Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Kishmish, Crystal Palace, London

Having lived in the amazing Crystal Palace for the last 6 years, I have no explanation as to why Gipsy Spread and myself had not visited the tiny little hole in the wall called Kishmish. This all changed after several times of pointing out the large banner for the restaurant's outpost, visible when walking down the adjacent road, we sought out its entrance. It felt a little bit like the 'room of requirement' from Harry Potter; never having been in its location before, suddenly materialising when we needed it. Upon seeing it once, we can now always seek out the neon lights that advertise its presence, but belie what lies within.

The entrance leads down a very narrow staircase (parents will need to carry down buggies) and opens up into a large open space, decorated in traditional Persian style (I assume) with wooden cladding and exotic rugs.

We had made a reservation, but at lunchtime on a Saturday the restaurant was amazingly quiet. It may perhaps get busier during the evenings. Gipsy Spread and I had decided to take Father in law Toast
for his birthday lunch and as its a BYO, brought our own wine selection.

There was a warm and friendly welcome from the staff. We were seated quickly and space made for the buggy (yes - we have a baby now!). The extensive menus were then proffered.

As we were all starving, we ordered our starters from the large list of cold and hot mezze style dishes and perused the mains for a little while longer. There were some extremely unusual flavour combinations that we had not come across before that we all felt compelled to try.

The six of us had a variety of starters, including the houmus, olives and halloumi plate (a lot for just £5) and the best falafel I think I have ever had. We were recommended a single naan bread to accompany our starters as they were large. The waitress was not wrong. I was also further excited by the naan bread having opted for this to accompany my main rather than the rice.

My main was the beans with dried limes. A combination I had not had before and which I'll very much look forward to sampling again. The stew was fragrant and tangy. I'd highly recommend trying this dish, although, I will be working my way through the other dishes (60+) on the menu before returning to it. If there are two of you, I'd also suggest one of you ordering rice and the other the naan, as you can then share both, which come in large quantity.

The good news is that Kishmish also does take away and delivers. So, whilst I already have plans to visit in a couple of weeks for my birthday lunch, with a much larger gaggle of people, I know I will have to fight the temptation to order a takeaway between now and then.

It also has a bargain lunch set menu which starts at £6. As a BYO, a better value meal cannot be found along the Crystal Palace triangle. Three courses for the 6 of us, with corkage for two bottle of wine came in at under £100. I'm very much looking forward to my return to this restaurant of requirement.

Monday, 25 May 2015

River Cottage Canteen and Deli, Axminster

It was another year and another birthday for me. We tend to like to go away for my birthday, sample a little bit of boutique luxury and of course good food on our travels, both international and national. It was with this in mind that we headed to one of my most favourite haunts to stay in the west country, the Lord Poulett Arms, a bijou slice of serenity the tiny little village of Hinton St George. From here, we can roam the gorgeous coastal towns of the UK, which include Lyme Regis and Seatown. On this occasion, special as it was, we booked into Hugh’s decadent River Cottage Canteen in Axminster for a very special birthday lunch indeed.

With a clientele made up of local residents, business people, tourists and artists, the clean, modern space must bustle from dawn till dark. From the sleek open kitchen comes an eclectic mix of modern British cuisine, expertly prepared using locally sourced ingredients and complemented by an array of interesting blends of juices. All the food is produced in-house daily and many of the fine ingredients can also be purchased at the deli .


We had booked in advance and of course arrived as eager as little beavers to start munching down on a trio of small plates, which as it was a Monday, were on a fabulous lunch time offer at only £10.  With ‘Veg Everyday’ in my mind, I was delighted to see that the individual small dishes were indeed made from the seasonal and I made my very easy choice of three dishes of roasted cauliflower with cumin and yoghurt and flatbread, beetroot and carrot with grapefruit and raw oyster mushrooms with barley and goats curd.

Gipsy Spread was equally spoilt for choice, he followed suit with the cauliflower, but then went down his own route with the ham hock crumble and the merguez sausage meatballs and hummus. The food was more than enough for us and so fresh and satisfying. Particularly, as we could see that we were eating low carb. You know how I like to ‘carb dodge’ if at all possible.

After a moodling along our lunch time, we paid our bargain bill, thanked all the gracious staff and left contented in the knowledge that that was a good birthday lunch. Customers are guaranteed to come away with a smile on their face, a comfortably full stomach and a wallet that hasn’t taken a battering.  Thanks Hugh for your great efforts on this amazingly simple dining concept that caters for meat eaters and veggies alike and to the purse strings of the masses.

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Parsley pesto orzo and lentil salad

We were having a Divisional away day meeting which included a lunch time “picnic” with contributions from everyone. So, lists had been circulated, I could see the kinds of things that people were bringing, dips, chips rolls and quiches. I however had not committed myself to anything other than “something vegetarian”, so it was with trepidation that I set about trying to mass produce something that would not embarrass me at the event, but rather showcase my prowess. It was with this in mind (and the contents of my store cupboard) that I made this really sample, but delicious orzo and lentil pasta. The good news is that when staff were feeding back on the workshops we had been to, they were also asked for their favourite dish of the entire picnic and this got a mention!

What you will need
Parsley pesto
Big bunch of parsley
4-5 cloves of garlic
1 large table spoon of toasted pine nuts
A large handful of grated parmesan
65ml olive oil – to the desired pesto consistency

200g Orzo
100g Small green lentils
½ a red pepper
½ a yellow pepper
75g feta cheese

Blend all of the pesto ingredients together and set aside.

In a pan simmer the orzo with the green lentils in water twice their height in the pan. If the lentils are larger, start cooking them five minutes before the orzo.

Meanwhile, slice one yellow and one red pepper and soften in olive oil.

When the orzo and lentils are cooked, after about 15 minutes, drain and whilst still hot, stir in the pesto  pepper and crumble through feta cheese and season with salt and plenty of black pepper.

Serve hot or on plastic or paper in the great outdoors.

Friday, 10 April 2015

Mirch masala, Tooting

What else is there to do on what is essentially a free day on Good Friday then head out for a leisurely stroll followed by lunch? Our stroll took us through the heartlands of St Reatham in London, through Wandsworth and up to the corner of Balham and Tooting Bec high street. It was here we turned left and entered a world of delicious smells, bright colours and exotic paraphernalia. We were in tooting, heading to Mirch Masala for the cheapest and most cheerful curry possible.
We arrived at about 2pm and had perhaps missed the lunch rush as we had forgotten just how long a walk it is from the GH. They must have had a lunch time rush as they were out of poppadums’ and mango juice, would you believe.
Regardless, we sat at a formica table and greedily scoured the menu, safe in the knowledge that our food should come quick. Yet again, our eyes were bigger than our stomachs, so a starter of onion bhaji to share and then three curries between us and a naan bread each.
Gipsy Spread opted for the lamb methi and I chose the mixed dahl and the paneer tika masala to adorn my plate.
Everything arrived at once, which was how we had wanted it, keen to tuck into all at once, it’s a wonder I didn’t end up biting a finger, which has been done in the past when hungry and eating with my hands!
Everything was fresh, the spices just rightly balanced and the portions voluminous. We seemed to be eating for hours, but I was still beaten by the amounts, even with Gipsy Spread doing his best. Well, a takeaway as well it was then.

This non assuming curry chain has an excellent and well-deserved reputation amongst students and the employed a-like for its good quality and generous offerings at bargain prices. We paid just £23 for all of the above with a tip. Keep it up Mircha masala. Its well worth a trip to visit, and then pick up an array of spices at the many Asian supermarkets on the street.

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Sweet and sour aubergine

How many ways with the humble aubergine? As many as you like; and this wonderfully meaty veg fares exquisitely in this sweet and sour sauce, needing not much else to enhance it to epic proportions. It is a recipe adapted from an Olive magazine recipe, which I suspect works well with other ingredients such as tofu. That is now next on my list to sweeten up and sour.

What you will need
2 table spoons sesame oil
1 aubergine
1 onion
2 cloves of garlic
100g green beans
100g carrots
2 dried chillies (optional)
2 table spoons sugar
2 table spoons red wine vinegar
2 tea spoons soy sauce
2 tea spoons corn flour
Fresh coriander

Begin by cubing the aubergine, slicing the onion, topping and tailing the green beans and peeling and cutting the carrots into sticks. As well as crushing the garlic.

Fry the aubergine and onion in the sesame oil for 5 minutes until softened and browned.

Meanwhile, blend together the sugar and vinegar until the sugar dissolves, then add in the soy sauce and corn flour.

When the aubergine has cooked, add the garlic, carrots and green beans to the pan for a further 5 minutes. Add a little bit of water if necessary.

Finally add the dried chillies to the pan, season with salt and pepper before adding the sweet and sour sauce. Stir through for one minute before serving.

Serve over fresh basmati rice or noodles and garnish with fresh coriander. Gipsy Spread had a steak on the side of his.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Okonomiyaki, aka Japanese cabbage pizza

Okonomiyaki is a Japanese savoury pancake containing a variety of ingredients. The name is derived from the word okonomi, meaning "what you like" or "what you want", and yaki meaning "grilled" or "cooked. When it comes to cooking okonomiyaki, there are two styles. The Hiroshima styleis where the plain pancake is grilled, then topped with the chosen cooked ingredients, whilst the Osaka style all the ingredients being mixed into a batter, then cooked more like a frittata. The recipe below is Osaka style, which is most common in Japan's okonomiyaki bars.

What you will need
150g finely shredded cabbage
80g finely sliced leeks
130g wholemeal flour
A pinch or two of sea salt

4 table spoons dashi or cold water
2 eggs
1 table spoon sesame oil
Toasted flaked almonds

Fresh chives
Soy sauce

Combine the cabbage, leeks, flour, dashi and salt in a bowl. Toss until everything is coated with a dusting of flour. Stir in the eggs and mix until everything is evenly coated.
Heat a large frying pan over a medium heat and add a generous splash of olive oil. Scoop the cabbage mixture into the pan, and using a metal spatula press it into a round pancake shape, flat as you can get it. Cook for 4-5 minutes, or until the bottom is golden. To flip the okonomiyaki, slide it out of the pan on to a plate. Place another plate on top and flip both over together. You might need a bity more oil  in the pan, then slide the okonomiyaki back in. Again press down a bit with a spatula and cook until golden on this side – another 3 -5 minutes.
Sprinkle the okonomiyaki with toasted almonds and chives, and slide it on to a cutting board to cut into wedges. I like mine served with or drizzled with simple soy sauce.

Traditionally, it is served with mayonnaise and okonomiyaki sauce, a sweet brown sauce strong in umami flavours. It has been suggested the our very own brown sauce can be substituted for it in this dish, so why not give it a go? 

Monday, 23 February 2015

Sweet potato and feta bubble and squeak with fried egg

So, I still had the cabbage that wouldn’t quit and some left over sweet potato mash in the freezer. This meant that I had a super healthy, low GI brunch in the making. All I needed to do was to throw some cheese at it to make sure it was a properly balanced dish. The flavours of the sweet potato, the earthy cabbage and the salty feta cheese sing un unison in my twist on a bubble and squeak.

What you will need
250g cooked cabbage
250g cooked sweet potato
150g feta cheese, crumbled
Fresh parsley, chopped
2 tea spoons paprika
1 egg
4 table spoons of plain flour

This is such a simple dish. Simply combine all the ingredients and season well with salt and pepper.

Place some oil on to heat in a frying pan and scoop large spoonfulls of the mix into a pan and shape into patties. Cook on a medium heat for 4-5 minutes before turning over and cooking on the other side.

For the final 10 minutes and to ensure the flour and egg is cooked through, place in a preheated oven at 200C.
Serve as they are, or top with a fried egg as I did.

Friday, 20 February 2015

Caramelised onion and goats cheese tart

As long as you have a packet of ready roll puff pastry and a log of goats cheese in the freezer, this is an exceptional throw together dish for lunch or dinner. I had some lovely lemony and nutty goats cheese from the Poitou-Charentes region of France to use. This combination of sweet and savoury flavours proved to be the perfect companions.

What you will need
1 packet of all butter puff pastry
2 large onions
1 log of goats cheese
2 table spoons of brown sugar
4 table spoons balsamic vinegar
A few sprigs of lemon thyme

Begin by slicing the onions finely. Add them to a table spoon of olive oil and saute for 15 minutes until softened and browned. Make sure to stir regularly so they don't burn.

Next add the brown sugar and balsamic vinegar, seasoning well and soften for a further five minutes until there is no liquid left. Finally stir through the lemon thyme.

Leave the caramelised onions to cool.

When ready to cook, pre heat the oven to 200C. Roll out the pastry and place on greased oven tray. Score around the edges, about 1 cm in.

Next, assemble the onions into the centre of the scored rectangle and spread out evenly.

Slice the goats cheese into 6-8 rounds and arrange over the onions.

Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes until crispy and browned.

Serve with a crips green salad.

Friday, 13 February 2015

Mushroom, ricotta and olive tarte flambe

From pide in Turkey to tarte flambĂ© in Alsace France. The varieties of pizza-like breads topped with cheese are endless and clearly delicious. So, in homage to this week hosting  national pizza day, I thought I would go fancy and treat myself to this delicious tarte flambĂ© with fresh ricotta cheese and meaty portabello mushrooms. In case you are wondering, this day appears to fall on the 9th February. So, if you ever needed an excuse to eat cheese and bread, let this day be that excuse. Gipsy Spread also managed to pick up some bresaola for his.

What you will need
125g plain white flour
125g strong bread flour
160ml warm water
1 tea spoon dried yeast
2 tea spoons olive oil
4 portabello mushrooms
4 table spoons of ricotta cheese
20g parmesan
1 clove garlic
½ a red onion
A handful of black olives
2 tea spoons olive oil
1 tea spoon of chilli flakes(optional)

Begin by making your tart base. Mix together the two flours with the yeast, 1 tea spoon of oil and warm water, seasoning well with salt. Knead lightly and roll into a ball. Drizzle over the  rest of the oil to coat the ball and cover with cling film set aside somewhere warm to rise for an hour.

Meanwhile slice the mushrooms and fry in some oil until they have cooked.

Mix together the ricotta, parmesan and crushed clove of garlic and season well.

Slice the red onion. and half the olives

When ready to assemble the tarte for cooking, roll half the dough out into a long oval or rectangle. Smooth over half the ricotta mix and sprinkle over half the mushrooms, olives and onion. Then sprinkle over ½ a tea spoon of chilli flakes and sprigs of fresh rosemary. Repeat for the other tarte.

Place on a greased oven tray and bake in the middle of  pre-heated oven for 15-18 minutes at 200C until browned and crispy.

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Avocado and poached egg on toast

Avocados are a really nutty treat and full of awesome nutrition and all the best oils. There’s nothing I like more than an avocado and egg for breakfast and apparently, according to recent science, I have been getting it right all this time. Since Sainsburys introduced the creamy avocado to the British public in the 1970s, it has taken hold of our consciousness and manifested itself in various forms, not least, inspiring a whole generation’s choice of bathroom suite.

What you will need
2 slices of a rye or sourdough loaf
2 eggs
2 avocadoes
1 tomato
1 shallot
A squeeze of lemon juice
1 red chilli
Olive oil

Begin by slicing the bread and toasting it.

Next, chop the tomato, shallot and chilli and combine with the avocado flesh. Season with salt and pepper, squeeze over lemon juice to taste and stir through fresh coriander. Set aside.
Next, for poaching the eggs. Bring a pan of water to boil. Once it’s boiling, add a splash of vinegar to it and turn it down. Immediately crack the two eggs into the pan. Leave the eggs to cook for 2-3 minutes until they start rising to the top. Remove from the pan carefully and place on some kitchen roll to drain.

Next, assemble the breakfast by sharing the avocado mix between the two slices of bread and topping each with a poached egg, a garnish of fresh coriander and a drizzle of olive oil.