Monthly Archives: October 2012

Tayyabsolutely fabulous!

After a six am start to the day and an eight mile running race, it is safe to say that I was pretty hungry.  The breakfast of champions which consisted of eggs on toast was long forgotten and I found myself at nine pm with an insatiable hunger.  I was cave woman kind of hungry, I was close to chewing my own leg off.  After a few post race drinks, I needed something substantial to distract me from my aching bones (I don’t remember getting this old and feeble).

It was a cold and wet Sunday night and trying to find food in East London is harder than you would imagine.  Luckily my friend knew just the place and on some backstreet in Whitechapel was the restaurant I had read so much about, especially since it was featured in the Observer food monthly awards a few weeks ago; Tayyabs.  We stepped from the quiet street into a room that was positively jangling with life, there were people everywhere, a crowd were huddled around the entrance vying for a table.  That and the diversity of punters seemed to be a good sign.  The place seemed endless, tables were covering every available patch of floor space and there was certainly an atmosphere, one of joy.  I know that seems a strange word to describe the ambience of a restaurant but everyone seemed to be having a good time, from the couples to the large families, smiles adorned the faces of the patrons and when I sat down to eat, I understood.

Due to my ridiculous hunger, I was up for a lot of food and that was exactly what we had.  As my friend had been there before, I decided to let them do the ordering for me and I just sat back and waited for the food to appear.  We ordered a lot of food and discussed taking home doggy bags and when the mountain of food arrived, I was a little intimidated.  As soon as I had taken my first bite, I knew there would be no leftovers.

I think the first thing I ate was the chicken from the mixed grill, I’m not really a chicken breast kind of a girl but the smoky, spicy, sultry flavour that was having a party in my mouth elevated the chicken to another level.  Now, they are famous for their mixed grill and in particular, their lamb chops and I can see why.  It was really bloody good!  What is more exciting than a plate, piled high with aromatic meat?  Not much.  We also chomped on a delicious lamb curry.  To be honest, I can’t remember all of the details and descriptions because I was too busy having an awesome time.  I also managed to only take one photo.  That is when Little Chef knows she’s having a special food experience, when she forgets to take notes and photo’s!

Something to note, go to Tayyabs for the food, not for the brusque service.  Enjoy the food, enjoy the company and make sure you over-order.  I promise you’ll want leftovers so you can carry on the Tayyabs experience at home.  Yum yum yum.

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Fiery fridge beans

Who doesn’t love baked beans?  If you don’t, leave now and hang your head in shame whilst doing it because baked beans are delicious and much maligned.  Beans are an accessible food, no person who tells you it’s cheaper to feed their family at McDonalds than it is to cook for them could ever claim that about beans.  They are a staple of British society.  What is a fry up without beans, what is toast without beans, what is cheese on toast without beans?  Ok, I might be over-egging the pudding a bit here but they are undeniably a pantry staple.  I challenge you all to go to your kitchen cupboard and not find some baked beans in it.  Go on, off you go!  (A few moments later) See, there were beans, weren’t there? Told you so.

Right, now we’ve ascertained the ubiquity of beans, onward and upwards.  At the moment I am attempting to live my life on a budget and that is very hard for me.  To walk past the cheese shop and not go in and buy everything in sight is a challenge of my willpower, as is, not buying the bespoke chocolate bar that I spy at Wholefoods which costs £7.  However, I have been doing rather well of late.  And so, this brings me to the creation of fridge beans.  In the last restaurant I worked at in Australia, we had some fancy breakfast beans on the menu which were cooked for hours from nice cannellini beans with offcuts from the deli counter, chunks of pancetta and prosciutto lay languidly in the pot for hours as the rich tomatoey concoction came together.  But who the heck has the time to do that at home.

So, Fiery fridge beans were born.  Basically, go to the fridge and see what little nubbins of food you have skulking around.  Luckily, because our fridge is generally very well stocked, there are usually a few treasures to be found, things along the lines of chorizo, smoked bacon, half a red pepper.  And don’t forget the condiments, you know all those annoying jars that you buy once for a recipe and then don’t use for a year, use ’em up!  I have been known to throw a dollop of redcurrant jelly or a teaspoon of apple sauce into the mix for good measure, the ultimate though is caramelised onions, which I usually also have a jar of.  Beans seem to like a little sweetness in their lives.

I’m not going to give you a recipe, as the whole point of this, is that you use up what you have in the fridge.  I start with the stuff I want to fry, whether that be pepper and onion with a bit of chorizo or ham chucked in.  Once this is all lovely and tender and a little caramelised, add your tin of baked beans.  I usually add a bit of water too so that the end product is a bit soupy and wet.  Now, if you want to spice things up a bit, you can add some hot smoked paprika, a bit of cumin, whatever tickles your fancy.  And throw some of those condiments in too, if you’re not sure, just add a small amount at a time and keep tasting it.  Today, when I made Fiery fridge beans, I added a little too much sweet chilli sauce and it was a touch too sweet, so I just squeezed a cheek of lime in at the end.  And the fiery part comes from the fact that we always have chillies around which need using up and BIL (brother in law) and I are borderline obsessed with chilli.

There you have it.  What chefs really eat on their days off, or at least what this Little Chef eats on her days off.  And remember, be brave, throw in whatever you fancy, leftover roast chicken, chuck it in, lonely slice of ham, add it to the mix.  Get creative and add a little fire to your life!

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The week in pictures (sort of)

Ok, ok, I know it’s been more than a week since I last posted a photo update and these photo’s have been taken over the last few weeks.  Since I’ve stepped back into reality and therefore work, I have been becoming increasingly lazy in my down time.  However, with two days off this week, I will endeavour to bring you lots of kitchen updates.  Here are a few photo’s which will hopefully get you in the mood for the foodie week ahead.  Enjoy.

Paella for the rice loving family

And you thought The Breakfast Club was just a movie… it’s also a groovy little place to grab large plates of hangover curing food

Some very yummy Hoummous/Hummus/Houmous at The Rookery

Some equally delicious, silken chicken liver parfait, also at The Rookery

The remnants of a very fun birthday dinner for a very special person

The beginnings of my posh baked beans, which I’ll tell you about another day

What will soon be a delicious banana cake, smothered in rum custard

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Grab the bull by the horns

There are so many places in my old neighbourhood, around Kentish town, Dartmouth Park and Highgate which are happily ensconced in my memory as truly special places.  Many moons ago, I lived in Kentish town, I worked there, I drank there, I partied there and I very rarely left the borough of Camden.  And so, lots of the gems of the area became my favourite haunts.  I remember countless evenings spent at the Flask in Highgate village; in summer enjoying the sunshine on the large terrace and in winter, snuggled into a dimly lit corner of the cellar-like depths of the building.  I have had some great times at these places…

Yesterday I decided to do a mini pub crawl of north London.  On the list were the Flask in Highgate, the Bull and Last on the periphery of Hampstead heath and the Pineapple, which was the pub I worked in for two years.  Starting at the top and working my way down, I headed for the Flask first, which actually turned out to be a rather epic mission, as I had only ever walked there before and was trying to find it from the tube station, from a direction I had never approached it from before. After the nice man in an antiques shop told me which direction to head in, I finally found it, tucked around a corner and still buzzing with life.

And incidentally, saw two famous types, so it must still be de rigueur to drink there.  As I walked through the large courtyard, most tables were full of people relaxing and enjoying their sunday afternoon. At first glance, I was heartened to see that not much had changed.  Unfortunately, on closer inspection, it had changed and not in a good way. The sultry cellar like room which used to have dark walls and lots of opportunities for privacy (I kid you not, when I was there about 8 years ago, there was a couple nearly doing it in the corner but luckily it was too dark to see) was now sporting white painted walls and a strange cold light, which in my opinion, had ruined the atmosphere somewhat, there were little modifications all about the place.  Maybe I just like to believe that nothing has changed in the 6 years I have been away but of course it has, change is all around us.  It is the one thing you can rely on in life, everything changes…

The Bull and Last is a pub which I used to frequent back in the day but only ever for drinking, the food wasn’t up to much back then and so it was simply a drinking hole.  However, word on the street was that the Bull and Last was now a food destination, well, if Rene Redzepi’s been there, it must be good.  It was pub quiz night and therefore very busy with large, boisterous groups, exactly how I would be if I was taking part in the quiz.  Unfortunately, to add insult to injury, the quiz master (I’m sure he’s a lovely guy) had possibly the most annoying voice I have ever heard, bar none.  Moving swiftly on to the more positive elements of the evening.  The food was impressive.  The menu was actually rather expensive, maybe a little too expensive, it is still a pub after all.  Anyway, I said I was going to be positive… It was clearly a British menu featuring lots of locally, ethically sourced produce.  If there is a beef tartare on the menu, the rest of the menu may as well not exist for me , so deep is my love for tartare.  So, that was my decision made for me, beef tartare to start, followed by roast venison with celeriac and salsify for main.

My tartare was delicious, very well seasoned and had a bit of a kick to it too.  I also liked the fact that despite already being near perfect, they served extra cornichons and capers, for if you wanted to give those great flavours even more of a lift.  The beef was clearly good quality and coupled with the hand cut fries I had on the side, it was a damn fine starter.  My expectations were high for the main course and I was not disappointed.  The venison was delightfully pink and tender and the accompaniments were tasty, my only slight quibble was that it was maybe a little too rich, it needed better balance, either  lighten the dish or add a bit of a sour note as the combined muskiness of the celeriac and salsify made it a very earthy plate of food.  There were a few blackberries scattered on the plate which if they had been better utilised or more abundant would have provided that much needed sharp character which the dish lacked.  However, all in all, a fine plate of food, all happily washed down with a carafe of Primitivo.

I rounded out my tour with a drink at the Pineapple.  I spent two years working there and have so many fond memories of the place.  I did a lot of partying there as well as working there and I think I was there for a period where it was very much the place to go.  There were many familiar faces around the bar, of people who I am sure have long forgotten me but they were there nonetheless, reminding me that there has been a lot of change in the last 6 years but that there is also a lot that has stayed the same.  And as much as change is good, familiarity can be just as good, especially when you want a pint somewhere cosy…

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The mother of all cakes

I went all out this year.  It was for a VERY special occasion.  It was for my Mummy’s birthday.  It was the mother of all cakes.  I bake often, as I’m sure you’re all aware but there are some occasions which mean I pull out all the stops.  This being one of them.  I have been  notably absent from my family’s lives for the last 6 years, what with living in Australia and all, it was a bit of a schlep to come home for birthdays.  But being that I am on sabbatical in the UK at the moment, as part of my worldwide culinary adventure, I am here, in the UK, primed and ready to bake for loved ones and bake I did!

My Mummy does like sweet things but not too sweet.  Mummy likes things tart! Raspberries, gooseberries, grapefruit, lemons,  if they’re sour, she likes them.  Which seems to be a complete paradox, as she is so sweet.  So I decided to make my favourite lemon curd to feature as one of the cake’s fillings.  I also made a sheep yoghurt mousse, again to add a sour note to the cake.  The sponge itself was a lemon cake, I made two of the same small cakes and sliced them in two so I ended up with four layers of cake.

Sponge layers were interspersed with perfectly tart lemon curd, sheep yoghurt mousse and fresh raspberries.  And all of this was then smothered in a vanilla marshmallow frosting (possibly the most fun frosting in the world) and sprinkled with dehydrated raspberries and topped with happy birthday candles.  It was a fun cake to make and even more fun to eat.

Why is cooking important to me? Because I want to nourish people, because I want to nurture people, because I want to brighten someone’s day with the food I have created.  I think food can be such a beautiful expression of someone’s love, the food that is plated and wrapped and left in the fridge for me (by my darling sister) when I get home from work in the wee hours of the morning is packed full of love.  As I sit here now in the middle of the night, all is quiet, everyone’s asleep but I have a delicious plate of food, food which to me says, I love you and this is my way of showing it.

So, Little Chef making a giant cake filled with my Mummy’s favourite things was a big ‘I love you’ gesture.  We all sat around the beautifully styled kitchen table and each took charge of one course from the birthday menu and we ate and drank and laughed a lot and I made a speech and made everyone cry and we all got a bit tiddly (probably why I made the speech).  Food to me is a form of communion, we all come together to share.

And in the spirit of sharing, I have included lots of photo’s of the cake’s construction.  Great cakes are not born, they are made.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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