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Tuesday, 27 February 2007

I remember you, lemony ragu

It was some time around 2.30am on January 1st, 2005. I was perched on a bar stool at 'inoteca, a little Italian joint on the corner of Rivington and Ludlow. The festive buzz was all around and I was gurgling away with pished contentment, waiting for a final indulgence after a night full of ‘em; we’d kicked off the night with a glittering cabaret performance from Eartha Kitt and seen in the new year slurping cocktails while Adam DJ’d at Ding Dong. But there was one more little treat left to make this the specialist…

Just to back up a bit: Adam and I were on our 'let's pretend we live in New York' holiday and, for maximum effect, we'd rented an apartment on the lower east side for two weeks. It was a few doors down from 'inoteca where, a few nights earlier, I had discovered my food obsession of the moment: a plate piled with mushroom ragu and creamy lemon polenta. Soft, tart, juicy, sweet, zingy – mmmmmmmm.

So, returning to New Year's Eve and the fact we'd found 'inoteca still open when we were on our way home. Adam had quietly crept away as I enthusiastically explained my must-have craving to the maitre d’ type person, along with the kicker that I really wanted to take it back to bed rather than eat at the restaurant. While loopy-hour take-away may not have been the 'inoteca staple – the joint seemed kind of fancy – rather than shoo me out the door, kick me to the curb or, worse, ignore me, the guy was impressed with my zeal for his ragu. He happily elbowed a little space at the bar and sat me down with a tasty glass of wine. There I waited, merry as could be, for my plate to be made.

And so it was that Adam and I slurped on our first meal for the year – in our PJ’s, sitting in bed in our temporary Manhattan apartment, sipping champagne and taking in the sounds of the city. Blish.

What you'll need

3 large or 6-8 small shallots, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
A few fresh sprigs of thyme (rip the leaves off the stalks)
2-3 cups of chopped mushrooms (I used enoki, button and shitaake, but any small mushies'll do)
Olive oil
1 lemon
2-3 cups veggie stock (I was out so used miso paste & vegemite instead, which worked fine)
1/2 cup of old red wine
Salt & pepper
Polenta (I used 125g for 2 people)

For the ragu

Fry the shallots and garlic in olive oil, careful not to brown or burn them (stir regularly). Once they are soft and transluscent, add the mushies and thyme. Stir on med heat for a minute before adding the wine. Stir in a teaspoon of butter (optional) and the stock and turn the heat up to med-high. All you need to do now is reduce the liquid so let it bubble away, stirring occassionally.

For the polenta

You can do the polenta while the ragu is reducing. For 125g of polenta, you'll need the grated rind of one lemon, 1/4 of its juice, about 600ml stock and a spoonful of butter (if you ain't vegan). Bring the stock to the boil. Stir in the butter and add your lemon rind and juice. Reduce the heat then pour in the polenta at a steady stream, stirring repeatedly. Let it cook on medium heat, stirring like a vigilante. It should only take five minutes. You want it kinda on the sloppy side, so don't do it too early or it'll firm up while it cools. When it's done, turn the heat right down and leave the lid on.

When the ragu has lost most of its liquid, plate up.

It might not look so flashy but the combination tastes brilliant, with the smooth, tangy polenta a perfect foil for bitey red mushies. And even though I’ve never been able to perfectly recreate the harmony of the original, the flavour always takes me back to our first dinner of 2005 and that little patch of NYC we happily roamed for a fortnight.

Sunday, 25 February 2007

This weekend at Borough Market: best eggs in town

Sleep and dreams being my favourite things, there are very few activities I'd get up early for on a Saturday morning (much less leave the house for). But when the craving hits for Spanish scrambled eggs at Brindisa, there's nothing for it but to set the alarm and haul my lazy head out of bed.

Even though Brindisa is at the end my street it still requires considerable effort to dress, buy the paper, face the world and get there with a reasonable chance of being seated before the strict kitchen cut off time of 11am. It can't be done with too much of a hangover: finding the right person to get you a table is a challenge; everyone moves very fast; the proliferation of shiny-haired people with babies can be daunting (as can the Borough Market crowds generally); and a bubble bap at Maria's inside the market is often a better option for the bug-eyed and dehydrated.

But this weekend, with my moon in the sign of can-do, I dragged dazed sweet cousin Annie off the couch at 9.30, shushing her confused mutterings with the promise of a perfect plate of Saturday morning sunshine.

The Brindisa breakfast menu only has a few things on it (most around £6), including chorizo, egg and chips for the meat-eaters and lavender honey on toast for the vegans. But there's really only one plate that matters, my heart having long ago been lost to a pile of deliciously fluffy, golden scrambled eggs with country toast, tomato, manchego cheese and wild mushrooms, accompanied by a cafe con leche that is better than most coffee in town. Annie was a little sceptical at first, likening her pile of mushrooms to the snake pit in Raiders of the Lost Ark, but she couldn't fault the flavour.

This weekend the eggy pile was as delectable as always, albeit a little smaller than usual. So I followed it with a rich, dark hot chocolate made with 70% solid Barcelona chocky. Sweet, dreamy love in a cup, it's so thick you'll need to spoon the ends out. If you get hooked on this or any of the other Spanish produce, you can buy most of it at the Brindisa stall in Borough Market.

And if you miss the 11am brekky deadline, no drama. Just go grazing in the market for a while then come back after noon when their tapas menu kicks in.

Thursday, 22 February 2007

Gong Xi Gong Xi Gong Xi Fa Cai! (part 3)

Sang Choi Bao (Lettuce Cups)

A few handfuls of dried shittake mushrooms
A few handfuls of dried black fungus
1 big can of whole water chestnuts
1 big can of liiiittle baby corn
2 iceberg lettuce
Peking duck sauce
Sesame seeds

Peel away the lettuce leaves, try and keep them intact. Wash and store in container in fridge.
Pour boiling water and a few splashes of soy sauce over mushrooms and fungus and leave overnight.

Chop all the ingredients to the same shape. Heat some oil in a frypan and throw everything in. Splash with soy sauce. Fry until heated through. Empty into a big bowl. Top with sesame oil and sesame seeds.

To serve:
Get the lettuce cups out of the fridge, place next to filling and peking duck sauce. Guests can now make their own by spooning a couple of tablespoons of mixture into the lettuce cup, topped with a spoon of sauce.

Wednesday, 21 February 2007

Gong Xi Gong Xi Gong Xi Fa Cai! (part 2)

The directive for Chew’s Chinese New Year feast was to bring a plate of Asian inspired deliciousness. Fusion! Brilliant! Me being no Iron Chef, I needed that sort of lateral thinking. And if it worked for Miles Davis…

I’ve always wanted to make chicory leaves stuffed with blue cheese the way they do at our Spanish local, Brindisa. I had most of the ingredients on the weekend... as well as rice paper sheets. Not only would this combination make for an interesting clash of textures, it'd be perfect for Chew's party. I was going to call them (con)fusion rolls. But then Confucian Rolls seemed more in keeping with the theme.

Confucian Rolls

What you need

Red and white chicory leaves
Blue cheese
Round rice paper sheets (I got them at a grocery in Chinatown)
Bowl of boiled water
A couple of slices of firm tofu
A tester (mine is called Adam)
Squeeze of lemon juice
Shredded lettuce

How it happens

I would recommend doing a few test rolls before cranking them out proper – to make sure your stuffing mix is right and the whole package is tasting a treat. This is where your tester comes in because if you try too many in a row you will be stuffed yourself.

Stuffing the Leaves

Wash the chicory, cut off its end bit, chuck out the skanky outer leaves and separate the rest. You want the leaves to be dry.
Mash up the blue cheese with some cream, dash of lemon juice, chives and pepper. I reckon sour cream could work too. How much cream? I just added little bits at a time until the mixture was smooth. When I first tried it the blue cheese was a little overpowering but I didn’t want to put too much cream in so I mashed the tofu in to thin out the flavour a bit. Up to you.

You don’t need a whole lot of the mixture in each – you want it to be a lovely little flavour burst contrasting with the crunch of the leaves rather than full on blue oozing out. I used one supermarket pack of cheese for nearly thirty rolls.
Lay the walnuts on an oven tray and toast them for a few minutes. Let them cool then crush them (not too fine).
Spoon some of the blue cheese mixture into each chicory leaf and sprinkle over a few walnut bits, then cover the stuffing with some shredded lettuce leaves.

Rolling it up

To prepare the rice paper, you need to drop the sheets into a bowl of boiling water. I do them one at a time. Leave it for a minute then scoop it out with a spoon or fork. Let the water evaporate, then flatten it on a plate. You want the sheet to have lost all its hardness but not be too sloppy. You’ll need to replenish your boiled water regularly – the sheets don’t get soft enough if the water has cooled.

Place the stuffed chicory and shredded lettuce onto the sheet and roll it up, folding the edges in early. The stickiness of the sheet means it will attach to itself and stay rolled in a neat little bundle. Some of the sheets will tear, fail to roll or end up looking like crap. Don’t worry, just start over with a new one. Or feed your tester.

This is a bit of a fiddly and time consuming plate to prepare, but if you haven't got any other party tricks this one's a surefire winner.

Tuesday, 20 February 2007

Gong Xi Gong Xi Gong Xi Fa Cai! (part 1)

Being 16913km from home means I can't celebrate the New Year in the usual way (hanging out at a relative's house, eating and drinking until my stomach splits, collecting some Ang Pao - red envelopes containing money - and then rolling home.) So I invited 25 of my nearest and dearest friends in London over for a feast so extravagant it put Empress Dowager Cixi's marble boat to shame.

Yu Sang (New Year salad)

For best results, use the mandolin shredding attachment on a food processor. It's fun and it will save you a lot of time.

What you need

1 daikon (chinese white radish), peeled
1 bag of organic carrots, washed
2 cucumbers
1 bag of crunchy noodles (in Australia, Chang's crunchy noodles - in London I think they are called flour noodles)
Fried shallots (available in all good Chinese grocers. I put these on EVERYTHING)
1 jar of japanese ginger (gari), drained - get the bright red ones in thin strips, not the light pink ones you get with sushi
a few big handfuls of roasted peanuts chopped
1 bunch of coriander, chopped
3 lemons or limes or a mixture of both
sesame seeds

for the dressing
equal parts of vegetable oil and asian sesame oil
add sugar to taste, mix with a fork and add more if needed
salt to taste
a few shakes of white pepper
a few shakes of five-spice powder
lemon juice

Run the daikon, carrots and cucumber through the food processor.
Place in separate containers and cover with water until close to serving time.
Drain ginger.

Later on...

Drain and squeeze out excess water from daikon, carrots and cucumber. On a big tray, arrange daikon, carrots, ginger, coriander, peanuts, sesame seeds and cucumber in an aesthetically pleasing fashion.
Right before serving time, get the packet of noodles and crush it. This is very satisfying.
Pour the broken noodles and fried shallots over the top.
Pour the dressing over the salad.

Now for the fun bit.
Armed with chopsticks, all your guests have to toss the salad together - the more frenzied the better!
Once the tossing frenzy has died down add a little more lemon or lime and sesame oil.

Serves about 25 people.

Monday, 19 February 2007

okonomi-yummy at abeno

I thought Chew had amazing telepathy when she texted me on Saturday to say she'd booked a table for us at Abeno, an okonomiyaki restaurant in Holborn. Then I remembered drunkenly telling her the night before how much I'd been craving 'one of those Japanese pancakey things.' Being far more cultured than I, Chew knew exactly where to get one.

At Abeno or its sister restaurant Abeno Too (Leicester Square), you can be fairly certain no angry chefs are spitting in your dinner: your meal is cooked on a hot plate at your table. This is highly educational -- it shows you just how simple this little plate of deliciousness is to prepare.

Every okonomiyake has a common base of egg, cabbage, flour, spring onions, ginger and tempura batter that you add your chosen flavour mix to (apparently the base differs regionally in Japan). I went for the Kiso Mix with seasonal mushrooms, lotus root and cheese (and boy was it okonomi-yummy). All the ingredients are whisked together and dumped on the hotplate, then cooked a la pancake and topped with mayo and okonomiyaki sauce. Yum scrum. The fishy types at our table added little tuna flakes to the top of their okonomiyake that reacted to the heat of the pancake by flitting around like butterflies. You could almost hear them scream.

Best of all was the ambience. Forget giving Graydon Carter's PA a happy ending for the best seat at Waverly Inn, there's nothing like the back table at Abeno (right by the toilets) to give you the feeling you've made it. If you're lucky, the air conditioning unit will be on the blink, dripping legionnaire's onto your plate. Oh stop with the glamour already! If for some crazy reason you'd prefer to pass on this opportunity, maybe ask for a front table when you book.

Oh, and don't miss the snow man for dessert... a gooey chocolate parcel with an ice-cream head and marzipan hat served with peaches and toffee.

Check out Abeno's site.

Sunday, 18 February 2007

Adam Dal Pozzo's pasta

Many of you have been asking for Adam Dal Pozzo's pasta recipe. Guess what! I stumbled across it in my notebook the other day - so here it is...

What you need
plain flour
milk (optional)
cling wrap

Pile a few big handfuls of flour onto a clean surface.
Make a well.
Crack 2 eggs into the well and cover with flour. With your fingertips, rub the eggs into the flour. Keep adding 1 egg at a time until the dough begins to bind.
Note: Keep the dough on the dry side. It will get stickier as it settles.
Roll the dough into a ball and wrap very tightly in cling wrap. Let it sit for 1 hour.
Now it is ready to be turned into the pasta of your choice.

If you are feeling lazy, or have weak hands you can also make this dough in a food processor.

Saturday, 17 February 2007

Chew made the london papers

And this time it wasn't on page three.

Check out this brilliant porky illustration she did for a Chinese New Year story published in thelondonpaper (their lack of spaces, not mine):

Ain't he a cutie? And in the spirit of the year of the oink, sharpen your chopsticks people -- there'll be lotsa tasty Asian treats to tempt everyone's porky bellies on Lily & Chew this week.

Today at Borough: Cooked Cheese heaven

I'll generally take melting dairy gooeyness any way it comes. But on a Saturday morning in SE1 there's only two that matter; and you'll find them both at the same Borough Market stall, in the Green Market right by Southwark Cathedral. They are the mouth watering raclette and its partner in cheesiness, a toasted sandwich boasting an international fan base. (There are a couple of posts about the stall's history here at Ripe London -- just scroll down).

Raclette is both the name of a type of cheese and its signature dish -- a plate piled with seasoned crushed potatoes and mini dill gherkins, then smothered with a thick layer of melted cheese. Traditionally, the fromage is heated in a metal contraption containing a grill with supports for two halves of a cheese wheel. These can be swung in turn to position them under a naked flame. Once the cheese is bubbling and crusty, it is scraped over your taters. (In French, racler means 'to scrape', hence raclette.)

It's bloody delicious and the smell of the larva-like cheese wafting across Borough's Green Market is so seductive you'll want to mainline the stuff by the time you actually sight it. Which is traumatising because there's often a long queue and then that painfully difficult decision -- raclette or sanga?

Next week, sandwich.

Add an avo to your day

Avocado on toast (ripped off from Cafe Gitane)

I can't go to Cafe Gitane everyday to enjoy this because, sadly, I don't live in New York. But I've tried my darndest to replicate it at home.

Toast some grainy bread.
Spread a generous amount of avocado on the toast.
Sprinkle some chilli flakes and Maldon sea salt on the avocado. Squeeze some lemon and drizzle some olive oil on top.

Thursday, 15 February 2007

love is creamy, part two

After the food-for-love post yesterday I didn’t think it would do to go home to left over curry for dins. So while Adam was at netball I schmaltzed it up in the kitchen. I’ve been wanting to try Dal Pozzo’s blue cheese and pumpkin ravioli since Chew posted it but didn’t know how to make the pasta. Then I found this idea for ravioli hearts at vegalicious.

It took ages to make. But it was a very yummy and loved up meal and definitely appreciated by the special one. (And the theme continued after dinner: we watched people’s hearts being ripped out in Apocalypto.)

For the pasta:
1 cup of semolina flour (thanks Pen for leaving some in my letter box!)
1/2 cup of water
2 teaspoons of olive oil
A pinch of salt

Personally, I’d up the quantities. This didn’t make much for two people. And mine looked nothing like those pictured on vegalicious, pasta press or not. (I think I got wholemeal semolina flour.)

For the filling:
Follow Dal Pozzo’s recipe (pumpkin, blue chees and rocket). It’s a delicious filling that saved my oddball ravioli, frankly. The quantities definitely made enough for the amount of pasta – I had too much so chucked it in the sauce.

For the sauce:
Baby spinach (wilted in butter, drained and chopped)
1/2 onion

How to do it:
Pasta: Mix the pasta ingredients to make a dough. Wrap it in a towel to sit for 1/2 an hour.
Filling: Remove the pumpkin’s skin, cut it into pieces and boil till cooked. Drain it and mash it together with the chopped blue cheese and rocket. Season.
Sauce: While you wilt the washed spinach on medium with some butter, dice the onion. When the spinach has shrunk to buggery, drain it and squash out any excess water. Let it cool and chop it all up.

Divide the pasta dough into quarters and roll them out. Vegalicious says to go real thin but be careful - one of mine split.
For your ravioli cases, if you have a nifty press you probably know how to do this far better than I and these instructions won’t be particularly useful other than to give you a laugh. If you don’t, draw a cutter guide on baking paper (hearts, letters, rude bits, whatever), lay it on your floured dough and cut around it.
I would trace a second guide, bigger than the first, for the top layer to accommodate your pumpkin bulge. Spoon the filling on the smaller one, then cover and seal the edges.

Cook the ravioli a couple at a time in boiling, salted water. I used a pan that wasn’t too deep so my fragile little parcels wouldn’t burst. It took at least ten minutes of cooking. They should rise to the surface when done but mine were kind of fat and slovenly.
Keep the cooked ones warm in a covered dish in a low oven (I sprinkled a little water on them so they didn’t dry out.)
For the sauce, saute the onion in olive oil until soft. Add the spinach and some cream and heat through.
Sit the ravioli on top of the sauce so your handiwork is displayed for all to admire. Serve with shaved parmesan.

Wednesday, 14 February 2007

who's a smart little pumpkin then?

The BBC says intelligent children are more likely to become vegetarians than, well, little meat heads.

Read the full report here.

Tuesday, 13 February 2007

A meatless Spag Bol a meat lover would love

Everyday at 1.40pm we go to the staff cafe to watch Neighbours. Sometimes we get our lunch from the canteen (always a cheap but regrettable decision), sometimes we bring it from home.

The other day Guy bought in some leftover Spag Bol, and I was instantly envious of his meal, but not so envious over the meat it contained.
I asked myself, "How long has it been since I had Spag Bol?".
The answer: Too long.

So here it is, my meatless take on the Italian classic.

2 big chopped onions
big splash of olive oil
1 packet of frozen soy protein or TVP prepared as per instructions on box
3 bay leaves
2 stock cubes ( I use Kallo veg)
Herbs (I used rosemary because I have some growing on my windowsill and I use it any chance I get. If you don't have fresh herbs, a few generous shakes of mixed herbs works fine too)
1 teaspoon sugar
about 2 tablespoons tomato paste

In a large pot, fry onion in the oil on medium heat.
Add the soy mince, stir, add half a cup of water. Stir.
Add everything else.
Turn the heat down as low as it will go - leave the lid off. The idea is to reduce it down for at least an hour. This will eliminate the weird cardboard flavour in the soy/TVP, and make the sauce thick, rich and tasty.
Taste it and stir every now and then. Add salt and pepper as you see fit.

Ladle onto your favourite pasta. I like thin spaghetti. Top with fresh herbs like parsley or basil. Add some toasted some pinenuts.
For the dairy tolerant: grate some Parmesan over the top

TIP: Tastes even better the next day!

Oozing and gooey, just like the other VD

Some people might think it no coincidence that Valentine’s Day and Venereal Disease share the same initials. Apart from the fact that they are equally horrible, both can mock us, drive us to despair or make us feel silly and hate people. It's easy to opt out of a commercial scam but I can't dismiss its sentiment altogether, this idea of expressing hope for love on a rainy day in February. There is but one heart-plumping answer: food.

Just read this lusty missive written by my friend Joan (who you can visit here):

Conjure luscious creaminess in your mouth along with Italian provenance and you may think of (no, not that) you may think of gelato. But forget that. For a truly scrumptious creamily mouth-coating oral experience, it has to be risotto.

Risotto: plump, warming, tongue pleasing and piquant. Good risotto is the reward of patience; the outcome of a relationship between the rice and the chef. The stirring of each granular pearl so that it becomes infused with butter, wine, stock and a medley of ingredients. Slowly cooked, it is a dish best eaten slowly, and in good company.

Risotto often presents as modest in appearance but, as mother said: don’t be fooled by appearances. The first forkful will seduce you and how sublime to know that satisfaction will assuredly follow.

What you need:
Arborio rice
An onion (or leek or shallots) and garlic
Ingredients of choice: just about anything goes in a risotto. For this one: mushrooms, green beans (or spinach), fresh sprigs of thyme, almonds (slivered) and lemon (one)
6 to 8 cups of veggie stock and white wine (one cup for the stock, one for you)
A very generous block of parmigiano reggiano
Patience: At least half an hour to cook alone, stirring always. It’s best to have music and a glass of wine by your side at all times.

How it goes:
Heat the stock and wine together to just simmering and leave it that way
Finely chop your onion (or leek or shallots) and garlic and soften them in olive oil over medium heat (add a little butter if you like)
After a few minutes add your thyme and arborio rice (1/2 to 3/4 of a cup for two) and stir it so that it is coated in oil and starting to go transluscent. Do not let it brown or burn – death to risotto if you do.
Add grated lemon rind, slivered almonds and a squeeze of lemon juice. (If you had long cooking veggies, e.g. pumpkin, now would be the time to add them.)
Ladle in a cup of liquid – or enough to cover the rice.
When there is more mush than liquid, add more stock. Repeat for 10-15 minutes.
Add your softer chopped veggies (mushrooms, tomato, beans or asparagus) and keep doing the stock thing.
After another 5 or 10 minutes the rice isn’t really absorbing much liquid anymore. Try a granule to make sure it is firm but not chewy.
When it’s good, add a handful of grated parmesan, some pepper and a couple of tablespons of butter.
Stir rapidly to mix everything together and get it extra creamy.
Turn off the heat and let the risotto sit for a few minutes before serving. Sprinkle with shaved parmesan and cracked pepper.
Eat naked by candlelight and lick away any spills.
That’s amore.

And who better to opine about having love on your side than Dusty Springfield...

Dusty Springfield - Just A Little Lovin' mp3 download
Dusty Springfield - Breakfast In Bed mp3 download

Ah Ma's Pink Potato Salad

The lead up to Chinese New Year has got me thinking food, food, FOOD.
And I guess family fits in there somewhere too. This is a dish my grandma used to make, it's an old family recipe - does that give it more credibility? I guess it does.

Cubed potatoes - boiled (desiree or a waxy variety will have a nicer texture and not turn to mush)

1 can of baby beets cut to same size as potatoes

Cucumber (again, cut to same size)

Mayonnaise or Soy mayo (lots)

Chopped spring onions

Egg (optional)

Mix together carefully. And that's it!

Monday, 12 February 2007

Food ain't free

I had this idea to record everything me and the fella spent on food and booze in a week. I am now realising this endeavour is about as fascinating as gluing sawdust chips together to make a new tree. Scintilating insights include the fact that I have an affection for carrot juice and we make lunch at home like good little school kids. But I said I would so here's how it went down. (Scuffs foot on floor, grumbling. It's a very monday monday.)

Saturday: I would've guessed our weekly market shop cost £40 tops. The total was closer to £60 (fruit, veg, tofu, cheeses, eggs, pasta, quiche, bread, olives etc). The most stupidly expensive thing was 2 smoothies for £7 (we were toisty.)

Sunday: We took a train to Brighton to visit sweet cousin Annie. Our happy afternoon included a massive nut and veggie roast and the discovery of a delicious mixed fruit cider from Poland. £60 in all (£45 on booze.)

Monday: Never. Drink. Mixed. Fruit. Cider. From. Poland. Hurts head. Carrot juice for brekkie (£1.20). After work I craved gooey risotto. Went to Tesco for arborio rice and left with a lot of unnecessary shite after two laps of the supermarket, unable to locate the rice (and it wasn't just me, a frazzled bloke stopped me at one point looking for sugar.) £12.90.

Tuesday: £2.60 on juice and coffee. £4.50 on beers to take to Chew's place. She kindly shouted take-away din dins.

Wednesday: Stop press. Nando's sucks arse. Went for a work lunch and the bastards took nearly an hour to make my stupid bean pita. Despite the vegetarian tokenism, it's not even cheap to eat in their shitty glorified KFC. One of the tough chicks I work with made them give me my money back. Free lunch. Adam spent £10 on groceries.

Thursday: After a LONG day at work, I went to the pub. No food and five hours later, down £50. Not sure of the nutritional value of a raspberry mojito but I felt surprisingly OK Friday.

Friday: Lazy 'make nothing' day. Brekkie cost £4.40 (a lot of juice and water), lunch £4.50 and a rather expensive pizza for dinner set us back £14.

Total: £225 (roughly)
Around £16 each per day

We got off pretty light, actually, with no gigs or dinners out. The market shop is still my hero given it made up most meals both at home and work, and we used pretty much all of it by week's end. If a week this dull still set us back over £100 each then, yes, London is a very expensive place to eat.

Saturday, 10 February 2007

Ugliest root ever

My plan to make leek and potato soup went tits up this arvo when I realised I only had one spud for about 6 leeks. Reinforcement came in the form of celeriac, a root vegetable that looks like a gnarly earth tumour.

As is often the case in life, a festering pikey by appearance can mask a delicate heart. And this is true of the celeriac, which has quite a subtle flavour. It resembles its stalky cousin, celery, but with a lot more personality (especially when teamed with other veggies.)

Combined with the leek, it gave the soup a slightly tangy flavour and it creamed up a treat with the spud. If you're going for a traditional potato and leek, you might not dig the citrusy effect. But for something a little different, I reckon it works.

What I used
A bunch of medium sized leeks
One large potato
One large celeriac
A veggie stock cube (I use the organic marigold cubes)

Making it
Slice the leek and garlic and soften in olive oil in your soup pan on med/low (keep the lid on so the leeks don't dry or brown -- add a little water if necessary)
Peel the potato and celeriac and chop into cubes
Add them to the softened leek and let them fry up together for a bit
Pour in enough stock to reach the top veggies without drowning them
Cover and simmer until soft -- preferably the potatoes disintegrate when pushed and the celeriac is squishy
Wizz until it's thick and creamy

Friday, 9 February 2007

Blog of the week: Vegas and Food

"I'm a Japanese girl who loves vegas and food. This blog is all about vegas trip with my husband and all the food and rooms we get for free."

In a just world, Vegas and Food's single word reviews would make or break casino kitchens. Within minutes of a lukewarm verdict on jumbo lump crab cakes ("so so"), the cooks at Ceaser's Palace would hang up their paper aprons, pack away their plastic steak knives and go back to manning chicken shop counters on the strip. The blog's massive catalogue of photos would become essential study material for anyone training in Buffet Presentation. And ten little words would strike fear into the heart of any self-respecting burger flipper: "I would never pay my own money for those shit!"

How could Treasure Island's room service get it so wrong?

(Vegetarians be warned: visit the Mirage Carnegie Deli page at your peril. Their Woody Allen is not only more shameless, tasteless and stomach churning than the original, the pictures of it will make you spew.)

Visit Vegas and Food

speedy tofu and mushies

Tofu might not be the kind of thing that gets you salivating in anticipation (unless you are a dirty hippy). But my current comfort food of choice is a plate of marinated tofu and mushrooms. Perfect for a bleh monday.

How it's done
Cover thick slabs of tofu with balsamic vinegar and soy sauce (I think the quality of tofu makes all the difference and mr tofu at Borough market does it best.)
Cut fat slices of portobello mushrooms and fry them in hot olive oil so they brown and keep their juiciness.
Season the mushies. When they are tender, add the tofu to the pan and sear on both sides so it gets a bit crusty.
Pour over the marinade and let it caramelise, turning the tofu once.

Ah, happiness.

A recipe from Adam Dal Pozzo

The Hard-living Vigina has been busy writing some recipes for our new blog. I will post these over the coming weeks so watch this space!

I have had the privilege of sampling this particular plate of deliciousness. I strongly urge you to make it NOW.

Simple GIANT Ravioli

filling: 1/2 kg cooked Japanese pumpkin (just boil it)
75g blue cheese
75g rocket (chopped)
salt and pepper

mix all ingredients and place in the pasta and make ravioli
(I used fresh lasagne sheets)

sauce: cream and fresh grated Parmesan. (cooked in a saucepan)

Thursday, 8 February 2007

When eggs get too eggy on a Sunday morn...

...try some scrambled tofu

Serves 2
What you need
1 tub of tofu from the Tofu dude at Borough market
1/2 an onion
a few sundried tomatoes
Veg stock cube (I use the green organic Kallo ones, if in Australia the Massel ones)

Roughly mash 1 packet of firm tofu in a bowl, keeping the tofu in large chunks.
Chop half an onion.
In a frying pan, fry the onion in some oil on med/high heat, add tofu and a few chopped sundried tomatoes.
Dissolve a veg stock cube in 3/4 cup of boiling water. pour stock onto tofu. Sprinkle some turmeric into the pan. Don't go too crazy otherwise your teeth will resemble a heavy smoker's.
Turn up the heat, fry and stir the mixture until the liquid has evaporated. Be careful not to break up the tofu too much, otherwise it will resemble spew.
Once the liquid has left the frypan, add some chopped spring onions or chives and stir through.
For the dairy tolerant - grate some good tasty cheese and stir through.
Serve with your favourite brekkie trimmings and lots of freshly ground black pepper.

What does it cost to eat in London?

Saturday is magic in my little world and not just for extra sleep. No matter the hangover or weather, we womble down to the end of the street round midday with our shopping baskets to buy pretty much all our weekly groceries at Borough Market.

It is an incredible place, a food mecca with so many varieties of mushroom it can goggle your brain. We knee through the crowds to pretty much the same stalls every Saturday -- geeky mr tofu, crazy stilton woman, giddy mushroom dip girl, old-skool one-pound-a-bowl man, the droopy eyed French cheesemongers and an eccentric veggie farmer who mans his stall with cute'n'earthy young lasses.

After gawking at strangely arranged dead animals, scoffing a million cheese samples and stopping at the wine bar to read the papers, we roll home with our bags and bellies full. It's as enjoyable as shopping can get, our haul is cheap and it keeps us fed for ages... at least this is my standard line. It's probably a lie. I don't budget, I just make it up -- backed by a slightly pathalogical habit of convincing myself that everything I buy really cost at least 10% less.

So this week I'm taking notes on every pound and penny two of us spend on food. I don't anticipate any dinners at The Ritz, just day to day gob stuffing. Most painfully, booze is included. Results on the weekend. Argh.

I know it's wrong but I can't help looking.

Tuesday, 6 February 2007

A happy holiday brekkie for five people you love.

During my last trip home, the gang and I enjoyed the tranquil surrounds of Wilson's Prom.
Laura and Lisa fussed over a delicious Roast Veg and Polenta stack with balsamic gizz, rosellas pecked at Adam and Will's pasta sheets as they dried on the veranda railing. Ollie skillfully applied bronzer to my face, and I made Corn Fritters with Avocado Salsa and Rocket.

What you need:
2 to 3 corn cobs or 2 tins of good canned corn (Don't get the cheap stuff. Pay the extra p's)
1 or 2 eggs
plain flour
salt and pepper
chopped spring onions or chives

Shave the corn from the cob into a big bowl (or drain the canned corn).
Break the eggs into the bowl and razz it with a fork. Splash a bit of milk or soy milk into the mix.
Add spring onions and salt and pepper.
Sprinkle some flour into the mixture. Mix well. Keep adding flour and soy milk, mixing until it's all battery. It shouldn't be too thick or too runny.
Heat a frypan, when hot, add a splash of oil.
Add two tablespoons of the mixture to the pan and shape roughly into a round - make them too big and you'll find the flipping manoeuvre difficult.
Repeat, but don't overcrowd the pan. Turn down to a medium heat. After a little while, flip the fritters and cook the other side.
Keep warm on a plate in an oven on low heat.

While all this is going on, cube a couple of avocados into a bowl. Cut open some tomatoes, scoop out the pips and slimey bits. Chop, and add to the cubed avo. Rip up a big handful of basil leaves and throw them in too.
Mix gently with a fork. Squeeze a lemon over the mixture and some salt and pepper. (If you don't have lemon, balsamic is also good)

Serve the salsa on or next to the fritters with a handful of rocket.

Some other things you can throw on the plate:
Cooked baby spinach
A dollop of sour cream
a few teaspoons of pesto

Eat whilst comtemplating Oliver's ponytail, and listening to the sound of crashing waves.

Saturday, 3 February 2007

beet me, beet me

Adam and I were in Berlin for New Year and one of the yummiest parts was the fact that, wherever we went, we could grab an instant hit of nourishing love for around 2 euros a bowl. But try and tempt Londoners with beetroot soup and you can't give it away. I know. I've attempted to share my lunch at work. People look at me like I'm offering them the carcass of their pet cat in a bowl of warm piss.
But back to Berlin. We stayed with our mate Hugo and he kept a massive pot of beetroot soup refrigerating on the balcony alongside a couple of slabs of beer. Whenever we needed a bowl of sweet beet warmth he'd drag the pot inside and throw it on the stove. It's the simplicity of it that I love, that and the bloody redness. And it costs bugger all to make.

I make it the way Hugo did, with mountains of freshly ground pepper, then leave it sitting on the stove for a few days and just keep reheating it till it's done.

What you need for about 4 bowls:
A medium to large onion
Thyme sprigs
Bay Leaves (What do they do exactly? And is it possible for them to stop working if you've had them too long? I have often wondered this upon reaching for a bag that has been in my cupboard for months... and months)
Veggie stock
One large (or half a dozen small) beetroots
Same for potatoes
A few carrots
Undrinkeable red wine (no point wasting booze you can use)

Making it:
Peel the beetroots and admire your bloody looking hands.
Chop all the veggies into mouth-manageable sizes.
Using your soup pan, soften the chopped onion in olive oil on a low heat (Don’t be tight with the oil.)
Chuck in a bay leaf or two and let them work their inexplicable magic.
Pour in some red wine if you fancy, and reduce it. It adds a little something but is not essential.
Throw in the veggies and stir fry them for a good five minutes.
Add shitloads of pepper, a little salt and some sprigs of thyme.
Pour in your stock.
Bring it to the boil then simmer it as long as you like (an hour at the very least.)

After about the third reheat there’s virtually no colour left in the beetroots. But I love the way they keep their firmness while the carrots and potatoes go soft. If I run out of liquid, I just add more water, a bit of wine and maybe a little vegemite.

I just ate a bowl while I was writing this and I am full of beety warmth. Plus I was listening to a sunny Lionel Hampton song that I'm sharing below because it was such a lovely accompaniement to the sweet, red beets. Beats for beets. Ha ha.

Lionel Hampton - On the Sunny Side of the Street mp3 download

Thursday, 1 February 2007

Lily & Chew: cooking with gas

Hey hey. We're Lily and Chew and this blog will chart our culinary travels big and small - and perhaps yours too if you want to share. Please feel free to point out any misguided advice: we don't really claim to know what we're doing in the kitchen, we just like being there. Happy feasting.