Thursday, 28 November 2013

Rice Boat, Cambridge, UK- A return visit

It's been a while since I've been to The Rice Boat, but rumours of increasingly dubious service and variations in food quality have been widespread. The last time we did go they had no parathas, dosas, uppams, chapattis, or utthappams available, and we encountered a rather unpleasantly (rather than comically) rude server. And despite my love of the masala dosa I've not made much effort to head to that side of Cambridge lately.

But the other week, the Male Companion Person and I were in the area, and decided that The Rice Boat would make an excellent venue for discussing the Werner Herzog film we'd just seen, as well as dinner. Not much has changed- the tables are looking increasingly scratched and careworn, the door still doesn't close properly (though the waiting staff were on the case with shutting it and minimising icy gales), service is still kind of sketchy (you're not allowed to have fresh cutlery between starters and main courses), but the food is still really good! Well most of it. The pepper fry squid starter was incredibly bland and didn't appear to have been seasoned with anything. It was sort of alright when eaten along with the fried, salted whitebait though. But the main courses were back on top form. I had my usual masala dosa, which was light and generously stuffed with gently spiced potato, and came with two coconut chutneys and sambar. And the MCP had his usual Kerela red fish curry, which was super-spicy as anticipated. We also shared a small green bean thoren and an aubergine theeyal. I was particularly taken with the latter, and its combination of aubergine, tamarind and coconut.

Service that night was perfectly functional (apart from the weird cutlery rule), and our bill was around £50, including drinks but not service. So not a huge bargain, but perfectly reasonable considering the amount of food that was consumed. And despite everything, Rice Boat definitely do make the best masala dosa in Cambridge.

Rice Boat
37 Newnham Road
Cambridge CB3 9EY

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Courgette carbonara

I spotted several recipes for making 'spaghetti' with courgettes ages ago, but put them out of my mind due to the loss of my 'julienne-ing' device (basically a potato peeler but with a segmented blade). But when it miraculously reappeared in the drawer from which it had previously vanished, I took it as a sign. Of course courgette spaghetti is nothing like proper pasta, but it can be cut into long strips and doesn't fall apart once cooked. It's therefore ideal for gluten-free-ers, or anyone wanting a lighter alternative to a proper carbonara.
I don't eat meat, so actually I've never had a 'proper' carbonara, but this is my completely inauthentic pescatarian version.

Recipe (enough for two with leftovers):

3 medium courgettes
2-3 tblsp olive oil
1 egg yolk
Around 200g chestnut mushrooms, thickly sliced
1 50g tin anchovies in olive oil
3 large cloves of garlic, crushed
300ml creme fraiche
Around 100g finely grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper to taste

Firstly use the most appropriate instrument you have to hand eg food processor, sharp knife, julienne peeler, to make your courgette spaghetti. Dress the courgettes with a couple of spoons of olive oil to stop any discolouration, and put to one side. Mix the egg yolk thoroughly with the creme fraiche, and most of the cheese, and add plenty of black pepper and a little salt. Make sure you have your garlic and mushrooms, prepped and ready to go. Firstly cook the courgettes a little- put a tablespoon or so of oil in a large pan (non-stick works well for this) over a medium heat. When the oil is hot, but not smoking, add in the courgettes and cook for around 5 minutes. The courgettes should have softened but not be fully cooked through. Tip them out into a bowl and put the pan back on the heat. Next add the anchovies and all their oil into the pan, cook over a medium heat until the anchovies start breaking up, and then put in the garlic and mushrooms. Cook over a high-ish heat so that the mushrooms fry and take on some colour. Once they've done this, add the courgettes back in and continue to heat over a medium-high flame until they are cooked to your liking (they should hold together and not turn to pulp). When cooked, turn off the heat and stir in the creme fraiche mix. The residual heat from the pan should loosen this thick mixture, and coat the courgette strands. And that's it! Have a taste and add more salt and pepper if  needed, and then serve with a little extra Parmesan on the top.

You can make this dish properly vegetarian by omitting the anchovies, and using something like chopped fresh basil or thyme, or some dried herbs instead; and by using a veggie-friendly Italian-style hard cheese.

This would make a great non-stodgy summer dish, when there is often a glut of courgettes about. But I ate it last week in November, whilst wearing a jumper, and that seemed to work fine too.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Afternoon Tease, Cambridge, UK

Just a quick post for now, alerting folk to the opening of a new cafe in Cambridge. It still doesn't seem like that long ago that I was enjoying Jo Kruczynska's food as one half of the Plate Lickers supperclub team. And now she has her own cafe!

Located on King's Street in the centre of Cambridge, I popped into the eponymous Afternoon Tease when it had only been open for a week or so. However, everything was already working like a well-honed machine, and I was soon ensconced by a table with a cup of tea and a chocolate brownie. The cafe isn't huge inside, but makes the most of the available space, and most importantly (on the basis of my first visit) serves excellent hot drinks and cakes. I am full of admiration for Ms Afternoon Tease herself, for getting this project off the ground so quickly, and hope to be back for another visit soon.

Afternoon Tease
13 King Street
Cambridge CB1 1LH

Monday, 4 November 2013

Caravan, King's Cross, London, UK

So I took a bit of a break from work last week, and had a day in London to meet up with an old pal. We decided to try out the new branch of Caravan that has recently opened behind King's Cross station, in an area that is undergoing loads of re-development. Caravan is based in a row of old grain warehouses and maintains an air of industrial comfort. It was pretty busy when we arrived (without a booking), but a after a bit of intense computer activity from the friendly front of house person a table for two appeared.

I guess the food at Caravan is a sort of sophisticated cafe-style. It's all very informal, with a few ingredients, but put together well. We shared a couple of small plates and a pizza between us, which was perfect for lunch for two pretty hungry people. A salad of quinoa, feta cheese, butternut squash and broccoli, was something I could easily have put together at home but was fresh and tasty nevertheless.

Grilled kefalotyri cheese, (with pickled mushrooms, and skordalia), was not something I've eaten before. The cheese was quite rich, but with much more flavour than halloumi, and the mushrooms were an excellent addition to balance everything out.

Our pizza with white anchovies, olives and mascarpone was also pretty excellent, with a light and non-stodgy base.


Things took a bit of a slide when our puddings appeared though. As my friend pointed out a big brown smear is never a good look on a plate, even though her chocolate cheesecake was acceptable. My orange semolina cake was pretty tasteless though, with a dry, mealy texture, and I found the saffron ice cream it came with overpoweringly floral. The whole thing also came with a load of bright pink fluff, that looked like a hipster's hair extension had fallen onto my plate. I did taste a bit of it and it was vaguely rose flavoured, which didn't really help with the already excessive floral-ness.

Anyway, odd deserts aside, I still really liked Caravan. It had a nice, relaxed atmosphere, service was friendly (though catching someone's eye was sometimes a little problematic), and most of the food was pretty good. It is also incredibly handy to have somewhere nice to go and eat near King's Cross, as that's the London station I use most. Lunch for the two of us was around £40 (with no alcoholic drinks), so is also very reasonable cost-wise. So I would happily go back to Caravan, but perhaps while maintaining a healthy scepticism with regard to their puddings.

Granary Building
1 Granary Square
London N1C 4AA

Monday, 28 October 2013

Cauliflower fried rice

I am a big fan of the cauliflower, but up until recently I had generally only used it in traditional Indian dishes or in cauliflower cheese. Things like cauliflower purée, seemed unnecessarily complex and a bit odd. However, I have now fully recanted these previously held views and opinions. Cauliflowers are flipping amazing when puréed (making a handy alternative to mashed potatoes) and for all manner of other things. I have documented the cauliflower crust pizza and cottage pie here and here, and last weekend prompted by a post on the Domestic Sluttery blog, I made cauliflower fried 'rice'.

This basically involves grating the cauliflower into small grain-like pieces, which is a lot easier if you have a food processor with a grating blade. I'd say a  medium cauliflower for two people would be more than enough. Most recipes suggest you throw it straight into a wok with the rest of of your fried rice ingredients, but I decided to cook mine in boiling water first and then allowed it cool (this might be completely unnecessary but does mean you can prepare stuff in advance). So when it came to eat, it was just a matter of slicing up some red pepper, mushrooms, green beans, spring onions, and garlic, and stir frying for a few minutes until tender. And then adding the cooked cauliflower, seasoning with black pepper and soy sauce, and keeping the wok moving until everything was heated through. I also added some prawns, but this wasn't essential. The end result is a slightly lighter, vegetable-packed, fried rice that was thoroughly delicious as the cauliflower maintains its separate 'grains' and absorbs flavours in a similar way to white rice. I served this with some tofu and black beans, and extra vegetables, and was very full up shortly afterwards.

Friday, 20 September 2013

Prune and brandy ice cream

So I made this rather brilliant ice cream last month. And even though the sunny weather that was ideal for its consumption seems to have disappeared, I thought it was still worth writing about. The recipe is from the also rather brilliant Food Stories blog, and I followed it to the letter apart from the substitution of cognac for brandy. This was the first time I've made a proper custard-based ice cream, but it was surprisingly simple. I also lack an ice cream maker so had to hand churn at regular intervals. This was probably not ideal, as the texture of the ice cream was not quite as smooth as I'd hoped for (though still acceptable) and the prunes got a bit mushed. So although the end product was still delicious, I am beginning to think that it might be worth investing in a proper ice cream maker now.

Anyway, even sans ice cream maker I will definitely be making this again and am adding it to my list of why prunes are great!

Monday, 9 September 2013

The Three Horseshoes, Madingley, Cambridge

So I went out for a rather nice dinner the other week. The Three Horseshoes in Madingley is one of those restaurants that is based in a ye olde country pub but has quite a sophisticated, modern menu. I'd only heard of it quite recently, but (as per their website) it's been going for the past twenty years. And I'm rather glad I've finally caught up.

The building is chocolate box cute from the outside, but has a contemporary gastropub type feel inside with lots of bleached wood around the place. It was a bit smaller than expected when we arrived on a Friday evening, but was quite busy, and actually I think they had more tables available in their conservatory area. As it was the Male Companion Person's birthday, we were primed to launch into a three course meal.

I started off with a pasta dish of agnolotti stuffed with smoked aubergine, and tomato, basil and ricotta. I'm not sure I could  have picked the filling as aubergine, as it didn't have a particularly strong  flavour, but overall the pasta worked well with the rest of this delicate dish, which was light and summery. I nabbed a bit of the MCP's crab starter too, which was delicious. The combination of crab and hazelnuts is not one I've come across before (but might shortly be stealing).

We both went for fish for our main course. I had pan-fried monkfish and scallops with romesco sauce, which was fantastic. I don't think I've eaten monkfish before, but these dense little pieces of fish were excellently cooked with a bit of colour on the outside but still soft and tender within. I would pretty much have been happy to eat the fish and scallops on their own, but the romesco was a brilliant accompaniment. Again, I have a feeling that romesco sauce is something that I've heard of but not eaten before, but the soft, rich sauce worked really well with the fish and the red pepper was not at all overwhelming. The MCP chose the turbot, and this was also declared to be excellent.

Moving onto puddings, I plumped for the crack pie (presumably a tribute to the version created by the Momofuku Milk Bar in New York, which can also be added to the unexpectedly long list of things I've heard of but not tried). This was basically a variation on a treacle tart, and so was very sweet but also very moreish. I had intended to just nibble a bit of it but ended up scoffing the whole thing, with the creme fraiche helping to cut through the sweetness (a little). The blueberries were pretty superfluous though; they were perfectly nice but if there was one thing this dish didn't need it was more sweetness.

The MCP had the blackcurrant jelly with madeleines and cream, which all looked rather pretty on the plate. I didn't get to try any, but the verdict was that the jelly was very intense but the combination of all the elements together produced a well-balanced dessert.

So overall, a very nice meal indeed. Service was generally also good, apart from a couple of mildly frustrating blips (no one asked if we'd like to order drinks while we looked at the menu leading to a slightly parched state, and conspicuous card waving failed to attract attention when trying to pay the bill- I eventually got up and paid at the bar), but nothing terminal, and the actual bringing of food and drink when required was efficient and friendly. For the standard of food it offers, I'd also say that The Three Horseshoes is very reasonably priced, and our three course dinner with a couple of glasses of wine, worked out somewhere in the region of £50 per head.

The Three Horseshoes is only a short drive from Cambridge, and can easily be combined with cooing over quaint cottages in Madingley village. I really liked its smart, un-fussy but interesting food, and the casual atmosphere, and if the meal we had is anything to go by, it's certainly worth the effort to get there.

The Three Horseshoes
High Street
Cambridge CB23 8AB

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

A couple of summer salads

Huzzah, summer is still here! So inspired by Yotam Ottolenghi and Nigella, I've tried to come up with a few salad recipes that can be served warm or at room temperature, and don't require loads of standing around in a hot kitchen. And the results of this have been an aubergine, feta cheese, tomato, and basil salad, and a green bean, spring onion, and almond salad. The aubergine salad just requires the aubergine to be fried in olive oil, and when cooled a bit mixed with the cheese, chopped tomatoes, and basil, and seasoned with a (little salt) and pepper. The oiliness of the aubergines means that no further dressing is required, but the salty cheese cuts through some of this richness.

For the green beans, I just steamed these in the microwave and softened the sliced spring onions in olive oil. Once the onions were almost done, I added in some flaked almonds and carried on cooking until they took on a bit of colour. The onions and nuts were then tipped over the cooked beans, with any extra oil acting as a dressing, and the whole lot seasoned well. I served both these salads with an Ottolenghi mushroom dish I've written about before, to make an excellent summer vegetarian meal that also avoided overheating in the kitchen.

Monday, 5 August 2013

Iced coffee

I am not a huge coffee drinker, but my consumption usually rises in the summer when iced coffee starts appearing on the menu of the cafe mega-chains that are so handily placed around our train stations and places of work. Milky coffee poured over ice doesn't sound too complex an item to replicate at home, but there seems to be lots of debate over how to make the coffee element with advocates for instant coffee, cold brewing, and just chucking an espresso over ice.

Anyway, as summer in the UK has finally kicked in over the past few weeks, I thought it must be a sign when I saw this recipe for iced coffee on the Beautiful Mess blog. This basically involves steeping ground coffee overnight in the fridge, filtering, and that's pretty much it. I halved the quantities used, so for 2.8 litres of water I added around 2.5oz of ground coffee (apologies for the mixed measurements resulting from trying to scale down a US recipe), which still makes a lot of iced coffee. I did also try adding a teaspoon of cinnamon, but that wasn't really enough to have any impact on flavour. So I'd either leave this out altogether, or bite the bullet and add the proportions recommended in the original recipe. I like my coffee milky in all circumstances, so for my final drink I filled a glass with ice cubes and poured in about two thirds coffee, a third milk, and a little cream for extra richness. This resulted in an icy cold drink that was also rich and smooth. But obviously making iced coffee at home means you can have it however you want, and add whatever flavourings or syrups you fancy too.

Apparently, the cold brewed coffee should be fine in the fridge for at least a couple of weeks. And so far I've found that the inconvenience of having a large glass jar occupying a big chunk of the fridge, has been well worth the delight of having iced coffee available at all times.

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Gog Magog Hills Cafe, Cambridge, UK

Things seem to have gone a little quiet on the blogging front here. To be honest, the unexpectedly hot weather over the summer means that I've mainly been sticking to dinners that require minimal cooking, tending to avoid the kitchen unless essential, and eating ice cream at every opportunity.

But the nice weather has also resulted in a couple of visits to the rather lovely Gogmag Hills cafe a.k.a. the Canteen, and I realised that I have not written about it here before.The site consists of a butchers, farm shop, and excellent dedicated cheese shop, as well as the cafe. And with excellent timing, there is also an extended outside seating area too. So it feels a bit like being out in the country, despite only being five minutes from the Addenbrooke's mega-biomedical campus. The cafe does a range of savoury stuff for lunch, including some fab looking scotch eggs and sausage rolls for meat-eaters, and loads of cakes, scones and traybakes.

On my recent visits I sampled a fantastic lemon victoria sponge cake that was light, moist, and lemony without being lip-puckeringly so. And a cheese scone with butter made for an excellent lunch. Service at the cafe is always cheery, even when they are busy, and as a notorious tray-wobbler I really value the fact that they bring your order to your table (even if you're sat quite far away outside). As an extra bonus, there is at least one very friendly, non-barky farm dog who politely brings you a ball to throw for her.

To be honest, there's very little not to like about this place and you could easily spend a couple of hours sitting outside admiring the view (and eating cake). I plan to return again while the sun lasts, and probably even if it doesn't.

Gog Magog Hills Farm Shop and Cafe
Heath Farm, Shelford Bottom
Cambridge CB22 3AD

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

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Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Parmesan custard and anchovy toast

I first heard of this dish when a tall, medical friend of mine was being very enthusiastic about eating it at Rowley Leigh's Le Cafe Anglais restaurant in London. I meant to look it up then, but never quite got round to it, so it was quite handy when the recipe appeared in last month's Waitrose magazine. Further investigation has revealed that it's actually all over the internet, such as here. The Waitrose recipe goes for the anchovy butter simply spread on toast, rather than made into little toasted sandwiches, but apart from that it's identical.

This recipe was surprisingly easy to make, although it took way longer to cook than the 15 minutes stated. More like 45 minutes I'd say. I have to say that after the waiting around and tentative bain marie shaking, I was a little disappointed that the Parmesan custard wasn't a bit more cheesy. However on reflection, the contrast between the salty, fishy toast and the creamy custard, was very acceptable and more Parmesan would probably have been overwhelming (I am still tempted to make it again with more cheese though). Anyway, I really liked this recipe and particularly the toast part and will definitely be cooking it again in the near future (possibly with extra cheese).

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Bengali-style cabbage with prawns or badakopi torkari

Right back to a bit more Bengali food now. This cabbage dish is a staple of Bengali cooking, and one I remember being forced to eat when I was small. I would assiduously pick out all the prawns (and eat them), have a tiny bit of cabbage and then declare that I'd 'finished'. I didn't get away with this that often. Happily I am now a big fan of cabbage in all its forms, from Savoy to the white stuff.

Traditionally Bengali vegetable dishes aren't often cooked with garlic or onions, and so this cabbage recipe uses a simple combination of ginger and whole cumin seeds. Adding prawns is optional, and if you want to keep things vegetarian, peas are a good substitute. And in fact, having both in there is fine too.

Recipe (enough for 4 as part of a larger meal):

1 white cabbage, washed and shredded
Large thumb-sized piece of ginger, squashed to a paste
1 dried bay leaf
1 piece of cinnamon/cassia bark
1 green chilli
2 cardamon pods, split
1-2 tsp turmeric
2 tsp whole cumin seeds
1-2 tblsp sunflower (or other plain) oil
Around 150g cooked prawns and/or a couple of handfuls of peas
1 tsp salt, or enough to season

Heat up the oil in a large-ish flat bottomed pan (ideally) and when it's hot, but not smoking, throw in the bay leaf, cinnamon, cardamon. After a minute or two, add in the ginger and cumin seeds, and continue to stir over a medium heat for another couple of minutes. When the ginger is just starting to cook through and the seeds are slightly brown, put the cabbage in and stir everything really well. The residual water from washing the cabbage should provide enough liquid and steam to cook it. Once the cabbage has shrunk down a little, add the turmeric, salt, and green chilli (prick a couple of holes in it with a knife, so you get the flavour but not the heat), and stir well. Cook the cabbage for at least 15 minutes over a low heat with a lid on the pan- it should be completely tender and mildly yellow. Finally put in the prawns or the peas (defrosted if frozen), mix everything together and cook for a further 5 minutes until it's all heated through. Serve with rice or anything else Indian.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Cauliflower crust pizza

Pizza pre-cooking.

I am a big fan of the cauliflower. Roasted, puréed, in curries, covered in cheese sauce- it's basically very hard to go wrong. The one area I was very sceptical about however, was the cauliflower crust pizza. Much beloved of the low-carb movement, I just couldn't see how it this could possible work. I was imagining, at best, a sort of thin cauliflower cheese with added tomato sauce. And at worst, well something worse than that.

However when I spotted this recipe listed on the Guardian site a few weeks ago, it all sounded rather promising. And even more so when I saw the original blog post the recipe came from with its lovely photography.

Pizza post-cooking.

I followed all the steps required for cooking the cauliflower (using a food processor makes grating it a doddle but it's probably still feasible by hand), but did allow it to cool a bit before shaping into the bases. And the only minor substitution to the recipe was using a regular Philadelphia-style cream cheese rather than a goat's cheese. I was convinced at every stage that the mini-bases would fall apart, but they didn't at all. I let them fully cool while making a tomato sauce, and once this was done the bases were topped with a selection of cooked mushrooms, anchovies, red onion, and mozzarella or cheddar. They then went back in the oven until the cheese was golden and melted.

I was fully expecting the transfer from baking sheet to plate to result in pizza disintegration, but they even held up to being poked and prodded with a fish slice. The final pizza could be easily cut into segments, and tasted damn good (perhaps even more so as I did not have high expectations). This is not something you are going to mix up with a proper, thin-crust Italian pizza, but as the cauliflower base is very neutral the main flavours that come through are all the pizza toppings. And what's not to like about tomato sauce and melted cheese? So if you're looking for a slightly lighter pizza option, a gluten-free version, or just something a bit different, I would thoroughly recommend this recipe (which coincidently also reinforces my views on the usefulness of food blogs).

Monday, 15 April 2013

Bengali-style tuna fishcakes or macher chop

Several years ago I said in a blog post that I'd write about Bengali fishcakes or macher chop, but never quite got round to it. But as it's now Bengali new year, this seems an opportune moment to make good on that ancient promise.

These fishcakes would traditionally be served with dahl and rice, as a sort of 'first course', but a few are substantial enough to form the centre of a main meal. They are also pretty frugal, as they are made with tinned tuna and some other bits and bobs. You could of course use any firm fish, but for some reason it's always been tinned tuna in my household. Making the mix up in advance, and cooking it the next day, also adds to the convenience factor. This is also one of those recipes that can be adjusted to taste, so do change the amount of spices or chilli to suit.

Recipe (enough for around 12 depending on size):

1 medium potato, chopped up and boiled
2 tins (185g) of  tuna chunks, drained
3 tblsp cooked frozen peas
1 medium onion
A large thumb-sized piece of ginger
4 medium cloves of garlic
2 whole green chillis
1 tblsp sultanas (optional)
2 tblsp salted peanuts, roughly chopped or 1 tblsp crunchy peanut butter
Around 3 tblsp chopped corriander leaves
2 tsp garam masala
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp salt
1 egg, beaten (plus another if needed)
Fresh or dried breadcrumbs
Plain oil for shallow frying

Start by making a paste with the onion, garlic, ginger, and chilli. My trusty Kenwood mini chopper does this in a few seconds, but you could pound it all by hand if needed. Mash the cooked potatoes until they are relatively smooth, then add the onion paste, tuna, coriander leaves, peanuts, sultanas, spices, and egg. Finally put in the peas, and give everything a good mix so it's well combined. You should by now have a mixture that can be easily formed into small-ish fishcake shapes (either flat or tubular work). If the mixture is relatively wet, this surface moisture should be enough to get the breadcrumbs to stick to the fishcakes. But if that isn't happening, then lightly dip them in a bit of beaten egg before rolling in breadcrumbs. You can then put the fishcakes in the fridge (on a clingfilm-ed plate) until needed. This also helps them firm up, and not fall apart while frying, so I'd recommend you do this if possible.

Heat enough oil to generously cover the bottom of a flat plan, and when it's hot (but definitely not smoking) carefully slide in the fishcakes. Cook them in batches until they are golden brown, which should take a few minutes on each side. They are a bit delicate, so do exercise caution when turning them. Drain them on some kitchen roll, and prepare to tuck in. These fishcakes also re-heat really well, either in a non-stick pan, under the grill, or in the oven, so can easily be made in advance. And I'll be seeing the new year in with some shortly.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Byron, Cambridge, UK

I was rather excited when I found out a few weeks ago that Byron was coming to Cambridge. I really enjoyed it when I visited one of their branches in London a few years ago, as despite their focus on (meat) burgers they had a great range of side dishes and a very nice veggie burger. Two and a half years on, it was slightly disconcerting to find that the menu looked pretty much unchanged but I guess that's what sticking to your core concept is all about. The veggie burger remains a combination of mushroom, goat's cheese, and roasted pepper. Not amazingly exciting but done well. The courgette fries were an excellent alternative to potatoes, crispy and oil-free. The coleslaw was rather disappointing though, and tasted like something that could have come out of a supermarket tub. The MCP had another cob salad, which was declared to be good (though perhaps quite not as good as his first one). 

So anyway, I still really like Byron. The Cambridge branch is bright and airy, with cheery service, and there are plenty of things I'd like to eat on the menu that don't include meat. A pretty substantial lunch for two, with a couple of non-alcoholic drinks, came in at just under £30 (without service), so it's not going to break the bank. And now they are located in Cambridge, I'm hoping to return for a milkshake soon too.

12 Bridge Street
Cambridge CB2 1UF

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

A fantastic chocolate and prune cake

I really like prunes. For some reason, people often find this funny and start sniggering. I'm not sure why, as for me (really nice) prunes are super-juicy, succulent, and full of sweetness. They are also fab paired with chocolate in puddings and cakes. So when I had a bag of prunes that had been hanging around in my cupboard for a while, and some friends coming over for lunch, I sought out a chocolate and prune cake recipe.

Luckily one of the first I found was this one by cook and food writer David Lebovitz, which was fantastic. It produced an ultra-moist but mega-rich chocolate cake, which had a dense, almost mousse-y texture. The recipe also contained the great idea of soaking the prunes in black tea rather than booze for non-alcohol drinkers. I served the cake with a scoop of creme fraiche, and it disappeared quite rapidly (thus my lone slice picture above). I would make this cake again at the drop of a hat, but probably won't for a while due to the risk of me eating it all myself.

Monday, 25 February 2013

CAU, Cambridge, UK

You might think it's unusual for me to be quite excited about the opening of somewhere that specialises in Argentinian steak. But as a non-meat eater I've realised that places like that often have an excellent range of side dishes that I am more than happy to tuck into (see Byron Burger, which appears to be coming to Cambridge soon- woo!). Anyway, when I was invited along to try out CAU, which has recently opened in the centre of town, I thought it was worth giving a go.

CAU is situated in part of the old Barclays bank site on Benet Street, and has a modern funky design. It's not in the main part of the old bank though, so it looks like we're going to have to wait a while longer to see what's become of those amazing ceilings. Anyway, this (currently) mini-chain sells itself on its range of meat, but in fact has quite a wide-ranging and eclectic menu. We kicked off with starters of salt and pepper squid and some vaguely Asian steamed mussels, which were both excellent. The squid (though a rather small portion) was light and crispy, and the mussels were perfectly cooked in their coconut broth.

I tried the aubergine lasagne for my main course, while the Male Companion Person went for the lomito medallions (I don't really know what that means but it was basically some pieces of steak). My veggie dish was aubergine parmigiana by another name, and very good it was too; densely packed with soft aubergine and enough cheese to add a bit of richness and crunch on top.

My 'lasagne' looks a bit burnt in this picture, and though it was on the path to well caramelised it wasn't actually overdone.

The meat was described as "pretty tasty" by the MCP, who is not known for being effusive.  A side order of chips, which were akin to slimline roast potatoes, were also rather good. We finished things off with some churros for me, and a cornflake ice cream sundae for the MCP. Despite the churros being dusted in quite a lot of sugar, the dark chocolate sauce meant that overall they weren't too sweet. I can't comment much on the sundae, as I only got to try a bit before it rapidly disappeared.

So overall I quite liked CAU. Between us, we sampled a range of seafood, meat and veggie dishes which were all very acceptable, and the service was efficient and friendly without being intrusive. Our bill for three courses each, and a couple glasses of wine, would have been somewhere around the £60 mark, so not excessive. CAU is not destination dining, (and isn't claiming to be), but it's somewhere I'd be happy to go back to for a casual lunch. And having a souce of churros in Cambridge can only be a good thing.

15 Benet Street
Cambridge CB2 3QN

Thanks to the nice people at CAU and their PR person for providing me and the Male Companion Person with our dinner for free and gratis.

Monday, 4 February 2013

Saag- Bengali-style spring greens

I guess going to Kolkata recently has made me think about cooking Bengali food a bit more regularly. So here's something that's pretty easy to make, but is rather delicious. Bengali vegetable dishes don't tend to include garlic, but this recipe for spring greens is an exception. The greens are braised with garlic and kalo jeera (black onion seeds) until soft and very tender, and then finished off with a bit of ghee. It's an ideal side dish to go with other Indian food, but I suspect it would be quite nice with a bit of poached fish too.

Recipe (enough for 4-6 as a side dish):

2-3 heads of spring greens, around 500g, washed and shredded
4-5 fat cloves of garlic, crushed
2-3 heaped tsps kalo jeera/black onion seeds
1-2 Indian green chillis (optional)
1 generous tblsp ghee
1-2 tblsp sunflower (or another plain) oil
1 tsp salt (or adjust to taste)

Heat the oil in a large, wide-bottomed pan, and when it's warm put in the black onion seeds. Swirl them around a bit, and as the oil gets hotter they'll start to spit and pop. This should only take a minute or so, and when they start doing this add the garlic. Turn down the heat if necessary, as the garlic shouldn't really brown much. After another minute put the greens in and give everything a really good stir to make sure that the garlic and kalo jeera aren't all stuck on the bottom of the pan. Pierce the whole green chillis a couple of times, so that they release their flavour but hardly any heat, and add them to the greens with the salt. Give everything another good stir, turn the heat down low, put a lid on, and allow the greens to cook for at least 15 minutes. The residual water left on the leaves from washing them should create some steam which will help cook them, but stir occasionally to make sure nothing is sticking to the pan. When the greens are completely cooked, add the ghee and stir it through to coat all the leaves. This is one of those times when you don't want your vegetables to have any bite to them, and the greens should be cooked all the way through with the stalks easily falling apart. The saag won't look that exciting but the generous amounts of garlic and ghee do a very good job of pepping up these otherwise rather boring vegetables. Serve with rice and dahl, (or something else).

Monday, 21 January 2013

Eating in Kolkata

So I started this year in India, specifically in Kolkata (or Calcutta). As I was mainly seeing family, most of my meals were home-cooked, and so this post isn't going to be great for eating out recommendations (for that I always consult one of the best Indian food blogs around). Anyway, I did manage to consume an awful lot of mishti (Bengali sweets), discovered that food court eating can actually be pretty good, and had a regular intake of chanachur and other snacks.

Here are some pictures and a few words.

Not a handy snack for the taxi driver, but limes and chillis for good luck and to ward off the evil eye.
Many, many mishti- shondesh, roshogolla, and mishti doi.

More shondesh. Same basic recipe, but they come in many shapes and sizes.

The counter at a branch of Balaram Mullick- an excellent Bengali sweet shop, though the service was somewhat sketchy.

This was the year I had my first experience of eating in some shopping mall food courts. After some (a lot) of skepticism, I was pretty impressed. There were lots of counters for north and south Indian, Indian-Chinese and European food. Everything we ate was cooked to order and rather tasty. Above are some masala dosas from the mini food court that is randomly located in the Spencers supermarket in South City Mall. There's also a Flurry's concession there that did a rather good chocolate cake. Below is my chola bhatura from the food court in the City Centre mall in Salt Lake. The bhatura were more like giant luchis, but that's not in itself a bad thing.

 And also from City Centre was this plate of true fusion food- paneer hakka chow mein. Kolkata has always been keen on its Indo-Chinese food, and I really liked this slightly more sanitised (and veggie) version.

This was also the first year that I saw supermarkets becoming a bit more than a novelty destination, but markets like Gariahat still seemed very popular. When they say it's a wet fish market, they are not joking. I'm still not sure what I was stepping in but it was worth it for the super-fresh fish.

Golda chingri from the market above- these are giant fresh water prawns, which I cooked with green beans.

There aren't that many Indian vegetables that you can't also get in the UK now, but the fruit I've yet to see are these custard apples. These ones were huge and filled with a delicious custard-y goop that you have to  scoop out with your fingers.

Some excellent Bengali home cooking- koroishutir kochuri and aloo dum, a pea-stuffed fried bread with potato curry.

Snacks galore! These were mainly of the crisp variety (always of interest to me) but often with masala flavourings.

I liked this sign- it provides essential information on where the snack vendors are located (as well as the toy shop). 

So Kolkata was rather good for eating. The highlight though was probably the spectacular lunch cooked by my auntie (Joya mashi), which for some reason I forgot to take a picture of. Her idea of a simple lunch of cauliflower bhaji, fried fish, fish curry, prawn curry, dhoka dalna lentil cakes, rice, and tomato chutney, was pretty amazing and not one that I'll forget soon.