Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Toad in the Hole, or REAL MAN FOOD!

C's school friend C and her boyfriend M (who are one of the more regular couples who feature on Slightly Peckish) came over a while ago for a meal. M is an Aussie, and while A and C are not the types to pander to national stereotypes, we do know that M is partial to a meal which features meat. Fortunately, A happens to be the proud owner of the Ginger Pig Meat Book.  This does what it says on the tin, and tells the reader lots and lots about meat: how it's cut, how its cured, what time of year to eat certain types of meat and most importantly how to cook it when it's in season.


One of the April specials was toad in the hole. Though we did this in May, it was the first bank holiday weekend and April was only just finished so we decided that it was sufficiently seasonal to have bash at making them.  We are glad we did: the results were great.

Uncooked toads
This recipe is simple, but it really pimps up the toads. Instead of using sausages on their own, you take a chicken breast, score it deeply, push a sausage into the cavity and then hold the sausage in place with bacon. The recipe says just about any sausages will do, but we had some fairly good quality lincolnshire ones which we held in place with dry cure bacon. You then bake the toads for a bit until they are beginning to cook through.

Batter added at the part cooked stage

While the toads are beginning to cook, make a simple batter with milk, eggs and flour - and this you pour over the toads and leave them to cook until the batter has risen and is beginning to go crispy, and the chicken and pork is cooked all the way through. We found this took about an hour on about 180C.

The final result

The results were great, especially when served up with a bit of mash, some onion gravy and a side salad. While not hugely technical for a dinner party, it made for a very satisfying supper and there were approving noises made all round. We would whole-heartedly recommend this as a filling simple Sunday lunch or a weeknight supper - and given that the ingredients are all fridge and storecupboard staples, it won't break the bank either.

Friday, 17 May 2013

Honey & Co

A hadn't met up with his friend R for ages, and after a trying and failing to fix a date for a while, they finally met up in the West End a couple of weeks ago.  After shooting the breeze over a mug of coffee in a café towards the top end of Tottenham Court Road, the two of them headed off for a spot of lunch at the hyper-trendy Honey & Co, a place which despite its tiny size, is making big waves amongst the London foodie community.


Honey & Co is a Middle Eastern café run by an Israeli couple Sarit and Itamar, who have returned to their roots after spending some times working in some fairly fancy London establishments. The couple live to eat and adore making the food of their childhood, and this comes across in the food. The menu is not the widest, but it's carefully constructed and absolutely delicious.



A and R, it turns out, have pretty similar tastes in food and they ended up ordering identically. To start, they ordered the mixed mezze platter to share. The platter was a pretty varied lot: a tabouleh salad, labnah cheese, marinated carrots, hummus, a couple of fritters olives and a few bits of pitta bread. The flavours on the platter were nothing short of incredible. To go through a few of the highlights, the carrots were shot through with a pungent blend of spices and a little chilli kick, which was absolutely great and the labnah was light and creamy and jazzed up with with a really lively zat'ar. The star of the show though had to be the hummus, which A reckons could be just about the best he'd ever tasted. Perfectly smooth, bursting with chickpea and sesame flavours and wonderfully aromatic, he's barely shut up about it since.


For main, three lamb koftas with aubergine purée and white bean salad arrived. Like the main, the textures and flavours of this dish were great. The meatballs were beautifully soft and moist, and practically melted in the mouth. The accompanying vegetables were also extremely tasty, and the the texture combinations worked really well. Both A and R were extremely complimentary about the dish (after the silence which fell while they actually ate the food!)



A and R ordered a refreshing mint tea, and chattered over it for a while. As we'd booked for a particularly late sitting (the place is tiny so they keep you to a fairly strict timetable most of the time), we were able to keep the table and soak in the atmosphere. When there, the place was full of Israeli families out for noisy lunches, which only added to the authenticity of the place.



While the food was excellent, there are a couple of areas for improvement. First, A was a bit disappointed at the amount of bread that came with the starter: four wedges of pitta was inadequate for the quantity of spreads, and it was annoying that the establishment charged a quid for an extra serving.

A was also surprised at the length of time it took for the bill to arrive: A and R waited at least 30 minutes for the waitress to come over with the credit card machine. Given that the place has half a dozen tables, this was an excessively long wait, especially given that most restaurants with this few tables actually want you to pay so they can free up the table space for other customers.

Overall though, these are minor gripes. The food at this place is absolutely outstanding and A recommends a visit. Just make sure to book as Honey and Co is one of the area's worst kept secrets!

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Seasonal Stuff: One-Pan Salmon with Roast Asparagus, Tomatoes and New Potatoes

Asparagus season might be short, but it's definitely worth the wait. Taking place from May-June each year in the UK, C decided to make the most of the perfect timing and cook a dish with what is definitely one of her favourite vegetables.


With old friend T (aforementioned now several times on the blog, most recently here) popping over for a chilled-out dinner and glass of wine mid-week, C wanted to cook something comforting, seasonal, simple and healthy. She thought she'd find a recipe to tick all the aforementioned boxes, and chanced upon this fantastic One-Pan Salmon with Roast Asparagus, Tomatoes and New Potatoes, and gave it a try.

We're pleased to report that it really couldn't have been simpler, and was really very tasty: the whole thing disappeared in a matter of minutes. The asparagus was wonderful roasted, and especially with the salmon, roast potatoes, tomatoes, onion and basil. The best bit was that, start to finish, it took just over an hour, and most of the work just involved popping a few additional things into the oven: ideal for a mid-week post-work dinner.





Here's how you do it:

Ingredients

  • 400g new potatoes, halved if large
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 8 asparagus spears, trimmed and halved
  • 2 handfuls cherry tomatoes
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 2 salmon fillets, about 140g/5oz each
  • handful basil leaves 




Method                          

  1. Heat oven to 220C/fan 200C/gas 7. Tip the potatoes and 1 tbsp of olive oil into an ovenproof dish, then roast the potatoes for 20 mins until starting to brown. Toss the asparagus in with the potatoes, then return to the oven for 15 mins.
  2. Throw in the cherry tomatoes and vinegar and nestle the salmon amongst the vegetables. Drizzle with the remaining oil and return to the oven for a final 10-15 mins until the salmon is cooked. Scatter over the basil leaves and serve everything scooped straight from the dish. 
 

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Southbank Wine and Cheese Festival


C is a huge cheese fan, and this is no secret. Regular readers will understand how excited she was, then, when she heard via the Twitter grapevine that Southbank - which hosts a whole range of interesting foodie festivals year-round - was holding a Cheese and Wine Festival a few weekends back. She promptly informed (yes, that's the right choice of word) A that they would be going the following weekend, and he really had no choice but to agree.

After a rather tiring yoga session at London Bridge on a Saturday morning, A and C trundled the short distance to Southbank and had a poke around the stalls. It was a bit early for wine (and they were a bit too dehydrated for it after an hour and half in what is effectively a sauna), but they had a good browse for cheese. As well as a pretty large collection of stalls here, there were also events taking place all weekend in a large marquee at a small extra cost - such as workshops, quizzes and demonstrations.



We gave the marquee a miss this time, though, and just went for a browse. There was a pleasingly huge range of cheese - with stalls selling anything from common choices like Cheddar and Red Leicester to Brie and Camembert, to more interesting, unusual stuff like Cornish yarg and Comte, a French cheese made from unpasteurised cow's milk.

We were having friends over for dinner in the evening, and as we had a rather simple and small dessert planned (cookies) we thought we'd splash out with a cheeseboard and a bottle of bubbly as a final course. After much deliberation - read, taste testing - we opted for a few artisan cheeses from La Fromagerie. A really lovely London-based cheese shop, they have branches in Highbury and Marylebone and are really worth checking out.



We chose to buy a Cornish yarg, a semi-hard cow's cheese made from the milk of Frisian cows. It was first made in 1983, apparently, and was A's recommendation as he'd had it before and is a real fan. It's fresh and creamy, and really very easy to eat in large quantities.

We also opted for a creamy goat's cheese and one further French cheese, which was a good bit stronger and had a real tangy kick. For the three cheeses, we paid under £10, which we didn't think was too bad all things considered.


To finish it all off, we popped to another stall and grabbed the biggest loaf of sourdough we'd ever seen for an expensive - but justified - £6. In the evening after dinner, we served it up as a cheeseboard as planned - and are pleased to say it went down very well with our friends C & M (C being an aforementioned school friend of C's, and M being her boyfriend - we think this is his first appearance on the blog).

All in all, a success - we'll definitely be going back to the Cheese and Wine Festival next year!

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

On the (Edgware) Road: Abu Zaad

After a bit of an absence (mainly to A and C's bonkers work commitments and a newly developed addiction to Bikram yoga) we're back hanging out and have some time to write about it.  For those readers who have been following us for a while, you'll know that we're big fans of the Middle East's food, and after watching a very hard-hitting Dispatches documentary on Syria and BBC one on contemporary Israel, the region was very much on our minds.  As A and C both have a tendency to think with their stomachs as well as their brains, the inevitable corrollary of watching the films was that we'd not been for an Arab meal in a long time.

As every Londoner knows, there's only one place to go to if you're after Arab cuisine and/or a Sheesha pipe: the Edgware Road. This strip, which runs away from the West End into the North West London suburbs has long been an area known for getting a kebab, meze or a water pipe.  The area is quite multicultural, with people from all over the Middle East running businesses in the area and the food is no different.  Lebanese, Iranian and Syrian places are crammed along the relatively short parade, and all are full of (mostly Arabic speaking) customers. It's our kind of place.


Last time we were in the area around nine months ago, we tried out – and enjoyed – a Lebanese restaurant.  Despite the argument that the owners had with the Libyan Olympic Committee on that occasion, the place was excellent. However we decided to mix things up and opted for an interesting-looking Syrian eatery called Abu Zaad.  As we walked in, it was clear that we were the only Westerner diners: always a good sign if you want authentic food.  The waiting staff were very attentive, bringing a picture book of all the dishes to the table along with the menu so that non-Arab customers can get an idea of what a given dish entails.  To the waiting staff's surprise, however, we didn't use the thing at all and pitched straight in. We eat sufficient quantities of this kind of food to know our way round the menu, which fortunately was transliterated into Latin script from the Arabic.


We started with a simple starter of a couple of flat breads, some baba ganoush and some fatiyer bi jabneh, miniature eye shaped cheese parcels which are reminiscent of the Adjarian khojapuri we'd eaten in Georgia (and on the Holloway Road).  The Fatiyer were excellent, hot salty and well flavoured, and the pasty cases were crisp on the outside and fluffy inside. 



Sadly, the baba ganoush was not quite up to the same standard: we had the impression that the chef had been rather too generous with what was clearly quite strong olive oil.  The flavour of the oil masked the aubergine and the spices and the consistency wasn't quite right.



Fortunately, the mains were very much up to standard: C went for kibbeh (a kind of teardrop shaped meatball) cooked in a yoghurt and coriander sauce. If you like yoghurt, this is a dish for you: the herby, salty yoghurt sauce mixed with crisp spiced meatballs might take some getting used to, but it's worth persevering as it's really quite delicious, even if an acquired taste.  




A went for a tahini kebab, which was as simple and delicious as it sounded.  Three skewers of aromatic lamb mince were served with a generous drizzle of tahini and some rice.  The sesame paste added a wonderful richness (and touch of bitterness) to the meat, which was wolfed down in about five minutes.


All of this was washed down with lashings of ayran, which is a staple favourite from our time in Turkey. Aryan is essentially sour drinking yoghurt and is popular all over Turkey, the Arab world, Iran and Afghanistan (though it's known by different names in lots of these places).  Abu Zaad serve theirs with a few ice cubes, which renders it particularly refreshing.



With the whole meal adding up to less than £30 all in, we felt the place represented pretty good value for money and we'd happily return.  In fact, in comparison with other Arab restaruants in London, we think Abu Zaad is a pretty hot tip.