Thursday, 20 December 2012

Tomato and mascarpone soup

With my workplace's limited catering arrangements, investing in a food flask was one of the best decisions I've ever made. And one of my favourite things to put in it has been this tomato and mascarpone soup. It's simple, cheap, quick, and keeps me in work lunches for the best part of a week. As with most of my cooking, this is a recipe that can be adjusted to include the flavours you like.

Recipe (enough for around 4-ish lunchtime portions):

400g tin of good quality chopped (or whole) tomatoes in juice
1 tinful of water
1 tblsp tomato puree
Small handful of roughly chopped fresh tomatoes (optional)
1 medium leek, finely sliced
1 large clove of garlic, chopped
A bay leaf
0.5 tsp chilli flakes
1 tsp mixed dried herbs (or a larger amount of freshly chopped, soft herbs like basil)
Around 125g mascarpone cheese
Few tblsp olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Gently heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a medium sized saucepan, and put in the leeks and bay leaf. Leave the leeks to soften for around 10 minutes or so. When they are cooked through, add the garlic, chilli, and herbs, stir for a few minutes and then put in the tomatoes. The fresh tomatoes really are optional, and I tend to chuck them in if I've got some that need to be used up. Fill the empty tin of tomatoes with water and pour this in too, along with the puree. Stir everything, add a bit of salt and pepper, and simmer for around 15 minutes or so. At this stage what you should have is basically a slightly thin tomato sauce. Turn the heat off and then add the mascarpone cheese. Stir this in, and leave the soup to cool for a bit. Once it's just warm, rather than piping hot, blend the soup with a stick blender (or equivalent) and check the seasoning again.

I then heat up portions of soup in the microwave and take it to work in my food flask for desk consumption. The mascarpone makes this surprisingly filling for a soup, and the whole thing is just very warming and tasty. This soup would also work well over the Christmas holidays, when you might want something you can make in bulk and re-heat as needed. And on that note, I'd like to say merry crimbo readers and see you in 2013!

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Nigella Lawson's nutella cheesecake

So what can I say about this cheesecake- it took minutes to put together, didn't require cooking, was rich without being sickly, and was generally rather fab. Props to Nigella Lawson for the recipe, which I pretty much followed without any changes. The only thing I slightly adjusted when combining the cream cheese with nutella, was only adding the icing sugar a tablespoon at a time, and stopping when it tasted sweet enough (I think I used less than 60g).

As there's no cooking involved, this was an ideal dessert for making during the week for post-work, (Christmas) social stuff. This is exactly what I did, and I have to say it met with universal approval. 

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Ichiro, Cambridge, UK

I was really looking forward to visiting Ichiro the other week. I'd heard some good things about this restaurant serving both Japanese and Malaysian food, so was happy to schlep through the cold and rain to get to their recently opened site opposite the neon delights of the 'Leisure Park'.

We were given a warm welcome as we walked into the near empty restaurant, and I was therefore quite prepared to overlook the fact the tablecloth had some random staining on it, and our green tea arriving in a stripey Whittards teapot. The male companion person and I weren't sure whether to stick to the Malaysian or Japanese dishes, but eventually plumped for the latter apart from a starter of roti canai with chicken curry. The roti (or paratha as I would call them) were very good, light and flaky with a slight chew. I tasted a bit of the curry gravy, despite the risk of meat contamination, but was quite disappointed with its slightly acrid taste of insufficiently cooked ground spices.

I've never had takoyaki before, so thought I'd give them a try too. These balls of batter with an octopus filling were pretty tasty. I've nothing to compare them too, but I liked the mild taste of seafood surrounded by a crisp coating.

So a decent enough start before moving onto a bento box each for our main course. I had a mixed tempura bento, and though the prawns and vegetables were relatively oil-free, the batter was quite thick and not the light and airy coating I'd been hoping for. Also in the box were some pieces of omelette, a sort of mashed potato salad, a pineapple and cucumber salad, with quite a lot of rice. And a side of miso soup. Everything was perfectly acceptable, just not particularly remarkable or exciting.

It was at this point that things took a bit of a downturn. I would have considered some mochi for dessert or another drink, but unfortunately the two front of house staff were too busy cooing at each other to notice that we'd finished with our bento boxes. After about 20 minutes of sitting in a still near empty restaurant, hoping someone might take away the dishes, or ask if we wanted anything else, we gave up and the MCP went up to the counter to ask for the bill. This was an unexpectedly irritating end to the evening. So overall, Ichiro didn't turn out to be anything terribly special, and my initially high hopes were dashed. To be fair it wasn't a massively expensive dinner either, and our meal (with non-alcoholic drinks, and including service) came to around £45.

On the basis of their parathas, perhaps their Malaysian dishes are more enjoyable. And I would be prepared to go back to try some of these out. But probably not right away.

8 Homerton Street
Cambridge CB2 8NX