Thursday 28 May 2009

Fate has delivered - Chickpea and Chorizo stew.

A while back, I used to frequent the Spanish Deli 'Brindisa' located down the road from my office in Exmouth Market. Among other good things, at lunchtimes they sold a gorgeous chickpea and chorizo stew. I thought it was fantastic and used to eat it pretty often. I always meant to find out the recipe, but somehow never got round to it. Then one day, disaster struck....Brindisa's Exmouth Market branch closed - how would I ever find out what was in that lovely stew? (They have another, still open branch at Borough Market - but for the dramatic purpose of this story, lets blank that from our minds for now).

So, the recipe and the memory of its sheer tasty'ness consigned to history, I was round my parents house the other weekend and happened to end up idly looking at my Mothers Recipe books. I picked up one, 'How to feed your friends with Relish' by Joanna Weinberg.....I'm flicking through - and whats this I see? do my eyes deceive me? Chickpea and Chorizo stew! the actual recipe from Brindisa in Exmouth Market - its actually namechecked. Sweet Fate! Obviously it was meant to be.

So with no time to waste - I 'borrowed' the book promising to return it at some undecipherable date in the future (I mumbled that bit - a good trick). And rushed home to make it as fast as my manly legs could carry me.

Now the recipe in the book serves 25!!! So I scaled it down a bit by cunningly halving it, and then halving it that serves 6 (and a bit). Enough for two nights of large portioned (oooer) stew goodness for me and the girlfriend.
The best thing is - it tasted exactly the same as I remember it, and my girlfriend scored it a very reputable 8 and a 1/2 out of 10. Which means no sulking on my part followed up by the traditional blazing row, instead it was all cheesy grins and much self satisfied back slapping.

Anyway, here's the scaled down adapted Recipe....

Chickpea and Chorizo Stew
Serves 4-6

250g Fresh Cooking Chorizo cut diagonally into 3cm chunks
150g Pancetta, chopped.
1 Medium Red Onion - chopped
1 Red Bell Pepper - deseeded and chopped
Olive Oil
2 Garlic Cloves - chopped
1 and a 1/2 Teaspoons dried Oregano
250g Passata
2x 400g Cans Chickpeas, drained with 75ml of the water reserved.
100ml White Wine
500ml Chicken Stock or water.
Hand Full of fresh flatleaf parsley chopped.
Black Pepper

Fry the Chorizo and pancetta in a large saucepan over a fairly high heat until it begins to colour and releases oil. Remove with a slotted spoon and fry the onion and bell pepper in the meats oils, adding extra olive oil if necessary, until golden.

Return the meat to the pan, turn the heat down, and add the garlic and oregano and fry for a few more minutes. Add the passata, chickpeas. chickpea water, wine, stock and some pepper. Bring to the boil and simmer for 20 Min's. Add the roughly chopped parsley to serve.

Like most stews, this is best made in advance and reheated and eaten the next day. I served it with a bit of rice and crusty bread.

Monday 25 May 2009

Egg and Bacon Pie.

So, as promised, here we have the second 'East End' recipe passed down from my Grandfather, to my Mother and finally, to me; Egg and Bacon 'Pie'....except it's not a pie, more of a quiche, but that's not important. What is important is that it tastes fantastic- especially the next day, when it's cooled down with a green salad or perhaps some form of potato accompaniment....I'm thinking homemade chips.

Here's the recipe....

Egg and Bacon 'Pie'
Serves 4

You'll Need:-

For the Pastry Base:-
1 and 3/4 Mugs of Self Raising Flour.
Pinch of salt
75g Butter

For the Filling:-
4 or 5 Rashers of Bacon (I prefer smoked back bacon) - sliced into 1cm or so strips
1 Large onion - finely chopped.
4 Medium Tomatoes sliced.
6-8 Eggs
Cheddar Cheese - Couple of Hand fulls - grated.

Pre-Heat your oven to 200C

Butter a suitable Baking Dish, ( a 5cm deep Dish, with the rough dimensions 20cm x 25cm is perfect).
Make the pastry base, combining the Flour, pinch of Salt and Butter in a bowl and rub until you have 'breadcrumbs' - add a small amount of water and mix to form a dough.
Roll out your dough on a floured surface, and line your buttered dish.
Prick the bottom of the pastry with a fork.

Onto the filling:-
The first layer is your sliced bacon, once the bottom is completely covered - the next layer is your chopped onion, for the final layer, put your sliced tomatoes on top.
Beat your Eggs together and pour over, you'll need to cover everything.
Finally - sprinkle your grated cheese over the top and season with pepper.
Put into your pre-heated oven, and bake for around 30 - 45 Min's, until it looks 'done'.

Serve barely warm, or how I think it tastes best, cold the next day.

Monday 18 May 2009

A recipe passed down the generations - Bread Pudding.

My family is originally from East London and there are two recipes that have been passed down through the years, from my Grandfather to my Mother, and now on to me that are almost as representative of East London's culinary tradition as Pie and Mash. One is Egg and Bacon Pie (Perhaps, more of a quiche - it's fantastic whatever its called), the other is Bread Pudding.

I'll be making (and blogging) Egg and Bacon Pie later this week. Let's talk about Bread Pudding. It's a brilliant recipe that appears to have been born of wartime austerity - it uses up stale bread, and like many old recipes it's evolved over time so much so that if you google it, you'll find loads of recipes with slightly different variations on the same theme.

A quick note before I give you the recipe, some of the measurements are a bit 'hit and miss' - that's the way these recipes come, don't worry too much about say, the exact measurement of flour etc, this is rough and ready cooking, the recipe is robust - have faith - it survived the Blitz! I've added my own little tweak by macerating the sultanas in Brandy, feel free to omit this or add something else....I was thinking Cointreau might be nice.

Here's the family recipe....

Bread Pudding

Makes about 10 very generous slices.
You'll Need:-

Half a Loaf of Bread (preferably stale)
3/4 of a Mug - Self Raising Flour
4 Tbs Marmalade
9 Tbs Sugar (Plus extra for sprinkling)
50 Gram Butter - plus extra for greasing, and dotting on top.
2 Eggs
300g Sultanas (Optionally soaked in 3 Tbs of Brandy).
1 Heaped Tbs Mixed Spice
Tin Foil.

Rip the loaf into small pieces into a mixing bowl, and fill with water to cover. Leave to soak for about 1hr.
(If Soaking the Sultanas in Brandy, or perhaps something else - now would be the time to do it).

When ready, strain your bread in a Colander, pushing and squeezing the water out, put back into the mixing bowl and add the flour, Marmalade, Sugar, Butter and the two Eggs. Mix together, then stir in the Sultanas and the mixed spice.

Pour the mixture into a buttered 5cm deep Dish, rough dimensions 20cm x 25cm.
Dab butter on top, cover with foil, put into an oven pre-heated to 180C. and Bake for 1hr 15 Min's. Remove the foil, and then cook for another 15Min's to brown the top.
Test if done, by inserting a skewer or knife into middle, if it comes out clean it's done. Finally, sprinkle some Sugar over top.
Bread Pudding tastes best barely warm or cold, so you need to leave it to cool down a bit before tucking in.

Tuesday 12 May 2009

The Larder - A Lamb Sandwich to make grown men weep.

I've been meaning to review 'The Larder' on St John Street, EC1 for a while, as part of my Clerkenwell cheap lunch options. I should clarify that statement actually and say I've been meaning to review their Deli next door. I haven't actually eaten in the restaurant.

I've been prompted to finally write a review of a Sandwich from this excellent deli, as I was recently informed it was 'British Sandwich Week' by 'Browners' of the Blog 'Around Britain with a Paunch' who also writes a column called Sandwichist in The Londonist about, strangely enough, sandwiches. He asked for contributions reviewing good, Independent, honest, proper sandwiches in London to celebrate British sandwich week. not your plastic packaged, mass produced, e-numbered to the gills, limp and lifeless jobbies - but real sandwiches for real working Londoners, the kind of sandwiches that bring a tear to the eye and a lump to the throat, the sort of sandwiches they ate when Britain strode the globe like a colossus and men were get the idea.

Without further preamble, and bearing all this in mind, here's my Sandwich review.

Today I strode from the street outside, into the darkened interior of 'The Larder' and purchased a Roast Lamb, Feta, Mint and Salad Sandwich from the counter. They have pre-made sandwiches in the chiller cabinet and these are good too, they're fresh, handmade and have their place for the insanely short of time or queue-phobic, but if you want a sandwich that's super fresh, you need to stand at the counter and get them to make it to order.

When I say Super Fresh, I'm not joking - the Larder, as well as being a restaurant and a Deli - houses......a Bakery. The bread is baked daily on the premises mere meters away from where your sandwich is being prepared. And, not to put too fine a point on it - but hand cut slices of granary bread, still soft and warm from the oven but with a thick crust which has an almost feint marmite tang, that's what all sandwiches should be made of in a perfect world.

I guess the point I'm trying to make here is, 'The Bread is Amazing'.....
I should also point out - you can buy it - whole loaves fresh, just go in the Deli and ask for it - they'll pop out the back to the bakery and grab you a loaf. But back to the Sandwich....

Thick slices of Roast Lamb, not your catering pack, full of water, so thin they're actually translucent slices of Lamb - thick, rare, moist, pink ( about Gastro-Porn!) slices....I had a good look at my sandwich - and the sliced Lamb was 1cm thick!
A hint of mint sauce was slathered over the bread, crumbled feta was added.....not cloying thick, overpowering slices, but crumbled - obviously some thought has gone into this. Finally salad leaves and sliced Tomato.

And it's all yours for £4-50. Quite expensive for a sandwich you may feel - but this is a coming together of incredibly fresh ingredients of excellent quality - crammed into one the biggest sandwiches I've ever seen. I don't think you can judge the scale from the photo, but it was huge. Half was almost the same size as a whole Pret Sandwich! And, I know I've mentioned it before - but the bread was still warm....

The Larder

91-93 St John Street

Sunday 10 May 2009

Moroccan Roast Lamb

One of the foodie treats I bought whilst in Marrakesh last week was a little of the spice mix 'Ras-El-Hanout'. It literally translates as 'top of the shop' and is a fragrant blend of rosebuds, cardamon, cinnamon, nutmeg, all spice, lavender, ginger, pepper, mace and nigella seeds. Basically - it's all in there. Every shop has a slightly different blend. It is one of the mainstays of Moroccan cooking. Although, the purchase of said spice caused me some initial alarm, the shopkeeper replying to my inquiry with "Sure, how much do you want?...1 Kilo? 2 Kilo?" (he was winding me up). I managed to get away with purchasing 100g.....but I'm pretty sure the quality is excellent, the shop was suitably exotic located in a food market North of the Medina opposite a shop that appeared to sell snake skins!

I'd just like to point out for the purposes of the recipe below - you can get Ras-el-Hanout in the UK, most large supermarkets stock it somewhere in their spice sections, but I wanted some of the authentic real deal....and why not.

So, now back in the UK...I have a recipe in mind, it's from Nigella's
'Forever Summer', It uses 2 heaped Tablespoons of Ras-El-Hanout, it's incredibly simple- so sounds like just the job.

Moroccan Roast Lamb

Serves 8

You'll Need:-
1 Leg of Lamb, approx 2.5kg
1-2 Tbs Ras-el-Hanout
Juice of 2 Lemons
6 Tbs Olive Oil
2 Cloves of Garlic - minced.
Bunch of Fresh Coriander - chopped.

Combine the Lemon Juice, Olive Oil, Ras-el-Hanout. Garlic and chopped Coriander in a bowl for form a paste.

Make incisions all over the leg of Lamb, and then push pinches of the mixture into the incisions - rubbing the remainder of the paste all over the Lamb.
Put into a large freezer bag, squeeze out any air and tie it up. Leave it to marinade in the Fridge overnight, or slightly longer.

To Cook, heat the oven to 200C and take the lamb out of the fridge to come to room temperature.
Put the Lamb in a roasting tin, and squeezing any marinade out of the bag over the meat.
Roast the Lamb for around 1 hour and 30 Min's.
It'll be blackened on the outside, and tender and pink within. Leave it to rest for at least 15 Min's before tucking in.
I served it as suggested by Nigella, with Sliced Red Onion, 'Cacik' (Which is the Turkish name for Greek Tsatsiki - Yoghurt, Mint, Cucumber, Garlic), and some flatbread - so we could make up our own Lamb wraps. (Can I just point out 'flatbread' as in the Khobez style seems to be impossible to find outside of London - use Pittas if you can't get any).

It all went very exotic in my little corner of Essex last night. I pulled out all the stops,
and served the meal on a couple of my newly acquired hand painted plates from Fes, that I haggled (very badly) for in the Marrakesh Souk, and despite paying well over the odds, I love them.
It tasted fantastic, I was very fact quite it's possibly one of thes best things I've cooked so far this year.

Tuesday 5 May 2009

Out of Essex - Marrakech. Part 2.

If you read Part 1 of my Marrakesh travels, you may remember it left us with the would stuffing myself with the very cheap but delicious local street food affect my delicate Western stomach. Surely I was asking for trouble? But, with none more surprised than myself, and without putting too fine a point on it......everything in that area was functioning correctly. Heartened by the non developing situation - I left the comfortable confines of my Riad, and ventured out onto the street to get ripped off haggling (badly) in the maze of Souks and to eat more local street food from even more horrendous looking vendors.

Lunchtime found myself and the girlfriend weighed down with various shopping bags, and striding in the midday sun into an area of town known as Riads Zitoun. We were looking for a restaurant in the Place Des Ferblantiers, strangely enough, the Lonely Planet guide informed me that it was actually called Restaurant Place Des Ferblantiers. You'd think with such a common sense naming convention the place would be a breeze to find. But, this being Marrakesh - the restaurant has no sign or name on it. I stand in the square and study the map intently - turning it this way and that, I'm standing here - so that building is behind me, so that building in front - must be it....there are what could loosely be defined as 'restaurants' on every corner - just to add in an extra element of confusion. They all look rough - plastic chairs, makeshift grills, packed with tourists. Daunting. Finally I spy tagine's in one, the Lonely Planet guide raves about the tagine's....that's why I'm here. We have a winner.

I hesitatingly enter, and try and make eye contact with whomever I order some food from in this joint, there's a few people milling around the grill area, they all look like customers to me. Finally I spy an employee and manage to order two tagine's in a mixture of pidgin English and atrocious French. Of course I have no idea what kind of tagine I'm getting, for all I know it's sewer rat. We sit at a table, surrounded by locals busily munching away - they all seem to be sharing one Tagine between two. I'm aware that myself and the girlfriend are the subject of some speculation with the doubt commenting favourably on my excellent bearing and fine chiseled features - or perhaps more likely, how best to steal our possessions and dispose of the bodies....I have no idea. I avoid making eye contact and concentrate on radiating confident, invincible vibes.

The waiter appears and dumps some of the excellent flat-bread on the table, and a few minutes later two tagine's are deposited as well, the conical lids are whisked away and oh wow..... that's what I call a tagine. Large pieces of Potato and carrot are arranged in a conical pile over large chunks of Lamb - it's steaming hot and smells gorgeous - I wade in, all thoughts of my surroundings banished. It's really good.

It's all going swimmingly, I'm a complete glutton, so I stuffed my food in no time at all - I'm lazing, back against the wall, clutching my belly and smiling in a contented yet benign fashion at my fellow diners.....I see what can be best described as the classic old crone peering at us from the street outside through the grilled window. Perhaps she's not looking at us, maybe she's looking for someone else. She enters, sits down in an empty chair next to my girlfriend who is still munching away happily on her tagine, smiles and proceeds to plunge her hand in, grabs a chunk of Lamb and begins to eat it noisily. My Girlfriend looks aghast. Hello, thinks I - this sort of thing doesn't happen in the Butlers Wharf Chop House, how do I deal with this?. Not being equipped with the language skills to utter "Excuse me, mind getting your paw out of my Girlfriends Lunch?" I did the next best thing and started laughing instead. The Girlfriend also saw the funny side of it with a 'Guess I'm finished then' - we got up to leave....the locals were all grinning, no doubt amused to see how we'd react.

The price?, 25 Dirhams per Tagine. (That's around £2.50) Old Crones hand in your grub is thrown in free.

Much later the same day, with the evening fast approaching, we once again made our way to Djemma El-Fna, the huge central square that becomes a vast open air restaurant every night. I wanted to ignore the food stall reps, and eat at a stall I'd seen the previous night that appeared to be packed with locals. I wasn't entirely sure what food they sold, but it had to be good.
We found the stall on the corner without too much trouble, and were waved and shoehorned into a space on the communal bench between the other diners.

Once again, the bread arrived, the tomato salad arrived and we were asked what we wanted - no menu, I could make out merguez sausages - so went for those. Up they came sizzling and hot, combined with the bread and tomato salad, fantastic. But, I spied that the oriental looking diner next to me (He was Japanese it turned out) was eating something else entirely...some kind of stew perhaps. Taking my queue from the old crone earlier in the day I reached over and carefully picked the choicest piece of meat out of his food and ate it in front of his eyes whilst smiling at him. No, that image is absurd. I'm British. Of course I didn't plunge my mitt into a fellow diners food, it's just not the done thing. Instead, I said to him "Excuse me, what's that?" pointing at the stew type dish. To which he replied in excellent English "I don't actually know, it's good, try it if you like" Not having to be asked twice, I plunged a bit of bread in - and wow....kind of a sweet lamb and onion stew? no idea what it was but I instantly said to the guy on the grill - "I'll have one of those please" It arrived within minutes and myself and the girlfriend ate the lot in no time. I wish I knew what it actually was though - if anything just to have a go at re-creating it at home. The price, for two 50 Dirhams (£5)

Our last and final memorable meal was at our Riad (Hotel/Guesthouse). I'd read on the tripadvisor review that the food was excellent. The only stipulation that you order your food in the morning so their cook could get to the local market and buy the ingredients. It doesn't get much fresher than that, and I was really looking forward to a Moroccan home cooked meal.

We ate out under the stars, our table being on the top floor of the roofless riad courtyard. For starters, I had ordered Briouat, which were triangular pastry filled with either minced beef or cheese. My Girlfriend ordered Pastilla - a kind of pastry 'pie' which traditionally has a pigeon filling but in this case contained chicken.

The starters arrived and they were huge. The Pastilla was about 4cm thick and as big as a dinner plate. A whole stack of Briouat filled the other plate. These were starters?
Our waitress explained that Briouat are a speciality of Fes - another Moroccan city, and that Pastilla is traditionally only served at weddings or for honoured guests. In the case of a wedding, they make one as big as the table we were eating on. (Around a Meter wide!)
Slightly daunted by the size of the starters - we tucked in and yes, it was very good, the Pastilla especially being extremely sweet - but having a savoury chicken filling, it was to say the least extremely unusual. But very tasty.

We ate far too much of our starters, as when our Tagine main courses appeared I knew I wasn't going to get far with it. Once again huge portions, mine was Lamb and my Girlfriend had beef with couscous - it was extremely good, you could actually discern the Ras El Hanout spice in it - but far too much.
Bloated, dessert arrived in the shape of Moroccan pastries - Our waitress told us that once again these are normally served at weddings -interestingly, the strength of the almond taste telling the guests how wealthy the happy couples family is....almonds are expensive, the more - the better. By this point we were way too stuffed to eat more than a couple of these.
The cost of this home cooked meal in the Riad? 300 Dirhams apiece (£28 each). So, still a bargain by anyones standards.
So, that's what we ate in our few days in Marrakech - and amazingly despite eating at some places, which from appearance at least would no doubt turn a UK Food Inspectors hair white - neither of us had dodgy stomachs. We had a great time, the food is dirt cheap, fresh and exotic - so if you get the chance, go. Just make sure to avoid grilled 'cock' (see part one) and old women's stray hands in your dinner.

Saturday 2 May 2009

Out of Essex - Marrakech. Part 1.

I've just arrived home from a trip to Marrakesh. I've never been there before, but had heard quite a bit about the food. I own all three Moro cook books - and a lot of their recipes are Moroccan influenced so I thought I knew what to expect. I'd heard that 'street food' was the way to go, the large majority of the restaurants being either 'touristy' or poor International style Pizza jobbies. Basically, as always when I'm abroad....I wanted to eat what the locals eat (within reason of course).

So, bearing this in mind, and getting over the initial culture shock of leaving London and arriving three hours later in what to my mind looked like a cross between downtown Baghdad and Mogadishu as seen in BlackHawk Down, we made an initial foray into the maze of alleyways and streets looking for some lunch.
After much wandering (and getting lost...a lot). We happened upon a....I want to say 'cafe' but cafe is quite a generous description. It looked more like a shop space devoid of any frontage (when I say frontage I mean doors, windows....walls!) and filled with dirty plastic tables and benches, with an ancient chiller cabinet containing meat and a couple of cooks scurrying around some kind of charcoal grill. Basically it looked like a garage....all it was missing was an inspection pit. The place was packed with locals (evidenced by the profusion of mopeds parked on the street).....not a tourist in sight....I reasoned therefore that the food must be good, it certainly smelt good - the smell of grilled meat filled the air.
After a bit of hesitation, (It's hard to walk into somewhere packed with locals when your so obviously a tourist and don't speak the lingo). We stepped over the threshold and I asked in my best English "Hello, what can we get to eat in here then?" - I jabbed a finger at the meat in the chiller cabinet hopefully.

The reply was "Kebab, Merguez, grilled and skewered lamb, beef and quite worryingly 'Cock' (presumably Chicken - but who knows).

Deciding, perhaps wisely to give grilled 'Cock' a miss, Merguez sounded good to me - so that's what I went for. Taking a seat at an empty bench, our host brought some flatbread (The bread in Marrakesh is excellent) and some chopped tomato salad, which had a bit of a chili and coriander kick (I don't know what it's called - but we were served it everywhere). Not long after this, up came up a plate of merguez sausages....and despite the surroundings - it was all good. The little sausages were tasty and combined with the bread and the tomato salad went down well. I stuffed the lot. The Price? 40 Dirhams for two people (that's about £3-30). Bargain I thought as I strode back into the street, to return to the touristic pursuits of avoiding mopeds/donkey carts/bikes/cars and of course, getting lost.....but I've got to admit, I did wonder whether I'd pay for it with a dodgy stomach later.
After a full day of getting lost, our thoughts turned to Dinner.....The Main square in Marrakesh is called Jemma El-Fna, and as the sun goes down it fills with food stalls - it's basically a massive open air restaurant. I was really looking forward to this, so we made our way there in the gathering dark and it was sight to behold. Jam packed with people, stall after stall selling mostly various grilled meats....I wanted to have a good look, see what they sold, possibly pick one packed with the locals (always a wise move)......and that's when the problem with wandering around the square looking a) like a tourist, and b) hungry became apparent.
Nearly all the food stalls employ 'reps' in white coats who home in on you waving menus in your face trying to persuade you to eat at their stall. Now this is fine some of the time, most are quite funny - when they realise your from the UK, throwing in awful puns and British references "English? I'm Jamie Oliver's Cousin - Abdul Oliver.....come and eat here." But some are downright pushy, blocking your way and refusing to take No for an answer. It can get quite tiring and makes it hard to have a really good look, as your constantly fending these guys off.

Finally we decided to eat at Abdul Oliver's stall - if only for the reason he'd made us laugh - we sat at the packed communal benches next to where a profusion of white smoke was rising from the busy grill. We both decided to go for a selection of skewers - Beef, Lamb, and Chicken. The obligatory Flat bread and tomato salad arrived.....then a load of other dishes, chips, olives, grilled pepper and aubergines, some tagine, merguez sausages- all sorts. We hadn't ordered any of it, but presumed it came with the skewers. It was only later when we saw a far more savvy French couple waving away proffered dishes that we realised what the scam was. Too late. In any case, it all tasted good - I ate most of it. My personal maxim being - if your being taken advantage of, you may as well sit back and enjoy it. After that lot instead of the bill being 75 Dirhams each for skewers (£6 or so) - it was 120 Dirhams each, (£10) so we basically ended up paying £8 extra for food we never ordered......but......bloody hell what a bargain! It's not everyday you get fleeced and come away with a smile on your face. Dinner for two twenty quid.

So ended Day One in Marrakesh as we wandered away, full and happy into the warm night air for more dodging vehicles and getting lost. The unanswered question still hung in the air - (perhaps not the best choice of words there)......would eating all this local food from street stalls give us dodgy stomachs? Find out dear blog reader in Part 2.