Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Quick Bites: White chocolate brownies with dark, milk and white choc chips!

Brownies are everyones guilty little pleasure! This valentine’s day finally gave me an excuse to bake these calorific treats! As a cute little activity I thought it might be fun to bake them together with my boyfriend and I have to say I enjoyed the lack of mixing and stirring on my behalf!

You’ll need (makes 8-12)
·         400g of white chocolate
·         85g butter
·         1 pack of white chocolate chips
·         1 pack of milk chocolate chips
·         1 pack of dark chocolate chips
·         3 eggs
·         1 ½ cups of flour
·         2 teaspoons of vanilla essence
·         2 tablespoons of caster sugar
Preheat the oven to 190*C. Make a bain marie using a saucepan filled with boiling water and a heat proof bowl over the top. Add the butter and break apart the white chocolate bars into small chunks before melting it all together and stirring until smooth. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs with the sugar and vanilla essence before adding the melted chocolate and butter mixture. Stir well and sift the flower into the bowl, stirring well. Leave to cool for a few minutes and line a baking tray with some baking/greaseproof paper. Once the mixture is cool, fold in the chocolate chips so they are spread out evenly but do not over mix! Simply pour in all the batter into the baking tray and bake for 25 minutes! Leave to cool for 10 minutes before cutting into chunks and serve with some vanilla ice cream!
Tip: If you want to substitute the white chocolate base for regular chocolate, use plain chocolate but change the quantity of the sugar to a full cup to sweeten it up!

Monday, 7 February 2011

Sustainable seafood paella!

You may have seen by now the little ‘fish fight’ widget on this blog! I feel quite strongly about this campaign and, as a consequence, have started to buy more sustainable seafood. Obviously I’m not saying reject cod and salmon but it’s definitely worth substituting these fish for something more sustainable that tastes just as good! So take the pressure of our nation’s favourite white meat and try out this recipe that includes three of the most sustainable seafood items!
I chose to celebrate whiting, one of cod’s close relatives, dab, a very cheap smooth flat fish and mussels, really plentiful shellfish that also add a bit of fun to my golden paella!

Serves 2-4
·         1 medium whiting fillet
·         1 filleted dab
·         1kg of live mussels
·         Half a spicy chorizo
·         125g paella (short grain) rice
·        300 ml Fish stock
·         6 cherry tomatoes
·         A pinch of saffron
·         1 teaspoon of paprika
·         1 red onion
·         2 garlic cloves
·         4 tbsp of olive oil
·         ½  teaspoon of chilli flakes (or medium fresh chilli)
·         100ml white wine
·         2 tablespoons of curly parsley
·         Half a lemon or lime to garnish

Despite the long list of ingredients, this dish is actually fairly simple to make. Get the prep of the mussels out of the way first and you can relax with a glass of wine later!
Preparing the mussels
Empty the mussels in a colander and run under cold water. Tap any open shells and if they don’t start to close straight away, get rid of them, as well as any chipped mussels! Now that you have all your live mussels, one by one, take away their little beards by grasping the beard and giving it a sharp yank out and toward the hinge end of the mussel. This is quite a tedious activity but will be worthwhile in the end! Once your mussels are prepared for cooking, put them back in the colander and put the colander in a tap filled with cold water until you are ready to cook them in about 20 minutes!
Preparing the paella filling
First, simmer the stock in a pan and add the saffron strands. Roughly chop the onion (so you can still see inch-long strands running through it for colour and texture), chorizo, garlic and then halve the cherry tomatoes. Cut the whiting fillets into large chunks and fillet your dab (if you haven’t bought it already filleted). I left the skin on but feel free to remove it if you don’t like it!
Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in the pan and stir the onions, until softened. Add the garlic, chorizo, chilli flakes and parika and stir for a further minute to create concentrated flavours. Stir in all the rice and add a further drop of olive oil so that its all covered, before adding ¾ of the stock. Shake the pan in one vigorous motion so all the rice is level then leave for 2 minutes. Do not stir or cover! After the 3 minutes, place the tomatoes, whiting and dab fillets over the rice and pour the rest of the stock (unless the rice is still very watery) and simmer for a further 8 minutes, at which point the fillets should be cooked and flaky! Take off the heat, stir the paella and cover with a lid or foil.

Meanwhile, pour 1 tablespoon of olive oil and any stock that may be left over into a big pan. Once very hot, pour in the mussels and the wine then quickly cover with a lid. Do not open until 3 minutes have passed, then check if all the shells have opened. If they have, serve immediately by draining in a colander (over a bowl so you can reserve those lovely juices!) if not, wait a further minute or two until they have. Discard any unopened shells!

Put some of the mussels in their shell over the paella to serve with, and the rest in separate bowls or a pan with the reserved juices poured over! Garnish the rice with parsley and lime (or lemon)!

Friday, 4 February 2011

Tsuru, Bishopsgate. Simply good sushi.

When I think of a Japanese restaurant in London, I imagine dim lights, low tables and over-priced little bits of fish. Fortunately, Tsuru is nothing like that!
A popular lunchtime destination for the city workers, Tsuru is a cozy dwelling to the best sushi I have ever had and is situated on Bishopsgate near Liverpool street. The decor is not trying to be something it isn’t and this is one of the few places in London I can truly say I’ve had great food without the pretentious atmosphere. The menu features a wide range of Japanese nibbles (or Ippin-Ryouri), super-fresh sets of sushi, as well as traditional Japanese katsu curries and teriyaki dishes. Having tried a katsu curry in Tsuru’s other branch a year ago, and despite being impressed (although I’m not a fan of breaded and deep friend food in general) I wanted to try something a bit more fresh and varied. So Tom and I started with a platter of nigri and maki sushi or “Tsuru premium sushi moriawase” as they call it. The menu gave nothing away and as our platter arrived I was stunned by the beauty of the fresh fish before me, and even more so by the wide variety of it! The rice was light and fluffy, a perfect base for the silky smooth fish. A tuna could have swam out of the sea, filleted itself and jumped onto my plate (I wouldn’t mind nesting on that lovely rice myself) , it had all the flavours of a good quality fish and the wasabi that lie on my plate was left almost untouched. I mean why waste the incredible natural flavours already there by blowing your nose off with overpowering wasabi? I did enjoy the ginger, which was lightly pickled (unlike the overpowering pink stuff you get in yo sushi) and sweet. The maki featured on the platter included king prawns done two ways- one fresh and de-shelled with avocado, the other deep fried in its shell for a good crunch!
Yes once again, bad photography by me. The colours are actually more vivid in real life!

On the right of the picture you may notice 6 more maki, which we ordered alongside our sushi platter. 4 pieces of soft shell crab fried in tempura batter are wrapped in seaweed and sushi while two extra crunchy pieces of crab feature in the other two. It’s great to see what a difference texture can make to a dish even if the ingredients are the same, and we both preferred the less crunchy version, although both were phenomenal! I could have eaten all 6 myself!

We then went for 3 of the Japanese tapas dishes to share, the two you can see in the pictures are a large mackerel fillet, lightly seared and cured and served with a dollop of English mustard on a bed of fine strands of raw carrot, and the other is a carpaccio of salmon with ponzu dressing.
The mackerel had that perfect combination of freshness and smokiness, that I thought one can only achieve by barbequing fish on the beach 10 minutes after catching it. The mustard was pungent and like the wasabi, only good in small doses as the dish on its own is a true celebration of this under-rated fish! The carrots were actually a very clever garnish (which I’m sure some people assume is just there for decorative purposes and don’t even touch it) and provided a burst of refreshing sweetness to contest the delicately smokey fish.
Our salmon carpaccio matched the standards of the other fish, but perhaps a little on the small side (being given fish this good in small amounts is just teasing!). Yet again it was silky and the thin slices had a melt in your mouth quality about them while the zesty ponzu dressing packed a punch and made it impossible for the salmon to simply melt and disappear into the ether! Delicious combination!
Our third dish came out a little later and I’ve forgotten to take a photo. The plate featured three scallops, three meaty king prawns and two and a half baby asparagus spears. The medley was pan fried in garlic butter with some chillies tossed in at the end, but did not pack as much flavour as the rest of the dishes. Maybe I just got used to appreciating the raw form of the fish! As there were two of us and an extra scallop and king prawn left, we ended up playing rock paper scissors to see who would get the last kings prawn (it was scrummy!). Despite losing, I ended up with the prawn due to my boyfriend’s generosity, thanks Tom!

We finished off on a rather curious note with a dessert of ‘Mochi Ice’ (we had a portion each this time to avoid another game of rock paper scissors!), and it is what I can only describe as 3 icey balls of fun! The outer layer consists of a doughy, soft and slightly chewy concoction made from rice (think a cross between cookie dough and bubble gum!) and protects the gooey ice cream centre from melting. The flavours were also unfamiliar to a western palate, the first one is a delicate green tea (or matcha) ice cream filling, but a little sweeter than the real drink. The second was our favourite, a sesame seed crusted exterior revealed a yet another unfamiliar tasting (but again delicately sweet) ice cream centre while the last mochi revealed a zesty punch from a lemon flavoured filling. Aside from the fact I wasn’t sure of the way in which to eat it (quite impossible to get through with a spoon but too cold to hold in your hands), the dessert was extremely refreshing and the perfect way to end an equally impressive dinner.
Everything is fresh, everything is reasonably priced (you should have seen my smile after the 50% discount with my tastecard...) and some chilled, frothy Japanese beer on tap was just the cherry on top of a tasty evening.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Quick bites: Thrifty risotto cakes.

So I had some mushroom risotto left over today. There wasn’t quite enough left for a full portion, and I don’t really like reheated food anyway. So I decided to turn them into crunchy little treats; risotto cakes!

This was an easy thrifty recipe, and all it requires is you not being afraid of getting a bit messy! Hey, that’s part of the fun of it!
As you have you flavoursome risotto all ready and made up, all you have to do is refrigerate it for an hour or overnight (mines been sitting in the fridge for over a day, just think of those flavours developing!) and then you’re pretty much ready to go! All you will need is some plain flour, a bit of grated parmesan, some breadcrumbs, an egg and some seasoning.
First, prepare a plate of breadcrumbs. I had a slightly stale bread roll I needed to get rid of which I pulled apart and ran through my fingers until it turned into large crumbs. I then put about half a tablespoon of grated parmesan into the mixture, and seasoned generously with salt and pepper. Set aside...
 Put the cooled risotto in a clean bowl (I actually used a large sandwich bag to save me from washing up), and combine with one egg. Move it all about to produce a gooey mixture, and then gradually add the flour. I won’t give you an exact quantity (because I didn’t measure it myself!) but once it starts to form a thick batter type consistency - probably about 3 tablespoons to an egg - you can stop. Add some grated parmesan, of course you can use another finely grated cheese, work with whatever you have then heat a frying pan with about a tablespoon of olive oil before shaping the mixture into palm sized pancakes. This is the sticky part, and it’s easier to just turn the mixture into oddly shaped balls, roll them around in the breadcrumb mixture before putting into the frying pan and pressing down with a wooden spoon to flatten and shape. I used a small non stick pan which only fit one cake at a time, so if you’d like to work with one at a time like me, transfer the crisped cakes into a warm oven until you are ready to serve! Fry for about 2 minutes on each side on medium heat or until nice and golden on both sides!
The great thing about these is that you can top them with anything! I stuck with the mushroom theme by frying up some chopped chestnut mushrooms with some garlic while my cakes were being kept warm in the oven. A dollop of crème fraiche and some parsley and you have yourself a thrifty little snack!

Getting tempted at Tentazioni.

When you find a restaurant you love and can rely on, you may sometimes forget that other fantastic establishments are just waiting to be discovered. Although we were very tempted to return to the Chancery (new menu again!) which we know and love, I thought me and my boyfriend should break out of the habit and try something new that evening!
We were glad we did. Tentazioni is an Italian restaurant, which can be found in a narrow street near Tower Bridge. The first thing to strike me as I entered was the sensual red decor which contrasted with the all white tables and chairs (which were extremely comfortable I must add!), and the sexy theme seemed to continue via the ‘burlesque’ type images on the walls as well as other quirky and colourful art. A staircase within the main dining area leads to a mezzanine area, which is more traditional Italian in its style with brick walls and simple tables and chairs. The two aspects of the dining area mingle to create a cosy but trendy setting.

The name of the restaurant (which means temptation) is reflected in the menu by giving you a wide range of options of real Italian dishes and taking them a step further by using interesting, opulent ingredients. Before we ordered, an amuse bouche of a warm little quiche arrived which put me in the mood for some good hearty food! We both couldn’t resist choosing the foie gras for starter.

Firstly, the picture doesn’t do it justice (my camera was generally playing up all evening, the foie gras was a deep brown colour, the orange in the dish is merely the flash) but I wanted to exemplify with this image the generous size of the portions and the thought that had gone into the dish. The foie gras was a bulky piece of meat, lightly seared to give it that signature silky texture. The flavour of the foie gras alone was enough to justify the slightly steep price tag of £14.50, but its melt-in-your-mouth quality just sent my tastebuds to the moon! The other elements of the dish complemented the star without outshining it. Three pieces of ravioli stuffed with goose meat were a perfect match, the silky pasta outer played on the texture of the foie gras, whilst the inside created a quick burst of meatiness. The mushrooms were flavourful, and again matched the texture of the foie gras, but apart from that did not do very much for me. It seemed the dish was crafted to complement the dish entirely, which was very pleasant indeed but I couldn’t help but wonder how the dish would have panned out (no pun intended!) if some contrasting textures were added to give the dish an extra crunch- and elevate the soft and wispy foie gras to another level!
Continuing in the theme of luxury, I went for the lobster tagliolini next, which I chose from their long hand-made pasta menu, while Tom opted for red mullet with scallops, raisins, parma ham and spinach. I was very delighted when my dish arrived, the portion was HUGE, and I was glad I tentatively chose half of a lobster instead of the whole one.

The dish on the whole was beautifully crafted. Rustically shaped and served al-dente, the pasta was infused with the aroma and colour of saffron before being tossed with artichokes and fresh cherry tomatoes. A generous dollop of black caviar garnished the dish, which I mixed into the pasta to create a sort of extra seasoning; I enjoyed getting a tiny salty pop with each bite! The lobster was garnished with some beautifully creamy butter and was undoubtedly fresh; the meat was easy to get your teeth into and delicately sweet. The chef got the most out of the whole lobster, not just the typically used lobster tail, and I found the lobster claw had the richest flavours. While the sheer size of the dish was unmanageable for me, I savoured every bite that I had and didn’t get bored for a second; that would be impossible with the abundant mixture of flavours and textures the chef has created. The wine list is extensive, and ranges from £13.50 to £99 for a bottle of Italian white wine. Our bottle of wine of choice was a 2009 Salento Bianco, Feudi di San Marzano a fantastic choice by Tom, a professional sommelier couldn’t have done a better job pairing both of our main courses with a bottle of wine! The wine is from Puglia, south of Italy, and consists of mainly the Malaysia grape variety to produce a beautifully full bodied white wine, to compliment our meaty seafood. The subtle honeysuckle overtones pair perfectly with the sweet elements of both our dishes, my sweet lobster meat and the raisins in Tom’s dish while the apple and lemon hints help freshen our palates from the complex mix of flavours in our dishes.
After two big courses and an amuse bouche, the waiter arrived with a dessert menu. While my stomach was telling me no, my curiosity took over and I gave in to temptation and ordered the Chocolate opera cake, “La Scala Milano” served with Espresso Coffee Sauce and 24K Gold. “Have you eaten gold before?” the waiter asked in response to my bemusement and my reply of no ushered a “good luck” from the waiter.

The cake itself was layered with a range of different chocolate elements including what I believe to be milk chocolate mousse, a light chocolate sponge and biscuit jaconde before being topped with a full layer of thin gold leaf. The espresso sauce was a bit too watery and didn’t compliment the base cake while I felt the gold only created the sense of opulence but added little else for the dish. It was a pleasant end to a meal but not as spectacular and theatrical as the menu would suggest.
The overall evening was a success and I’m waiting to return there as soon as the funds allow. While I don’t like to go into detail about restaurants prices, the bill totalled £68, and that’s with a 50% discount on food- and with the likes of foie gras, fresh lobster, saffron, caviar and even gold consumed in one sitting, I can’t help but feel satisfied!

Tempted? Visit to get the details and book!

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