287 Upper Street
London N1 2TZ
I’ve been meaning to visit Ottolenghi’s for such a long time – there’s been many a time that I’ve admired those pretty rose-hued meringue stacks and luscious looking salads; the red and white exterior sleekly defined next to the plethora of cafes and restaurants on Upper Street. I usually glance briefly and longingly over from the other side of the road before rushing along, late for yet another appointment, only to be met by an impatient beautician instead of one of those friendly (yet frazzled) white pinafore-clad waiters. I’ve been reading Ottolenghi’s recipes in the Guardian for years now, have made his gorgeous macadamia and caramel cheesecake recipe at home and read endless glowing reviews of his food – so yes, my visit was well overdue. An impromptu visit from my future in-laws provided the perfect excuse to finally make the pilgrimage to Angel on what was an absolute scorcher of a Bank Holiday Monday.
It’s such a shame that some of our finest British snacks are more often than not made with cheap evil factory meat; and there have been various articles linking our shonky meat production methods with the recent spate of viral disease. So when I was summoned to an impromptu picnic in London Fields I decided it was time to get creative; some Ginger Pig lamb and beef sausages, a lump of feta, some quails eggs and half a packet of puff pastry, all burning a hole in my fridge.
These are my pork-free versions of Scotch eggs and sausage rolls. I soft-boiled the quails eggs for exactly 2 minutes, so they were still slightly runny inside and then coated them in the beef sausage meat which I’d seasoned with a touch of horseradish and some parsley. I then dipped them in beaten egg and covered them liberally in Panko breadcrumbs before deep frying.
I didn’t really have enough lamb sausage to make full on rolls, so decided to make these little “puffs” instead. Curry and feta don’t sound like ideal partners, but bizarrely enough in this recipe they flatter one another to mouthwatering effect. If I had some mustard or poppy seeds I would have pressed them into the pastry, but they were still pretty damned tasty without.
I came home feeling ravenous and more than a little dehydrated after a strenuous session at Bikram yoga. Bikram basically involves working out in sauna-like conditions for an hour and a half. I always go and I always wonder what on earth I’m doing there about half way through when I’m half-blinded with sweat and feel like I’m on the verge of passing out. And I realise that like an absolute sucker I’ve paid through the nose for the privilege of that special feeling. Again. They say that Mr Bikram is loathed by traditional yogis and is seen as some some of snake oil peddlar of “ancient Indian wisdom combined with modern science” to gullible Westerners. That he is in fact a clever old charlatan who lives in LA and owns a stable of Rolls Royces, a mansion and a swimming pool. It’s difficult not to think about all this while gurning your way through the tree pose. That’s not what annoys me the most though. It’s the fact that Robert Downey Junior goes to my class. Robert Downey Bloody Junior. It’s just not right.
Anyway, on the way home I tried to recall what we have in the fridge – some duck stock that I’d been simmering away for a couple of days (on the lowest heat possible with some quartered onions, peppercorns and garlic) a leek, a couple of carrots, a tomato and some spinach. I’ve had these noodles in the back of my cupboard for a while so decided to throw together a big bowl of noodle soup. It hit the spot in an intensely hot and sour kind of way and made me feel awash with health to boot. Sod you Mr Bikram, this was FREE!! Mmmm!
I make absolutely no claim to the Hellenic qualities of this in any way whatsoever. Far from it. “Baigun bortha” is a classic Bengali mash-up of flame-roasted aubergine-flesh, coriander, lemon, garlic, mustard oil, cumin, chilli and salt.
As a major keema fan I was always going to love this. The idea of making it has been teasing me for ages, and this spate of gloomy weather was the perfect excuse for its execution. Fragrant spicy lamb layered with smoky roasted aubergine, smothered with a creamy Gruyere-flecked sauce; and then baked in a hot oven until the flavours “get together” in a way that would make my dear old Grandma blush.
My idea of heaven.
I know, I know. Fusion food is more often than not a bad idea, but this is something special. Seriously. It’s one of those inventions that’s so utterly delectable you can’t wait to make it for everyone you know (a salve for my poor bruised arms/ego, following my recent sojourn into the hellish world that is home-made mayonnaise).
I was sitting at the back of the 205 bus the other day when I came up with the idea of making my own aioli using duck eggs instead of hen’s eggs for a richer result, perhaps with some saffron and lots of finely chopped tarragon. This all seemed fairly straightforward and like a good idea at the time.
All I can say is NEVER AGAIN.
I don’t own an electric whisk and my food processor is broken so I decided to use my trusty old hand whisk. I crushed a fat clove of garlic with some salt and added the egg yolks. It all started fairly promisingly, things were looking wobbly and pale and altogether pretty perfect. Then foolishly, I added what must have been two drops of oil instead of one and it was game over.
The wobbly became more like a grey, grainy cream that refused to transmogrify back into mayonnaise no matter how much I coaxed it. However, being a stubborn one I persisted, determined to whip everything back into shape. I proceeded to spend the next four hours whisking like a proper loser. That’s four hours of my life I will never get back.