Friday, 26 November 2010

Honeyed parsnip and celeriac soup

The roads are getting icy, snow is predicted and central heating is the only thing keeping me from turning into a human icicle. But I found another way to keep myself happy and warm, and it’s this soup.
Serves 2-3
·         2 parsnips
·         Half a celeriac root
·         Half a medium onion
·         3 tablespoons of butter
·         600ml of chicken/vegetable/ham stock
·         2 tablespoons of honey
·         3 garlic cloves
·         10g of root ginger
·         A pinch of nutmeg
·         Salt and pepper
·         Pancetta cubes to garnish
·         1 tablespoon of single cream to garnish
·         Croutons to garnish. I made my own by cubing some slightly stale bread then frying in some olive oil on all sides until golden and crisp.
(I also used some frozen chicken and saffron stock that I had leftover from my risotto, all that did was give the soup a slightly golden tint and a tiny hint of earthy saffron)
Start off by peeling and chopping the veg. Size doesn’t matter as it will all go into a blender anyway but nice 3cm cubes would be perfect. The onion should be finely chopped so it sweats and caramelizes more quickly. Heat a deep pan of 2 tablespoons of butter until melted and put in the onions. Leave on medium heat for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, then add the parsnips, celeriac, ginger and garlic and stir for a few minutes before adding the rest of the butter, coating the contents of the pan in it as it melts. The ginger will give off that delicate heat that we like to taste in a true winter warmer! After around 10 minutes, add the honey and stir to coat all the vegetables. This will also help the onions caramelize further. Reduce the heat slightly and cover with a lid for a further 5 minutes. Meanwhile you can prepare the stock (I use chicken concentrate mixed with boiled water for an intense brothy flavour), then add the nutmeg and season with salt and pepper. Add this to the pan and leave to simmer for a further 15 minutes. Once the vegetables are soft and can easily be crushed with a fork, take off the heat and cool before putting in a blender and pulsing.

Serve with some crispy pancetta cubes along with home-made croutons and a drizzle of single cream.

Some left over? This is what I did with my leftover soup.
 Boil some pasta in hot water, once al dente, drain and return to the pan. Pour over 5 tablespoons of the soup, some grated cheese and single cream before mixing in some basil pesto. Add some cooked bacon or chicken for an easy lunch and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil!

Monday, 22 November 2010

Saffron risotto with butternut squash, scallops and pancetta cubes.

Risotto has often been described as a tricky dish to master. I, for one, don’t see how occasionally ladling some stock into a pan of rice and stirring is particularly challenging. It really is what you choose to put in your risotto that can make it or break it. So in an attempt to live up to the complex and (somewhat pompous!) reputation of risotto, I chose to combine a range of diverse flavours and textures to create a beautiful dish, not just to taste but to look at, too!
Before you doubt me and think “there’s far too much going on!” there is something I would like for you to consider; the earthy aroma and golden glow of the saffron combined with the sweet taste and vivid colouring of the roasted squash to elevate the delicate scallops before topping with smoky and crunchy pancetta cubes. If that’s not a dish filled with complimentary flavours, textures and seasonal beauty, I don’t know what is!

For the base risotto
·         ¾ cups of Carnaroli rice (or Arborio if you cannot source Carnaroli)
·         1 litre if good chicken (or vegetable) stock. I was naughty and used 4 teaspoons of chicken concentrate and mixed with boiling water. I don’t regret it for a second!
·         ½ a cup of white wine
·         ½ a medium onion
·         1/3 a cup of parmesan
·         A pinch of saffron threads
·         Butter
·         2 tablespoons of olive oil
For the topping (feel free to improvise!)
·         ½ a butternut squash (approx. 400g)
·         Scallops (I used 1 pack of tesco’s scallops about 16)
·         Pancetta cubes
·         Olive oil

10 simple steps to risotto success!

1)      The first job is to preheat that oven to 200C, so we can get that squash roasting. To do that, prepare it by peeling and dicing it (about 3 centimetre cubes), before coating in olive oil then into a roasting tray- and into the oven.
2)      Peel and finely chop up half an onion, then gently sweat in a pan with 1 tablespoon of olive oil.
3)      Meanwhile in a separate pan- prepare your stock by adding the saffron threads before simmering on a low heat.
4)      Once the onions are soft, add a further tablespoon of olive oil before pouring the rice into the pan, stirring to coat with the oil and onions, until translucent in colour (about 1 minute).
5)      Add the wine and simmer until the liquid has evaporated completely. Choosing a good quality wine is essential as it’s the first flavour your risotto is hit with! Reduce the heat to a low simmer then ladle by ladle, add the stock to the risotto, stirring occasionally. Don’t overwhelm your risotto, wait for most of the moisture to soak up before adding the next ladleful. This process should take around 25 minutes.

6)      While that’s simmering, fry your pancetta cubes in a hot pan until almost completely crispy and set aside.
7)      Check on your squash- take out of the oven and turn the cubes, basting with oil if necessary. Then top with the pancetta cubes and put back in the oven, this will keep the cubes warm and complete cooking them as well as infusing the squash with their smokiness!
8)      Once the risotto is oozy in appearance but still in rice form, taste it and if it tastes ready (soft with not even a slight crunch) take off the heat. Stir in some freshly grated parmesan and about 1 tablespoon of butter and set aside.
9)      Meanwhile, use the frying pan used for the pancetta cubes (with all the juices still in the pan) and heat until very hot. Then, one by one (I choose to do this in concentric circles so I know which ones went in first so not to overcook) put the scallops into the pan and fry for 1-2 minutes on each side (follow the correct timings for your scallops size)
10)   Plate up your risotto then top with the squash, scallops and pancetta cubes. Season with a grinding of black pepper and an extra grating of parmesan, just for luck!

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

New chef means new review! The Chancery- revisited.

If you’ve ever found out that your favourite restaurant has replaced their head chef, you may well understand my feelings of disappointment and loss when I found out that the Chancery’s executive chef Daniel Guerrero has been replaced with Steven Englefield. While I was a little nervous, I decided to revisit the Chancery but with a completely blank culinary canvas in mind! In a party of 6, consisting of me, my boyfriend and his family we arrived at the Chancery on a busy Friday evening.
The restaurant looked as welcoming as ever, with dim but warming lighting complimenting the slick black and white decor. Home-made bread and butter arrived at the table very quickly and we were pleased with a swift service at the start of what was panning out to be an impressive evening. The little touches were charming, like if you for any reason leave your seat you can expect to return with your napkin swiftly refolded! It was a lovely moment when an amuse bouche of a smooth wild mushroom soup arrived, which was when I realised that even if the chef was different, the restaurant has kept its values!
The creamy mushroom concoction glided in the mouth, leaving me with an intensely packed combination of rich mushroom and delicate crème fraiche flavours, pretty impressive for something arriving in a ceramic shot glass. The silky texture meant that even the mushroom-phobe of the group gave the soup a thumbs up! I selected a starter of ‘Foie gras, ham hock and white bean terrine’. The foie gras was at the centre of the terrine, which to me symbolised the highlight of the dish! The flavours of this velvety pate supplied the central character of decadence while the surrounding ham hock and white beans added weight to the terrine. The chef chose to pair this with a side of piccalilli, making the dish even more British (a good idea, as the terrine came with toasted brioche instead of the crispy country bread suggested on the menu!). I’m still uncertain as to whether the terrine and the piccalilli tied together. With something as delicate and refined as foie gras, you would expect a subtle yet sweet chutney to lift the dish so overpowering does not become an issue. However, I felt the acidity of the piccalilli slightly overpowered the foie gras, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I didn’t like it. I though the piccalilli on its own was pungent and tantalizing and combined well with the ham hock element which was meaty- and very British! Maybe I’ll never make up my mind! Our wine of choice was Momo 2007 Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, which had subtle acidity lifted by refined aromas of citrus and gooseberries.

The main course of monkfish, tiger prawns, peperonata and a banyules vinegar dressing was a tongue-tingling choice. Although the portion was on the small side, I enjoyed that the dish was light with a Spanish kick, made me wish it was summertime and I was chilling by the beach in costa blanca! Saffron potatoes were a cheeky addition that cut through the acidity of the vinegar dressing as well as adding certain opulence to the dish.

The palate cleanser that arrived at the table was a slightly controversial basil sorbet with sweet tomato granita. It agreed with my taste buds, but did it agree with my brain, that was in the process of preparing itself for something sweet and calorific?  I thought it was an interesting idea and certainly refreshing and flavourful, but some of the guests and I agreed that it would have been more appropriate between the starters and the main courses.
My dessert, a smooth rich and super-indulgent chocolate marquise, on the other hand, caused no doubts what so ever. Paired with crushed hazelnuts, a frangelico and coffee ice cream as well as a thin caramel bar for extra ‘crunch’ it was a sensational end to a meal. The chocolate was not as bitter as you might predict in a decadent dessert like a marquise. I was really pleased with this as the soft bitterness of the coffee ice cream gave the dessert just enough of a kick without taking away the sweetness, while the drizzle of cream was adequate in bringing together and calming the flavours.

The meal ended in a slightly slower and less efficient service with coffee and liqueurs taking some time to arrive; nonetheless it was a very pleasant meal. The petit fours we received with our coffees included mini coconut macaroons and melt in the mouth dark chocolate truffles.
So The Chancery remains a restaurant I would recommend to all Londoners. While my last review was suggesting the portions were slightly too big, I find myself eating my words. Now even though I’m not raving about the size of my monkfish fillet, I can’t help but wonder, if it had been bigger would I have been able to sample the delicious chocolate marquise? Probably not. Lesson learnt; stop being greedy and just enjoy every bite. You know it’s a good sign when you are left wanting more!

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

London’s little gems...a quick look at my favourite North African, French, and Fusion restaurants.

I would love to share with you some of my favourite international restaurants in London but as I have limited time and a limited memory (most of these places I visited last year), I will just give you a quick overview and the rest you can see for yourself, should you act on my recommendations!
As you follow the rose petals towards the entrance of this exotic restaurant, you can’t help but feel transported into an entirely different continent. The light looks dimmer, the colours more vibrant and the atmosphere feels more intimate as soon as you step inside. The decor of the place was the predominant highlight for me, while belly dancers and Arabic music also added to the North African ambience and were thoroughly entertaining. We shared a range of ‘mezzes’ instead of your typical ‘a la carte’ arrangement which meant we got to try many authentic Lebanese and Moroccan dishes. The muhamara- a walnut, red pepper and pomegranate dip was a fantastic accompaniment to the home made flat breads. I have since attempted to recreate muhamara, but failed to achieve the sweet yet pungent nuttiness we found in Kenza’s version. Other dishes included a range of sambousek (warm Moroccan patties stuffed with a choice of meat, vegetables or seafood) Soujok (little spicy sausages from Lebanon) as well as halloumi, chicken livers, tiger prawns and sauté potatoes with a kick. We may have found ourselves over-ordering, but the menu was so vast and exciting we found it hard to say no! This place would be perfect for larger parties so you can feast on a wide variety of mezzes whilst enjoying the party atmosphere of this charming North African restaurant.
Village East
With a vibrant atmosphere and a unique menu, Village East did not fail to impress me! The chef combines good, British ingredients with a touch of the exotic. My starter of scallops and pork belly combined with carrot puree and caramelized in a teriyaki glaze worked brilliantly in an east meets west sort of way. Our less exotic main of an 18oz chateaubriand was of exceptional quality and came with crispy châteaux potatoes and béarnaise sauce. Everything was cooked perfectly, and the generous portions left us with no room for dessert! The service was pleasant but in no way over-powering and the restaurant as a whole had this trendy, fast-paced vibe about it that would be more suited for an after-work dinner rather than somewhere to celebrate a special occasion (although your taste buds will be doing plenty of celebrating for you!). Some other exciting food items on the menu that tempted me include a sauted foie gras burger, Moroccan inspiredChermoula spiced poussin” with tabouleh as well as an Asian-stlye “white miso skate wing” with sticky rice, bok choi and ginger. If you’re in one of those moods where you just don’t know what you fancy for dinner, give Village East a try where there will certainly be something on the menu to tempt you!
Le Chardon (Clapham)
A busy, neighbourhood bistro, Le Chardon specialises in modern French cuisine in the heart of Clapham. I was particularly impressed with the starter of foie gras with red onion marmalade and French brioche, which was the major influencing factor in my choice of a second visit. The sea bass, served whole was complimented perfectly by the wide range of herbs, and don’t get me started on their dauphinoise potatoes which arrived at the table still bubbling in cream! Perhaps not one for the weight-watchers amongst you...I would also recommend the duck breast in orange sauce, a classic combination that does wonders for the taste buds! The atmosphere is relaxed but retains its elegance with unique art displayed on the walls which you may even choose to purchase! This place would be perfect for a romantic yet an informal date.