Thursday, 31 January 2013

Detox January - A Cooks: Beetroot and Cucumber Salad

Sometimes, even the simplest dishes are the best. And a simple dish requires a simple post, so here we are: if you're after a good, easy and healthy side, give A's Beetroot and Cucumber Salad a try.

Ingredients are, as you may imagine, simple: prepare beetroot, tomatoes, red bell peppers, cucumber, lettuce, mustard and a dash of za'atar and throw it all together. Serve with a mustard vinaigrette dressing.

And you're done!

Simple. Unpretentious. Delicious, and an almost daily side dish in A's house.

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Detox January - C Cooks: Middle Eastern Chicken, Ginger, Apricot and Pomegranate Stew

Life for A and C has been pretty hectic lately. A's working on a few big deals and has been gallivanting around the world on business trips (six course tasting menus in fancy French restaurants - it's a hard life) and C's taken on the challenge of juggling a handful of clients at a time for a few weeks, which was rather a brave choice in hindsight. It's been snowy and cold here in London, and along with work A and C have had a few other preoccupations this month - flat moves and the like. It's left them both seeking comfort food.

Something seedy going on here

When the snow came down quickly last week, C found herself pretty much stranded in central London - the trains out to her place in Surrey were all cancelled, and she sought refuge by working from 'home' for a couple of days at A's flat.

Knowing that A was getting thrashed at work with the deals he's working on, C decided to take advantage of having some time around the flat before he got in from work to make them a comforting dinner for a Monday night. It's rare that A takes the time to eat a 'proper' meal on weekday evenings with his hours, and she wanted to make sure that they were both getting something warming, healthy and hearty to steel them for the rest of the week.

In a stew over dinner

Turning, as ever, to the Middle East, she made a Chicken, Ginger, Apricot and Pomegranate Stew - which she's pleased to say went down very well. It ticked all the boxes in terms of taste, consistency and heartiness (and colour!), and the best thing is that it's ready in under an hour, so is perfect for during the week.

Friday, 18 January 2013

Staycation III - 19 Numara Bos Cirrik 2 - Stoke Newington

Our trip to Eastern Anatolia last summer left both of us firm fans of Turkish cuisine - especially C, who'd never been to the country before and hadn't experienced much beyond a greasy kebab in at the end of a night out. After a few weeks backpacking around the country, we soon both had our favourite dishes - some of which we've written about before in our posts on Turkish breakfasts, tea, Turkish delight (lokum) and baklava.

Since our return from Turkey, we'd tried to source some of the cuisine back in London. We wolfed through boxes of Karaköy Güllüoğlu lokum A had hauled back as his hand luggage and we'd gone through a fair amount of Turkish tea in the samovar we'd brought back from Istanbul. Perhaps our biggest triumph so far was C's discovery of a Turkish supermarket in the darkest depths of West Croydon: there were almost squeals of delight when she discovered fresh Ayran - a salty yoghurt drink A is particularly fond of - and her beloved sweet "şeftali" peach juice in a can (the Turkish do it better than anyone else!).

Despite all this, though, we hadn't eaten proper Turkish food since our return almost six months ago. When A suggested a trip up to Stoke Newington to explore one of the many Turkish restaurants there during our recent "staycation", C jumped at the idea - and so they stumbled upon the rather clumsily named 19 Numara Bos Cirrik 2.

19 Numara Bos Cirrik 2 might have a difficult name, but dining here is incredibly easy. The place is pleasingly busy on a week night - and one would imagine bustling at the weekend - and the food is authentic and reasonably priced. It's certainly a good bet.

We went a bit all out with the food: our eyes were definitely bigger than our stomachs (a common occurence for C) and we were soon struggling with the generous portions.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Detox January - C Cooks: Tabbouleh with a Lemon Dressing

Salads: let's face it, for the majority of non-foodies out there, they're hardly exciting. While A and C both love salads, we know that a lot of our friends think of eating them as a healthy chore rather than a pleasure - and we can understand that, if the salad in question is a bowl of dry lettuce leaves with a few tomatoes and no dressing (as is all too often served up in the UK).

However, make a salad interesting - and by that we mean mixing up the ingredients, adding a few unusual twists and pairing it with a tasty dressing - and what could be a chore becomes a really satisfying and refreshing bowl of food.

In-keeping with A and C's health kick this January, we've been eating a lot of salads. As usual with us, there's one type of cuisine we keep coming back to again and again for food inspiration: Middle Eastern. Along with a delicious Persian salad (more on that another time), our other firm favourite is Tabbouleh - a Levantine Arab salad bursting with colour and flavour.

Tabbouleh is traditionally served up with mezze all across the Arab world, and there are plenty of variations of it around - in countries such as Syria, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Israel, Turkey, Armenia and Cyprus.

There are hundreds of Tabbouleh recipes, all just slightly different; honestly, it's a case of trial and error to find the one that you like best, but the brilliant thing about this salad is that you won't really go wrong with whichever variation you choose.

Monday, 14 January 2013

Detox January - A Cooks: Country Vegetable Soup

We've both been on a bit of a health kick since New Year's Day: after an excess of booze and roast dinners in December, our bodies, souls and bank balances have been in need of some repair, so we've been turning to tried and and tested detox recipes and money-saving ways to feed ourselves on weeknights. Part of the process is, almost inevitably, vegetable soup. A rustled up a batch for himself last week, but had so much that he enlisted the help of C and N to assist in polishing it off, and the two gratefully obliged.

While we showcase a lot of recipes on the blog, this time A didn't follow anything from a book. Rather taking things into his own hands, A had a bash at making something on the back of what he could find in the supermarket on the day.

A came back from a local supermarket armed with a bag of oddly sized budget parsnips, a few loose carrots, a couple of leeks and an onion. There was no particular magic to choosing these vegetables; they just happened to be plentiful, fresh and in stock. Depending on the season, you could also use squash, pumpkin, fresh peas, watercress, or anything else that takes your fancy. The vegetables were chopped into large chunks and lobbed into a saucepan with a couple of litres of water and a chicken stock cube, brought to the boil and simmered for about 25 minutes until soft. Once the vegetables were done, A got out the hand blender and blitzed until smooth.

Friday, 11 January 2013

A & C Cook: Yorkshire Puddings

Yorkshire puddings are one of C's all-time favourite foods - it's the stodgy and crispy, yet soft and light, consistency that really appeals to her. For the uninitiated, Yorkshire puddings are made from batter (unsurprisingly, given that they're also known as "batter puddings") and are said to originate from the northern English county of Yorkshire, although apparently there's no real evidence to support this claim. In any case, they prove very popular in Yorkshire - and indeed, in the rest of England - and are almost always served up with traditional British Sunday roast dinners.

Finished mini yorkshires

When A and C cooked Christmas dinner for C's family this year, the general consensus meant that roast beef replaced the traditional turkey on the menu. With batter puddings traditionally served up as an accompaniment to beef (and along with roast potatoes, vegetables, stuffing and so on), we seized the opportunity to try making our own. Having never attempted them before, C's family did warn against this risky strategy on Christmas Day and suggested relying on the mass produced variety which were sitting in the freezer. Luckily, however, our Yorkshires were a huge success, and were met with murmurs of satisfaction at the dinner table.

While we'd like to suggest that our success was due to our cooking abilities, we're willing to concede that it was probably the recipe that made all the difference: we used the ever-reliable Delia Smith. With relatively little effort, we produced puffy, light, soft Yorkshires that were brown and crisp at the top - and went down a treat.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Detox January - C Cooks: Lebanese Stuffed Bell Peppers with Minted Rice, Tomatoes, Herbs & Lime Dressing

Detox January isn't just limited to European cuisine; as ever with us, Middle Eastern food makes an appearance too. A kindly gifted C a brilliant Lebanese cookbook for Christmas and now that the festive season is over with, she's been itching to try out some of the recipes.

While the dishes all look and sound delicious, on the whole they're hardly light in calorie content. However, a quick look through the vegetable, mezze and salad sections soon presented C with a few healthier options for a light dinner.

Along with a Tabbouleh - a quick, easy and delicious kind of salad, which we'll post about anon - C served up Stuffed Bell Peppers with Minted Rice, Tomatoes, Herbs and a Lime and Garlic Dressing for herself and her friend T (aforementioned on the blog). It was every bit as good as it sounds: full of flavour, spices, herbs and tang.

Get stuffed!

Stuffed peppers are pretty common in Lebanese cooking. While they're often stuffed with lamb, this version is purely vegetarian and calls for a filling of minted rice, peas, rocket, cayenne pepper and lemon juice, which thankfully is considerably lighter on the calorie count than a serving of red meat.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Detox January - An Apologia

It's January, and articles about diets abound. Some portray the January detox in a good light, but others are more scathing. On Monday, for example, Word of Mouth was prophesying the inevitable failure of the January diet in a piece that caught A's eye. We don't usually write opinion pieces on Slightly Peckish, but A (who is the I in this particular post) decided to submit Word of Mouth's assertions to a bit of scrutiny to see if the claims stacked up.

If you've not read Word of Mouth's post, here's the speed read.

Don't bother dieting in January, for the following reasons:
  1. Necessity: it's winter and you need the extra calories
  2. Leftovers: you should have loads in your larder from Christmas
  3. Cost: dieting is both economically and environmentally expensive
  4. (Implicit) difficulty: losing weight is hard
Sadly, it appears that Word of Mouth's experiences of losing weight are mainly restricted to weird fad diets such as the "Detox Diet", the "5:2 Diet", the "Nordic Diet" and the downright scary "Cabbage Soup Diet". Not all weight loss regimes are about bizarre strictures on what you can and can't eat.

After asking my brother Doctor K about this, it appears that weight loss is more or less a simple formula: burn more than you consume and you lose weight; consume more than you burn, and you gain. This being the case, dieting doesn't have to be about Atkins or Dukan: a successful "diet" might be as simple as taking a teaspoon of sugar out of your tea and walking to the station rather than taking the bus.

Now, on to the arguments.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Detox January - Pulled Pork Sandwiches Two Ways

We are on a bit of a health kick at the moment - A in particular, as he's worried about the couple of pounds of Christmas paunch that went on as a result of a couple of weeks of good food and booze.

Consequently, A isn't drinking for January (though this isn't so hard as he isn't a huge drinker anyway), and is looking for ways to eat a bit more healthily to complement a slightly increased exercise regime. Imagine the joy therefore when C pointed out that the pulled pork ham hock sold as part of the "Cooks Ingredients" range in Waitrose contained only 123 calories per portion, and had a low salt and fat content. A almost jumped for joy after a week of vegetables.

As it was late and both A and C were starving, A suggested using the pulled pork, along with other things, for sandwiches. However, we couldn't reach a consensus on how exactly to make them, so other than ciabatta and pulled pork, we went our separate ways on the fillings. The results were two completely different offerings: one more American than the other, but both delicious.

Monday, 7 January 2013

Staycation II - Kahve Dünyası - Piccadilly

Amid the Boxing Day sales and in the middle of the aforementioned "staycation", A and C decided to head to Oxford Street (brave or stupid - we're not sure). After picking up a few bargains, we ended up feeling so stressed with the masses of slow-walking shoppers that we needed to retreat to somewhere quieter.

Wandering down towards Embankment, we stopped in our tracks on Piccadilly when we saw Kahve Dünyası - a new venture that's just opened its first store in London. Immediately drawn to the obviously Turkish name, A commented that he thought he'd seen a branch or two in Istanbul and Ankara while we were travelling around Turkey last year. A quick Google search showed that his hunches were right - there are something like 100 branches just in Istanbul alone (C then felt a bit silly for not having noticed any).

After success in Turkey, Kahve Dünyası picked London as its first location outside its native country: a privilege for Londoners, for sure. Located centrally on Piccadilly, it looks a little like a French patisserie from outside - glass windows show cabinets full of fresh handmade chocolate truffles, marzipan, macarons and little chocolate statues, as well as other indulgences like a creperie, ice cream parlour and gooey chocolate fondues. Inside, it's large and modern, with wooden floors and bright lighting; in its design, it's actually quite reminiscent of many of the modern cafes you find in Istanbul.

It may seem a whole lot like a French patisserie (we suspect a deliberate attempt to appeal to the London masses, as we doubt how many macarons you're likely to find on the menu in Ankara) but glimmers of the strong Turkish influence are visible here if you know what you're looking for.

First off, the drinks menu: Turkish coffee sits proudly amidst the other beverages, and after sampling it A has declared it undeniably the best he's had outside of Turkey itself. The flavour of the blend here is exceptionally smooth, and they make the coffee properly: you will find all the grinds at the bottom of the cup, rather than floating in the drink itself. Sadly, the latter is all too common in London, as A found out later on in the staycation. For keen home brewers of Turkish coffee, they sell coffee and coffee sets here too, and they're stacked up around the place doubling up as authentic decor.

There are other Turkish influences on the menu here too, albeit a little more discreet: there's a type of Turkish delight available, and mastic flavour ice cream is quite prominent (for the uninitiated, mastic is huge in Turkey, being one of the most popular flavours of Turkish delight and is also used to flavour milk pudding and other desserts).

For the most part, though, this place does double up as a French-Turkish patisserie, which suits A and C very well. While A sipped on his Turkish coffee, C opted for a banana hot chocolate milkshake, which to her delight (there might have been a squeal) came with a chocolate spoon. The idea is that you stir the hot chocolate with it, and then as it melts let it drop into the drink. As you can imagine, the end result is an extremely indulgent, rich hot chocolate - absolute perfection for someone with as big a sweet tooth as C.

To eat, A and C both opted for a couple of macarons: we hadn't planned to eat anything as we were going out to dinner later, but they looked just too good to resist. We might have ended up having a couple each: between us, we tried apricot, coffee, lemon and rose, and all were excellent. Pushed for a favourite, we both agree that apricot is the hottest tip in town.

If you're around Piccadilly - or, honestly, if you're anywhere around central London (this place is good enough to make a journey for) - pop into Kahve Dünyası. Whether you opt for French viennoiserie or Turkish coffee, you'll be in for a brilliantly indulgent treat, and you'll want to come back for more pretty quickly. Trust us: we've been twice in a week.

Friday, 4 January 2013

Staycation I - Baker and Spice - Chelsea

We were on "Staycation" in London over Christmas. Essentially, this is a holiday which you do without leaving home: Londoners are always so keen to run away from town that they never get to enjoy London itself. We decided that we'd buck the trend and stick around between Christmas and New Year but take time off work, eat out, visit exhibitions, make theatre trips and generally enjoy one of the world's great tourist destinations as tourists, all from the comfort of A's Docklands flat.

As part of this experience, we went to the Middle Eastern photography exhibition at V&A in South Kensington, and after we'd spent a couple of hours wandering around the museum, we headed off into the heart of Chelsea to the delicious Baker and Spice for a cup of tea and a cake.

Baker and Spice is what the French who inhabit the area would call a "traiteur" and café. You can get cakes, biscuits, salads and light bites, and eat it either at your own table, at a large communal one or take it away. We weren't that hungry so we confined ourselves to a snack, but the stuff in the chiller cabinets looked brilliant.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

A & C Taste Test: Jamie's Christmas Puddings

Just in time for Christmas, we received a couple of puddings from the new Jamie Oliver Christmas range from Boots to taste test. A, in particular, has a real soft spot for Christmas puddings, so we were pleased to try them out for ourselves.

We got a couple of puds sent to us, and following a raucous New Year's Eve bash at A's flat with his flatmate N and some of their friends, A, C and N tucked into both as a rather late hangover cure. Happily they really worked a treat in this respect and we felt all the better for some warming pudding after spending a few hours cleaning up the debris.

To make this nice and simple, we've each given the two puds "scores on the doors" out of five in three categories: taste, texture and festive appeal.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Mamounia Lounge

It's no secret that Middle Eastern cuisine is our mutual favourite, and as such we're always after new and interesting places to eat the stuff around London. C in particular is a huge fan of Lebanese food, but it had been a fair while since we'd eaten it - since our 'romantic dinner date', in fact, dining off formica on the Edgware Road back in summer 2012.

When we received an invitation to pop down to Knightsbridge's new Lebanese and Moroccan restaurant Mamounia Lounge, then, we jumped at the chance. A mix of the two cuisines on the menu looked sure to please both A and C, and our hopes were high for an altogether more romantic dining experience than our previous encounter with Lebanese food in London.