Mushroom peposo

So, I’m doing “Veguary” again. It’s what it sounds like: a horrifying portmanteau, and 28 days off the meat. It’s great fun, more about shaking up my cooking habits than any kind of health-nut hand-wringing. I am, as a friend put it, “in it for the pies not the piety”.

Mushroom peposoAccordingly, I like to use Veguary to do two things: explore exciting vegetable flavours, and work up veggie hacks of meat dishes to see what I can get away with. This is the latter.

Peposo is a Tuscan beef stew I first had cooked from Jamie’s Italy years ago by a friend. It’s stuck with me – feisty and warming, and so satisfying. It takes balck pepper, and punches it up to curry levels of spicy impact.

But at its core, it’s a simple stew. You can do it with just wine, beef, pepper, and about four hours. There’s a pretty good recipe here. For the mushroom version, I’ve had to cheat a bit and nudge some flavors around for body.

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Mexican style smoky corn soup

Winter isn’t the most fun, and the foods that get you through it tend to attract words like “hearty”. Big one-pot stews, heaps of potatoes. It’s pretty great. But sometimes you want something with all the warming body, but a bit less of the stodgy heft. Vegetable soups, you’re up.

IMG_5754One of my favourites is the Mexican bean soup from the River Cottage veg book. You can squint at that and just about see the heritage for this I suppose. But it’s been on a little trip via Authentic Mexican, my enthusiasm for sweet corn, and the fact that I really really hate photographing soup.

Seriously, it’s just no fun. Which is probably why this goes in quite so hard on the corn, roasted corn, and peppers. Quite apart from tasting nice, that gives us something to look at, and a nice mix of colours. So yes, it’s both a little sweet and a little focused on corn. It’s like a nursery-tastes remix of a classic pozole soup, I suppose, and it won’t be for everyone. I  do like the hot sweet and sour of it, and the bit of bite.

 

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Stilton oatcake blancmange – have the cheese course for starters

For Christmas, and knowing I like to muck about in the kitchen, my aunt gave me a packaged crash course in jellies, blancmanges, and matters retro-wobbly. There were two packs of robust gelatine, the wonderfully faux-archaic Jellies and Their Moulds, and its arch postmodern cousin, Bompas & Parr’s Jelly. I’ll be honest, it felt like a dare.

From there, and via the well-mapped topology of my cheeseular brainwrong, an outcome of “yeah, but with stilton, right?” was pretty much a foregone conclusion.

Stilton oatcake blancmange

Jelly has some fun stuff in it, and even some of the more intricate ideas are actually pretty simple to pull off. But having never exactly skewed to desserts, a starter seemed like a neat idea. This is an attempt to bring the cheese course round to the front of dinner: stilton, port, and oatcake, a handful of walnuts – splendid stuff. And all set off with an unsettling wobble!

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Potato-topped haddock and crab chowder pie

Potato-topped chowder piethink it was Nietzsche who first and best expressed the sentiment: “When you gaze too long upon the tweets of 70s Dinner Party,  you’ll end up covering everything in duchess potato.”

And so it was. Bored and confused, I pushed most of a kilo of potatoes through a sieve, all in the name of putting deeply silly hat on a crab chowder.

Honestly, if you don’t enjoy dicking about with a piping bag then it is not worth it – just slather on the mash and carry on with your life. Maybe run a fork over it to make those weird little furrows that seemed mandatory in the 90s. But if you really want a fish pie that Robert Carrier would have thought looked fancy as balls, then this might just be for you.

It’s a thickened crab and smoked fish chowder, with a load of mash on top, and it’s big and solid and satisfying.

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Bundobust, Leeds – sensational Indian street food (and craft beer)

This weekend we were up in Leeds for the Thought Bubble comics festival (podcast here). Even when it isn’t full of enthusiastic nerds Leeds is a fun city. It’s got some storming places to drink beer, a lively (and growing) food scene, and since 2014 it’s had Bundobust.

This is one of the best places I’ve eaten all year.

It’s also – and get this – completely vegetarian. In fact, it’s often vegan. How cool is that? Packed to the gills in Leeds centre, serving eclectic veggie street food and exciting beer that puts some of my Soho favourites to hide-under-a-rock levels of shame.

Bundobust selection

So what’s it doing?

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Reys, Cambridge – rotisserie chicken

Reynard is a trickster figure, a Loki-ish fox dude from Medieval picaresque. “Renard”  is the French word for fox. Foxes are of course iconically partial to a spot of chicken, and Reys is a rotisserie chicken restaurant that’s gone in hard on the impish vulpine branding. All orange and jaunty furnishings, the chairs have foxtail stripes. That’s certainly cuter than blood and feathers in the henhouse.

Reys, Cambridge - downstairsThey sell roast chicken. It tastes like good roast chicken, and it doesn’t cost too much.

Everything else is just a little peculiar. There’s this slight Korean edge running through the menu that doesn’t quite sit with the Ikea farmhouse ambience, never really explained. The starters are cursory. But the chicken is fine. It just all doesn’t quite make sense.

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Shawarma-style roasted spicy cabbage

Hot damn, that title’s a mouthful. But what do you do with this one? There’s no meat to be seen and it’s not on a skewer. But it is a big old heap of brassica that really packs that savoury Levantine punch.  Saying “shawarma spiced” would be a world of seasonal latte bullshit, so here we are.

Roasted cabbage shawarmaIt’s a roasted cabbage, it’s a bit like shawarma, and it’s worth your time.

My affection for leafy greens is a matter of some record, so claiming you can make passable kebabs with cabbage (cabbabs?) is well within the understood scope of my nonsense. But I am not shitting you here. It’s got the big earthy savoury to carry the spice, and retains a bit of crunch and body.

Trust me.

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A new thing from Inder’s Kitchen

Chicken Bhuna and Paneer JalfreziInder’s Kitchen is – for my money – the best place to eat Indian food in Cambridge. Let’s just get that out of the way.

They’re great. They’ve been going for about five years, and I remember being delighted when they started – it felt fresh to have a more high-end, home cooking inspired take on Indian food available, something to offset the curry house archetype.

Now, I love a classic Anglo-Indian cliche curry, but they’re not exactly magical feats of foregrounding single interesting flavours. Inder’s hits that spot – the food isn’t greasy, it tastes fresh and intricate, and it goes beyond (while sometimes including) the korma/dhansak/vindaloo etc standards.

Despite only doing takeaway, Inder’s has always tried to diversify a bit – they’ve had a food van, tried chilled-to-reheat and frozen, and started making sauces and chutneys. And that’s how I found myself in their industrial unit kitchen, trying their latest venture: a set of curry kits to make at home.

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Sausage and sweet potato pie

Sometimes, when I ask my partner if there’s anything he fancies for dinner, I get the simple, concise, and yet fascinatingly unhelpful response “Pie!”

Sausage & sweet potato pie

Fair play to the man, pie is bloody wonderful. But it does often lead to me just taking whatever’s in the fridge and hiding it under pastry.

This one comes out of something I knocked up quickly after work one evening, and with a couple of tweaks it was a keeper.

The Lincolnshire sausages have a bit of background spice to them, and with a little extra herb and pepper they go wonderfully with the sweet potatoes.

If you don’t make the pastry, you can have this done in about an hour, too, and at least half of that is oven time.

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The Brunswick Centre street food market

If you’re anything like me, you’ll have a hard time deciding which you’re more excited by: modernist architecture or duck confit. Squatting in the middle of Bloomsbury like the ziggurat of some concrete-fancying south american snake god – with more Saturday morning street food market, less blood sacrifice – the Brunswick Centre spoils us for both.

Adi's Duck Confit at the Brunswick food market

The Brunswick Centre is a ten minute walk from King’s Cross, or right outside Russell Square tube. It’s a brutal/modern delight. It’s got a decent cinema, a big Waitrose, there’s a dedicated gay bookshop down the road, and a genuinely great burger joint opposite. But it hasn’t historically been so hot for food. It’s chain town: Giraffe, Yo Sushi, Carluccio’s, you get the idea.

This doesn’t matter so much because you’re a short walk from the entirety of central fucking London. But sometimes I’m nearby and feeling lazy, and so the Saturday morning food market is a godsend. Sent, specifically, from Brutalist Quetzalcoatl, I’d imagine.

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