Friday, 31 March 2017

Padella, Borough Market

Padella has been knocking it out of the park since it opened in back in April 2016. A simple pasta spot on the outside of Borough Market and from the folks behind Trullo, an Italian restaurant in Islington with an exceedingly good reputation of its own. 

Just serving up homemade pasta with exceptional sauces, it has a small, concise menu with a few starters, the pastas and a couple of desserts. If carbs aren't your thing, I'd give this one a miss. 

This is another spot I went to back when it opened and never wrote about. To busy stuffing my face to think about recording it. 

 Harri and I decided it was high time for another lunch date, the sun was shining and it was a perfect day to try and bag a spot in their lovely window. Harri and I have probably tried to go to Padella about 5 times together, Harri very much has Italy in her heart and so when I (and all of London) raved about the pasta we knew we had to go together. I certainly wasn't going to pass up another chance to visit! 

Being the footloose and fancy free freelancers that we are, we picked to go for a later lunch to avoid the queue and the rush. For those that hate a queue, Padella is deceptive. They have another, much larger, dining space downstairs. So if the queue looks huge, fret not, not only is the pasta worth the wait, it will also probably go quicker than you think. 

Inside you take you seat at the marble counters, either in front of the chefs, or at the big window. Not only are they a part of the wonderfully simple decor but the counters also become the pasta making benches when the doors are closed. If you pass by in the morning you might very well see the pasta taking shape. Downstairs they have another bar but also larger tables that are easier to fit a group around. 

Arriving late as usual, Harri had already bagged a great spot at the window. Even though we arrived at 3 there were still a fair number of people finishing up their lunch. We eyed up the menu and obviously wanted to order everything, but that would be greedy, so we just settled with 3 pastas.

The pastas arrived in a flurry and Harri got to work... So I sat, like a drooling puppy watching her, and took a picture of her doing her thang.

The first guy I shall introduce is the Fettuccine with nduja, mascarpone and parsley (£6.5). This was a knockout, seriously punchy with the earthy, chilli nduja and a fabulous fluffy mound of parmesan. 

For anyone who is afraid of spice this isn't the one for you, nduja is not for the fainthearted. The pasta though is the real star of the show. So well made and so far removed from dried pasta you wonder why you even bother eating the stuff at home.

Next was the Tagliarini with nettles, nutmeg, parmesan and egg yolk (£10.5). This was superb, the nutmeg was so well judged. The yolk breaks to make the sauce that much richer, winding its way down over the pasta. I assumed nettles would be slightly like spinach, but the flavour is much more delicate making it a very light dish. 

Gratuitous yolk shot with some dreadful pasta twirling by me. Terrible assisting.

Then 3rd up, this guy who has gotten a strong reputation as being the best cacio & pepe sauce in town. Wriggly, fat worms of pici in the creamy pepper sauce that literally has me salivating now just writing this. Harri had to be coaxed into trying this as the fat doughy pasta shapes aren't really her thing, she likes a thin pasta. However, judging by the grin on her face when she'd taken a mouthful, I'm pretty sure she's a convert. 

Again, perfectly made, exceptionally cooked. These guys can do no wrong when it comes to pasta. "Best pasta outside of Italy " - Harriet Raper (and this girl knows what she's talking about)

We wolfed down pretty much everything. We left a touch of the strong njuda pasta, it was a really punchy sauce! I was pretty much licking the plate of the pic cacio & pepe clean. I could eat it 100x over! 

We finished up with a couple of macchiatos and took our leave. Strolling out into the sunshine for a wander around Borough Market and Bermondsey, which has such a striking mix of old and new buildings. Tiny pubs hidden down little roads and big old factories now being made into chic flats. Through Kings College Campus and back over Tower Bridge onto the right side of the river. Definitely the perfect way to walk off our pasta bellies! 

If you haven't been to Padella I suggest you just drop everything and go now. Honestly it's an order. 

If you love the photos on here as much as I do, you can see more of Harri's photos on her website here or give her a follow on instagram too, for daily uploads of a perfectly captured world. 

Square Meal

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Bao - Fitzrovia

In this current climate, if you have yet to eat a bao, you are SERIOUSLY missing out. 

Little fluffy white pockets stuffed with the most outrageously tasty fillings. The kind of food that makes you close you eyes and murmur 'mmmmmmm' to nobody in particular but just in a deep appreciation of what is happening on your tastebuds. 

I mean, if you don't look like this guy ⬇ below when eating bao, you're doing something wrong. It's a pretty accurate representation.

Bao started life as a food truck making the rounds on London's ever growing street food scene. It then set down slightly more permanent roots in Neil Market with the Bao Bar. Finally, in March 2015 they opened their first permanent site in Soho with the help of the Sethi family (who has backed the likes of Lyle's and Gymkhana

The trio is comprised of sister and brother Wai Ting, Shing Tat Chung, and his girlfriend Erchen Chang and, after taking Soho by storm, they are now well into their new venture in Fitzrovia. 

Like the bao's they serve, their restaurants are equally small and perfectly formed. The Fitzrovia site is slightly larger than the first, 46 covers to Soho's 32, and HUZZAH! There is limited booking for the seats downstairs at Fitzrovia. 

Yes, Bao does mean queueing, but the turn around is speedy with the dishes flying out the kitchen (it is street food at heart) and the bar style eating does not encouraging lingering. Which is excellent news for those standing along the windows, mouths open in anticipation to be stuffed with bao. 

Now you must be asking yourself, why I am writing about Bao now? I did go back in May 2015 (I can't believe it's already that long ago!) but never wrote it up. Silly me - the worst kept secret in London. 

Now though they have recently launched a fantastic new idea to use up offcuts of their dough. Mini bao. 

These are served at lunch in Fitzrovia and it means you can eat all the bao on the menu for a grand total of £16! For someone like me, who likes to always sample as much of the menu as possible, it's a dream. So when I heard about it on the instagram grapevine I immediately gathering a partner in crime, Harri, and set a date to get down and BAO. 

Sadly, as the mini bao are made with the offcuts, by Friday, they were SOLD OUT. Devastating because the bao are not only divine but beyond CUTE! To have a look, visit their instagram here

Nevertheless this did not deter Hazzle and I and on a blustery spring Friday we met, armed with Harri's camera for a bloody good catch up and a munch.

For those of you that don't know, Miss Harriet Raper is the most fantastic photographer as well as an all round dreamboat. Her instagram is incredible and this is her website - (available for weddings and bar mitzvahs, literally.)

So this is why the photos in this blog are about 3 million times better than my own but back to the food. In defiance to not being able to have all the mini bao we just ordered all the regular bao and then two other dishes. 

First up - Confit pork with crispy shallots and plumy spicy sauce and behind that is the Beef Short Rib with a sort of mayo. What can I say except 'mmmmmmmm'

Next in line was the Diakon Bao, a piece of diakon (chinese radish, utterly divine) breadcrumbed and deep fried topped with a pickled slice. When cooked it goes all deliciously glutinous in a way that has you questioning if it is really a vegetable as they aren't meant to taste that good. The classic bao, just peeping into the corner of the photo - pork with crushed peanuts is just the most lovely combination and didn't disappoint. 

What was slightly disappointing - hence not making the final photo cut was the Black Cod in Sesame Bao. I mean, I know these are small bites but the cod was practically non existent in its squid ink batter.

Last to show up were our other dishes. All of Bao is small plates, designed to be shared and we plumped for the Fried Chicken Chop with Soy Cured Egg and the Soy Pork Loin with Ginger and Chives. 

Fried chicken is also having a moment, not complaining, anything crumbed and fried and spicy is always a firm menu choice of mine. (Korean Fried Wings - can I get an AMEN!) This was no exception, still being on the bone meant the chicken was perfectly moist and the spicy sauce it comes with really packs a punch. Utterly divine and has us picking up every last scrap. 

The pork loin were the thinnest slices of cold pork that were beyond moorish! The ridge of fat, despite being cold, was still perfect amongst the soy. Taiwanese charcuterie if you will.

Gratuitous yolk shot. Good for taking the edge off the spicy sauce! This was all washed down with the tiniest pots of Chin Shin Oolong tea. The perfect lunch. 

Haz and I took our leave and gave up our seats to those hungry in line and skipped out, as light as the pillows of bao we'd just eaten. 

For those of you that work on Charlotte Street, or near Charlotte street or TCR. I suggest early week you find a reason to leave the office at 11.45 and get down to Bao to get in line for the Minis. 
Like I said we missed out on these, apparently they ran out on Wednesday! However it will be happening each week on lunchtimes. 

Even if you don't work round there, get to a Bao anyway if you haven't been! 

Find them here Soho and Fitzrovia or, for something different on the weekend, here - Neil Market

Square Meal

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Super Easy Speedy Mussels

Finally, going full circle, we come back to the starter. If you haven't been following the posts, jump back 2 and you'll understand. It is a bit of a seafood heavy menu I will admit but actually it made such a change from always cooking meat. 

This is a sort of Moules Mariniere - I say sort of because being such a classic french dish I have tweeked it and I wouldn't want to offend the purists by calling it a Mariniere. 

There is also a huge lack of photos on this post because I was talking whilst cooking. It was so good, and so easy, I decided to use what little I had anyway to share with you. I was watching Jamie Oliver's Friday Night Feast program and they had a whole piece on mussels, how we, England, find them on our shores in abundance and export almost all of them! Most people are scared to cook them and I will admit this is the first time I've cooked them at home. I don't know why I thought it would be any different from work. Impress your guests, give it ago and show off the finest of British produce! 

For 4 as a starter, or 2 main courses you will need:
2kg Mussels 
4 Shallots 
4 sprigs of fresh Thyme 
1 Bay Leaf
Bunch of parsley 
160ml of dry white wine 
160g of low fat creme fraiche 

To start with you'll need to clean your mussels, throw them in a sink full of cold water and then just pull their 'beards' off. This is the ropey looking bit hanging off in the join of the shells, just give it a good yank. If you spy any broken shells, throw them away and if they are open give the mussel a squeeze. If it doesn't close itself then chuck this one away too. Dead mussels are not your friend. Thats it all done, just leave them in the fridge until you're ready to cook! 

Slice up your shallots and pick your thyme. Then whack a good sized, and I do mean good sized, knob of butter in the pan and sweat the shallots, thyme and bay together. You will need a large pan with a tight fitting lid as the mussels will expand as they steam open and you need to keep the lid on! I did this ahead and then just turned off the head and left the pan on the stove. If anything this is the hardest bit.

Once you are ready to cook, get the pan super hot, throw in the mussels and pour the wine over the top. Quick! Clamp your lid on tight! 

Wait.... Chat... Sip Wine

In about 3-4 mins you will have gorgeously cooked mussels. Give the pan a little shake and check they have all opened. Now scoop them out with a slotted spoon as you want to leave all the wine/mussel juice behind. 

Keeping the heat high, as you want to reduce the wine a little. Then add in your creme fraiche and give it a good stir. I let my bubble for a minute or so then switched off the heat and put in the finely chopped parsley. Do try and chop this as small as you can, chowing down on a massive piece of parsley is not the one.

Now all that is left is to ladle that delicious sauce over the portions of mussels and remember to fish out that bay leaf. You do not want to eat this, trust me. 

Divvy out to your guests, give a final salt bae sprinkle of pasley and serve with the crustiest of bread to mop up all that divine juice! 

Isn't that just as pretty as a picture! 

I used low fat creme fraiche instead of the traditional double cream to try and ease up on the calories, it still worked just as well and was totally delicious! You could also swap out the white wine for a dry cider for a different taste or add fennel, just soften this up with the onions.

I'm also going to try and recreate an incredible lemongrass mussel dish I had in a pub a couple of months ago. Lemongrass, coconut, chilli type affair which was probably the best hangover cure I ever had. I shall let you know my findings...

Remember to put out finger and shell bowls! 

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

The Most Decadent Chocolate Tart

Moving onto dessert and this time I got it from my Mama.... 

This what I always consider as Jane's classic dinner party dessert. Jane and Tim are a formidable force of socialising and entertaining, throughout my life they have been and still are a whirlwind of social activity. So I have no idea where I get it from....  

Anyway back to pudding and this guy takes no prisoners, it is a full steam a head, calorie stuffed, straight to the hips kind of tart. Exactly what a dessert should be. If you are going to indulge, make it count! 

For 12 inches of pure naughtiness, you will need: 

Pastry - 125g Butter 
100g Icing Sugar
250g Plain Flour
2 Egg Yolks 
2 tbsp Cold Milk
A Pinch of Salt

Filling - 315ml Double Cream
2 tbsp Caster Sugar
115g Butter
455g Dark Chocolate
100ml Milk
A Pinch of Salt

You need to start by making the pastry, don't panic, it is a full proof sweet crust. Super easy I promise. 
Mix the flour and icing sugar together. Then cut your cold butter into little cubes and begin rubbing the butter into the flour/icing sugar mix much as you would do making scones. I'm pretty sure scones where the first thing I learned to bake, I remember standing with both Mum and Grandma whilst we rubbed in the butter, You don't want to over work the butter so it becomes soft, you just want to use the tips of your fingers gently so you make a breadcrumb like constancy. The key to good scones is well rubbed butter! I applied the same to the pastry. 

Next add your beaten egg and start to bring everything together, add your milk a drop at a time just to make sure it won't get too wet. It doesn't look like it is going to work and then all of a sudden, voila! A nice little ball of pastry. Don't work it too much as you want it to be nice and crumbly and short! Working it stretches the gluten and will make it elastic and chewy. Wrap the pastry in clingfilm and put it in the fridge to rest for at least half and hour! 

While your pastry is having a nap, grease up your tin. Do this even if you tin is non stick trust me, and go to town, don't scrimp!

Once the pastry has rested. It is time to roll it out, I would say to about 1cm thick. Use icing sugar on your surface as it is a sweet crust remember! 

Gently line the tin and use a little of the excess pastry to make sure you get in all the way into the creases. Using pastry means that you can really push without leaving uneven finger marks.

Trim the excess pastry, though not too much! It will shrink a bit in the oven so leave some room. 

The first step is to bake blind. I have baking "beans" ceramic balls, however you can use anything, rice lentils... You just need something in order the weigh down the pastry as it can puff a little when it first goes in. Remember to line the tart with baking paper first, I can't tell you how annoying it is to pick pieces of rice off a pastry tart. 

After 15 mins in a 180 degree oven whip the baking paper and beans off the tart and cook for a further 5. As you wont be baking the pastry again you need to make sure it is cooked through!

Once cooled you can trim down the edges. Use a peeler to really neaten up those edges once you have knocked the bigger bits off. Mine certainly isn't perfect but then I think it adds to its rustic charm. 

Now the pesky pastry is out the way you can start on the filling. Break up the chocolate, it is always best to use a good quality high cocoa content one, as it is the main taste i.e not brownies, it's one time I wouldn't scrimped. I went with Green and Blacks.  

Always melt your chocolate over a bain-marie (metal bowl over boiling water) so it isn't on direct heat. Chocolate can be tricky and it is an expensive pain if it splits! Always use a spoon, never a whisk. A whisk aims to put air into whatever it is you are whisking and you don't want that with chocolate, it form clumps and be ruined. I pretty much use a silicon spatular for everything. So melt your chocolate and butter, heat the cream salt and sugar separately and then add them together.

Now as you can see, my mixture looks exactly like I described above - spilt ruined and awful. DONT PANIC it goes like this. You need to leave it to cool. Then add in the milk....

You will see it starts to come together. Once its cooled further add the rest of the milk.
Eh Voila, I promise the picture below is the same as the mixture above. The milk works it's magic and brings it all back together. I cant tell you why this happens, or why someone needs to invent a recipe that incites so much panic, but it does, and it's perfectly normal.

Now just pour the mix into your tart case and done. That's it just leave to set in your fridge! 

Now I will explain the appearance of my tart. It looks like I've spread it in like icing, not pouring as I have just described. I did, because.... I got over excited and decided to make my filling whilst I was baking my tart and, of course what is the filling meant to do? It is meant to set. So obviously it started to set and by the time my tart case was cool enough... I was spreading in my mixture. So it doesn't have that glossy, smooth shiny top like Mum's usually does. 

What it lacks in sleekness though, it makes up for in taste. Goes with my rustic pastry too. I liberally sprinkled Malden Sea Salt over the top to give it a little edge over Mums. If you don't fancy this you can leave it be, or dust it with cocoa powder. 

I served this up with strawberries and they cut through the richness of the chocolate perfectly! I highly suggest serving it with some sort of fruit. 

There was so much left this could easily do a dinner party of 10-12. If you can manage a large slice then you are better than I am! We were eating this for about 4 days before I finally packed the rest of it up for Dan to take to the office. They promptly scoffed the lot thank god! 

Monday, 13 March 2017

Timmy Skin's Lemongrass Prawns

The only thing that stresses me out is deciding what to cook. You need something that you can make ahead, and then just either reheat or finish. You don't want to be spending ages in the kitchen when people arrive, as that's the best bit, all the chatting and catching up! It is also where it can all fall apart because you're distracted, so giving yourself something complicated to do last minute is just added pressure and stress. 

We had a dinner party the other day and I thought I would share my menu with you. I know one particular friend who is the Queen of dinner parties and she is always hunting for new ideas! So Siena, these next posts are for you. 

I am also going to add that I am on a diet, I know I know blah blah, trust me I am NOT going to become one of those blogs. However, for those that are interested, I chose a truly scrumptious menu which could be low carb and I swapped out a few ingredients for low fat ones. Not the dessert though, I mean if you're going to eat dessert, just bloody eat it, yah feel?

So lets begin shall we? I shall start from the main course (as this is how I started cooking) and I chose a classic from the Skinner Household. I give you, Timmy Skin's Lemongrass Prawns.

For 4 you will need:

4 lemongrass stalks 
2cm cube of ginger
3 garlic cloves
2 tablespoons of fish sauce
1 tablespoon of brown sugar (palm sugar if you have it or just dark brown soft sugar)
Roughly 10 BIG Prawns - it's a main course remember
 5 shallots 
1 large Medium Chilli 
200ml chicken stock 
(I used double stock as I like more of a soupy sauce, remember recipes are a guideline not a set of rules)
1 sweetheart cabbage

I went to the lovely fishmongers in Muswell Hill Walter Purkis and Sons and picked up these bad boys. They have such a fantastic and reasonably priced selection I will certainly be going back. The lady also told me if I had any special requests or larger orders just to ring ahead so they could get it in as they go to Billingsgate every morning. Very helpful to know! (Also in Crouch End)

I peeled the bodies and left the heads and tails. I also added some Shitaki Mushrooms, just because I love the meaty flavour and texture of them. 

Start with your marinade, bash the hard stems of the lemongrass. Give a big sniff as that delightful smell gets released. Then just chop it a little, it's all going in the blender so don't be precious. Dads uses a pestle and mortar instead but, sadly, I don't have one. I wish I did however the magimix is here to save the day.

Next peel your ginger, use a back of a teaspoon to get off the skin whilst leaving the flesh intact. Again, roughly chop.

Pop in the sugar, peeled garlic, lemongrass, ginger, chilli into the blender and...

Whiz! Lemongrass is a tough little guy so it does need a while. Whilst blending add in half the fish sauce, and if it needs it, a little stock. I also dobbed in a hard blob of coconut oil, because, well I just did. 

Now scoop it all out and give your prawns a little massage. 

Cover and leave in the fridge. As with any marinade the longer you leave it the better. I think mine was about 4 hours or so. 

As I said above, you want to leave yourself as little to do as possible. So about an hour before Alex and Kay rocked up I got cooking. You can see I'm brandishing the coconut oil. This is not for health reasons, in fact i'm not even sure what it is meant to do, however I have discovered I do like using coconut oil when I'm cooking asian dishes.   

Slice up your shallots, remaining chilli and mushrooms (if you're using them) and start off by softening the shallots. 

Then chuck the rest in

Get the pan super hot and add the prawns. The idea here is to not cook them all the way through so as soon as they are blushed pink, pour in the stock and then using a slotted spoon remove the prawns and pop them to one side.

The idea is that the stock will wash off any excess marinade and then you can leave that behind to flavour the stock. The prawns are going back in but as you are cooking this ahead you don't want them to be over cooked.

Now add the sliced cabbage. Really you can use any veg here but we have always done it with cabbage. Now just clamp on your lid, turn off the heat and leave it alone. 

Once your guests have arrived and you are ready to eat, all you have to do it turn on the gas and tip the prawns back in. 

Voila! A dish to impress the mot discerning of guests and minimum effort if I do say so myself.

I served with jasmine rice, however the amount of cabbage in the dish means that you don't feel like you are missing out if you don't have it. So I went sans rice - see what I did there, tasty dish, low carb. I mean I can't really tell you from a definitive nutritional point if it is the best diet dish ever but it is tasty and it certainly got the thumbs up!

I've always loved this dish and can't believe I haven't thought of it before. It's a real winner! 

You can also make this with chicken for those of you adverse to the sea, like my brother. Just follow the same steps, swapping out the prawns for chicken! Dads used to whip up two separate pots in order to cater for the fussier child.

Let me know how you get on or what changes you decide to make! I might actually try it with turkey mince next time...