the onion 10 minutes, until lightly browned. Mix in the garlic, ginger, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, and cloves. Stir in the tomatoes, sweet potatoes, and carrot, and continue to cook and stir about 5 minutes.
Pour water into the saucepan, and season the mixture with salt. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer 30 minutes.
Remove the soup mixture from heat. In a food processor or blender, blend the soup and peanuts until almost smooth. Season with cayenne pepper. Return to the saucepan. Whisk in the peanut butter, and cook until heated through.
Serve warm topped with fresh cilantro and some chopped peanuts.
Friday, January 6, 2012
But I found myself in an increasingly common situation. The need to use up the plethora of vegetables that arrive in the weekly box. My parents have jumped on the proverbial vegetable box band wagon and now, like my own house, they take each week's box as a challenge. A challenge to use up the sometimes bizarre varieties of fruits and vegetables that arrive on their doorstep every Friday morning, delivered by a veritable vegetable Santa.
And this week? It was beets. Beets and oranges. Now, oranges, sure. Everyone can use oranges one way or another. But beets present a different kind of challenge. And beets and oranges together? Madness. Surely.
But trust Yotam to not only face the beet and orange issue head-on, but also throw another unusual item into the mix: black olives. In his preface to this recipe, he makes some claim about the wonderful blend between the sweetness of the oranges and the spiciness of the olives. I thought this was all blather, until I made the salad. And bizarrely, he was right. Eating the olive right after the orange and beet highlighted the special spiciness of Kalamata olives, balancing it perfectly with the citrus. And, again, I had to bow to those more knowledgeable than myself.
Try it, I dare you. You might actually like it.
Serves 2 generously
5 small or 2 large beets
1 bunch chard (or 1 Treviso or red chicory)
1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
3 tbsp chopped parsley
5 tbsp black olives, pitted and halved (try to find Greek black olives of the dry and wrinkled variety)
3 tbsp canola oil
1 tsp orange flavoring (optional or orange flower water)
1 1/2 tbsp red wine vinegar
salt and black pepper
Preheat oven to 400 F. Place the beets in a roasting tin unpeeled and pop them into the oven for an hour to an hour and a half, until they are soft when prodded with a knife. Once tender, remove them from the oven and let them cool. Once cool, peel the beets and then cut each beet into wedges about 1 inch thick. Place the beets in a mixing bowl.
Take the oranges and use a small sharp knife to trim off their tops and bases. Now cut down the sides of the oranges, following their natural curves, to remove the skin and white pith. Over a small bowl, remove the segments from the oranges by slicing between the membranes. Transfer the segments and juice to the bowl with the beets; discard the membrane.
Cut the chard into bite-size pieces (or, if using the chicory, slice it vertically into 1 inch thick slices).
Finally, add the remaining ingredients and toss everything together gently. Taste and adjust seasonings and serve.
Take a simple recipe of baked eggs and add flavored yogurt and butter to it. Heaven. Absolute heaven. I mean, I'm sure the eggs and chard by themselves would be lovely, the two toppers to this meal sent the experience over the edge. And it's easy. Dead easy. Don't skip on either the yogurt or butter. You'll hate yourself for it later.
3/4 lb (about 14 cups) arugula or chard
2 tbsp olive oil
3/4 cup Greek yogurt
2 garlic cloves, crushd
4 tbsp unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon plain chile flakes
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
6 sage leaves, shredded
Preheat the oven to 300 F. Place the arugula/chard and oil in a large pan, add some salt and saute on a medium heat for about 5 minutes or until the arugula wilts and most of the liquid has evaporated.
Transfer to a small ovenproof dish and make four deep indentations in the arugula. Carefully break an egg into each hollow, taking care not to break the yolk. Place in the oven to cook for 10-15 minutes, or until the egg whites have set.
While the eggs are in the oven, mix the yogurt with the garlic and a pinch of salt. Stir well and set aside; do not chill.
Melt the butter in a small saucepan. Add the chile and paprika and a pinch of salt and fry for 1 to 2 minutes, or until the butter starts to foam and turns a nice golden-red. Add the sage and cook for a few more seconds. Remove from the heat.
Now, fair warning, this is not standard polenta. You create a polenta-type meal from fresh corn kernels, butter, and feta and you blitz it all to oblivion. And how could that be wrong?
I used the eggplant sauce that Yotam recommends with the dish, but really, you can use any of your favorite polenta topping with this one. Cheese, mushrooms, the list is endless if you're as big a polenta fan as I am. But the eggplant sauce is good and perfect for a cold winter's night.
2/3 cup vegetable oil
1 medium eggplant, cut into 3/4-inch dice
2 tsp tomato paste
1/4 cup white wine
1 cup chopped peeled tomatoes (fresh or canned)
6 1/2 tbsp water
1/4 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp chopped oregano
6 ears of corn
2 1/4 cups water
3 tbsp butter, diced
7 oz feta, crumbled
1/4 tsp salt
Heat up oil in a large saucepan and fry the eggplant on medium heat for about 15minutes, or until nicely brown. Drain off as much oil as you can and discard it. Add the tomato paste to the pan and stir with the eggplant. Cook for 2 minutes, then add the wine and cook for 1 minute. Add the chopped tomatoes, water, salt, sugar, oregano and cook for a further 5 minutes to get a deep-flavored sauce. Set aside; warm it up when needed.
Remove the leaves and silk from each ear of corn, then chop off the pointed top and stalk. Stand each ear upright on its base and use a sharp knife to shave off the kernels. You want to have 1 1/4 lbs of kernels.
Place the kernels in a medium saucepan and cover them with the 2 1/4 cups water. Cook for 12 minutes on a low simmer. Use a slotted spoon to lift the kernels from the water and into a food processor (or just use an immersion blender to save space and time) and reserve the cooking liquid. Process/Blend them for quite a few minutes, to break as much of the kernel case as possible. Add some of the cooking liquid if the mixture becomes too dry to process.
Now return the corn paste to the pan with the cooking liquid and cook, while stirring, on low heat for 10-15 minutes, or until the mixture thickens to a mashed potato consistency. Fold in the butter, the feta, salt, and some pepper and cook for a further 2 minutes. Taste and add more salt if needed.
Divide the polenta among shallow bowls and spoon some warm eggplant sauce in the center.
Thursday, January 5, 2012
The preparation of the butternut squash itself is pretty basic, thinly sliced and baked in the oven at high temperatures. What takes this dish into the realm of the unusual is the marinade of cardamom and allspice rubbed on the squash and then the interesting yogurt and tahini dressing the recipe calls for. Oh, and throw in some limes and chiles just for good measure.
But all dubious expectations aside, the dish not only looks pretty but eats pretty as well. Depending on your preferences for sauces, be cautious with the dressing. Although delicious, you don't want it to override the flavors of the lime and squash. That indeed would be a tragedy.
4 tbsp olive oil
1 medium butternut squash (about 2 lbs)
2 tbsp cardamom pods (or ground cardamom)
1 tsp ground allspice
1/2 cup Greek yogurt
2 1/2 tbsp tahini
1 tbsp lime juice
1 green chile, thinly sliced
2/3 cup cilantro leaves
Next, cut the squash in half lengthways, scoop out the seeds and discard. Cut each half, top to bottom, into 1/4-inch thick slices and lay them out on a large baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
If using the cardamom pods, place them in a mortar and pestle and work to get the seeds out of the pods. Discard the pods and work the seeds to a rough powder. Transfer to a small bowl, add the allspice and the remaining 3 tbsp of oi, stir well and brush this mixture over the butternut slices. Sprinkle over a little salt and place in the over for 15 minutes, or until tender when tested with the point of a knife.
Remove from the oven and set aside to cool. Peel off the skin, or leave on if you prefer.
Meanwhile, whisk together the yogurt, tahini, lime juice, 2 tbsp of water, and a pinch of salt. The sauce should be thick but runny enough to pour, add more water if necessary.
To serve, arrange the cooled butternut slices on a serving platter and drizzle with yogurt sauce. Spoon over the lime slices and their juices and scatter the chile slices over the top. Garnish with the cilantro and serve.
Wednesday, January 4, 2012
Well, the holidays have come and gone and a new slew of recipe books has come traveling down the pipe line. This year's addition? Plenty by London's favorite vegetarian, Yotam Ottolenghi (try saying that five times fast). As my mother has embraced the joys of the vegetarian lifestyle, this was the perfect recipe book for our newly meat-free family meals. Besides being entirely vegetarian, the book also favors slightly Middle Eastern flavors, often including ingredients you wouldn't necessarily find at your local Safeway (kirmzi biber, anyone?). But if you take Ottolenghi's crazy ingredients with a pinch of salt (and, to his credit, he does often offer easier and more available solutions to the more obscure ingredients), his recipes are usually easy and absolutely always delicious. And more often than not you'll find yourself making dishes you never thought you would.
And loving them.
Enter a hot yogurt soup. Call me small-minded, but I'm not the sort of person who would order anything with this title if I found it on a restaurant menu. Yet the variety of vegetables convinced me that this couldn't be bad. After all, everything else from the book had been delicious. Why stop now?
And indeed, this soup was phenomenal. Thick without being rich and with such a wonderful combination of flavors. Although I'm not always a fan of blended soups, this one won me over completely. You would never know when it's served that it contains both beans and rice. It's wonderfully hearty without being cloying. Half of the taste comes from making your own vegetable broth, which gives the whole soup a wonderful freshness.
Yes, it does take a bit of time. But trust me, for wow factor both on appearance and taste, this one is worth it.
Ottolenghi used fava beans in his soup (although makes the concession that you can use fresh or frozen). But thanks to scarcity of resources, I was forced to work with butter beans (related to the lima bean). And hey, I never noticed the difference. So huzzah to you if you can find the favas, but don't despair if you end up using the humbler lima or butter variety.
6 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, quartered
4 celery stalks, quartered
1 large carrot, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
5 thyme sprigs
2 bay leaves
1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley
1 1/2 quarts water
3 1/2 cups shelled fava beans (fresh or frozen, again, here I used butter beans and the soup was just as tasty, it also saves you the time-sapping feat of shelling the fava beans)
1/3 cup long grain rice
salt and white pepper
2 cups Greek yogurt
2 garlic cloves, crushed
3 tbsp roughly chopped dill
3 tbsp roughly chopped chervil
grated zest of 1 lemon
While the stock is cooking, proceed to shell the fava beans (if using. If not, huzzah! you have more time on your hands). Bring a saucepan of water to the boil. Throw in the beans and simmer for just 1 minutes. Drain, then refresh the beans under running cold water to stop the cooking. Next, remove the skins by gently pressing with your fingers against the sides of each bean, causing the soft bean to pop out. Discard the skins.
When the stock is ready, pass it through a sieve into a medium saucepan; discard the vegetables and flavorings in the sieve. Add the rice to the stock. Bring to the boil, then simmer, covered for 20 minutes. Now add half the beans and some salt and pepper and use an immersion blender to blitz the soup until it's completely smooth.
Whisk together the yogurt, garlic and egg in a large heatproof bowl. Add a ladleful of hot soup and whisk together. Continue gradually adding the soup until you've mixed in at least half of it. It's important to do this slowly, otherwise the yogurt might split due to the difference in temperatures.
Pour the tempered yogurt into the pan containing the rest of the soup. Place it on medium heat and warm up the soup while stirring constantly. Make sure the soup doesn't boil! Taste and add more salt and pepper if you life.
Ladle the soup into 4 bowls and drop in the remaining beans. Garnish generously with the dill, chervil and lemon zest and drizzle the remaining 4 tbsp of olive oil (this is crucial!!).