Thursday, 29 October 2009

The Sea Tree, Cambridge, UK

There is something about fish and chips that makes it truly irresistable; fried potatoes=good, fried fish=good, crispy batter coating=good. How could it possibly go wrong? But the fact of the matter is that it does go wrong, frequently. I have had numerous plates of soggy chips, tasteless fish and flabby batter all oozing out vast amounts of oil, and yet am ever hopeful that the next meal will be better and will contain all the requisite elements of great fish and chips. And there have been a few times when it has. Recent experiences in Southwold and Aldeburgh seem to indicate that the coast, with presumably better access to fresh fish, is the place to be. But what of us land-locked sorts?
Well, at least in Cambridge there may be a solution in sight. The Sea Tree on Mill Road bills itself as an alternative fish bar, and apparently brings in its fish from suppliers on the east coast and Billingsgate rather than from a freezer round the back. And it thus varies its menu based on availability and seasonality. The Sea Tree not only does your traditional fish and chips but also offers pan-fried or grilled fish, with everything cooked to order rather than sitting around desicating under heat lamps. And finally, it also sells fresh fish too!

When we went last Friday it had only been open for a week or two at most, but was already doing a steady trade in both eat-in and takeway customers. Although I was rather dazzled by the unexpected choice of fish and cooking options, myself and the male companion person both chose the battered plaice with chips in order to test out the basics, and a portion of fried calimari for something a bit different. Once it had been cooked for us we were back at home and on the sofa within about 10minutes with plates of hot, lightly battered calimari (no wallpaper paste-esque coating on frozen squid here), well-cooked, non-greasy fish and fluffy yet crispy chips, all served up with big wedges of lemon.
The male companion person declared them the best fish and chips he'd ever had, and although I possibly wouldn't go quite that far they were undoubtly the best fish and chips I've ever eaten in Cambridge.
I had to be restrained from returning the next day, so am very much looking forward to going back and trying some of their other offerings. I spotted wild sea trout and bream on their menu board (I might even try those without any batter), as well as various home-made sauces and salad type things that I'd be interested to see work in a takeway context.
Based on this initial visit The Sea Tree seems to hold great potential for becoming a Cambridge favourite, and is an excellent addition to the less exotic end of Mill Road.

The Sea Tree
13/14 The Broadway
Mill Road
Cambridge CB1 3AH

Monday, 26 October 2009

Blueberry and lemon muffins

It's blog confession time- I am not a baker. I have made loaves which could probably have been used as offensive weapons such was their weight, and pizza bases which somehow remained raw in the middle despite hours of cooking. I think this is probably because baking is quite a precise art and I am not a natural recipe follower.
However one of the few baked things that I can usually manage reasonably well is cakes (phew). This muffin recipe is from 500 Cupcakes and Muffins by Fergal Connolly, and the reason for their somewhat non-muffin like appearance is due to the fact that I cooked them in a cupcake tray and nothing to do with the recipe itself.

Recipe for one dozen large muffins (or a lot of cupcakes):

125g caster sugar
1 tbsp lemon zest
265g plain flour
1 tbsp baking powder
2 beaten eggs
225ml milk
115g unsalted butter, melted
225g blueberries

Beat the melted butter (make sure it's cooled a bit), milk and eggs together until smooth, add the dry ingredients and mix well. Stir in the blueberries and then spoon the batter into cases. Bake in a pre-heated oven at gas mark 6 for around twenty minutes or until golden on top.
I used half the above recipe to make around 15 cupcakes, and used up some blueberries that had been hanging about in the fridge for a little to long. The combination of berries and lemon kept things tasting nice and fruity and vaguely like something that might be consumed at breakfast. And surely cake for breakfast can only be a good thing?

Monday, 19 October 2009

Memories of summer- tomato tarts

So with the nights drawing in, the last of the summer's crop of tomatoes are becoming a bit of a distant memory. I only actually made these simple individual tomato tarts about six weeks ago, but it somehow seems a lot longer than that. These rosada tomatoes were homegrown and quite small but incredibly sweet, and will definitely be grown again. They were halved, mixed with a generous amount of feta cheese (for some reason I'd drawn a blank on what to put with them so thanks to MangoCheeks at Allotment2Kitchen for inspiration) and some torn basil leaves, and piled into some puff pastry 'cases'.
I used ready-rolled Jus Rol puff pastry which has never let me down over several episodes of tart making. Due to a lack of pastry cutter a medium sized bowl served as a template for each round tart, and then a smaller plate to lightly score an inner circle leaving an edge of around half an inch. I pricked this inner area several times with a fork (to stop it rising too much) and then baked the pastry circles for around 10minutes in a medium oven until they were slightly coloured. I'm not sure if this is strictly necessary, but there's nothing worse than raw pastry and as the filling for these tarts didn't really require much cooking, I thought I'd give the cases a head start. Once the pastry had cooled enough to handle I spooned in as much of the filling as I could fit in and returned the tarts to a hot oven for around 15minutes, until the pastry turned golden and the contents were starting to brown on top.
Warming the tomatoes through in the oven seemed to increase their sweetness, and thus the contrast with the salty feta cheese, and with a bit of salad this was a perfect summer dish. I think this could easily work in more autumnal conditions too (as long as you're not a stickler for seasonality) with some steamed vegetables and boiled potatoes. Serving on a retro 1960's plate not essential.

Jus Rol chilled puff pastry sheet
I rate it 9/10
Cost: Around £1.55 for 375g

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Beans on toast

So I've always thought I didn't like broad beans. As a child my parents would cook them whole, pods and all, as an approximation of the Indian vegetable sheem. They would chew through them and then just delicately spit out the really indigestible, fibrous bits. As with their chomping through fish bones, this was just something that I could never manage to do, and therefore broad beans in an Bengali-stylee were pretty much off the menu for me.
However even when the beans had been podded I found these tough, grey bullet-like objects rather off-putting. It's only quite recently that I've come across the revelatory knowledge that post-cooking the unappealing grey skin of the broad bean can be removed to leave a tender, bright green bean. This might seem a bit of a pain but it is so worth it. This recipe for crushed broad beans on toasted ciabatta is based on how I'd normally serve any whole beans or peas, but converted into a more spreadable form. It works well at room temperature or slightly warm, and would also make a nice side dish for fish. If you're having it on toast, a grating of cheese adds a little salty tang to the sweet crushed beans.

Recipe (enough for two):
Broad beans from approximately twenty pods
1 fat clove of garlic (or increase according to taste)
Enough olive to create a loose-ish paste
Plenty of salt and pepper
Grana padano cheese, grated

Cook the podded broad beans in boiling water for around eight minutes or until tender. Drain and then while still hot, peel off the outer grey skins. Combine the beans and the rest of the ingredients in a mini-processor, or crush by hand, until they are as coarse or fine as you like. Serve on toasted ciabatta (or crackers or anything else you'd like), and top with some of the grated cheese.
You can also use rapeseed oil instead of olive oil, and moderate the amount of garlic depending on taste and possibly how much company you have.

Monday, 5 October 2009

Cooking a la Levi Roots

I have pretty much zilch experience of Jamaican or Caribbean food, so was recently rather chuffed to win a copy of Levi Roots' new cookery book (thanks @Octopus_Books) which ties-in with his BBC tv show. There's something about Levi Roots that's very likable. Despite the risk of coming across like a parody of a Jamaican person with his blinged up style, frequent proclamations of 'respec' and calling food 'deliciosious', he is in fact a very articulate champion of Caribbean cooking, a pretty astute businessman and a natural television presenter.
The book begins with an introduction to basic Caribbean ingredients, most of which I'd heard of even if I wasn't sure what they actually were. The rest of the book covers both classic dishes from a number of the Caribbean islands, as well as recipes which are not traditional but give a Jamaican twist to familiar ingredients.
I decided to give the lime, chilli and coriander butter with salmon and lobster a go. Levi describes it as one of his favourite creations and it certainly sounded good.

75g butter, slightly softened
1 1/2 tbsp finely chopped, fresh coriander
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
zest and juice of 1/2 lime
1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
salt and pepper

(Levi's recipe serves the above with 4 salmon steaks, and I've found it makes more than enough for 1 lobster, two small salmon fillets, and six large prawns).

The recipe actually recommends the butter be served with a barbecued lobster, but due to the lack of barbecue and indeed a raw lobster, I used a cooked one instead. This was split and once I'd made up the butter, I daubed it generously over the lobster and the salmon fillets. I also included about half a dozen large, shell-on raw prawns which were de-veined and also had butter stuffed in them. The whole lot went into a really hot oven for around 10mins, or until the prawns and fish had cooked (which was enough time for the lobster to warm through).
I also cooked a couple of side dishes which were inspired by reading the book and watching the tv show, rather than specific recipes. I roasted some sweet potato wedges in the oven with lots of thyme, plenty of seasoning and little oil. I also cooked some spinach as a callaloo substitute. I started by gently frying some crushed garlic, and after a few minutes I added a chilli that I'd pierced a couple of times with the tip of a knife (to add flavour without too much heat). After another minute or so, about 250g of chopped fresh spinach leaves went in. This was all cooked down with a bit of seasoning until all the liquid from the spinach had evaporated. Having (in retrospect perhaps wrongly!) decided that this would not be enough food, I also made some aromatic rice. This is something I'd usually have with Indian food, but as Caribbean food has been influenced by the Indian diaspora that settled there, I thought it might work here too. So into a saucepan went a knob of butter with a bay leaf and a stick of cinnamon. Once these were sizzling I dropped in a cup of rinsed basmati rice, after a couple of quick stirs to coat the grains in the butter, I added double the quantity of water. When the rice had come up to the boil, I reduced the heat to the lowest possible, covered the pan and left the rice to absorb all the liquid. And so all of the above resulted in all of the below.

Although myself and the male companion person feared we had cooked way too much food, it was so lovely that we managed to devour most of it. I was slightly concerned that all the different herbs and spices might clash with each other, but in fact this was not the case at all. The simple side dishes were a great accompaniment to the rich seafood. The butter mellowed the strong flavours of coriander and chilli, and the lime added a hint of freshness. We got stuck in pulling the prawns and lobster apart, and using the rice and potato to mop up the lovely buttery juices.
This was definitely one of the nicest (and most extravagent) meals I have cooked recently, and confirms my view that Levi Roots rocks!