Monthly Archives: July 2012

Tumis Buncis (Indonesian Green Beans)

Gosh, it has been a rather hectic week! Packing, sorting, tidying and living between two places. However, it’s also a rather cathartic process of sifting through what feels like mountains of “stuff” and getting rid of things that I either no longer want or need. One of the perks of where I live at the moment (Stoke Newington) is that if you put something in the street that is vaguely usable, it’s a virtual certainty that someone will take it and give it a new home. As a result, I’ve managed to de-clutter without actually throwing much in the bin. Result!

As part of all this packing, I’ve also rediscovered some long-lost items. Old t-shirts which I had forgotten but which I now love once more, books that I read years ago and want to read again, photos from my travels and…my recipe file. Yes, I’m old enough to have a recipe file. I started this when I lived in Brussels and it contains recipes from magazines, Internet print-outs and some scrappy hand-written ideas. As you can tell, this pre-dates the days when everyone has Internet access at home, and back then there was a need to have a bundle of never-fail recipes at your fingertips.

Funnily enough, I recently read an article in which the author was musing about the way that we record our recipes today. Wind back a decade or so and it was all about writing down recipes or cutting them out of magazines, but in the age of online content and blogs, there is just not that imperative to tear out recipes from the weekend papers to file for later reference. So it seemed fortuitous to me that I dug out my old file, and I was rather curious about what was in there.

Leafing through, I came across a simple but quite tasty recipe that I received from an Indonesian colleague when I lived in Brussels. It’s incredibly simple – just garlic, green beans and tomatoes, seasoned with salt, sugar, nutmeg and sambal or chili. It makes a great main dish with rice and some chopped peanuts, or as a side dish. The nutmeg in particular adds a little extra something to the overall flavour. So there you have it – a recipe for tumis buncis rediscovered as part of my packing, and I suspect the last recipe that I post from North of the River!

To make tumis buncis (main for 2 or side for 4)

• 350g green beans, washed and sliced diagonally
• 350g cherry tomatoes, chopped
• 2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
• 2 tablespoons oil
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
• sambal or chili

Heat the oil in a large saucepan. Saute the garlic for a couple of minutes.

Add the green beans and tomatoes and cook for a further two minutes. Add the salt, sugar, nutmeg and sambal/chili and cook on a high heat until the tomato juice has made a slightly thick sauce, but the beans are still firm. Check the seasoning, and add more salt and sugar if needed.

Serve with white rice, and if you want to go to town some satay (peanut) sauce.

Worth making? This is a really easy dish to make, but bursting with flavour from the tomatoes and nutmeg. It all comes together to make a very satisfying dish that can be whipped up in a few minutes, and makes a great main or side dish.

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Mind the Gap

I hope that you’ve all enjoyed the last two-and-a-bit years of my baking, recipes, drinks, travels and random bits of London life. But things move on, and from next week, these “adventures in a North London kitchen” will be no more…

…but fret not – I’m not giving up! Rather I’m trading in North London’s Stoke Newington for a new life south of the river (gasp!) and moving to Clapham. It’s also near enough to the craziness of Brixton to help keep things “interesting”.

Bear with me during what is hopefully going to be a short hiatus as I grapple with living out of boxes. There is a silver lining to all this chaos – as well as a new house, I will finally get to use some of the items I bought from the Iittala shop in Helsinki last summer, I can install some vintage lights I bought in a Brussels antique store the year before that, and most exciting of all – swap my little window box for a proper garden. Exciting times!

In the meantime, you can see what was going on this time in 2010 here (Easy Lemon Cheesecake) and in 2011 here (Sour Cream and Cinnamon Swirl Cake).

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La vie en rose

Bring something for a tea party. We’re going for a romantic theme…

That was the brief, so what, oh what could I bring? Well, something that struck me as rather suitable would have been the rose creams that I recently sampled at Charbonnel et Walker in Mayfair just before the Jubilee. However, I didn’t have the time for a visit to central London, so it was going to have to be something home-made. So I thought: what the heck, I’ll just make rose creams. And…if they don’t work, it’s going to be a Victoria sponge…

My very unscientific research tells me that a lot of folk think of rose-flavoured sweets as rather old-fashioned. I think this is perhaps due, in part, to floral flavours usually being very strong, more like perfume, and often rather artificial. If you had Parma Violets as a child, you’ll understand. A rose has a fragile perfume, so if you are going to use it to flavour something, you want the retain its delicate character. While rose is undeniably very traditional, the flavour can also seem quite contemporary, at least to Western tastes. Rose water features in a lot of Middle Eastern desserts like baklava or lokum, so when used with a light touch, it can be quite heady and aromatic. It’s all about getting the right balance between the light, fresh notes of rose oil, but avoiding a flavouring that is too floral. Oh, and apparently rose creams are a favourite of HM The Queen.

We say we eat with our eyes too, and I think the colour of anything that contains rose has a lot to do with how it is received. A piece of Turkish delight that is bright pink suggests that it’s going to be rather strong in the flavour department, but if colourless, you’re not expecting the flavour to be too strong. So that was something that I took on board – my little creations were not going to be lurid neon pink!

However, when it came to making these sweets, I was faced with a bit of a quandary. What should the filling actually be made of? It is rather obvious that my rose creams were going to be very sweet. Lots of sugar would be unavoidable. However, there are still some variations.

An easy option is to combine icing sugar and egg whites. Personally, I try not to use uncooked egg white when possible, so that was a bit of a non-starter for me. Other recipes use double cream instead. This was more palatable for a picky chef, but I was also keen to have centres that were silky-smooth. I tested the icing sugar and cream mixture, but there was a perceptible graininess.

This process of elimination brought me face to face with one of my cooking demons. Fear of fondant. I was going to have to work with hot sugar syrup. Eek! I accept that some foods require a bit of science to understand them, but fondant is, for me, a huge step up. The thing with fondant is that you work the sugar syrup so that it forms very tiny crystals, so the resulting paste is very smooth when you bite into it, with no hint of graininess and thus a perfect melting texture. My fear comes from past attempts that ended up with a nasty, gritty mess, but this time I was determined to make sure that it worked.

First off, I tried adapting this recipe from Saveur for peppermint patties. I would just swap the peppermint oil for a little rose extract. However, I found the addition of cream and butter made the filling too rich, and the use of dairy meant that the base was not sufficiently “clean” for the rose flavour to work. Peppermint oil would probably have worked better here after all.

So I went back to the basic fondant recipe – sugar, water, glucose and a dash of cream of tartar. This time, it worked like a dream. The fondant turned out brilliantly white and once the rose was added, the flavour was just right. It could be subtle as there were no other flavours in there to compete with. For a moment, I wondered if I should add any pink colour at all – in the end, I added only the tiniest amount, but I think you could actually skip this quite happily, and keep them white for a more modern look.

With the fondant successfully made, I did what so many people do when they overcome a fear and made it again, just to be sure that the recipe did indeed work. I’m happy to report that it did. It’s amazing what happens when you finally learn that when glucose appears on an ingredients list, it is essential and not just an optional extra. That, and a candy thermometer makes life so much easier!

Finally, to dip or not to dip? I decided to dip these fondants in chocolate (2/3 dark, 1/3 milk). I felt the dark chocolate would work better with the rose flavour, but that pure milk would be a little to much – that sweetness needed something bitter to balance it.

Once the chocolates were made, I headed to the tea party. I turned up, presented my chocolates, and I think they were all gone in about five minutes. Nice to see hours of work in the kitchen appreciated like that.

And if you’re humming the tune, here is what I think is the best version of “La Vie en Rose” by Grace Jones (minus the hula-hoop).

To make rose creams (makes 20):

For the filling:

• 300g white sugar
• 1 teaspoon liquid glucose
• 2 pinches cream of tartar
• 75ml water
• 1/4 teaspoon rose extract
• 2-3 drops pink food colouring

To coat the chocolates:

• 200g chocolate (I used a 2:1 mixture of dark and milk)

1. Put the sugar, glucose, cream of tartar and water into a saucepan. Bring to the boil without stirring, and cook until the mixture reaches the soft ball stage (112°C / 235°F).

2. Pour the syrup sugar liquid onto a cold marble slab, and start to work with a spatula until the mixture becomes opaque. Be careful – this stuff starts of very, very hot! Eventually it will become firm and crumbly. When this happens, use your hands to work the fondant into a smooth paste. If it gets too dry, add a couple of drops of water.

4. Once the fondant is smooth, add the rose extract and food colouring (if using), and work until combined. Wrap tightly in cling film, and leave in a cool place (not the fridge) to cool completely.

5. To finish the chocolates, shape the fondant into pieces. Make them a little smaller than you expect, as they are larger once coated in chocolate. Let the fondant sit on a sheet of greaseproof paper while you melt the chocolate. To see how to temper chocolate (to get a shiny finish) see here or here.

6. To dip the fondant in the chocolate, balance a piece on a fork. Dip into the chocolate, then lift out. Tap on the side of the bowl, run the bottom of the fork over the rim of the bowl to remove excess chocolate, then place back on the sheet of greaseproof paper to set.

Worth making? Certainly! Very few ingredients, but a great result! Once you manage to make the fondant, the process is actually quite easy, so worth having a go at, and of course, you can change them with all manner of flavours.

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Fourth of July: Boston Baked Beans

Today it’s the Fourth of July – so let’s make something traditionally American, the good old-fashioned Boston Baked Beans!

Well, I say “good old-fashioned” but actually, I don’t know very much about them other than I like their name, so I thought it was about time to give them a bash. And a recipe from The Well-Cooked Life looked just perfect.

I know some people get terribly snobbish about baked beans and don’t like the tinned ones, but I’m not one of them. One of life’s greatest pleasures is a Saturday morning involving toast covered in cheese, grilled and then topped with baked beans. Delish.

Nevertheless, I was intrigued by the idea of making beans from scratch that had a bit more pep to them. A few minutes on Google told me that they are normally made with salted pork and molasses, so you’ve got a powerful savoury/salty yet sweet flavour. Clearly the pork was not going to happen in my case, so I added a bit of soy sauce instead to get more “savoury” than just salt would contribute. The other ingredients also promised something rather grand – lots of spices, hotness from sambal (my preferred way of adding heat to a dish), sweetness from molasses and fried onions and sharpness from some cider vinegar.

Boston Baked Beans are also a complete doddle to make, albeit a little planning is needed to make sure that the beans are properly soaked and cooked, but it’s mainly a case of soak, boil beans, mix sauce, bake.

One little wrinkle that affected my beans – I didn’t have dinky little beans (like you get from the tinned ones) so I used the ones I had in my cupboard, which were crab-eye beans. They were a little larger, and stayed a little firmer when cooked. They were still delicious, but when I make these again, I’ll be using the smaller beans in the future.

What you do need to be prepared for is that these beans are not a neon orange hue – all that molasses or treacle makes the sauce a rich red-brown colour. However, the flavour is completely, totally, utterly sensational. The sum is greater than the individual parts – and actually, that makes this a rather fitting dish for Fourth of July.

To make vegetarian Boston Baked Beans (adapted from here):

• 350g beans
• water
• 3 tablespoons oil
• 1 clove garlic, chopped
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 2 white onions, chopped
• 2 heaped teaspoons paprika
• 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
• 2 large pinches ground cloves
• 2 tins chopped tomatoes
• 2 tablespoons concentrated tomato puree
• 1 teaspoon of chili or sambal
• 2 tablespoons soy sauce
• 240ml treacle or molasses

• 120ml cider vinegar

1. Soak the beans overnight in cold water.

2. The next day, cook the beans according to instructions on the packet (how long you boil and simmer depends on the type). When cooked, drain the beans.

3. In the meantime, make the sauce. Fry the onions in the oil until golden. Add the garlic, cook briefly, then add the rest of the ingredients. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 20 minutes.

4. Mix the cooked beans and the sauce. Taste and adjust seasoning as required.

5. Pour the beans into an ovenproof dish. Cover and bake in the oven at 160°C (320°F) for 2-3 hours until the sauce is thick and the beans are soft. If the beans get too dry, top up the water.

Worth making? This is a complete flavour explosion, and utterly delicious. The basic recipe should appeal to most tastes, and you can tweak and adjust the spices to suit what you like. Definitely worth having a go at.

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On Location: Waterhouse (Shoreditch, London)

A few weeks ago, after a tough spell almost chained to my desk, I was really quite relieved to have been released for the weekend and to be going for dinner on Friday. Blinking as I walked out, the sun on my face, I will freely admit there was a real sense of freedom.

And a few short hours later, via an Aperol spritz on a terrace, I found myself sitting next to a canal and with bikes whizzing past on the other side of the water, with the vague feeling that I was somewhere in Holland. It is this stretch of canal that gives its name to the restaurant – Waterhouse in Shoreditch. This place also prides itself on an eco-friendly ethos, seasonal ingredients and giving local people opportunities in the restaurant trade.

I got to know about this place a few years ago through friends who worked with the trustees, and it’s the sort of place that might be difficult to find unless you know exactly where it is. It’s in an unassuming building, tucked down a quiet side street just off Kingsland Road and could be incredibly easy to overlook. You need to keep your eyes peeled for the water droplet symbol.

While the restaurant has glass windows and canal views from one side, the kitchen is brightly lit at the back. I’m a bit of a fan of places where you can see the kitchen staff cooking away in the background. I don’t mean that I need to have things sliced-and-diced in front of my face, but scenes of business being done on the other side of the room provide an assurance than things are being cooked from scratch.

My starter was chilli paneer on lemonade bread with raita. I have no idea what makes this lemonade bread – it seemed to be something like a small, puffy pita. Maybe some lemonade in the dough? I didn’t know, and a post-dinner check via Google didn’t illuminate me much. If anyone out there can enlighten me, then please do!

This confusion about ingredients aside, this was a delicious starter, possibly one of the best that I have had for quite a while. First off, there was a really generous amount of paneer, which I love. This was all coated in a sweet, spicy, fruity, sticky sauce with a goodly amount of chilli too. It was rich and lightly fiery but avoided being too hot.

My main was that veggie staple, the mushroom ravioli. However, I don’t think that really gives a true flavour (ha ha!) of this dish, for the secret was in the sauce. I spied that this was served with wild garlic. I’ve been rather frantically busy recently, and have not come across any of this stuff, either in markets (having not been to any) or in the forests around London (again, due to a lack to time to go walking, and little inclination due to the recent cold/wet/damp snap).

I had in my mind that this would be a pasta dish served with some sort of wild garlic pesto. When it came, it was a buttery sauce with wild garlic added to impart flavour, so it was delicate rather than vampire-repelling strong. For the sake of my fellow diners, probably a good thing, but a little ramekin of wild garlic puree to add to the ravioli would not have gone amiss.

I really liked this. The filling had a rich, earthy mushroom flavour, and a bit of texture – finely chopped fungi rather than the more familiar paste that you so often get. The sauce was buttery and had an agreeable mild garlic flavour. All in all, very tasty, even if it wasn’t the plate of bright emerald green I was expecting.

So…would I go back? Yes. I go here from time to time anyway, and I like the variety of the menu – the dishes, in particular the veggie dishes, tend to be somewhat different to the usual suspects (I have yet to experience risotto here) and for that, we all need to be grateful. It’s also got a certain charm from being stylish but also somewhat secret, another rare treat in this town. The staff are also fantastic – fun, friendly and unpretentious. In Shoreditch – who’d believe it?

Waterhouse, 10 Orsman Road, London N1 5QJ. Tel: 020 7033 0123. Tube: Haggerston.

LondonEats locations map here.

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