Friday, 23 May 2014

Plaice with Mediterranean Vegetables and Lemon and Parsley Butter

This is a perfect summer evening dinner - so simple to throw together with the minimum of effort and yet so delicious. It's ideal for evenings when you'd rather be spending time in the garden than the kitchen. 

I served this with Jersey Royal's as they are in season now, but this goes equally well with steamed rice, couscous or a jacket potato too. 

Serves 2-3

3 plaice fillets
1 red onion
10 cherry tomatoes
1 red pepper
2 lemons
3 garlic cloves
1.5 tablespoons olive oil 
Few sprigs of oregano
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
50g butter (room temperature)
2 tablespoons fresh parsley

Firstly preheat the oven the 180 degrees. 

Chop the onion, pepper, tomatoes and 1 lemon into equal sized pieces. Chop the garlic cloves into 2-3 small pieces and place all into an oven proof dish. Drizzle well with olive oil, season and give a good shake. Place the sprigs of oregano around the dish and pop into the oven for 20 minutes. 

If you're serving with Jersey Royals, give these a good wash now and place to cook in lightly salted water in a pan over a moderate heat. Allow to come to the boil then simmer for fifteen minutes or until the potatoes are soft enough to put a fork through (or of course to your own preference). 

After 20 minutes remove the vegetables from the oven and positive the plaice fillets over the top of the vegetables. Season the fish and return to the oven for ten minutes. 

A couple of minutes before removing the plaice and vegetables from the oven, place a small pan on a low heat and add the butter to melt. Finely chop the parsley and then squeeze in the juice of half a lemon and add the chopped parsley and stir through.

Remove dish from the oven and allow to stand for a couple of minutes. In the meantime drain the potatoes and return to the pan and place back on the heat for 30 seconds and give a good shake to draw out any excess liquid.

Plate up the potatoes, plaice and vegetables and drizzle over a generous amount of the lemony parsley butter ensuring to give the potatoes a good coating. Is the remaining half of lemon for a final flourish over the fish. Enjoy! 

A couple of delicious things in 2014

If you've read the previous post, you'll know why there has been a six-month gap, I am with child. Excitingly due in September and the past few months have been a little manic to say the least. I have managed to eat several rather delicious things during this time and here is a little round up that never quite made it as full posts.

Insanely good beef ribs were had at Beard to Tail recently - in what felt like a woman versus food challenge due to the sheet size and deliciousness of the meat - little else was needed. Mocktails were good here also (I'm told also the cocktails!).

In March I headed to my favourite restaurant in Essex, Smiths for my friend Jemma's 30th birthday. Famed for their seafood and fresh fish they have an exceptionally good value set lunch menu - £26.50 for 3 courses and with quite a good selection too. I really enjoyed their version if rollmops - pickled herrings with pickled onions and vegetables, a little salad and a lemon crème fraiche to start. My main was their famed fish pie filled with beautifully cooled salmon, prawns, cod and a rich velvety creamy sauce and topped with buttery and perfectly crisped mash - divine. I completed my meal with roasted pineapple with coconut ice cream, a caramel sauce and some raspberries. As usual for Smiths, every course was delicious and the service was impeccable. 

On Mother's Day we headed out for fish and chips at the seaside (good old Southend) followed by a walk along the front and ice cream. Afterwards we headed back to my Mum's for a traditional 'high tea' that looked so beautiful I had to share. Our high tea included fresh prawns, brown shrimps, cockles, winkles, fresh crab meat sandwiches and a selection of homemade cake - always a winner. 

Last month I enjoyed a week in beautiful Kusadasi in Turkey with my friend Jade and on our last evening we enjoyed a fantastic seafood meze. Alongside all of the usual salads and vegetable dishes as well as fresh dips we enjoyed a whole cooked sea bream, crispy fresh calamari and a casserole of spicy, garlicy prawns that were to die for. Since I've been back I've been utterly obsessed with Mediterranean food! 

A Belated Thanksgiving Post

Before I begin, an apology for the 6-month delay on this and any other posts. As it tends to do, life has simply got the way a tad. December was the usual whirlwind of parties and then in January I found out I was expecting and my life just seemed to get even crazier hectic than usual. I've tried to fit in a little writing this week and as I'll be finishing working duties in a matter of a month or so, I'm hoping not to be so slack.

I was invited by the lovely Food Urchin, way back in November to a Thanksgiving soiree at his home, close to where I live in Essex. This was part of a project he was taking part in with Great British Chefs. On the evening in question I arrived to be greeted by a glass of fizz, Danny (Mr Food Urchin) Gary of Big Spud, Danny's lovely wife and a couple of his friends - a nice start to the festivities.

We sat down to our first course - a tagliatelle with chestnuts, bacon, a sage black butter and a pumpkin velouté. Poor Danny had had a slight nightmare - this was supposed to be tortellini - however as with many wonderful things, the result of this 'mistake' was very pleasing indeed. A light and flavourful sweet note from the pumpkin was set off beautifully by the delicate crunch of the chestnuts and as Danny pointed out, almost everything is improved by bacon. I might add that as well as being an enjoyable dish it was also a rather attractive plate of food too. Bonus. 

By the main event the wine was flowing nicely and conversation was lively - we were ready for the star of the show, the turkey. Happily Danny had used Great British Chef's bank of recipes and came up with an inventive ballotine of soft, moist, melt in the mouth turkey wrapped in Parma ham and with soft, buttery spinach running through it. Wonderful, and a refreshing change from roasted bird. The accompaniments too were fantastic - baby carrots and braised baby gems (a dish I'd never tried but have since recreated at home) and an utterly gorgeous potato rosti. Being the slave to carbs that I am I do love potatoes in all their glorious formats but there is something special and slightly naughty about a rosti and Danny pulled it off perfectly. Soft, well-seasoned potato was encased in a crispy exterior for that all important crunch-factor. The whole dish was prettily dressed with a red wine and thyme jus that tasted as good as it looked. Hat's off to the chef for this as it was a truly gorgeous plate of food prepared in front of us with the minimum of fuss. 

Our final course was an unusual treat - a spiced apple crumble slice, or a hybrid of crumble and pie - for me the perfect pudding. With an old-school hearty stodginess about it (as all crumbles and pies should), it still managed to appear refined. Expertly spiced with soft, juicy cooked apples, the delicious crunch of the crumble and a little vanilla ice cream made for a marvellous mouthful.

I must mention this evening was put on in association with one of Great British Chef's wine partners' - Corney & Barrow and each course was well matched with a different plonk. The dessert wine was my favourite, not least for its comedic name - Sticky Micky Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc. It was absolutely delicious, sweet but with an acidic tang that worked well the apple crumble pie. 

I had a wonderful evening with great company and even better food. Thanks again to Food Urchin and apologies for the incredibly tardy post! 

Monday, 11 November 2013

Copa de Cava, Blackfriars

After visiting Gizzi Erskine’s organised Spanish Fiesta themed Street Feast with my brother and some friends back in August, my brother’s name got pulled out of a hat by Copa de Cava as the winner of a meal for two at their Blackfriars venue.

Happily Dan asked me to join him, and so we went one cold, wet and dreary Friday evening in September and had a lovely night.

We were welcomed by a team of super friendly staff, one of which absolutely made our evening, so attentive and warm was she in detailing items from the menu and matching us with a Cava that she thought we would both enjoy according to our palates. She was fantastic and this experience really brought home the fact to me, that good staff really can make or break a place. A very good start.

We enjoyed an array of tapas style dishes and continued to be impressed throughout the evening. We started with some Spanish olives in a dressing of Cava vinegar, thyme, rosemary and lemon zest. The olives alone would have been succulent, plump and juicy and full of flavour but this simple marinade truly elevated them.

The second dish was another simple but addictive dish– ‘Pimientos de Padron’ or sautéed green Galician peppers. These were small bite sized peppers coated in coarse sea salt and a drizzle of olive oil after being lightly charred. They were a delight and an intriguing one at that – one bite was never the same as another, some had a much deeper chilli heat than others – all were divine.

We had a board of charcuterie that was superb. It comprised of chorizo, lomo Iberico, Teruel D.O. Jamon and something I had never tried before but instantly fell in love with – fuet. Fuet is a Catalan speciality, cured pork sausage meat in a pork gut (this concept reminded me a little of a faggot). The meat was so soft and tender that it literally melted in the mouth and whilst it was quite salty, the flavours were just amazing. The charcuterie came with a selection of little bready bites – it would be a great plate of food to enjoy with a friend or two over a few drinks if you were only looking for a snack.

Patatas Bravas came in an unusual way – little cyclinders of fluffy potato in a crisp, delicious coating – I’m not sure how they were cooked, they didn’t taste as if they had been fried, so I’ve no idea how they had such a glorious outside, but I would love to find out. The sauce was smoky with paprika, smooth and velvety – my only complaint would be that in the interests of keeping the dish looking dainty, not enough sauce was given – I could have devoured much more of it.

The next two dishes were our final ones and they really had saved the best two till last. We had octopus with an olive oil mash and I just don’t know where to start. I’m a big fan of octopus anyway, but often it can be too chewy and have a rubbery texture from being overcooked, not so at Copa de Cava. I would hazard a guess that this had been slowly braised on a gentle heat, so tender and wonderful was the final result with just a squeeze of lemon and a sprinkling of paprika over it to complete it. Served on gorgeously soft mash which had a pepperiness from the olive oil and just the right amount of salt to complement the octopus perfectly. An absolute triumph. The photo is unfortunately not giving this dish justice, due to the lighting and my keenness to start eating the dish.

Our final plate was the favourite for both of us – Presa Iberica, shoulder of rare Iberico pig, with pearly barley, Iberico ham and Manchego. The pork was cooked rare and as with the octopus it was soft, tender and melt in the mouth. It was quite a strong flavour, with an almost game-like quality to it. Personally I loved the accompaniment which was basically a risotto of pearl barley instead of rice – or at least that’s how it both appeared and tasted. Creamy pearl barley that still had a slight crunch or bite to it was flavoured with salty Iberico ham and topped with a generous grating of Manchego cheese – fantastic.

We chose a bottle of the Reserva Aria Segura Viudas after a helpful chat with the waitress. We loved its almost smoky yet light and delicate flavour – it was selected as I said how much I love wines flavoured with peach and apricots, and this fitted the bill perfectly. We also had a glass of the Semi Seco Valarnau Demi Sec ‘Barceona’ to start off with, which was also enjoyable, yet a little drier than the bottle we had.

Copa de Cava is pitted as more of a Cava bar than a restaurant, but there are some seriously good dishes on the menu and I would certainly return. It’s a particularly good spot for catching up with friends. The downstairs section or ‘cave’ where we sat was cosy, warm and busy with a great atmosphere – in short a great venue.

If you’re a fan of Spanish food and Cava then this place is just waiting for you.

Copa de Cava on Urbanspoon

A London Lunch No 12: George's Portobello Fish Bar

From July to October I had the pleasure of working with a lovely team over in Westbourne Park – an area that was completely alien to me in terms of food spots.

Being amongst fellow food-lovers, I was happily introduced to a number of great lunch spots whilst working there and George’s Portobello Fish Bar was one such venue.

A local chippie that has stood the test of time, having been open since 1961, George’s avoids the almost ‘yuppified’ version of what I think of as a chippie in central London and at any given lunch time you can find queues out of the door, which are alone testament to the food on offer.

Both Jamie Oliver and Victoria Beckham have been photographed/quoted as being fans of the food here, and I am happy to join them in their appraisal of this fish and chip mecca.

I have to say I must have picked up lunch time food from George’s at least six or seven times in the mere three months that I worked in the area – whether it be a hungover Friday, a miserably cold and wet Monday or just a bored Wednesday, I needed no excuse to partake in the deliciousness George’s has on offer.

Thick cut, crisp on the outside, soft and fluffy on the inside chips are a constant here and topped with a flurry of vinegar and salt, they are quite frankly perfection.

Now during my Westbourne Park stint I tried a number of accompaniments, from saveloys, sausages in batter and other, less traditional, fare, however, the crème de la crème here really is the fish. The cod is just fantastic, again perfectly cooked to flaky deliciousness, full of fresh flavour and coated in a crisp, light batter with just the right amount of grease. They claim to collect their fish daily from Billingsgate market, and this really does show.

Fish and chips will set you back around £7.00 which is reasonable, especially considering the quality of the fish and the decent size of the portion – so what are you waiting for?

Aside from George’s Portobello Fish Bar, here are three other chippies worth a try in London:

1.    Fryer’s Delight, Theobald Road, Holborn
2.    Golden Union, Poland Street, Soho
3.    Poppies, Hanbury Street, Spitalfields

George's Portobello Fish Bar on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 7 November 2013

The 10 Cases

I went for a last minute Saturday night dinner a few weeks back with my parents and my brother Daniel, and avoiding the huge queues everywhere, we stumbled upon The 10 Cases on Endell Street, somewhere I’d never been to, or even heard of.

It’s a small space and was packed to the rafters, with just one tiny table left at the back that the four of us crowded around. We were greeted by a friendly waiter who took our drinks order and left us to ponder the menu.

It’s very dark in The 10 Cases and there’s certainly a buzz in the air from the many people, the excitable Saturday night chatter from the varying groups of friends and couples who were the predominant diners on this occasion.

We had all selected what we fancied from a small, elegant sounding menu, but it was to be another fifteen minutes before our drinks were brought to our table, despite being within touching distance to the bar – not a great start.

We chose some bread, pork belly carpaccio and some olives to start; all simple but all executed well. The pork belly slivers were greasy, but packed full of porky flavour and were lovely with the fresh, crusty white bread and butter. The olives were tasty – not my favourite Kalamata, but instead, plump green and juicy little fruits of deliciousness. Please do excuse my photography as it was incredibly dark and lit by candle only – hopefully you can get the gist of things though!

We’ll start with the positives. My dad, Les had opted for a special of Pollack on a bed of vegetables. Whilst this was taking simple to a new level, it was a perfectly cooked piece of fish, with very little added flavour wise. Not something to set the world on fire, but perfectly edible.

Daniel and I both opted for the crisp pork belly option. I have to say the pork belly was cooked well, the skin was beautifully crisp and crunchy, as it should be, and the meat was cooked well, if a little lukewarm. The accompanying red cabbage was lovely too, it had an almost pickle-like taste to it with the perfect balance of acidity with sugary sweetness and was lovely. The bad point of these plates (aside from not-hot meat) was the mashed potato. It was bad. Aside from being almost cold, which is frankly a sin; the mash was overly salty and had lumps throughout, really not pleasant at all.

The final dish of our four, was the worst of the bunch- a crab linguini. I simply don’t know where to start on this, my mum, Vicky, has a reputation amongst our family as being a little fussy when eating out, so when the plates arrived it was a collective inward gasp of horror around the table. Unfortunately due to the lighting my photography really doesn’t show what a dismal looking plate of food this dish was. Aside from swimming in grease, which upon tasting, appeared to be butter, there was very little other flavour to this dish. Lacking in crab, lacking in seasoning and lacking in any kind of oomph – oh dear.

We had some Chenin Blanc between my mum, Daniel and I, and my dad chose a couple of beers and all of this came in around the £130 mark, which, given the standard of food, I was seriously unimpressed with.  

The 10 Cases brags to be ‘unpretentious with wine as its main focus’, I can certainly see this. I would certainly return for a glass of wine here, as I have said the staff were friendly, the atmosphere was lively, however would I return for something to eat? I think not.

The 10 Cases on Urbanspoon

Applewood Spreadable Challenge: Cheese and Vegetable Pie with Kale and Chorizo

This is my third and final recipe that I have created as part of the Applewood Spreadable #SpreadStirShare challenge in which 20 food bloggers have been tasked with devising some interesting and delicious family recipes using Applewood Spreadable as an ingredient. I have already posted my Cheesy Pea, Leek and Pancetta Gnocchi Bake and the Creamy Pea, Courgette and Mint Risotto, and my final recipe that I enjoyed last night was a Cheese and Vegetable Pie with a side of Kale with Chorizo.

Of the three recipes, this has to be my favourite – but then I do love anything encased in gorgeous pastry, it’s so comforting on a cold, wet winter’s day, and this is a delicious pie filling that I will absolutely be making again.

I used pumpkin, broccoli and leeks in my pie, but you could experiment with whatever you had to hand really. I made a traditional roux – mixing equal parts of butter with plain flour as the basis for this unctuous, decadent cheese sauce, as well as mixing equal parts of the smoky Applewood Spreadable cheese with unsmoked Cheddar.

The kale and chorizo side was to convince the boyfriend that we can sit down to dinner without a big hunk of meat or fillet of fish and with, instead, just a little smidge of meat-stuffs and I’m happy to report he agreed after this lovely meal. This served the two of us comfortably with one portion left over for lunch today – just increase the portion sizes to stretch further!

Here’s how:

1 small pumpkin
1 broccoli head
2 leeks, trimmed
50g plain flour
50g salted butter
65g Cheddar (I used some Cathedral City I had in my fridge)
300ml milk (I used full fat)
Salt & Pepper
Pinch of nutmeg
250g puff pastry (I used Jus Rol)
1 beaten egg
100g kale
100g chorizo cooking sausages

Firstly cut the pumpkin in half carefully, and scoop out all of the seeds. Either retain to toast and enjoy later on or discard. Place on a piece of baking paper on a baking sheet and place in the oven at around 180-200 degrees and bake for 30 minutes.

In the meantime chop off the florets of broccoli and chop up into bite-size pieces. Plunge into some boiling, salted water and cook for 3-4 minutes, to ensure there will be no biting into rock hard vegetables in the pie. Then drain and put to the side.

Once the pumpkin is out of the oven and cool enough to handle, remove the skin and chop into small, bite-sized chunks. Place into an ovenproof dish, and then add the broccoli.

Chop the leeks and then add these, raw to the pie dish with the broccoli and pumpkin.

Next up it’s time to make your cheese sauce. Firstly weigh everything out equally in advance so there is no mad scramble mid-sauce-making as it is a bit of a delicate procedure and needs care and attention! Add the butter to the pan (a tip is to add it in small little knobs so it takes less time to melt and is less likely to burn) – keep on a low heat throughout.

Once the butter is melted, gently add a little of the flour at a time stirring in each time with a wooden spoon or whisk in gently with a balloon whisk. Keep repeating this process until all of the flour has been mixed in.

Now you will add your milk, a little at a time. You may not even need the 300ml, it will depend on how you prefer the consistency of the sauce to be. Once you’ve added about half, add the cheese. I firstly added the grated Cheddar and mixed through until melted through and part of the now-thickening sauce. If you need to, add a little more milk and then add the Applewood Spreadable, again stirring all the while.

Once you are happy with the consistency (it should be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon and velvety smooth with no lumps), continue to cook on a low heat for a further five minutes to ensure the flour is all cooked out.

Remove from the heat, season generously and add a pinch of nutmeg or even cinnamon to add a little warming spice. Taste at this point to ensure it has the right flavour to your taste, if not add more cheese for a cheesier flavour or a little more milk for a milder taste.

Now cover the vegetables with the cheese sauce, using a spoon to ensure each piece of vegetable is nicely coated and place to the side for a moment. If you hadn’t already – get your oven pre-heating at this point at 180-200 degrees.

Now roll your pastry out accordingly so it will fit snugly over the pie. I baked this as a ‘pot pie’ with a just a pastry topping to cut the calories down a little, as it still gives that huge comforting joy of eating a pie, but isn’t quite as naughty. You could of course also top this with mashed potato and a little grated cheese too, but for me puff pastry is king.

Once you’ve covered the pie, egg wash it so it becomes lovely and golden and place into the oven. If you are artistic you could try and make a beautiful puff pastry garnish out of the excess pastry – if you are artistically challenged like myself, you could create something less adventurous:

The pie needs baking for 25-30 minutes, until golden brown and ten minutes before the end of baking you can start preparing the side dish. 

Firstly chop 100g chorizo sausages into small cubes and add to a dry pan on a medium heat. Chorizo always exudes its own oils, so none is needed here. Once the chorizo has cooked for a good few minutes and is nicely charred on all sides, add the washed kale to the pan and mix continuously. It is more cabbage-like than spinach in the heat and does retain its pretty shape, a few minutes of cooking and this is ready to serve.

Remove the pie from the oven and dish up. Enjoy!

To keep up with the remaining Applewood Spreadable challenge follow the #SpreadStirShare hash tag and check out the Applewood blog for details on the winner due to be announced at the end of this month: