Sunday, 31 May 2009

Taste of Edinburgh

T and I went along to Taste of Edinburgh yesterday. I was a bit annoyed to find out it was in Inverleith Park, as the last couple of years it's been in the Meadows, which is about 5 minutes walk from my flat. Now we have to get a bus! To add to the fun, there was a cycling event which had shut off half the city centre, so the bus took twice as long as it should have.

Anyway, my main purpose of going (apart from eating more food than I should) was to scope out some of the restaurants with an eye to persuading my parents that they should take me out somewhere fancy for dinner when I graduate in July. Of the restaurants there, I quite fancied Forth Floor at Harvey Nichols, and Number One, Princes Street.

We began by wasting loads of our money on some Kopparbergs. I love a bit of pear cider, and was absolutely gasping for drink after 40 minutes on an airless bus in the heat, but £4 is way too much. I made sure I got my money's worth of the free ice. We ambled round a bit, and saw a guy demonstrating a mould that could make heart shaped sushi rolls. I tried a apple and cinnamon chocolate, which was a bit fudgey and chewy for my liking. There were 50 or so produce stalls as well as the miniaturised restaurants, so it was fun checking out some of them. We got some madeleines from the Bonne Maman stall, a free Tanqueray G&T, and then spent ages playing with a frying pan with a quick release handle.

Glazed Pork Belly with Braised Apple & Scallop with Stuffed Trotter

After we'd wandered round the whole site, it was time to crack on with the food. We ate quite a lot, as on a couple of occasions the staff forgot to ask for payment, so we had extra vouchers to spend! Yay! Here's a list of what we ate:
  • Slowly cooked lamb shoulder with aubergine caviar, seasonal ratatouille, olive and lamb jus
  • Smoked chicken roulade - with avocado puree, tomato salsa and onion seed crisp
  • Honey and five-spiced, glazed belly pork with braised apple
  • Seared scallop - with stuffed trotter and salsify puree
  • Roast suckling pig with caramelised onion mash, apple and sage compote and meat juices
  • Chocolate torte with cream
  • Scottish berry Pavlova with whisky cream
  • Dark chocolate moelleux with avocado cream (only tried a small sample of the moelleux, no avocado cream)
  • Cannolo with sheep ricotta cream and candied peel
  • White peach Bellinis
I would love to tell you how it all tasted. I really would. Unfortunately, I chose this weekend to come down with a stinking cold. So I have no sense of taste at all. In a way, it was interesting, as I judged the food purely on texture and mouthfeel. I found the crispy trotters went well with the soft scallop, but the dish was marred by the chilled salsa on top. The suckling pig also suffered from hot food being chilled by a cold sauce. T, who still had a sense of taste, enjoyed the glazed pork belly, and was pleasantly surprised by the aubergine caviar (usually he will do almost anything to avoid aubergine, but described the puree as "bearable"). He was also very enamoured by the chocolate torte. I scored a tiny personal victory when I persuaded him to try the tiniest bit of scallop. I think his previous exposure to seafood is mainly based around prawn crackers and sesame toast.


We didn't really take much interest in the cookery demos, mainly because unless you are right at the front you can't see anything. However, we managed to snag seats in the front row of Mat Follas, cooking sausage and beans. Oh yeh. The secret ingredient was anchovy paste. The crowd were allowed to sample the sauce before and after the paste was added, and even me, with my minimal sense of taste could tell the difference. Umami indeed (is it just me that thinks umami sounds like something from Shooting Stars? Eranu.)

Berry Pavlova with Whisky Cream

T and I had a great evening out, and although it was a tad expensive (we got through about £60 including tickets) we got to sample food from restaurants we couldn't normally afford to visit. We'd also pay the best part of £60 just to go to Pizza Express once you add in wine and service, so if you look at it as dinner out rather than a "festival" then it's not too bad value. It's also close to my ideal eating experience: lots of tasting plates rather than one large plate. I'd be up for going again next year, although perhaps in a larger group, so we can try more things!

Friday, 29 May 2009

Rachel Allen's Mocha Cake

The funniest thing about running a blog is Google Analytics. The initial excitement that somebody other than me had read it, then finding out in map view that person is from Argentina! Apart from trying to collect a reader in every country (gotta catch 'em all) I love reading the search results. The most common search is for Press Coffee, although I get some very strange ones too. Try "I don't like eating with other people" and "Tania Tang". I have no idea who she is although she sounds dubious to me.

This post is dedicated to the person who searched for "Rachel Allen mocha cake review".

As someone with a rather large baking store-cupboard, the only ingredients I had to buy for this cake were fresh eggs and some butter. Usually I have some of them in the house but this time they had run out. Luckily, as E was craving cake (he was finishing uni that morning) he offered to pick them up on the way home from his exam.

The cake batter was simple to pull together, and "Bake" is rapidly becoming my book of choice for sweet treats. I couldn't be bothered baking a layered cake, as my sandwich pans are teeny, so to get a decent size cake I usually use the springform pan and wash it out between layers. However, the recipe gave alternate timings for cupcakes, so I went with this.

Mocha cupcake

The cakes cooked well, although I had to turn the pan to combat a cool spot in the front of the oven. The icing is a simple coffee buttercream. Usually, I pipe in a spiral inwards, but I'd seen online that piping in a spiral outwards from the centre created a rose petal effect. Seeing as E was going to snaffle these down with whisky and beer, I was sure he wouldn't mind if I experimented with the decor a little.

My roses were pretty poor, although for a first attempt I was impressed. I think with a little practice I might be able to produce something quite pretty. I also made a few traditional ones to take pictures of.

More Mocha Cupcake-ary

The cakes were generally light and moist, and kept well until the next day. The buttercream was very sweet, but went well with the cake. I've noticed buttercream gets a lot of "haterz" online, either as it is too sweet or too fatty tasting. I think if it's well whipped and spread sparingly it tastes great. (Plus, we're talking cake here, if you want something non sugary and fatty I suggest a salad.)

I think next time I will make this cake as a proper cake rather than cupcakes. As is the way with cupcakes, the icing to cake ratio was a bit off. Actually, the ratio wasn't too bad, it was the distribution. I like layer cakes as the icing is spread evenly, whereas the combination the cupcake shape and a small mouth means I invariably get icing up my nose, and one bite of icing followed by another solely of cake.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Hot Hot Chinese, Home Street

While browsing the List Food and Drink Guide, my flatmates and I found a review of Hot Hot Chinese, which we regularly walk past on the way home from uni. It does not have a promising exterior, and the windows are regularly so steamed up that it's impossible to see what's going on in there.

The review said the speciality dish was Hot Pot, which involves cooking wafer thin slices of meat and vegetables in a stock pot at the table. I haven't seen this anywhere before, although I remember in the mid-90s there was a bit of a fad for hot stone table top cooking (anyone remember Deals on Hammersmith Broadway?)

So we went along on a family outing. The restaurant was packed with Chinese people, with only one table occupied by Westerners. Usually a good sign in ethnic places. We thought we'd have to wait for a table, but instead were lead downstairs to a slightly depressing storeroom with plastic tables and chairs. There were a couple of other tables already occupied, and we helped the waitress to take the chairs stacked on top of the table down and lay out the chopsticks.

The menu was almost entirely in Chinese. In English, it merely said Hot Pot, and then a list of ingredients. We had no idea what we were supposed to do. Was it like tapas, where you order several items that take your fancy? Or did you pick a category such as Meat or Seafood and get all those items? We asked the waitress, who didn't really speak English. Instead she asked us if there was anything on the menu we didn't want. Tripe was immediately vetoed, but we were happy with anything else. She then asked what we wanted to drink: beer, coke or water. No varieties of beer or choice of soft drinks, just whatever they got in from the last delivery. While she got our drinks, we snacked on some raw peanuts and some kimchi. I've seen a lot of online chatter about kimchi, but had never tasted it. It had a strange texture, but I enjoyed the spicy sauce.

She came back with some beers and a hot plate. We helped her shuffle the table nearer the wall so the lead for the hot plate could reach the plug. She brought us a pan of stock, divided down the middle, with spicy on one side and normal down the other. Then the food started arriving.

Peanuts, fishsticks/balls/skewers, razor clams, squid, prawns, mushrooms, kelp and kimchi

Before we knew it, the table was covered in plate upon plate of food. Slices of beef, pork, lamb, ham, tofu, frozen tofu, tofu skin (?), rice noodles, chinese leaves, two types of mushroom, kelp, squid, prawns, razor clams, fish balls, fish sticks, fish skewers, potatoes, turnips, garlic sauce and satay.

Pork, turnips, potatoes and tofu skin

A waitress with better English explained that the turnips and potatoes would take 8 minutes to cook, but everything else either just need reheating, or in the case of the meat and fish, would change colour as it cooked. After messing about with the timer, and realising that instead of alerting us to our ready food, it just turned the whole hot plate off, we settled in. Hundreds of items were thrown in the stocks, sometimes to be fished out straight away and eaten, other times left to linger until someone else with the ladle hit the bounty. I tried holding things in with chopsticks, but my skills were too poor and the steam burned my hands.

Spicy stock and normal stock with dates

The combination of the holiday feel (plastic tables, weird food, incomprehensible menu), the intense steamy heat, and several beers made us rather silly, and we giggled insanely as we dunked the blue prawns into the stock until they turned pink. L spent a long time discussing how a razor clam resembled the fossils he studies in class, including a detailed anatomical description. Periodically the waitress would turn up and be baffled by our requests for tap water or top up our stock pots with fresh juice.

Garlic sauce

When we could literally eat no more, we asked for the bill with some trepidation. We had eaten almost everything on the menu... how high would our bill be?

The food came to £14.50 each. I guess that ordering the hot pot essentially means ordering everything on the menu unless you specify otherwise. Bargain!

I really enjoyed our evening out, and we had more fun than we've probably had at any restaurant during our entire time at uni. The food was cheap and plentiful, and pretty good apart from one dodgy prawn. I particularly enjoyed the strange Chinese mushrooms (they looked like seaweed) and the kelp (which *is* seaweed). I also really enjoyed putting a load of random vegetables in, and then some meat on top, and fishing it all out together, as the unifying flavour of the stock pulled it all together.

Next time some one adventurous wants to go for dinner, I'll even try the tripe.

Hot Hot Chinese on Urbanspoon

Monday, 25 May 2009

How to Make a "2" Shaped Cake, OR, My Very Own Cake Wreck

Soooo, I think I might have created a cake wreck.

My friend Anna turned 21, and went home for a big family party. At the big family party, a cake in the shape of a 2 and a 1 was produced. However, the family party was not very cake orientated, so only the 2 got eaten. Since the cake had been professionally made, it was encased in a thick layer of royal icing, so Anna brought the 1 back to Edinburgh for a second birthday party.

I had offered to bake her a fairy castle cake, like this one, but now as we had a 1 already, it seemed more sensible to bake another 2. (While on the phone to my mother, she told me that she had once attempted a fairy castle cake for my 5th birthday. Apparently it was less than successful and instead resembled the Hagia Sophia.)

I haven't really done much with fondant, and wasn't in the mood to try royal icing either. As the cakes weren't going to even vaguely match, I came up with the idea of combining the 21 with the fairy castle. It was very late at night and I wasn't in my right mind. The idea was that the 2 would form a path to the castle, which would be formed from the 1 cake.

I didn't have a two shaped pan, so we had to improvise. There wasn't a big enough mixing bowl, so we used a punch bowl instead. We made a basic chocolate sponge, involving 450g butter, 450g sugar, 8 eggs, 400g of flour, 50g cocoa, some baking powder and salt. From this, we made a circular cake, a loaf cake and a square cake. It took the best part of 5 hours as the oven in Anna's flat was tiny and could only fit one tin at a time.

After the cakes cooled, and we'd covered some chopping boards in tin foil (classy), we set about building and decorating out 2. The loaf cakes was sliced horizontally to be the same height as the circle and square cake. We cut these two in half vertically so that we had a semi-circle, a short rectangle, and a long rectangle.

The semi-circle formed the top of the 2, and the long loaf rectangle the main cross of the 2. Finally the rectangle made from the square cake made the bottom of the 2. We cut of the corners of the loaf cake and trimmed the semi-circle to make it all fit together better. The layers were sandwiched together with chocolate buttercream, and also given a thin crumb coating to make the spreading of the rest of the buttercream easier.

All was well so far. However, I'd forgotten to bring gel food colouring, so we had to use some liquid stuff procured from a nearby Tesco Metro. We forgot to get any more icing sugar to make up for it, so the buttercream was ridiculously soft, and we couldn't get it as dark as I wanted. I should have chilled it for a bit, but the bowl wouldn't fit in the fridge! Instead of looking like lush grass, it looked like the weird pastel green you get in hospitals. I also tried to spike the icing up so it looked grassy rather than smooth, but again it was too soft to work with properly.

Next I decided to ice the path to the castle in pink, like the icing on the other cake. Again it was hard to get the consistency right, and the colour was too weak. Plus as it was so soft it was impossible to pipe neatly.

Next we made a cobblestone path out of chocolate raisins. Again, the image I had in my head was far far above what actually occurred on the cake.

Finally, we topped it off with a cardboard cut out of a knight on horseback and a turret for the castle.

Behold the wreckage...!

Structurally sound, tasty inside, wrecky design

At the party, everyone thought it tasted great. I even overheard someone saying "The green cake tastes far better than it looks!" which I think is a sort of compliment. I thought it was a bit dry and dense compared to my normal baking style, but passable. I'm scheduled in for another "official" cake next week so we shall see how that one goes. I might attempt a buttercream plaque/transfer.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Pork and Beans

We've already established that I like South American style food, and I like trying new recipes. So the two came together when I found a recipe for spiced pork loin with black eyed beans at T's flat.

I bought a massive hunk of pork from the butcher, who was actually nice to me for once. Probably because I ended up spending the best part of £20 on it, but it was good to be spoken to as a proper person rather than getting sarcastic comments. (I should really go to the other butcher, but it's so much further to walk to.) I also stocked up on tinned black eyed beans and paprika from Lupe Pintos, which is an Aladdin's cave of random food from around the world. I also got a couple of their chorizo rosario, which is uncooked so it isn't as tough as the precooked chorizo you find in the supermarkets. I got everything else from the green grocer, although I completely forgot to get the fresh tomatoes, instead just getting tinned ones.

Spiced pork loin with chorizo, bean and tomato stew

The recipe itself was pretty easy to pull together, and although the butcher scored the skin for me, I didn't ask him to french trim the bones as there was still as lot of meat in that area that I didn't want to waste. The crackling came up well, the paprika gave it a mild spiciness, and the fat underneath was creamy rather than chewy. I ate a bit too much of it and felt ill afterwards. I found the tomato sauce a little too watery, although this meant that I could mop up the leftovers with a slice of bread instead! I used larger chillies, so the stew wasn't too hot even when the chillies were sliced in to it at the end. Plus I absolutely love stewed chorizo. I had to restrain myself from picking out all the chorizo while dishing up and eating it all myself. The pork wasn't as melt in the mouth as I'd hoped, but the steam from the stew meant it was still moist and tender.

T enjoyed it too, I am trying to get him more in to pulses as a) they are tasty, b) they are good for you and c) they are a cheap way to bulk out a meal. I haven't yet managed to get a vegetarian chilli down him, but surely it is only a matter of time?

The picture in the Jamie Oliver book/website looked much prettier than mine, and either he used meat from a withered pig or that baking tray is enormous. T's roasting tin is tiny, as it was about the only one we could find that fitted in to his shoebox sized oven. I can't wait until I have my own flat and can buy a decent oven that can fit in more than one thing at a time.

There were some left overs, which I divided into chops. The one in the fridge reheated well the next day (let's face it, stew is always better the next day), but the one in the freezer is an unknown quantity... I would definitely make it again, but reduce the amount of liquid in the stew, and add in way more chillis. It was a bit messy for a posh dinner, but would be great for a more informal meal.

Talking of which, I might have my first ever dinner party next week. I am trying to decided whether to just invite my friends or to get each of my flatmates to bring a randomer. Decisions decisions.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Khushi's Diner

Many years ago, when I first moved to Edinburgh, T and I went to see March of the Penguins (it was my birthday and I demanded the cuteness). On the way back we stopped at Khushi's by uni for a curry. We had a nice evening and made a note to go back again some day. A few weeks later while on my way to class, I noticed it was boarded up.

Later that term, we went out on Victoria Street and saw that Khushi's had relocated. T was very excited as he loves a good curry. We hurried along to try out the new Khushi's. The back of the menu explained the history, with each incarnation of the restaurant (Victoria Street was the 5th location) the business had adapted and grown.

The interior of the Victoria Street restaurant was almost palatial, with huge chandeliers and glass staircases. It was far more upmarket than your average Indian restaurant, with no flocked wallpaper or dodgy sitar music. Although it was a bit pricier than your average Indian, it was smart enough to impress visitors without totally breaking the bank. Virtually every relative, friend and randomer that turned up to visit us got dragged along to Khushi's.

Last Christmas, I saw on the news that there had been a massive fire in central Edinburgh. I'm always curious to see if it is somewhere I know, but usually it's a warehouse in some random suburb. This time, it was Khushi's.

When T and I returned to Edinburgh after Christmas, we walked past the shell of what remained of Khushi's. It was completely burnt out and didn't look like opening any time soon.

We'd heard rumours that Khushi's were planning to move on and open in a new premises, and while scouting for lunch near uni one day, I saw that Belgian themed Centraal had become Khushi's Diner.

Unlike Victoria Street, the Diner is more cramped, and without luxurious chandeliers and plush banquettes. It's based around the principle "jaldi jaldi" (or "quickly quickly") with cheap and cheerful decor in a clash of bright colours. While Victoria Street sometimes seemed styled by a subcontinental Bond villain, the Diner is more along the quirky Indian style portrayed by the Darjeeling Limited poster in our hallway. The menu is slightly smaller than before, but all our favourites were there. The smaller space also meant we had to wait around 10 minutes for a table, but we were directed to a neighbouring pub to pass the time. The waiter came and found us in the pub when our table was ready!

We started with complimentary poppadoms, and we ordered a selection of chutneys to go with them. The poppadoms were dryly crisp, and the mango chutney nicely chunky. The spicy onions were potent, but tasty in small doses. It's still BYOB, and the beers we had brought with us had been kept refrigerated while we waited for our table.

Tandoori Fish with Raita

T browsed the menu, but it was pointless as he ordered his favourite dish anyway; tandoori mushrooms. When it arrived a few minutes later, he tucked in eagerly, proclaiming it was as good as he'd remembered and that he'd missed it! I went for tandoori fish which had a lovely charcoal crispy crust, and juicy flesh inside. The only downside was that the fish was a little mushy (rather than flaky) in places. It came with a cooling raita and some moreish shredded cabbage.

Next up we shared some plain rice and a garlic naan to accompany our main courses. The naan had a crisp "crust" with a doughy inside, with just a hint of garlic. T had a lamb jalfrezi, while I went for Methi Palak Gosht. Everything came in little bowls, so it made sharing easy, although I found that my second helping was a bit cold by the time I got round to scooping it on to my plate. The lamb was so tender you could cut it with a spoon, and the sauce had enough spinach in it to pretend that it was healthy, but the spices were a bit lost at times.

Methi Palak Gosht, Garlic Naan and Boiled Rice

I have never been much in to Indian desserts, but decided to give them another try. I ordered Gajar Ka Halwa, a carrot pudding with cream, cherries and nuts. The carrot element was promising, but I was put off by the lumps of cooked cream spread throughout the dish. The cherries and almonds went well, although they were quite sparse. I preferred the baklava style pastry T got with his coffee, but next time we go I will try buttermilk dumplings instead.

Gajar Ka Halwa

They also do a lunch menu, with Indian style sandwiches made with puri. It's a shame I've finished uni now, otherwise this would be a regular lunch time stop off, especially when it's to rainy and cold for the Mosque Kitchen.

Khushi's Diner on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

London Food Adventures Part II

Two places I was quite interested to visit this time were Westfield and Selfridges. I'd never been to Westfield, despite it only being a few stops away by tube, and the Selfridges' food hall has long been one of my favourite places to amble around.

Although I failed miserably in my attempt to find a new pair of jeans, I was impressed by Westfield. Everything was clean and well kept, and the snob in me was pleased that fast food chains had been kept out of the main food area. Instead there was an interesting looking risotto stall, along with a Lebanese bakery, a French rotisserie, Indian tiffin boxes, Mexican wraps and a pho stall. I have heard good things about pho, but the queue was massive. I doubt that it was the most authentic stuff you can find in London, but I thought it was interesting that it had been included in a mainstream food court.

Instead I had a frozen yogurt from the salad bar stand. I totally fell in love with frozen yogurt in Canada last year, and would insist that we got a snack every time we passed a Yogen Fruz. It doesn't seem to have caught on much in the UK, and most places just have vanilla yogurt with some random fruit on top. In Canada, they would have a whole freezer full of fruit, and you could choose your own combination to be blended in to your yogurt. The blender was a specialist piece of kit, that blended, chilled and served the yogurt, with the finished product being neatly piped into a bowl rather than scooped out. If you know of somewhere that does this within 500 miles of Edinburgh I would love to visit!

Frozen Yogurt in Westfield

I also spent some time standing outside Wahaca drooling at the menu. As mentioned in my past London post, I love South American food. If I hadn't just eaten all that frozen yogurt I probably would have been tempted by some churros. If I won the lottery and had an extra stomach that would be great, but until then I have to restrain myself.

I hopped on the central line to Bond Street to check out Selfridges. I always get confused about which is the nearest station, and have to stride along Oxford Street dodging thousands of tourists, but I made it in the end. I wasn't really intending to buy anything, especially not since Le Cafe Anglais ate all my money. I particularly enjoyed the chilled counters, as they had some fantastic looking Middle Eastern food on display, as well as a very well stocked fish counter. The butcher's counter had every cut of meat imaginable, including a pig's head. There was also a "raw food" counter with dehydrated carrot cake, which looked too wholesome to be any fun. I was slightly disappointed by the ambient section, as I was trying to get some orzo for my mum. The pasta section had spaghetti, penne and lasagne, and not much else. Poor show.

As it is Selfridges 100th birthday this year, there were lots of promotional products in the trademark yellow.

Selfridges' Centenary Coca Cola

Another culinary first on this trip was dim sum. I am not majorly in to Chinese food, and I've always been a bit scared by the lack of description, especially when in comes to dim sum. I am less wimpy these days, and more likely to order something without knowing what it is, but I still found dim sum a bit too much of an unknown. My friend E, who I have known since primary school, decided we should visit Ping Pong for dinner. As an introduction to the world of dim sum, I thought this was the gentlest route! Again, while the authenticity of some of the dishes must be compromised, I thought it was great that a fairly niche cuisine could be popular enough to form a local chain. I quite enjoyed the dinner, and I especially enjoyed trying some of the more unusual items such as the steamed buns. I have heard there are a couple of decent dim sum places in Edinburgh, so I'll have to give them a go now I have a bit more confidence!

Lastly, here are the Laduree pictures I promised you last time. Sorry for the rubbishness, my camera is 5 years old with 4 megapixels, so the pictures are not the best quality. It was so snazzy when I got it, and now it just looks lame compared to modern cameras!

Jess and I ordered a box of 8 to share. I got lemon, praline, salted caramel and bergamot, Jess got the salted caramel too. (Annoyingly, I can't remember what other flavours she got, I was too absorbed in the macaron goodness!) We ate the first ones nearby, sitting on the base of a statue of Beau Brummell, while the others got saved for a sunny spot in Soho Square.

Macaron Tower

Lemon is still my favourite, although praline is now a contender. The bergamot was too subtle, and just tasted of almonds. I was looking forward to the salted caramel, so much so that I saved it until the end. However it was over-caramelised in my opinion, tasting a little burnt and bitter. I might try to make some macarons at home soon, as the recipe looks hard but not impossible.

Laduree macarons, and my reflection

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Le Cafe Anglais

The highlight of my trip to London was always going to be dinner at Le Cafe Anglais. While it isn't the fanciest place you could go (especially not in London), it's slogan of "affordable luxury" appealed to my very empty looking bank account.

I met up with two friends, Jess and G, and after a few drinks at a nearby pub, we headed over for our booking at 8. The entrance from the street is a tiny reception, and you then take a lift up to the second floor to reach the dining room. The whole thing is done in an art deco style, with pastel greens and creams, banquettes and blocky glass lampshades. The dining room was impressively large, and had a vintage style grandeur that you don't find in modern buildings. It would have perhaps looked a little dated in some places, but I thought it worked well with the style of the Whiteley's building. Along the back wall was the bar area, as well as an open kitchen area with a rather large rotisserie section. We needn't have booked though, as of the 200 or so seats, only about 20 were occupied.

We were shown to our seats, and treated ourselves to some Bellinis. After much perusing of the menu, we opted for a selection of hors d'oeuvres and then the main course., skipping the starters We ordered Parmesan custard with anchovy toast, rabbit rillettes with picked endive and kipper pate with a soft boiled egg.

The kipper pate and rabbit rillettes were good, although there wasn't really enough bread to go round. We also spent ages arguing over whether the picked endive was white asparagus or artichoke. It was only when we saw the menu again on the way out that we realised that no one had been right!

I'd heard good things about the Parmasan custard and anchovy toast, and I was really excited to try it, even though I generally dislike strong cheese flavours. The salty anchovies embedded in the toast helped minimise the cheesiness of the custard, but even when eaten alone the Parmesan flavour wasn't overwhelming. I'm still not sure if I like Parmesan, but this seemed like something I could get used to.

Parmesan Custard and Anchovy Toast

The manager came up to our table, and asked us if we were in the food business. We were half tempted to say yes, given that bloggers now seem to receive press releases and samples in the same way the traditional media used to. (I was also still vaguely convinced I owned a deli after my turn at the RFF). We settled for describing ourselves as "interested amateurs". The manager announced that there had been a mix up over our main courses, and they wouldn't be ready for some time. To make up for this, he was going to send out some more hor d'oeuvres to pass the time, and did we like oysters?

Minutes later our table was laden with mackerel teriaki and cucumber salad; octopus, rice and pimenton; and fried oysters with Thai dipping sauce. The mackerel was tasty, and the cucumber salad was a refreshing counterpoint. I'd never tried octopus before, only squid, so that was exciting. It was chewy, but without being rubbery. Jess had eaten octopus before and declared this version a good example. The risotto style rice underneath had a hint of spice, and was still rich with a creamy texture. I'd had fried oysters in a sandwich in Canada last year, which made me feel a little ill as they were quite greasy. These ones were dry, the crispy batter giving way to the soft oyster underneath, paired with a zingy sweet basil dipping sauce. Given that it was all free, it was extra nice, but I don't know if I'd have thought the octopus good value had I paid £10 for it. It was from the starters menu, but was barely bigger than the hors d'oeuvres, which only cost around £3. While we did quite well out of the mix up, I was not impressed that they had got confused when they were only operating at about 10% of their dining room capacity. What would have happened if the kitchen had actually been busy?

Octopus, rice and pimenton

I was feeling very full by this point, and then the main courses turned up. G had a sea bass, Jess some very tender pink lamb, and I had middle pork with lentils. We also ordered a dauphinois gratin, and spring vegetables. My pork also came with crackling, which is always good, although parts of it were chewy rather than crispy. My main criticism of the dish was that the lentils were quite watery, and could have done with some herbs or spices to perk them up a bit. I didn't manage to finish the pork, partly because I was now ridiculously full, and partly because it didn't inspire me that much. It was decent, but nothing special. The dauphinois was deliciously rich, but the spring vegetables with garlic were less memorable.

Middle Pork and Lentils, with crackling topping

Against my best intentions, we finished with a Queen of Puddings. None of us had eaten it before, and we were intrigued as to what it could be. It looked impressive, with tiny meringue peaks piped over the top of the dish. Underneath, there was eggy custard, sponge cake and jam. Very British, very tasty, and surprisingly light. This was accompanied by a large pot of Barry's tea, and much contemplating who this Barry character was anyway. The waitress informed us that the blend is named after the tea room in Ireland that invented it, but the mystery of who Barry is remains unsolved.

Queen of Puddings (After we got stuck in)

Dinner came to about £40 each including service, for which we got an hors d'oeuvre each, a Bellini, a main course with side vegetables, and 33% of a Queen of Puddings and a pot of tea. While this is at the pricier end of the spectrum (especially considering we didn't have wine with the meal) I was generally pleased. The food was mostly skillfully cooked, and I had the chance to sample some new things (octopus, Queen of Puddings) as well as some unusual flavours and textures (Parmesan custard). I also thought the surroundings were comfortable without being too stuffy, and I enjoyed watching the goings on in the open kitchen.

Unfortunately, I don't think Le Cafe Anglais represents "affordable luxury" for me. Maybe it will when I have a salary rather than a student loan, although I did notice they had a cheaper set menu for lunchtimes and weekday nights. However, should I ever be in London celebrating, (especially if someone else is paying!) I would love to go back.

(All photos in the post courtesy of Jess, and her far superior camera)

UPDATE: You can read Jess's account of the evening here.

Le Cafe Anglais on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 16 May 2009

London Food Adventures Part I

I came back from London on Thursday, and should have posted this ages ago, but I am lazy and easily distracted by shiny things.

I had a day out with Jess, and we went on a bit of a culinary odyssey.

The Spice Shop

First stop was the Spice Shop in Portobello. They had fresh Kafir lime leaves, which I've never seen before, and every spice blend imaginable. The pure spices came in cute little yellow tins, while the blends seemed to come in bags. I bought some sumac, and noticed that they had beet powder on special offer. I asked if they had any raspberry powder too, and the woman behind the counter seemed shocked.

"What do you want that for!?"
"It's a flavouring and colouring, I wanted to make raspberry meringue"
"I've never heard of it. Could you not just make it at home with a coffee grinder?"

Well, yes, but as mentioned before I am lazy.

I was upset that Books for Cooks across the road was shut, but that was poor planning on my part, as I had totally failed to see the big sign on their website that says they are closed on Mondays.

Black Bottom Cupcake

While meandering back to Notting Hill Gate, we passed the Hummingbird Bakery. We weren't planning on going there, but it was a happy accident. The cupcakes looked very pretty, but I am still suspicious of them. I was impressed that they also had a couple of loaf cakes without icing, as this suggested they actually made good cakes rather than rubbish cakes with shedloads of frosting on. I was tempted by the ginger cupcakes, but went for black bottom instead. I saw this the other week online, but had never heard of it in the UK. It's basically chocolate cake with a dollop of cheesecake thrown in. When it came to the tasting, I was impressed. The chocolate cake was moist, with a light texture, and the dense cheesecake made a nice contrast. These are going on my "bake at home" list.

Jess went for red velvet. While we were queuing up, some other people in the shop were going on about how red velvet is their favourite flavour.

Me: "It's not a flavour! It's just chocolate with red in it!"
Man Behind Counter: "Yes, it is our best seller"
M: "Why is it red?"
MBC: "So it looks nice"
M: "But why?"
MBC: "Just because it looks fun with the white icing"
M: "I don't get it. Why put colouring it when you don't need to?"
MBC: "So it looks pretty, and it's traditional"
M: "I guess I'm just a total killjoy..."
MBC: *silence*

Jess enjoyed the cake, which was very red and pretty looking, although I think she was also a bit baffled as to why it is coloured red. Or maybe I just lectured her into submission. Moving on...

We then went on to Bond Street, where we checked out Laduree and Fortnum and Mason, although Jess has the pictures from then so that will have to be part II of this post.

After all the food porn, we were tired and *hungry*, so we wandered into Soho to check out Fernandez and Wells. Jess had an empanada, which was one of my favourite snacks when I went to South America many years ago. I especially liked the mini deep fried ones, which you usually found at truck stops in the middle of nowhere. This one was baked, but still tasty.

Empanada with chili sauce

South American cuisine is not well represented in the UK, and I still dream of the ceviche I had in Peru and Chile. I had a pastel de nata, which is Portuguese, although I'm sure I had stuff like this in Brazil, so I guess it was imported along with the language.

Pastel De Nata

It was one of those dishes that tastes much better than it looked. I loved the custardy filling, and the pastry was crisp and flaky, which was surprising as for some reason I was expected more of a shortcrust style case. I had a cappuccino, although in hindsight I should have gone for a cafe cortado.

Being back in London made me realise how much I missed the buzz of the big city, and also how poor the Edinburgh food scene can be at times. I guess it is better here than a lot of places, but you don't get the variety and choice that you get in London. Having grown up there, I am used to the noise, crowds and know the tube almost off by heart. While I like the villagey feel of Edinburgh, I sometimes feel like it has all the downsides of city living, but with few of the perks.

Monday, 11 May 2009

Real Food Festival

I am in London this weekend, partly to catch up with friends, but partly because I fancied a trip to the Real Food Festival at Earl's Court.

I booked tickets for the Sunday, and planned to go with my mum. However, she had to work on Sunday, so we decided to sneak in to the trade show on Friday. We had a deli-based cover story, but part of me thinks being a blogger now counts as "trade", especially when you see how many blogs get sent free samples as a promotion tactic. Anyway, enough of my views on whether exploitation of new media as free promotion is ethical or not.

A very extensive tea stall

It was an enjoyable day, and I learnt some interesting stuff about tea, and saw mozzarella being made. I also saw Willie Hardcourt-Cooze being filmed manning his chocolate stall, which was quite exciting. Sadly we missed Fergus Henderson doing a cookery demonstration, but we were too cheap to buy a programme and didn't realise he was on.

Mozzarella curds

Given my "expert" knowledge in food lies mostly within baking, I was particularly interested in the bakeries at the show. There were a couple of bread stalls that looked good, and some great Italian biscuits. The cake stall were generally disappointing, with cupcakes being a major theme. I like making these at home, but I think commercial cupcakes usually suffer from style over substance. On top of that, I even saw one stall that had such poorly iced examples on display that I would have rejected them if I had made them myself.

The real star find was PT's biscuits. Not only were his biscuits delicious, but they used proper ingredients like butter (rather than margarine or oil). The flavours were not particularly revolutionary, but it was great to look at the label and see the same list of ingredients as I'd use at home. No additives, preservatives, weird chemicals - home baked biscuits without the hassle! I also chatted with him for a while and he gave me loads of free samples. I truly believe good baker is a generous one! I hope Paul succeeds.

Cyrus Todiwala

Despite having a great day pretending to run a deli, I still had tickets for Sunday. So I went again with my friend C! We watched Cyrus Todiwala make an Indian meal, before wandering around the stalls. I had a nice hazelnut ice cream, and a pear and cardamom cupcake from one of the more professional looking stalls. The pear filling added moistness, but the icing had dried out a little. The cardamom flavour was also too weak, and the cake mainly tasted of sugar. C had an espresso cupcake that was a bit more successful.

Pear and Cardamom cupcake

Espresso cupcake

We also managed to get a spot at the Bordeaux Quay cookery school stand. We made a fennel and courgette salad, and a cheese omelette. Our omelette was a bit runny, but the salad, which also featured garlic, pine nuts, sultanas, coriander, mint and lemon was delicious. Raw fennel and courgette didn't excite me at all, but the end result was very tasty.

C showing off her chopping skills

The finished salad

My other top find was a Welsh chocolate maker called Hipo Hyfryd. They are nominally vegan, but really in the case of chocolate this just means plain chocolate rather than milk. I got a box of the salt and pepper flavour, which was really unusual and much more interesting than some of the other chocolates on offer on other stalls. I think it might be trumped by lime chocolate in terms of weirdness, but lime chocolate didn't work while salt and pepper most definitely did. Again, they seemed like nice guys and I hope they do well!

I had a really good day on both my visits, but I felt that the show would have benefitted from something a bit more "showy". Most of the festival was a glorified farmer's market, with some of the stands being quite big names, rather than smaller "real food" producers. Although it was great to meet the people who made the food, some stalls had employed temps, notably Rococco chocolate, were most of the girls behind the counter were unable to even speak English, let alone tell you about the chocolate you were tasting. I really enjoyed the cookery school, and the demonstration kitchen, so I think the focus should shift from being about market style stalls to more interactive/instructive elements.

I am such a nerd.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Leftover Egg Whites and Vanilla Marshmallows

I get through a lot of eggs. I've used maybe 18 or so in the last week on various baking projects. I almost always end up with egg whites leftover though. I guess because I tend towards richer, creamier things, like creme patisserie, custards or mousses.

Before I started baking so frequently, I would have made pavlova with them. Actually, I would have more likely have put them in the fridge meaning to make meringue, forgotten about them for a week, and then thrown them away as I worried they had gone bad.

While the main staples for baking are cheap, it's the good stuff like ground nuts and chocolate that make it expensive. Given that I can easily spend £20 on ingredients if left unchecked, I am really trying to not waste things in an effort to make money go further. This includes those pesky egg whites.

Vanilla Marshmallows

Although I like meringue, its not something you can eat that much of. My go to recipe for egg whites lately has been financiers, but this weekend it was wearing thin. Part of my reasoning behind the Red Velvet cake was that the icing used egg whites, but that still left me with 2 egg whites festering in the fridge. Googling "2 egg whites" lead me to marshmallows, and this particular recipe by Hugh FW. I also fancied the foodbeam recipe, but that used more than 2 egg whites and I didn't like the idea of messing with quantities on something as precarious as confectionery.

Instead, I mixed the two recipes together. I replaced Hugh's beet juice for colour with Fanny's vanilla seeds for flavour.

The only tricky moment was boiling the sugar syrup. I was using my parent's old sugar thermometer that I stole borrowed from my dad's house. It is only in Fahrenheit, so I had not a clue how hot the sugar actually was, just that it had to get to 250F before I could pour in the gelatine and vanilla mix. It was boiling pretty vigorously, got to 220F, and stopped. I actually thought the thermometer was broken, as the temperature seemed to hover at 220F for about 5 minutes. Turning the heat up didn't seem to do much either, and I was worried that the sugar would burn, explode or do something else equally unpleasant.

Eventually it got moving again and I mixed the gelatine and syrup before adding to the beaten egg whites in small dribbles. The resulting mixture had a similar texture and look to meringue mix, but was runny instead of stiff. I wasn't sure how long to whip it for, and I think I could have given it a bit longer to make the marshmallows even lighter.

After a rather anxious two hours wondering if it had set, and trying seriously hard to resist the urge to poke it every 5 minutes, I turned out the square of marshmallow. It was sticky, but firm, and came away from the tin surprisingly easily. I then set about cutting the block into bite sized cubes. I used a palette knife, although I think a sharper knife might have made the job a bit easier and my cuts a bit neater. Once dusted with sugar and cornflour, I packed them into Tupperware, but not before trying a couple myself.

Unlike shop bought marshmallows, these didn't seem overwhelmingly chemical. The vanilla flavour was perhaps a tad too subtle, but it was there nonetheless. They had the slight crust from the icing sugar coating, but were billowy inside. My flatmate E declared that it was "probably the best marshmallow I've ever had", but he is not a renowned marshmallow connoisseur so this is not quite as sweeping as first seems.

More Fluffiness

Given that I'd never even heard of homemade marshmallows until 6 months or so ago, I was surprised at how easy they were to make. I would suggest that this would be a good kids recipe, as the results are impressive for very little work, but the large amounts of boiling sugar are perhaps not so suitable!

I'm even looking forward to my next batch of leftover egg white...

Friday, 1 May 2009

Red Velvet Cake


I think my big downfall as a cook is that I don't revisit recipes enough. I'm always distracted by something new and shiny, and don't spend time getting a small selection of recipes right.

So when I decided to bake a cake for this weekend, I didn't go for an old favourite, I went for Red Velvet Cake.

I'd never really heard of this cake until recently. A lot of the blogs I frequent are American, and it pops up fairly frequently. I found it strange that a basic chocolate cake could get people so excited, seemingly just because it had food colouring in. When I found a recipe for it in "Bake" by Rachel Allen, I had to see what the fuss was about.

It was fairly complicated to make, as cakes go, as it involved alternating between wet and dry ingredients. While I managed to find buttermilk in a local deli, I couldn't find cream of tartar anywhere, except for in the Co-op, where I found a ticket for it on the shelf, but they'd sold out. As it was just in the icing to make the mixture more acidic, I replaced it with a few drops of lemon juice.

The cake took me quite a while to make, as my flatmates were watching tv and I didn't want to use the noisy electric whisk. This is one of the many joys of living a shared flat with a kitchen diner instead of a proper living room! I used a spatula to cream the butter and sugar, which took a while, then fold in the other ingredients. There was also a bit more mixture than I was expecting, so the mixing bowl threatened to overflow towards the end!

I turned the sandwich pans after 20 minutes in the oven, and at this stage they were noticeably wobbly in the centre. They rose quite a lot, but sunk as they cooled so they were only slightly domed, although if I was making this for a special occasion I would probably level them off so they looked a bit neater and more professional. As it was, I just filled in the gaps with the icing.

The icing was easy to make, although I've never made a meringue based icing before. I wasn't sure how much the icing was meant to be heated, but it seemed to come together ok. This is another problem with trying new things - I often don't know what result I'm aiming for! On eating, the mouthfeel was a little grainy. I think I probably should have heated it more, but I was worried that the eggs would be overwhipped and collapse. I iced it once with a thin layer to catch the crumbs and then thickly with little flicked peaks.

My cake looked quite similar to the one in the book, so I think I got it right. My American flatmate was the only one in the flat who had tasted red velvet before, and he confirmed that it tasted as it was supposed to.

Very red

It was pretty nice, with the only flaw being the slightly grainy icing where the sugar hadn't dissolved fully. However, I just don't get the appeal of red velvet cake. The cake was moist and soft, with a definite chocolate flavour, but I didn't like the icing though, and found it sickly. I thought it would have been much better with a chocolate icing. The red colouring impressed my flatmate H, and the red and white contrast looked good, but I think the novelty would wear off quickly. (H also said that syphilis was known as "French velvet" during the 18th Century so her opinions may be slightly skewed.)

A piece of cake...(I'm hilarious)

In terms of revisiting this recipe, I think I will make the cake again, but not bother with the food colouring or the icing. Instead I might try a chocolate fudge icing or a ganache. I guess you could also dye it other colours for special occasions, although I can't think of any right now... maybe green for St Patricks? Blue velvet?