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:

Applewood Spreadable Challenge: Creamy Pea, Courgette and Mint Risotto

This is the second of three recipes I’ve devised for the Applewood Spreadable #SpreadStirShare challenge to create delicious family recipes using Applewood Spreadable. My first was Cheesy Pea, Leek and Pancetta Gnocchi Bake and this time it’s a Creamy Pea, Courgette and Mint Risotto. Perhaps a little summery and certainly a classic combination – but with the addition of crème fraiche and Applewood Spreadable it makes for a rich, luxurious, creamy tasting risotto – and that for me, never goes out of season.

I served this with a portion of rocket and some homemade garlic toasts (French stick sliced diagonally, rubbed with a halved garlic clove all over and drizzled with a tiny bit of olive oil then griddled on a high heat for 1-2 minutes on each side) and it served four of us.

Here’s how:

5 spring onions
1 large garlic clove
75g fresh peas
2 small courgettes
2 tbsp fresh mint
1-1.5 pints chicken stock
1 glass dry white wine
2 tbsp crème fraiche
1 tbsp Applewood Spreadable
250g Arborio rice
Salt & pepper to taste
2 tbsp olive oil

Firstly crush your garlic and chop the spring onions and add this to the pan on a medium heat with the olive oil until starting to soften.

Slice the courgettes on a diagonal and add to the pan and allow to fry until a little crisp and golden on each side, then remove the courgettes and keep to the side, covered to keep warm.

Next add the rice to the pan and use a wooden or plastic spoon to move around to ensure all rice gets coated with the oil. Allow to cook for about five minutes and then add the wine to the pan with a good pinch of salt and pepper.

Once the wine has been almost completely absorbed, add a ladle full of the chicken stock, keep stirring and continue the process for the next fifteen minutes or so, adding more stock as it is absorbed. (My Dad and I have an ongoing argument about whether or not the stock should be heated before adding to risotto – I say it doesn’t matter, he disagrees – if anybody has any thoughts do feel free to share!)

Once you have used about a pint of the stock, taste the rice to see if it is beginning to soften enough to your particular taste. Different rice seems to respond in different ways and needs varying amounts of stock, so continue to taste until the rice has become soft enough throughout.

Now you need to add the peas and stir through and then return the courgettes to the pan too and cook for a further few minutes, stirring all the while. Now add the Applewood Spreadable and as much of the crème fraiche as you fancy – 2 tbsp makes for a rich and creamy texture which I adore, but if you don’t want it to creamy, then just reduce the amount.

Taste once more and add seasoning accordingly. Chop up the mint and stir through about half to the dish, then once it’s been dished up, add a final flourish of mint leaves to each portion for some added zing and freshness. Enjoy!

To find out more about Applewood Cheese, Applewood Spreadable and the #SpreadStirShare challenge as well as keeping up with the other recipes from some fabulous other bloggers check out the Applewood news blog:

Applewood Spreadable Challenge: Cheesy Pea, Leek and Pancetta Gnocchi Bake

The lovely people at Applewood Cheese invited 20 food bloggers, including myself, to take part in the #SpreadStirShare challenge – a fun initiative to come up with family-friendly recipes using their latest product – Applewood Spreadable. I was sent a lovely hamper filled with some gorgeous fresh produce, a sample of Applewood Spreadable and a bottle of Concha Y Toro Sunrise Merlot all of which certainly gave me some food for thought!

Applewood Cheese has been around since 1965, when it was developed in Ilchester; and is famed for its’ distinct, smoked flavour that’s finished with a sprinkling of paprika. Being a fan of smoky cheeses I was keen to try the Applewood Spreadable to see if this new variety had kept all of the qualities that make the original stand out. I was impressed with the strong smoky flavour that has remained in what really is a versatile product.

The challenge is entitled #SpreadStirShare to highlight the many ways in which Applewood Spreadable can be enjoyed and I’m happy to say that outside of the three recipes that I’ve created and will share over the following three posts, I have ideas for many more dishes in which Applewood Spreadable could work well.

My first recipe is a Cheesy Pea, Leek and Pancetta Gnocchi Bake that’s finished with a crushed walnut crumb to give a lovely nutty crust and added texture. Served with some salad this made a delicious, hearty meal for four.

Here’s how:

500g fresh gnocchi
100-150g fresh leeks, trimmed
2 cloves garlic
150g pancetta
75g fresh peas
2 tbsp crème fraiche
7-8 sprigs fresh thyme
1 tbsp crushed walnuts
10g grated Cheddar or Parmesan
Salt & Pepper to taste
1 tbsp olive oil

Firstly chop the leeks finely and crush the garlic. Add the olive oil to a pan on a medium heat and gently sauté the leeks and garlic.

Dice the pancetta and add to the pan once the leeks have started to soften. Stir through and allow to cook for five minutes.

In the meantime cook the gnocchi in a pan of salted, boiling water – two minutes maximum as the gnocchi will be baked in the oven and otherwise they will become a mush if overcooked. Drain and set aside for a moment.

Add the fresh peas to the pan with the leeks and pancetta and allow to cook for another minute or so; and then stir through the crème fraiche and the Applewood Spreadable. Once the cheese has melted into the crème fraiche to make an even, silky sauce, remove from the heat and stir through the drained gnocchi, ensuring every little piece is evenly coated.

Season generously and then run your fingers through 3-4 sprigs of the thyme to extract the leaves and stir through then transfer to an oven-proof dish. (I used a dish suitable for both the hob and the oven to save on washing up!)

Either place the walnuts in a food bag and crush with a rolling pin or do the same with a pestle and mortar or a food processor and scatter over the top of the dish to make a crumb that will turn golden brown during cooking. Scatted over the 10g of grated hard cheese and finally place the remaining sprigs of thyme across the dish.

Place in the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the top has turned a glorious golden brown. Enjoy!

To find out more about Applewood Cheese, Applewood Spreadable and the #SpreadStirShare challenge as well as keeping up with the other recipes from some fabulous other bloggers check out the Applewood news blog:

Thursday, 31 October 2013

Chicken and Chorizo One Pot

Aside from a little pre-frying and chopping the majority of the cooking for this is all done in one pot which is always a winner.

Most butchers and supermarkets sell thighs in a packet, sometimes along with drumsticks and they are usually more economical than breast meat – not to mention fattier, hence filled with far more flavour.

This is a warming, casserole packed full of flavour and is lovely on cold winter nights. I served it, this week, with some simple plain boiled rice and salad, but you could have it alone with fresh bread or with potatoes.

The chorizo gives a Spanish hue and with that end, I added a splash of Cava, purely as I had some in the fridge, but any dry white wine will do.

Serves 4:
Here’s how:      

8 chicken thighs or drumsticks
200g chorizo
1 onion
2 cloves garlic
1 courgette
Tin of cannellini beans
2 tbsp Cava or dry white wine
1 tin of chopped tomatoes
2 tbsp dried thyme
1 red chilli
½ cup of chicken stock
Salt and black pepper
2 tbsp hot paprika

Firstly slice the onion and chill and crush the garlic and add to a casserole dish. Chop the courgette into small cubes and add to the dish. Drain the beans and add to the dish with the chopped tomoates and the cava or wine.

Next chop the chorizo into small chunks, and add to a pan on a medium heat – no oil is needed here. While these are cooking, pour a couple of tablespoons of olive oil onto a chopping board and season liberally with the salt and pepper. Then add 1 tbsp each of the dried thyme and the paprika and coat each of the chicken pieces in the oil.

Once the chorizo is seared, use a slotted spoon and add to the casserole dish.

In the same pan, sear the chicken pieces 2-3 at a time, ensuring to sear all over. Then add each piece to the casserole dish.

Finally add the ½ cup of stock to the dish and stir through to ensure each piece of chicken is covered with the liquid and stir through the remaining herbs and spices, salt and pepper.

Place the lid on top and cook for 45 minutes to an hour at 180 degrees. If you prefer a thicker consistency you can add a little cornflour in towards the end, but it is a lovely juicy consistency perfect with rice or bread. Enjoy!

Prawn Saganaki

In some parts of Greece I understand this dish is called youvetsi – after the name of the dish it is cooked in, but to me it will always be Prawn Saganaki, as it was when I first tried it in gorgeous Corfu.

A lovely Greek lady, Angelliki, gave me the basics for this recipe when I enjoyed it at her hotel taverna back in 2008, when I was working as a holiday rep and would hungrily demolish many a meal prepared by this lovely lady. She was an inspiration in many ways – as well as working many hours with her husband Costas at the hotel they only managed, not owned, she prepared the majority of the food that was served there, and had two beautiful young children who she was always running around after too. They were a very generous couple always trying to feed me up and happily, were open to sharing the odd recipe too. A tiny couple of tweaks, to accommodate what is readily and affordably available in sunny Essex and here is the recipe below.

If you can get hold of them the sauce is much improved my having large shell-on prawns, and these also make for an impressive looking dish too, but for an affordable mid-week meal, ordinary prawns are just fine. I serve with a side salad and some simple fresh bread and it makes for a delicious taste of the Med, especially comforting now the colder nights are drawing in.

Here’s how:

200g fresh, raw prawns
Tin of chopped tomatoes
1 large onion
2 cloves of garlic
2 tbsp fresh oregano
1 tbsp fresh parsley
1 tsp brown sugar
1 tbsp fresh lemon thyme
150g feta cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsps dry white wine (Retsina for traditionally Greek saganaki)

Firstly you need to make a good tomato sauce as the basis. I do this in an oven-proof skillet above the hob so you can continue the cooking all in the one pan. The depth to which you prepare the sauce depends on how much time you have – obviously if you want a rich sauce, cook for longer, but if time is short, then a quick sauce is more than sufficient – especially mid-week.

To prepare your sauce add the olive oil to the pan and place over a low-mid heat. Dice the onion as finely as possible and crush the garlic and add both to the pan. Once softened (after 5-10 minutes),  add the wine and cook off – this will take another 5 minutes or so on a medium heat.

Next add the chopped tomatoes. Again you can of course use fresh tomatoes for this dish as and when they are available. Add a pinch of salt and black pepper here and the teaspoon of brown sugar and stir through. Add half of the chopped parsley and oregano and all of the lemon thyme to the sauce and cook over the hob for thirty minutes – or longer if you have the time.

In the meantime, chop the feta in cubes – I prefer this to crumbling the cheese as in the finished dish you are left with lovely gooey, delicious feta.

Taste the sauce and if you feel it needs it add further salt and/or pepper. Remove the lemon thyme stalks as they are unpleasant to bite into and will have imparted their flavour into the sauce now

Arrange the feta around the dish and sprinkle the rest of the parsley and most of the remaining oregano and place into a pre-heated oven at 180-200 degrees for fifteen minutes.

Remove the dish and add the prawns, scattering around as evenly as possible.

Return to the oven for a further five minutes, checking that all of the prawns have turned pink to show they are cooked through, and remove, ready to serve. Prawns take very little cooking so remove from the oven as soon as they have all turned pink to avoid being left with rubbery, overcooked prawns which are not tasty! Instead you should have delicious, succulent and juicy just-cooked prawns – lovely. Scatter over the remaining oregano before serving – enjoy!