Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Cooking romantic meals

I love cooking for someone as part of woo-pitching. There are so many ways of joy-giving penetration. You can reach the depths of their quickest and titillate pleasure spots no one has ever touched before. You can get inside their brains and excite them with some intense intellectual stimulation. You can touch their soul from within by spiritual sharing. You can touch them profoundly without touching with your energy and vibe.

And you can also offer them food you cooked and it will become, physically, them, their body. The love you invested in preparing the meal will for ever change them up from the cellular level. Isn't that the deepest penetration possible?

Chicken breast marinade recipe

upreme de poulet is the French for chicken breast. Now how do you make it not only sound but also taste good? I have precious little to no time for such futile activities as baking it with cheese or stuffing it. The best thing you can do to food is to bring out, enhance and underscore its natural flavour.

Here is my own marinade recipe for chicken breast. It makes this rather bland, if healthy, piece of poultry a true trip for your taste buds.
  1. Grind the very top of the rind of a lime on a grinder. Make sure you don't get too much of the white layer, just green.
  2. Cut the lime in two and squeeze out the juice.
  3. Add fish sauce, very finely chopped fresh chilli and a wee dram of brown sugar to lime juice. Mix well. Your choice of chilli will determine the final flavour: Scotch bonnet chilli and Thai prik kee noo chilli, for exampe, give the mixture a very distinct character. You can also use liquid cane sugar or palm sugar.
  4. Marinate chicken breast cut to the desired size. The bigger the chunks, the longer you need to marinate.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Las Iguanas: how cheaper can you go?

We all know that London is one of the most expensive cities in the world. But make Kirill your friend and you will be introduced into the world of fine dining on a shoe-string. And that means exactly that: not eating cheap trash for next to peanuts, but having nice nosh in fancy places for a pittance.

Today we went to Las Iguanas in Soho for this very lovely lunch, all cooked to perfection:
  • sopa de calabaza: mildly spicy and suprebly creamy butternut squash and coconut soup with a dollop of sour cream; the promised fresh coriander and stripes of corn bread were missing;
  • chicken quesadilla: tortilla stuffed with spicy chicken breast, onions, peppers, cheese and salsa ;
  • pasteles: a bit of misnomer, but this Chilean slow-braised lamb with raisin topped with creamed sweetcorn peculiarly explained in the menu as "a sort of cottage pie" is utterly delish!
  • sweet potato fishcakes: flaked white fish and crayfish in corn crumbs served with aïoli;
  • curly patatas fritas and salad, well lettuce doused with red wine vinegar, really.
Now for the bill: £8,87 for two, including tax and tip. Now you too want Kirill for a friend, don't you?

Pro's: You can't beat this price, can you? All entries can be ordered gluten-free.
Con's: Without Kirill's know-how, this place will cost you a pretty penny. Most mains are in the 12-15-quid ballpark.
In a nutshell: Perhaps the best to discover the greatness of South American cuisine outside South America.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Quelle cuisson? Rib-eye steak and diced parsnip salad

This was a bit of a celebratory meal, to mark my latest, very major breakthrough.

The rib-eye steak I brought especially from Amsterdam. I felt very subversive travelling with a planeful of City suits making it for the start of their busy Monday, wearing a sleeveless shirt and carrying a backpack of raw meat: from Moroccan merguez sausages to Dutch runder tartaar extra lean beef mince that I just can't find in London. To bring out the best in the steak, I used a bit of trickery. I marinated it in a mix of:
  • freshly ground black pepper,
  • fish sauce instead of salt,
  • a wee bit of aceto balsamico bianco (which, thanks to its sugar content, gives that nice golden brown colour tothe steak when you fry it),
  • Chinese rice wine (I also had to bring it from Amsterdam because alcohol tax in the UK makes it outrageously expensive for just cooking wine),
  • liquid smoke.
Now for frying the steak: you want a really hot skillet, so the meat won't get stewed but seared on the outside while staying pink inside. For that very same reason pat the steak dry with a paper towel before frying. You will also need to use ghee, or pick up the white fluff that comes up when you heat butter - this is to prevent smoking and burning. Ninety seconds on each side and voilà: steak à point!

The salad's pièce de resistance was fried diced parsnips, served with chopped vine tomatoes, sun-dried tomatoes, sliced red onions, lollo rosso, red batavia, apollo, baby leaf spinach, endive, lamb's lettuce and a lot of dill. More than your 5-a-day in just a side dish, how about that! Classic Italian dressing underscored all this natural goodness.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

El Rancho de Lalo@ Brixton, London review

Just when I was about to mourn the demise of Coma y Punto, my favourite Colombian joint in Brixton Market, in its ashes arose another one, El Rancho de Lalo.

They still serve the same good reliable Columbian fare. My all-time favourite bandeja paisa, a huge platter of meats and carbs is just as perfectly cooked and plentiful as at Coma y Punto and costs the same 9.50. The way they make the pig belly crunchy on the outside and juicy inside is inimitable.

They have spruced up the interior and exterior (it was rather shaby before). The maitre-d' swaggers around in the Colombian national costume. The lunch deal: one main + one drink for 6 quid fills up even a glutton like me. I had once their oxtail stew and another time their sancocho,which I succesfully tried to replicate later. Can find no fault with either.

Pro's: Super friendly service. Consistently good food. Great location for Brixton people-watching.
Con's: Slightly cramped seating.
In a nutshell: God bless South America for its food!

El Rancho de Lalo
94-95 Granville Arcade
Brixton Market
London SW9 8PS

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Organic vegan sushi: need I say more?

Talking about why I quit veganism after 10 years of torturing myself and those around me with what essentially is an eating disorder. This will defend my case without any words: organic barley sushi with tofu and vegetables, that tasted remarkably like a slab of damp toilet paper.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Merci Monsieur Lindt: Crema Catalana chocolate

hat a better souvenir from Barcelona can you bring than a bar of Crema Catalana chocolate? Monsieur Lindt was gracious enough to even add crunchy bits of caramelised sugar that normally forms at the top of crema catalana. Scrumptious!

Fire & Stone@London: a Mad Pizza Party

There is a good reason why classic recipes never age. Because the perfect combination once found, does not need to change, stupid! You can't possibly add anything to bechamel without spoiling it.

You may try to enhance the original combination of flavours with a bit of well-intended trickery, like I often do, using, for example, fish sauce instead of salt. Or underscore it with what the Japanese call kakushiaji - a background taste that contrasts and emphasizes the leitmotif taste. That is how a hint of Scotch bonnet pepper brings out the best in puttanesca. But some chefs truly deserve to be pilloried, tarred and feathered for their far-fetched concoctions.

Many a pizza at London's Fire and Stone qualify for that kind of treatment. The USP here is a "global menu" with pizza toppings from all the continents, purportedly intending to represent the best of world's culinary traditions. In reality, under a guise of cosmopolitan originality you are served a good old classic mixed with some highly incongruous companions on a sheet of, granted, nicely baked dough. See for yourself:
  • "Sydney": roasted bacon+egg+ham = full English! (Looking forward to addition of spam!)
  • "Peking": shredded duck+Hoi Sin sauce+spring onions = Peking duck! (What on earth were they thinking topping this with mozzarella cheese?)
  • "Acapulco": chilli beef+jalapenos,+mozzarella+sour cream = flat fajita! (Nothing wrong with that, but don't call it a pizza!)
  • "Lombok": grilled prawns+roasted red peppers+syrupy sweet Thai green curry sauce = well, Thai green curry! (Served on bread, for Pete's sake!)
  • "Cape Town": beef mince+tomato sauce+chillies = arrabiata! (Beef mince on a pizza, ho-hum, it tastes just like it sounds!)
The menu also features classic Italian and New York favourites that, in all likelihood, simply must be brilliant, but we were after the quirky and we sure got a huge slab of it that evening.

Pro's: Extremely friendly and efficient service.
Con's: Truly weird pizzas. LOUD inside.
In a nutshell: Multi-culti gone wrong.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Smokey creamy mussels recipe

Smokey creamy mussels recipeAfter fixing mussels in accordance with the traditional time-honoured recipes for umpteen times, there necessarily comes a time when you feel like making your own contribution to the world's seafood cooking wisdom. This recipe is my (very liberal) variation on the traditional Breton way of cooking mussels with cidre and bacon (moules à la bretonne).

Mussels cooked this way are apparently so good that last time my ex simply had to have me cook them in the precious few hours that I spent in Amsterdam between my planes - at midnight! I was surely happy to oblige.

Here how it goes:
  1. Peel and thinly slice half a head of garlic and two onions (or a big handful of shallots instead of the onions).
  2. Melt a generous chunk of butter in a mussels pan (like Nigella says, there's no good kitchen without butter).
  3. Fry garlic and onions on medium fire until golden brown.
  4. Add 2 kg pre-washed and de-bearded mussels and cook stirringly occasionally until all are open. Removing the released juices a couple of times helps to cook the mussels quickly without overcooking. Keep the juices for later!
  5. Remove the mussels.
  6. Add a glass of single cream, a glass of dry white wine, the mussel juices and some coarsely ground black pepper. Simmer until the smell of alcohol disappears.
  7. Add a tablespoonful of liquid smoke and the mussels and give it all a nice stir. The advantages of liquid smoke are that it is filtered many times and is supposedly healthier than smoked bacon. This shall make you feel better about all the cream and butter in this recipe!
  8. Serve with oven-baked frites and white wine. The creamy and smoky broth needs to be served in lions head bowls, it somehow tastes better that way!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Yorkshire roast beef wrap @ The Prince Albert, Brixton

If you know where to go - and it's no rocket science - you can eat extremely well in London for under a tenner. A good example is my local pub, The Prince Albert in Brixton's Coldharbour Lane. Despite its kinky name it churns out perfectly conventional English fare cooked to perfection. I am probably the last person to exalt the virtues of French fries but I find them a treat at The Prince Albert.

Or take this Yorkshire roast beef wrap. I am not quite sure it is really typical British as I have never encountered it anywhere else but it's a beatifully presented and expertly prepared dish. If the picture and my (rarely awoken) enthusiasm were not convincing enough, here's the last one that will sure get you: it's only 5 quid!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Figs with ricotta and honey recipe (fichi con ricotta e miele)

Figs, ricotta, honeyome like to spruce up this classic recipe with grilling, blanched almonds, crushed pistachios or vanilla essence. I steer clear of this foppish foolishness and simply enjoy the indulgent mushiness of ripe figs, the creamy crumbliness of ricotta and the rich flavours trapped in the sticky sweetness of honey.

This time I got some plump figs from my favourite Iranian grocer, some ricotta from my favourite (they all are!) Portuguese delicatessen and the honey came from my uncle's own bee farm.
  1. Remove the stems and cut figs in quarters.
  2. Break ricotta into smallish chunks.
  3. Arrange the figs and cheese artfully on a rustic dish.
  4. Douse liberally with honey.
  5. Profitez bien!

Malay fish head curry recipe (gulai kepala ikan)

kari gulai kepala ikan Malaysian fish head curryvEeryone I know  rolls their eyes squeamishly at the very mention of fish heads.

- How can you eat it what is looking at you? - my Black French friend Lionel's voice goes an octave higher than usual. Well, dude, just don't look back, c'est ça!

My landlord raises his face from his plateful of deep-fried fish fingers only to crack something very sarcastically English about my bagful of nice and fresh salmon heads. I have brought them at Brixton Market, three for a quid, now try to beat that!

But the best thing about them is not how cheap they are but all the lovely textures you get from a big meaty head of a piscine predator - from the meaty cheeks to the crunchy cartilage to the flavoursome brain, and I love the eyes too!

This time, instead of Ghanaian abenkwan, I made it Malay style, gulai kepala ikan. It is so good that some consider it the national dish of Malaysia and Singapore.

Here's the recipe:

Ingredients (if you don't know what it is, google it or just show the name to  your local Asian grocer): 
  • 3 medium-sized salmon heads
  • two red onions
  • half a head of garlic
  • a three-inch piece of ginger 
  • teaspoonful of turmeric
  • one crushed and finely chopped stalk of lemon grass
  • half an inch of finely sliced galangal
  • half a handful of fresh or frozen curry leaves
  • a couple of de-seeded chopped chillies
  • a few tablespoonfuls of Malay fish curry powder (can be made by grinding ad mixing equal quantities jeera, coriander seeds, fenugreek and red pepper)
  • half a litre of tamarind juice (dissolving 50g tamarind paste in warm water) 
  • half a litre of coconut milk (or dissolve 100 g creamed coconut and warm water)
  • a dozen okras, two large tomatoes cut into eight pieces each, a handful of string beans, and half a dozen halved garden eggs
 Cooking instructions:
  1. De-gill the heads, wash them well and chop them into 8 pieces each.
  2. Peel and make paste out of the onions, garlic and ginger.
  3. Lightly fry the paste in a deep cast-iron pot with some ghee or vegetable oil.
  4. Add turmeric and fry until it start giving off flavour.
  5. Add the rest of the spices. Fry ever so gently, making sure the flavours fold into the oil, not go up with the smoke.
  6. Add the tamarind juice and the coconut milk.
  7. Bring to a gentle simmer and add the vegetables and fish heads.
  8. Simmer until the vegetables are soft. 
  9. Serve with freshly cooked steamed rice.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Sancocho - Colombian beef soup recipe

Colombian Sancochoccording tAo my Chinese doctor, amino acids from meat are at their most digestible when in broth. This is why I cooked this Colombian sancocho soup for my sick landlord, who after 2 years of my relentless propaganda, had caved in and quit his 40-odd-year vegetarianism madness.

The original recipe calls for oxtail but since this time I had not stocked up on that, I made do with meat balls from the rundertartaar (pure minced steak with no fat or connecting tissue) I had brought from Amsterdam. I tried to imitate the wonderful sancocho I had indulged in a couple of weeks before that at the Colombian restaurant at Brixton market. It came out beautifully!

So here's the recipe:
  1. Peel and finely slice half a head and 3 onions. Reserve a few cloves of garlic unsliced.
  2. Sauté 2 onions and sliced garlic in a squiggle of olive oil until nice golden brown. Add some fish sauce or salt as well as very finely sliced Scotch bonnet pepper towards the end, if you like it spicy.
  3. In the meantime, put one sliced onion and a whole head garlic in a pot with water (about 2 litres). Add some whole crushed black pepper corns, 2 carrots peeled and cut into small blocks and a stalk of celery, sliced. Add meat at this stage if you are using bones or oxtail. Put on fire, allow to simmer until the meat start coming off the bone.
  4. Tip 2 into 3. Add the meatballs as well as diced cassava, sweet potato, green plantain, mandioquinha, chayote, garden eggs, or whatever other South American veg you get hold of.
  5. Simmer until the vegetables are soft enough to eat.
  6. Serve with chopped spring onions and coriander or parsley.