Thursday, 30 July 2009

Tomato elegance

I would love to claim that these tomatoes were grown by me, but that would be....well, a lie basically. These rosada tomatoes are being grown by the male companion, so all credit to him, as my plants have gone a bit withery and yellow looking although they are still fruiting. Hopefully not long until they ripen and can be scoffed too.

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Teri-Aki, Cambridge, UK

So it may not have the dreaming spires of Oxford, but Cambridge is generally a pretty nice to place to live. There's lots of green spaces, the river, plenty of pubs, a daily market, and history all around. However on first glance it does seem to have a distinct lack of independent, good quality places to eat. For quite a small city, Cambridge is dominated by a large number of chain restaurants; name a chain and there's likely to be one if not more in Cambridge. I have no moral objection to these outlets, which provide food which is affordable and edible if not original, exciting, (or sometimes even freshly prepared). Some, like Pizza Express, are the acceptable face of this phenomenon, but others which don't need to be named are less so. And they do also make even a place as unique as Cambridge feel like AnyTown, UK. But the good news is that dotted among the chains are lots of more interesting options.

One of my favourites is Teri-Aki. This is a Chinese-owned Japanese restaurant that brought communal-style bench dining to Cambridge long before Wagamama appeared on the scene. I've been here on numerous occasions, and though the service has often varied, the food is invariably lovely. I arrived here recently to meet friends for dinner, but unfortunately was greeted by a sign saying that Teri-Aki was closed for maintenance work. Luckily they had just moved next door into sister restaurant Aki-Teri (but may well have returned to their original site by now). Both have similar styling, with glass doors that open out to a large courtyard area, funky fittings and a bar behind which you can see some of the sushi chefs at work.

They've always had menus that doubled as place settings, but they've now also introduced notepads to write down your order in a dim sum-stylee. I'm not sure this was strictly necessary as it also involved a lot of checking of handwriting and numbers by the waitress, but I'm happy to accept innovation.

So onto the food. I'm fan of most things deep-fried, and was already thinking of tempura before I arrived. The mixed seafood tempura was made up of a huge king prawn, squid and scallops. This was all succulent and covered in a light batter than could have been a bit crisper, but was not at all oily. I also had some yakisoba noodles with vegetables and prawns.

Again, these were not in the least all oily, the prawns were lovely and soft and the dish had that fried noodle flavour which is so distinct but difficult to describe. My only criticism is that apart from bean sprouts and the odd bit of carrot, there wasn't much going on here in the vegetable department, and bit of greenery wouldn't have gone amiss. The friends had miso soup, hotate kushiyaki (grilled scallop skewers), yasai kushiyaki (grilled vegetable skewers), and a five-piece sushi set. All of this seemed to go down well, though I was a bit suprised to see a bit of rare-ish beef appear in the sushi selection. There wasn't anything on the menu to indicate this and although my friend eats meat, I don't and wouldn't have been too impressed if this was something I had ordered.

All the dishes were generous in size but not so huge that we couldn't comfortably fit them all in, and the bill for three with non-alcoholic drinks came to around £44 (not including service). I've never been to Japan so my knowledge of this cuisine is relatively limited, and I'm not sure how it would compare with equivalents in London. But all in all for a relaxed dining option Teri-Aki still remains a firm favourite with me, and one of these days I will go in and manage not to order tempura.

Teri-Aki Restaurant and Bar
6-8 Quayside
Cambridge CB5 8AB

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Sainsbury's Taste the Difference basil and pine nut margharite pasta

There's definitely been a bit of a boom in the demand for fresh ravioli-type pasta. I'm sure I don't even remember seeing them in the chiller cabinets about five years ago, whereas now they are a regular quick dinner fallback option.
I bought this basil and pine nut margharite pasta from Sainsbury's Taste the Difference range a couple of weeks ago now. I'm not exactly sure what a 'margharite' is supposed to be but to me these just looked like ravioli cut into the shape of big flowers. However, appearances aside this wasn't a bad ready-made pasta. The ravioli did actually taste of spinach, and I could detect a little bit of basil in the filling too. I don't think I would have known there were supposed to be any pine nuts in there too if it hadn't been on the label though, and I'm sure there was more ricotta cheese in the filling than anything else. However with the combination of other flavours, this was nice to enough to eat quite simply dressed with some olive oil and black pepper. Not the most exciting thing in the world but acceptable.

Cost: Sainsbury's Taste the Difference basil and pine nut margharite pasta, around £2.75
I rate it 6.5/10

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Vegan pesto

Pesto with spaghetti is a very reliable quick supper, but it only takes a couple of minutes longer to make fresh pesto rather than use some ready-made stuff from a jar (especially if you have a Kenwood mini-chopper or something similar). It also has the advantage of being packed full of fresh flavours.
I am not a vegan but a lack of appropriate cheese meant that this pesto ended up being dairy-free. Do add some pecorino, grana padano or parmesan if you have any, but it's not actually essential as the pine nuts do a good job of contributing richness to the pesto. So to make enough for one combine the following:

Small bunch of basil (about 5 or 6 long stalks)
Two fat cloves garlic
Small handful pine nuts (toast first in a dry pan if you want)
Enough olive oil to make a loose paste
Salt and pepper to taste

Whizz up the above in a food processor or by hand, and when it's done stir through some hot spaghetti or other pasta. Warning- the heat from the pasta will 'cook' out the raw garlic a bit but it's still a pretty powerful flavour. I love garlic but you might want to limit consumption of this dish to when you are planning on staying in rather than heading out on a first date, job interview, etc, etc.

Saturday, 11 July 2009

When is a chop not a chop?

So, when is a chop not a chop? When it's a cutlet of course! I am referring to a (rather delicious) anomaly in Indian cooking, that I assume stems from the time of Empire. The Indian chop is not a cut of meat and can often be vegetarian. It is in fact a combo of mashed potatoes mixed with either fish or vegetables and various spices, shaped into patties or chunky sausage shapes, coated in breadcrumbs and fried. Oddly enough the alternative name for a chop in India (or at least West Bengal) is a cutlet. I have yet to definitively establish if there is any difference between the two, and in my experience they both seem to be used inter-changeably, though the term chop is always used in my family. The meat version uses mince (keema), but whatever it's made of the Indian chop bares little relation to its British counterpart. I am intrigued about the origins of the use of this term though- were 'British chops' usually cooked coated in breadcrumbs during Empire times? Were the 'Indian chops' once shaped more like a cut of meat? Maybe the term chop meant something else altogether a few hundred years ago? Is this what India got in exchange for introducing Britain to kedgeree? I plan to continue my linguistic food investigations!

Anyway whatever it's origins, macher (fish) chop with dahl and some rice is one of my favourite Bengali meals. I will blog about this at a later date (when I have some more time to make them properly), but in the meantime here's something I came up with the other day. I had some raw prawns in the fridge that really needed to be cooked, and I felt like doing something a bit different than a stir-fry or pasta dish. So instead I prepared a slightly simplied version of a chingri (prawn) chop a.k.a. prawn fishcakes. This included most of the ingredients used in a classic macher chop, but instead of coating them in breadcrumbs I lightly dusted them in plain flour before shallowing frying. To make enough for around four chops (sufficient for one person as a main course or two as a side dish) I used the following:

Around 140g raw prawns, de-veined (do feel free to increase the amount of prawns as I was just using what I had left in the fridge)
1 medium potato, chopped, boiled and then mashed
Couple of large spring onions, or half a regular, medium, white onion
2 medium cloves of garlic
1/2 inch piece of ginger, peeled
1 green chilli (more if you prefer more heat or include ground chilli)
1 tsp ground corriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp-ish salt
plain flour for dusting
oil for frying

I prepared this using a Kenwood mini-chopper, which is one of my most used kitchen gadgets, but pounding and mixing everything by hand is possible (and of course more authentic!). I first made a paste from the onion, chilli, ginger and garlic, before adding in the prawns. The prawns should maintain a bit of texture rather than being blended to a mush. Take this mixture and add it to the (cooled) mashed potato, add the dry spices, and combine. The prawn mix should be wet enough to hold everything together which is why this recipe doesn't include a binding agent like egg (but you can add some beaten egg if it's too dry). Form the chops into patties, put them onto a plate lightly dusted in plain flour, (to stop them sticking) and refrigerate for about 30mins (the longer the better really, but you can get away with 10-15mins in some circumstances i.e. when hungry). When you're ready to cook them, heat enough oil to shallow fry, dust the chops in plain flour, pat off any excess and put them into the hot oil. They'll probably need about 6-8mins on each side, and should be a rich golden brown when they're done. I ate mine with a large salad, but these chops would also be perfect with rice and dahl.

Coming soon- Bengali macher chop and beetroot chop!

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Wimbledon lunching

The Wimbledon mens finals are one of those very English events that occur during the summer, so I thought I'd try to prepare something equally English to sustain myself and the male companion through watching it on TV. Good thing too as it turned into an epic match. So we started off with traditional cucumber sandwiches, open sandwiches with smoked salmon and cream cheese mixed with wasabi, and errrr...crisps. Hard to go wrong with cucumber sandwiches but I did impress myself with the salmon and wasabi combo. The wasabi provided just enough of a sharp kick to cut through the richness of the salmon without over-powering it. I used the S&B brand which comes in a tube, so it was incredibly easy to mix about one-ish heaped teaspoon (adding a bit at a time and regular test tastings required) in with about half a tub of cream cheese.

So onto course two. I was inspired by a recent post by Hollow Legs to try making some scones. I am not a natural baker, having produced a range of rock hard breads and semi-raw pastries in the past, but this looked like quite a straight-forward recipe and the picture was too drool-inducing to ignore. I cut the scones quite small as I wanted something relatively dainty (and also because I used a beaker rather than a scone cutter). And the results......not bad at all. As you might be able to tell from the photo they didn't really rise as much as I expected (cause unknown, but if anyone can enlighten me that would be great), but tasted lovely. Though anything served with huge dollops of clotted cream and jam is always going to taste pretty damn good.

All was accompanied by Pimms- could we get more English?

Cost: S&B wasabi £0.99
I rate it 8/10

Cost: Tesco Finest Cornish clotted cream (by Rodda's) around £1.40
I rate it 8/10

Cost: Tesco Finest strawberry conserve around £1.35
I rate it 7/10 (tasted fine but no different to any old strawberry jam)

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Eggy bread brunch

No specific brands or products used in this recipe as it's so simple. I made this the other weekend when I wanted something more substantial than just toast late in the morning, but wasn't keen on spending too much time in a hot kitchen on a hot day. The old childhood classic that is eggy bread seemed to be a quick and filling option.
All that's needed is one beaten egg, generously seasoned with salt and pepper, and two slices of white bread. Dip the bread into the egg, make sure it's well covered and fry in pan with a little oil over a medium heat. It'll need a few minutes on each side, and when both are golden, it's done.
I served this with some red onion and cucumber relish (chop red onion and cucumber, mix, and ta dah! relish made). It's not essential but as it was so hot, I really liked its freshness and the contrast with the fried eggy bread.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Smoked mackerel pate and an unexpected salad

I'm fully expecting a resurgence in the popularity of mackerel. Admittedly it's not really suitable for fish and chips, but it is local, sustainable and (at least currently) there seems to be plenty of it. This is a fish that needs to be eaten when it is as fresh as possible though, and therefore my consumption of it is generally dependent on good timing with the stocking of the supermarket fish counter (if only there was a proper fishmonger in this city....).
But a great alternative to fresh mackerel is the smoked version. I tend to buy peppered, smoked mackerel and both this and the plain are widely available in all supermarkets. The smoked fish can be simpled flaked into a salad with some boiled potatoes and thinly sliced red onions for a great summer meal, but one of my favourite things to make is a smoked mackerel pate. This involves combining the following:

150g plain or peppered smoked mackerel (skin removed and flaked)
100g cream cheese
2-3 tablespoons greek or natural yoghurt
2-3 medium spring onions (thinly sliced)
A couple of grinds of black pepper (if needed)
Generous squeeze of lemon juice

All the above measurements are very much approximations, so if want a looser texture then add more yoghurt, or more fish to increase the mackerel-iness. Unless you are a total salt fiend, you won't need to add any more of this. This pate, served at room temperature, is perfect with some nice bread, either as it is or toasted.

I made this the other week, intending to eat it meze style with some bread, salad, and prawn and vegetable skewers. However, on getting to the shops there were no skewers to be had. So after realising that the important part was grilling the ingredients rather their being stuck on little wooden sticks, I decided to convert this into a grilled vegetable and prawn salad. This involved thinly slicing a courgette and a pepper, tossing them in some crushed garlic and enough olive oil to lightly cover and then putting them on a tray under a hot grill. After about 10-15mins, by which point the vegetables had blistered and charred slightly, I added the raw prawns, which had just been lightly seasoned. These only took a couple more minutes to cook through, before the whole lot was scattered onto some salad leaves.

Cost: Smoked mackerel around £2.00 for 200g
I rate it 9/10.