Friday, 2 January 2015

My favourite cookery books of 2014

My blog does has a few cooking ideas, but is mostly taken up with London's great and good (I tend to leave out the more mediocre).  A lot more of my time is spent in the kitchen though, sometimes testing out my own ideas, but usually working my way through recipe books.  The tiny flat converted lift is very handy as a cooking bookshelf.  I buy a lot of books, with a slightly irrational fear of never being able to able to work my way through all the plates I want to recreate.

Some books I return to time and time again. Some are very dependable, recipes always working.  Some are disappointing, with failures after careful recipe following (I think I can spot the ones who don't fully test). 

I’m finishing 2014 and starting the new year with a list of my favourites.  It's made up of my top books from this past year and the ones I go to for certain types of recipe, plus a few mentions for my all-time favourite writers/books.  I'm planning a bit of a blog break at the start of 2015, with a few new ideas/projects to keep me busy into the new year (do still keep an eye on my Instagram in the meantime).

The restaurant cookbooks: My most used restaurant book is probably the Polpo book (especially great for simple yet still impressive cicheti and salads).  I haven't tried as much (newer to my shelves) from the Bocca dI Lupo book, but will be going to it for Italian recipes (so far the beef and black pepper stew is brilliantly hearty, the celeriac, pecorino and pomegranate salad fragrant and refreshing, and the little baci biscuits something to make time and time again with any leftover egg whites).  I have always loved the Moro books (do make their tagines), and the Morito book of 2014 is no different – you can recreate the dishes from the tapas restaurant offshoot next door (my favourite is the beetroot Borani dip, along with the slow-cooked leeks with yohurt).  Similarly fragrant is the Honey & Co book - everything has turned out truly delicious, with warm, often wrily funny introductions.  Try the bouikos (little feta Balkan pies) and look out for their baking book in 2015 (their cakes are some of the best).                                                

The health conscious for a January detox: I might give in to a fad or two; my cupboards definitely include coconut oil, spirulina, and maca powder, with a Nutribullet on the side (it has mainly produced brown sludge juices). The Hemsley & Hemsley book has probably been one of the most talked of healthy eating books of last year (I like some of the ideas, but some haven't turned out delicious). I really loved Diana Henry's A Change of Appetite – light, beautifully spiced recipes with lots of vegetables, fish and hearty whole grains.  Definitely one of my most used of 2014.

The always seasonal, and lovingly written: Nigel Slater is my favourite food writer, so his Kitchen Diaries needs a mention as one of most turned to.  Both the first and second are his cooking (and a little garden) diary of the year, recipes by date through the seasons – it’s a beautiful read, and I love the styling/photography.

The lesser known, but excellent: Not one of the most publicise, but The Italian Cookery Course is a completely invaluable guide through the cuisine (the Caldesi family also have a cookery school).  It’s full of recipes, with very good pasta sauces and fabulous breads (do try the Ligurian focaccia, stuffed with melting cheese).  Similarly, One by Florence Knight (of Polpetto) doesn’t seem to have had as much championing as deserved – it is a really lovely book, and I like the chapters split by ingredient (ketchup includes a very good beetroot chocolate cake).

The vegetarian, but really just brilliant no fish/meat books: Yotam Ottolenghi followed Plenty with Plenty More (his other books, both Ottolenghi and especially the newer Jerusalem are brilliant too).  More punchy flavour combinations, many heady with spice and herbs, that just happen to be without meat and fish (many would work really well alongside too). Another great book from 2014 is Anna Jones A Modern Way to Eat, her vegetarian book including lots of hearty salads and healthier baking.

The baking books:  Over the last few weeks Scandinavian Baking by Trine Hahnemann has been put to good use – I love the seedy, grainy breads and crackers, lots sourdough and rye, many sweet things with spelt (my favourite), rather than prissy, fussy cakes.  If I am feeling like something a little fancier, my new Patisserie Maison book from Richard Bertinet (including the slightly time-consuming, but ultimately worth it Bouche de Noel from last week).  My absolute baking bible has to be Dan Lepard’s Short & Sweet - you must buy if you bake, the results are never short of fantastic (including lots of savoury baking along with the sweet and sticky).

There are many more I could talk about, but I’ll leave it at that for the moment.  I’ll still be cooking my way through an ever-expanding pile in this new year.  Happy 2015.

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Primeur N5, Stoke Newington

I’m just catching up on a few overdue December posts.  Dinner at Primeur was a few weeks ago, the visit overdue in itself.  I’d meant to visit soon after the May opening, but hadn’t quite made it (despite the rave reports by those who are lucky enough to have it as their neighbourhood restaurant). 

It sits in an old garage on Petherton Road, the upstairs with an open hatch to the kitchen, stools around the edge and large, mostly sharing tables.  The menu is chalked up on the board (it changes nearly daily), made up of small and larger plates (best for sharing).  The wines are chalked up too – a brilliant selection, all available by the glass too (and best thing, not more expensive this way, perfect for trying a few). 

We started with the Jesus sausage (£6.50) and long-stemmed broccoli with a anchovy dressing (£5.50).  A plate of spiced carrots (£5.50) was a mixture of purple and orange, roasted with yoghurt and cumin.  A crispy plate of whole fried shrimp with lemon aioli (£7.50) were not quite as sweet and small as the night before, but very good.

From the larger, beautifully soft plaice (£14), rich in its seaweed butter sauce, offset by tiny cubes of lightly pickled cucumber. We also had the onglet (£14.50), pink under the grassy green parsley sauce, snails on top, all soaking into a delicious piece of beefy toast.  The favourite was the plainer sounding spelt (£10), a nubbly, nuttier risotto, full of wild mushrooms and plenty of parmesan. 

We finished with a very good plate of cheese (£9), the pudding of red wine, pear and almond tart sounded delicious too.  All was brilliant with the dry, deep ruby lambrusco (just a little sparkling, lightly chilled) – a great recommendation, converting us on this wine from its cheaper, tackier friends.

Primeur is the perfect place for a lounging, relaxed weekend lunch or dinner.  The kind of meal to work your way round the wine list too.  There’s a lovely private dining area downstairs too (sits around 10 people).  Just a shame it’s a bit of a long bus trip, rather than round the corner from me.

Primeur on Urbanspoon

Monday, 29 December 2014

Kitty Fisher's, Mayfair

As the nursery rhyme goes, Kitty Fisher found Lucy Locket’s lost pocket.  Not a penny in it, only ribbon round it.  It’s suggested this Kitty Fisher is the famed 18th century courtesan, penned as a kind of first celebrity.  The new Mayfair restaurant takes her name; the Shepherd’s Market building Kitty’s address.

A fuller name of Kitty Fisher’s Wood Grill gives a little more on the menu from Tomos Parry, the Young British Foodies chef of this year, previously at Climpson’s Arch with more of the barbecue grill.  It’s a small site; a bar with stools and a couple of tables upstairs, most seats below, cosy dark red and dark wood.  We went for dinner a few weeks ago, the first lunch/dinner since their opening at the beginning of the month.

Tomos and his kitchen know how to put the wood grill to perfect use.  Much of what we tried had an element of beautiful smoky char, starting with the bread and black dust of burnt onion on the butter (£3). Another of the snacks at the top of the menu was salt cod croquettes (£6 for three – definitely don’t skimp on these if they are on).  Packed full of the salty flakes, crisply fried alongside garlic mayonnaise for dunking.

From the starters, tender lamb cutlets, grilled but pink, with the salty tang of the chopped mixture of anchovy, mint and parsley (£10.50).  We also shared the Cornish shrimp with lemon (£10), crunchy whole bodies, but small, crisp and super sweet enough to eat heads and all.

From the main courses, first sprouts of December with the pork chop (£21), the wonderful meat on top a creamy celeriac puree and cider sauce.  There was also a special Galician beef (£75, with enough for two or three), blushing pink slices, with a great char on the outside. This came with a plate of delicious pink fir potatoes, tunworth cheese and roasted onion.

There was more of the tunworth on the cheese plate (£8), next to spenwood, ogelshield and the pear chutney – great with a glass of their sweet madeira.  The pudding of chocolate mousse, burnt orange and hazelnut was a lovely combination, complete with a sprinkle of sea salt.

The visit to Kitty Fisher’s was my last new opening visit of this year – I’m just compiling my top list for 2014, and I think it might just make it on there.

Sunday, 28 December 2014

Mincemeat Waffles (a simple Christmas leftovers recipe)

In the post-Christmas slump, a quick leftovers recipe.  No cold turkey in sight.  Instead, a simple way to use up any half jars of pie-less mincemeat.  Spooned into a plain waffle batter, a couple of dollops adds a spicy sweetness, sticky with dried fruit.  Perfect with a drizzle of maple syrup and dollop of crème fraiche/Greek yoghurt, maybe a few crumbled walnuts or flaked almonds, even a few chunks of roasted apple.

If you don’t have a waffle iron (mine was a Christmas present, the batter presumptuously made before unwrapping), you could also fry into little squat pancakes in a buttered pan.

Makes enough for 5-6ish waffles (depending on size of waffle iron)
2 eggs
300g spelt flour (plain is fine)
1 tsp baking powder
300ml almond milk (normal full-fat would work too)
50g melted butter
4 tbsp mincemeat (warmed a little in the microwave first, just because of suet)
1 tsp vanilla extract

Mix the baking powder together in a large bowl.  Make a well, mix in the eggs, whisking to combine.  Gradually whisk in the milk until smooth, before mixing in the melted butter, mincemeat and vanilla.  Ideally leave the batter for half an hour or so, heating up the waffle iron in the meantime.  Brush the iron with a little oil, and pour in the batter until full.  Cook on a medium-high heat, flipping a few times until risen, golden brown and a little crisp.  

Saturday, 20 December 2014

A couple of Christmas pop-ups: Le Chalet and Skandilicious

My trip to Oxford Street this week was definitely not for the madness of Christmas shopping.  Escaping the Selfridges crowd to the roof, to the Le Chalet Alpine takeover, instead of the open roof/fake grass of the summer, twinkly lights, check blankets and snowy tree wallpaper.  

The menu has hints of the slopes, with raclette, schnitzel with cheese fondue, and meaty slow-cooked plates.  Wee went a little lighter though – the best dishes were the pumpkin kind-of hummus with charred flat bread, and the giant grilled prawns with chilli and garlic.  Le Chalet is open until the end of February, so a little time after Christmas for a boozy hot chocolate cocktail (there’s a whole menu of them) and gooey cheese.  If there’s no New Year’s detox that is.

My favourite dinner of this week was at Skandilicious, another pop-up (in the old Guardian building on Farringon Road).  This one has technically popped-down as of the end of this weekend, but do look out for any future events from them after the brilliant Julbord.  This Swedish Christmas Smörgåsbord was a fabulous spread of smoked salmon, gravadlax, all kinds of herring, pickles, different breads and crackers, meatballs, super-tender ribs, Janssons temptation, red cabbage amongst a longer list.  For sweet, a lovely soft saffron cake, chocolate mousse, ginger snaps, rice pudding with cherries and Swedish sweets. And of course some cheese to boot. 

All was beautifully done, with almost too much to try and eat.  The tickets were £45, including a glass of delicious Glögg (a better mulled wine), and a Swedish Christmas song lesson, sung out in the room with shots of Aquavit.  A real transformation of the rather ordinary room, complete with their cosy Loft Bar (white faux far and cocktails).

Sunday, 30 November 2014

What Joanna Ate Top 3 November 2014

After mild neglect in a busy November, I’m just sneaking this post in.  Before December 1st and Christmas taking over, my top three list of Thai barbecue, new favourite Bar Termini and one of the ugliest but nicest root vegetables.

Smoking Goat & Som Saa - Thai in London is looking up, with two new places bringing smoke and spice with barbecue/charcoal.  Smoking Goat on Denmark Street is a pretty tiny room, most seats a little crammed around the bar, and a small yet perfectly formed menu, coming from their barbecue at the back.  

At dinner earlier this week we started with a salad of crispy pork belly with cool chunks of pickled watermelon (£6) and coal roast scallops with red nam yum (£3.50 each), followed by smoked lamb ribs and slow roast duck legs (£15), all served with Som Tam (crunchy green papaya salad) and sticky rice.  It’s a bit squashed, hot and smoky when crammed full, but great food (I was expecting a little more chilli though, with all we tried really mild).  There’s also Som Saa winter residency at Climpson’s Arch, their charcoal frills and wood fired ovens bringing a North/North-East Thai menu (wider than at Smoking Goat, and also open for brunch at the weekend).  It’s on my list of places to visit, but hoping to add to Smoking Goat and Janetira as London Thai favourites.

Bar Termini – Tony Conigliaro is behind two of my favourite bars (69 Colebrooke Row and The Zetter Townhouse).  His new Bar Termini on Old Compton Street brings more of the smart white jacket uniforms and exquisite drinks, in the way of the nicest kind of plush Italian cafe. They serve coffee in the day (there will be a menu of cured meats, cheeses, sandwiches etc), with cocktails from 11am.  Do try the Marsala Martini, with a home-pickled almond at the bottom of the glass. 

Celeriac – Cold weather means root veg.  My favourite is the gnarly celeriac, faintly celery like, fantastic raw or cooked.  If raw, for a lighter version of remoulade, cut into match-sticks with apple, dressed in lemon juice and hazelnut oil (pairing with nuts brings out soft nuttiness of the vegetable), maybe a handful of fresh parsley or mint too. Cooked, it’s great in a creamy, garlic rich gratin, or mashed with lots of butter.  I love it roasted, either as a potato alternative, or mixed into hearty salad of nutty grains (farro works particularly well) with other vegetables and a good spoon of wholegrain mustard.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Mission E2, Bethnal Green

A brief brunch post.  An escape from torrential rain at Mission, complete with its leafy palm stretching up to the top of the railway arch ceiling. 

The second place from the people of Sager + Wilde (the wine bar on Hackney Road, with delicious snacks too) is just down the road from the tube station, a bit of a dubious view of flats on Paradise Row.  There’s a fabulous wine rack behind the bar, with an excellent accompanying wine list (lots by the glass).  We managed to fit some in during Sunday brunch/lunch, our choices split by more breakfast (11-2) and roast (as part of the other lunch choices, 12-4).

The ‘nduja baked eggs (£9) were from the former.  The spicy Calabrian sausage was almost melted into the tomato, black cabbage snaked around the just runny-yolked eggs, with toasted sourdough on the side.  The roast (£14ish) was a very good example, tender pork, golden crackling and roast potatoes, plus a spoon of quince jelly.  We shared a sundae glass of beautifully creamy salted caramel ice-cream, sweet with the bitter edge of a properly amber caramel.

A place to return for a few glasses of wine and a plate of charcuterie/cheese at the bar, or for a wintry dinner under the palm (especially with a plate of the venison pappardelle).

Mission Wine Bar and Kitchen on Urbanspoon