Archive for July, 2009

Sea bream en papillote

Cooking fish en papillote (literally translated from French as ‘in parchment’) involves wrapping it up the very tightly in parchment paper to ensure that the moisture stays in the parcel as it cooks. The wrapping process is very important as you don’t want even one bit of steam to escape! You can tell if you get it right because the parcel puffs up in the oven.

Many recipes involve using fillets of fish but there’s nothing to stop you using a whole fish, just adjust the cooking time accordingly. The fish steams as it cooks and ends up wonderfully moist and tender. It does have enough water in it to help the steaming process but it’s always good to give it a bit of a helping hand with some fish stock or white wine, as this adds to the flavour. In fact, if you do try the recipe with a fillet of fish, adjust the cooking time accordingly and put the vegetables inside the parcel – beans and cherry tomatoes work well. When doing a whole fish for 2 people you may need to cook the vegetables separately as it could be a struggle getting everything to fit.

When you cut the parcel open you’re initially treated to a burst of steam – watch your hands! – and then the wonderful smell of the delicately cooked fish. It’s so simple – just put it in the oven, sit back with a glass of wine and let the magic happen.

Sea Bream en Papillote
Serves 2
Cooking time: 30 minutes
Prep time: 20 minutes

1 sea bream (approx 500g), gutted, washed and patted dry.
8 new potatoes, sliced to the thickness of a pound coin
dash of white wine
olive oil
salt and pepper
a lemon
a few sprigs of fresh rosemary
vegetables, to serve

Preheat the oven to 200c. Boil the potatoes for 6 or 7 minutes until tender but not completely cooked. Drain and leave to cool briefly whilst you prepare the fish.

Score the skin of the fish a with a sharp knife, leaving 2-3cm gaps, then season all over (inside and out) with the salt and pepper. Stuff some long slices of lemon zest and a few sprigs of rosemary inside the cavity of the fish, then do the same on top, putting the rosemary in the scored parts of the fish and laying slices of lemon on top.

Get a large piece of parchment paper and oil it slightly. Put the potatoes on the parchment in one layer so that they form a base for the fish, then place the fish on top. Wrap it up as tightly as possible leaving one end open, pour the wine in (not too much, maybe 30ml?) then seal the parcel. We got a bit paranoid with the parcel and stapled it together along the top – there’s no need to do that yourself! Place in the oven for about 30 minutes, depending on the size of your fish, until cooked through completely.

Serve on a warmed plate with the vegetables.

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Vegetable kebabs and corn on the cob

We both love corn on the cob (especially done on the barbeque) and as July marks the start of the season, we’ll most likely be having it a few times over the coming months. This time, we decided to keep everything very simple, griddling the corn and serving it alongside grilled vegetable kebabs.

Vegetable kebabs ready to be grilled

The kebabs were made up of cherry tomatoes, mushrooms, corguette, red onion and red and yellow pepper. They were brushed with a mixture of olive oil, garlic, rosemary and thyme before going under the grill for about 20 minutes, which turned out not to be long enough – the corguette was still a little raw and the onion hadn’t lost all of its kick.

Other than the undercooked kebabs, it was a good dinner – fresh-tasting, light and easy to prepare.

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Tables in the conservatory dining room at Bank, Westminster.

On Friday, Erika and I found ourselves in Zander Bar, home to the longest bar (48 metres) in Europe and quite possibly some of the best cocktails in London. They can’t be too proud of the longest bar accolade as on this and a previous visit only 1/4 of it was open; the remaining 36 metres, stretching down to the light, airy restaurant at the back was uninhabited.

The bar itself is a place you’d be happy to spend an hour or two, sipping away at their glorious espresso martini (£7.80) or perhaps a ‘perfect blossom’ (also £7.80), a mix of mandarin blossom vodka, elderflower, fresh strawberries and apple juice. The staff are attentive and friendly, although this is not too surprising given there could only have been thirty five people there, and certainly know how to mix drinks. The area itself is a bit dark, and being 6ft 2 I’m not a fan of the low tables but you soon forget about that, quite possibly due to the ease with which the cocktails go down.

After a couple of drinks we took our seats in the restaurant. Many of the tables are situated in a conservatory which affords wonderful views over a courtyard (complete with fountain) and the three 19th century mansions which make up the adjoining hotel and apartment complex. It wasn’t a busy evening with only a few other diners but the restaurant felt neither empty nor quiet and it ensured that we got a good table and had our waiter’s attention throughout. The menu is modern European with a good selection of pasta, fish and meat dishes, priced on average at around £16 for a main.

Tempura king prawns with chilli jam at Bank, Westminster

Duck spring rolls with plum & pineapple sauce at Bank, Westminster

The waiter was quick to bring some bread (a choice of foccacia or ciabatta – neither of which were worth writing home about) and take our orders. For starters, Erika had tempura of king prawns with chilli and lime jam and I ordered crispy duck spring rolls with a plum and pineapple dipping sauce. The prawns were gigantic and perfectly cooked, encased in a light and crisp tempura batter. My spring rolls were very densely filled with duck and and the spring roll casing was crispy but not oily. The plum and pineaple sauce was disappointing; I much preferred Erika’s chilli jam.

Tandoori-baked lamb at Bank, Westminster

The plates were cleared away and our main courses arrived quickly. I had tandoori baked lamb cutlets with bombay potatoes, whilst Erika had salmon with an asparagus, crab and pea shoot salad and citrus dressing. The lamb was really well marinated: I could taste the ginger, cumin and coriander and it restored my faith in ordering lamb at a restaurant. So many times in the past I have ended up with just two mouthfulls of chewy meat. The accompanying bombay potatoes (served with some thick slices of onion too) were nice but not exceptional, although well cooked and spicy, and complemented the lamb well.

Salmon with asparagus and crab & pea-shoot salad with citrus dressing at Bank, Westminster

Erika’s salmon was perfectly cooked as was the asparagus it sat on. The citrus dressing, with pieces of orange and grapefruit, really lifted the whole dish. Erika also had a side order of the most delicious, creamiest mashed potato – the type of mash you can only ever get in a restaurant because you could never allow yourself to use so much butter at home!

There’s a lot of choice on the dessert menu and we were nearly tempted into ordering but were put off by the arrival of a large noisy group sitting near us. When ordering dessert I have an internal countdown timer which starts when given the menu. At first I want to order the most sickly sweet pudding but I eventually begin to feel full and come to the realisation that more food probably isn’t a good idea. Thankfully for my waistline our waiter was busy seating the group and by the time he came over, we’d both changed our minds (however, from previous experience Kitty definitely recommends the sticky toffee pudding!). The bill was requested, dutifully delivered and paid and then it was off out into the streets of St. James’. I’d have quite liked to swap the tube journey home for a quick walk to one of their apartments!

Bank Restaurant and Zander Bar
45 Buckingham Gate

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chicken dhansak

For years and years I’d always order the same dish whenever I went for a curry. Chicken dhansak, a hot and sour parsi dish of chicken in a thick, spicy sauce with lentils, was recommended to me by a friend and afterwards I never tried anything else. Lentils make the sauce healthier than when cream is used, add to the fibre content of the dish and fill you up faster so you don’t eat as much… except that never happens to me when I go for a curry – papadums, naan, rice and of course a refreshing cold beer are all accompaniments and I rarely leave without consuming an entire day’s calories in one sitting.

I’ve tried cooking chicken dhansak few times in the past, but never with much success. The first time was when I was at university and after tearing the packet of lentils when trying to open them (and covering the floor with tiny red blobs) I eventually ended up making enough to feed an entire household as I got my quantities wrong and forgot to consider that lentils absorb water and expand. Sadly it didn’t taste too great either and I begrudginly ate the leftovers over the forthcoming few days, mostly because I couldn’t afford not to.

There’s a pack of split red lentils in the cupboard so I thought put them to good use and try making dhansak for dinner tonight. Whilst browsing the internet for inspiration and recipies, I came across a video on videojug called ‘how to cook chicken dhansak‘. Initially I wasn’t that impressed – there are plenty of recipes online and this one didn’t appeal – but after watching it again I realised that I know the restaurant that the lady in the video came from. It always used to be busy so, taking that into account, I thought it must be worth a try.

The recipe was simple to follow although I was confused about the order of some of the steps in the method. It states to start frying the chicken (which takes 20 minutes) before boiling the lentils (which take 30) and as such I ended up cooking the chicken for thirty minutes. Although it was over a low heat this was way too long and not surprisingly it ended up quite dry.

After an hour or so of cooking it was time for dinner. I was very impressed – it was the best dhansak I’ve made by far. There wasn’t as much sauce as I’d have from a takeaway so next time I’d add a few more lentils and a bit more water, but apart from that (and the dry chicken) there was not much wrong. In the future, I reckon it would be better frying the chicken 5 or so minutes before the cooked lentils are added.

Still not as good as the takeaway but it’s a start!

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Mixed berries, meringue, clotted cream and star anise

If you read yesterday’s making meringues post, you’ll know that we had a dessert that included meringue, redcurrants and blackcurrants that was inspired by something we found in the weekend’s Observer Food Monthly. Here it is:

Berries with Meringues
Serves 2
Prep time: 15 mins (+ 1 hour cooling/steeping)

75g blackcurrants
75g redcurrants
150g strawberries
30ml caster sugar
40ml water
1 star anise
clotted cream

1) Wash the berries. Remove the redcurrants and blackcurrants from their stalks and hull the strawberries (cut them up if they are large). Put all the fruit into a bowl.
2) Pour the water into a pan and add the sugar and star anise. Bring to the boil and then simmer for 5 minutes, stirring the sugar into the water until it has dissolved to form a syrup.
3) Pour the syrup over the berries and stir it through. The leave it for an hour or so to cool and for all the flavours to blend – go back and stir it every now and then.
4) To serve, split the berries into two bowls, break over some meringue and add a dollop of clotted cream.

This was such a perfect summer dessert and a great twist on a classic Eton Mess. The addition of the star anise was a stroke of genius from the recipe’s creator, Chef Jason Atherton, offering warm exotic undertones to complement the dessert’s sweet, hedonistic flavours.

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Homemade meringues

Ted spotted a rather yummy looking dessert in today’s Observer Food Monthly that would work well with some redcurrants and blackcurrants that we picked up yesterday. I’m not going to give much more away about it just yet as we’ll save it for tomorrow’s post, but what I will tell you is that it involves meringue.

I love meringue! I realise there isn’t really much to it but the crispy, crumbly outside and the sweet soft gooey inside really does it for me. I’ve wanted to try making meringues for ages now, but have never really had reason to (I’m one of those people who loves to make sweet things, but will then eat it all – this means moderation on the making side is key).

I’m sure everyone has their own recipe for meringue and their own tips and tricks for making it just perfect – I opted for a simple-looking meringue recipe from Waitrose. I halved all the quantities to produce four, rather than eight, meringues.

I’ve always heard about how important it is that everything’s very clean and dry when whisking egg whites so I went into OCD-mode and rewashed and dried everything I’d be using – large pyrex bowl, egg separator, balloon whisk, electric whisk heads and ramekin.

First things first, separating the eggs. I’d decided to get each white into a ramekin first just in case one went wrong and ruined the other. I messed up the first egg by bursting the yolk and in a mini-rage threw the whole thing away which, in hindsight, was a little unneccesary. The next two worked okay though – we now have two yolks in the fridge, any ideas on what to do with them? I added the cream of tartare (anything to make a difficult recipe less unpredictable is fine by me) and then started whisking with the balloon whisk until the whites were bubbling, I then got stuck in with the electric whisk (I don’t know if the balloon whisk was necessary, but I was concerned by the recipe’s “start whisking on low” instruction). After a few minutes, the whites were starting to form little peaks.

Whisked egg whites - making meringues

Next, I added the sugar. The recipe said 3 tbsps at a time, but as I was halving all quantities I thought 1.5 tbsps would be safer. As the sugar’s going in, you really start to feel the mixture getting stiffer and the whisk working harder. It also gets a beautiful gloss to it and after a further few minutes of whisking it was ready (Rob wanted me to hold it upsidedown over my head, but I didn’t trust it enough so just did it over the floor – nothing fell out, phew!).

Whisked egg whites and sugar - making meringues

I then stuck down the baking parchment with a little mixture, as directed, before spooning on four mounds of wonderful goo, before popping them in the preheated oven (and helping myself to the bits of mixture left on the utensils!).

Meringue mixture ready for the oven

Everything had gone really well up til this point. I set the timer for 45 minutes, but had a niggling feeling that the oven just seemed too hot. I wish I’d gone with my instincts and checked the temperature with the thermometer as 45 minutes later, my meringues were looking decidedly beige and were smelling more like honeycomb than meringue.

Freshly baked meringue - slightly burnt

Rob and I tried one of the meringues after they’d had their extra 30 minutes in the open oven. I think it had definitely been too hot as the bottoms were a bit burnt, but the gooey middle was actually too gooey and felt a little under done. Not too bad for a first attempt, but disappointing nonetheless. I’ll definitely try this again, but will be checking the oven and following my gut feeling a little more in the baking process.

Come back tomorrow to see what we’re going to do with them!

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Chicken and chorizo paella

One of my best food moments is sitting outside at a pavement cafe on Rambla de Catalunya, just around the corner from Guadi’s Casa Milà in Barcelona. We had a wonderful tapas lunch of chorizo, pimientos de Padrón, tortilla de patatas, pan amb tomaquet and patatas bravas in the late September heat just before heading back to the airport to return home. Nothing about that meal is reproducable in the UK: sitting outside always involves dirty buses, loud police cars and beggars, and getting good spanish food is nigh-on impossible, although I’ve not yet eaten at Tapas Brindisa so maybe I could be proven wrong.

Erika and I are also fans of paella, but unfortunately the time that we had that in Barcelona was one of my worst food experiences. I won’t ruin the moment by going into any more detail but let’s say that we were starving and tired and it was the closest place. Regardless, we’ve cooked paella a few times at home in the past and always enjoyed it, so when deciding on meals for this week it came up as something I’ve not had for a while.

The recipe I follow is from delicious magazine. It’s not totally authentic: as I’m not a great seafood fan I go for a meat version but it’s nice all the same. The recipe is a bit confusing as it produces enough to freeze but involves cooking two panfulls at the same time. I say scrap that, halve everything and there will be enough to feed 4 hungry people. After 30 minutes of cooking you’ll have a fresh, spicy dish with a variety of textures and flavours ranging from the crunchy beans to the soft, slightly sticky rice.

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