Saturday, February 27, 2010

Factoid: sharks

Having lain awake since half three this morning, I have finally cracked and opened up my laptop. A quick flick through the online papers - it's hours till the real ones arrive - threw up an article on sharks, which is just my early morning cup of tea. It turns out that until last year's ban on "finning", the EU was the world's biggest exporter of shark fins. Who knew?





Photo borrowed from a random blog.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Recommendation: Cafe Mozart, London NW6

Just a quick recommendation: Cafe Mozart, on Swain's Lane in Dartmouth Park. It's one of those places I just never quite got round to visiting whilst I lived in Kentish Town, and more fool me, although I suppose I'd be a very tubby Frau Dietz by now if I had known about it. The gorgeous Miss Gabby Young (full of excitement after her adventures at London Fashion Week), Revere frontman Stephen Ellis and yours truly just popped in for a feed and I tell you, I was absolutely gobsmacked at just how good it was.

It's a fairly dark and pokey affair with hundreds of chairs parked outside either in hope or continued success; a few other tables were filled with coffee drinkers but sitting by the window it was somewhat lacking in atmosphere. In a fit of poshness I ordered the smoked salmon and scrambled eggs on rye toast (£6.50): the scrambled eggs were just as I like them, soft and yellow, neither runny nor firm; the salmon was TO DIE FOR, extraordinarily smooth and full of flavour; and even the rye toast was inexplicably tasty (and so on this occasion, the irritating gluten intolerance pays off). Gabby had a "small" Eggs Benedict (£3.50) , just the one egg and the one muffin with some slightly-too-liquid Hollandaise - I don't remember spotting any ham - that she declared to be excellent, just a bit too small. Steve plumped for the Full English (£6.75) which looked pretty standard apart from a very good-looking sausage; it got polished off pretty smartly and without complaint. All very generous portions indeed, and the service wasn't bad at all, if a little slow.

All in all, very lovely indeed, just a shame we weren't there on one of Clive Owen's visits. Dammit.

Monday, February 22, 2010

A very sad post, and a very important one

A very special person was taken from her family and friends last Thursday night. The dazzlingly beautiful Katie Haines, the most enthusiastic and ambitious, optimistic, shining person you could imagine, turned on her water heater for a bath and was found dead later that evening by her husband of two months, having been poisoned by a carbon monoxide leak. Thankfully, her husband's parents, found unconscious downstairs, have made full recoveries after a few days in hospital. Katie was 31.

I was at primary school with Katie; we kept in touch over the years and during the last few months shared many very excited emails about our impending weddings. I am still struggling to understand how someone who was so very full of life, just back from her honeymoon and starting out on a brand new adventure with her husband, can just have her life just taken away from her. She wasn't finished! 'Unfair' just doesn't begin to cover it; and the grief that Katie's lovely family - Gordon, Avril, Adam and Lydia - and her husband Richard must feel is completely unfathomable. May Katie rest in peace; and if you don't have a carbon monoxide alarm already, please buy one.

To raise awareness amongst your friends please join the Carbon Monoxide - Be Alarmed! Facebook campaign. Further information about carbon monoxide poisoning can be found on the BBC website.

Photo from Katie's Facebook page.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Recipe: Trout with peas and horseradish

My mum's freezer is stuffed with dozens of trout (brown and rainbow) that my dad harvested last year on countless fishing trips on the river Loddon with his lovely friend Nigel, very sadly recently deceased. One of these fish always seems to go into the oven with some butter and fresh herbs from the garden and come out to be accompanied with homemade Hollandaise, a few potatoes and some greens. Tasty, but hardly groundbreaking.

Thus last night, on arriving home to find a nice fat fish defrosting on the sideboard, I decided that I would try something a little more adventurous. With no time to rifle through books, I turned to the trusty BBC recipe finder (which says something about my current level of adventurousness) and came across a recipe by a chap I'd never heard of containing a series of ingredients that I didn't honestly find terribly appealing: Bryn Williams; trout, peas, carrots and horseradish. Mr Williams improved the sound of things immensely by adding in a couple of gastropub chalkboard adjectives - 'wild trout' and 'fresh peas', but carrots, especially in combination with peas, never make me think of anything other than over-boiled school dinners, and the horseradish seemed to somehow make it sound even worse.

Well anyway, I went with it, despite a lack of real enthusiasm for the flavours and having no idea really how it would turn out - I told you I was adventurous! It was, happily, an overwhelming success.

The original recipe is on the BBC Recipe Finder but I shall give you my slightly adapted version here that takes into account that (a) I am not one to have fresh peas or gem lettuces lying around the fridge (b) I don't know what 'horseradish cream' is and (c) I didn't want to send my father's cholesterol through the roof and thus pushed the butter quantity just down below the Instant Coronary level.

Ingredients:

* 4 trout fillets, skin on and scored with a sharp knife
* salt and freshly ground black pepper
* 1 tbsp olive oil
* 400g/14oz frozen peas
* 4 medium carrots, peeled and cut into batons
* 200g/7oz streaky bacon, cut into lardons
* 150g/6.5oz cold butter, cut into cubes (the original recipe uses twice this)
* 400ml/14fl oz chicken stock
* several handfuls of baby spinach
* 4tbsp horseradish cream - I mixed horseradish sauce with some double cream

Method:

NB The trout and the pea/carrot thing really need to be done sort of simultaneously so that the trout doesn't end up overcooked

* Season the trout fillets with salt and pepper
* Heat the oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat; add the trout fillets, skin-side down, and fry without moving the fish for 4-5 minutes or until the skin is crisp and brown; turn off the heat and turn over the fish so that they cook over the residual heat

* Blanch the peas and carrots in a pan of boiling salted water for 1-2 minutes (I don't know what effect that has on frozen peas but it all turned out fine). Drain, "refresh" in cold water and then drain again
* Blanch the bacon lardons for one minute in a separate pan of boiling water, then drain well
Heat one tablespoon of the butter cubes in a large saucepan over a high heat. When the butter is foaming, add the blanched bacon lardons and fry until crisp and golden-brown
*Add the blanched carrots and peas to the bacon lardons; pour over the chicken stock and bring the mixture to the boil; reduce heat and simmer for 4-5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper
*Add the remaining butter cubes a few at a time, shaking the pan regularly until the butter melts and the sauce has thickened slightly before adding the next lot
*Add the spinach and horseradish and stir well, then remove the pan from the heat

Serving suggestion:

I put the fish and a couple of spoonfuls of the pea thing onto a plate alongside a few boiled Desiree potatoes (for fear of sending anyone into immediate cardiac arrest with buttery mash). With it, we polished off the last of our wedding white - a Peter Jakob Kühn (nice chap) Riesling Feinherb 2008 Classic.

It all came out looking pretty hideous in the photo so on this occasion you're just going to have to make it if you want to see how it turns out. I can only tell you it's far, far better than you could possibly ever imagine.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Schnitzel-face

I thought I might just change my profile photo to something altogether more aesthetically pleasing than the back of my head. This new picture pays homage to a first class Berlin-based Schnitzel: in my ongoing investigation into finding the most sweet and succulent piece of flattened, breadcrumbed pork* in Germany, B introduced me to Bötzow in Mitte, at the junction of Linienstraße and Tucholskystraße. It's a lovely, laid back, pub-like joint that consistently produces a first class Schnitzel accompanied by a heap of lovely greasy Bratkartoffeln and a large glass of comfortingly cloudy Apfelschorle (amongst other things). Find it; fill your belly.


*mostly. "High-welfare" (rose) veal is now being produced all over the UK and is, broadly speaking, like all the "non-welfare" veal, exported to its main market on the continent. However that which is farmed outside of our little island is largely a monumental ethical FAIL. Until it's clear that the Germans are taking animal welfare a little more seriously I'm doing my very best to avoid it, but on a very rare occasion (no pun intended)... oh please forgive me...

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Here we go again.

Well, I know I've tried a few times before but I'm hoping this one will stick. I love writing about my travels and I love writing about my food, but I have a feeling I might find blogging easier with no mission brief, no subject parameters and an exciting new life to write about.

I'm living temporarily with my dear folks in the family home awaiting dispatch to Germany on 5 March. With the wedding, post-wedding holiday (review potentially to come) and one hideous lurgy out of the way I am now tucking into the first of three Open University courses that will hopefully end in a Postgraduate Diploma in Psychology; sorting through 31 years worth of accumulated rubbish that requires disposal; and lending what support I can to Hope Not Hate.

All good.