Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A Few Of My Favourite Things...

I'd like to think I'm not alone but sometimes I get so fixated on something that it becomes a freakish obsession. There is no rhyme or reason. It might be a particular dish, like spaghetti with olive oil, garlic and parmesean which I ate three times a week for a month straight. Other times it's a spice, like the time when I put Montreal Steak Seasoning on anything I roasted. It doesn't have to be healthy- for example, I HAD to have a salami sandwich and one Twix finger everyday at lunch (and only at lunch) for the first six weeks after I had my son; it can even be a restaurant. My long running stalker like obsession with Royal China dim sum hasn't ceased after ten years.

Which brings me to my current tasty delight and an introduction to a new feature on this blog. On the right hand side of the screen you will be able to check back and see what I currently cannot get enough of. There'll be a link to this posting where I'll keep track of all my fave flavours.

So what am I all over as I type you ask? Rosebud Preserves Piccalilli. L-O-V-E IT!

I was never a huge fan of piccalilli. For someone who has half a fridge of condiments (along with ones I hide in the cupboard from The Boy), that's saying a lot. For anyone not familiar with it, it's a pickle made up of various vegetables chunks in a tangy mustard and tumeric sauce.

Perhaps not so bizarrely, when I was pregnant, one of my few cravings was for a toasted, always toasted, ham and cheese sandwich with extra piccalilli from Fernandez and Wells in Soho.

Not so much as a second thought had been given to piccalilli in months. Not until last week when I went to Mortimer and Bennett to have a browse. Mortimer and Bennett's is a great little shop if you're ever in Chiswick. At the back of the tiny store, an array of jarred delights. Jams, chutneys, pickles- it's like a condiment circus back there. Yum I thought, I do fancy me some condiments on a sandwich. So I paid my £3.50 for my picalilli and made myself a ham and cheese sandwich for old times sake.

Five days later the jar was empty. I am now on my second jar.

It's not English mustard spicy like the other versions I've had. It's much more a sweet and sour style of relish with good chunks of veg for a slight crunch. There's a sharp vinegar tang which is what I think I love the most. I've put it in sandwiches, on top of cheese and crackers, and licked the odd spoon clean. Surely there must be other things I can spoon it over...

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Plight of the Single Diner

In the first of my 'making up' posts, here's a little something I wrote last year on a tasty lunch date with myself.

This is the time of year that I end up on my own most weekends. The boy has his annual audit so I get some 'me' time whether I want it or not. Many times I love it since I get time girlie primping and watching lame tv but there are some things I don't do on my own. Movies and public dining.

This weekend though dining alone was a good thing as I wanted to hit an exhibition at the British Museum. It also meant I would need to feed myself since I wouldn't make it back home with no lunch in my belly. One of the reasons I generally don't like to ask for a table for one is that it means that this one is doing the paying. But I consoled myself with the thought of going to Abeno near the museum that I'd meant to eat at for ages that I knew wouldn't be on the boy's list of must tries.

So I looked around to see if anyone saw this loner going in and when the coast was clear I held up one finger and squeaked out the three words I thought would never pass my lips- table for one. I have to start by saying that I almost walked out after 15 minutes. I was sat by the door so even though I was constantly being passed by the wait staff it took 15 minutes to get a menu an another ten to get my order taken. I was on the verge of bolting but pregnancy hunger and having to walk to somewhere else compelled me to stay and wait it out. Hell what else was I going to do go home and watch Wipeout USA (which I'm not afraid to admit a liking to)?

Abeno is not what we expect of Japanese restaurants. They specialise in okonomiyaki. Basically it's an omelette. But a crazy ass Japanese one at that. They do noodles and a few other options but if you come here it's for the okonomiyaki. Being a table of one I couldn't go crazy and order
lots of things to taste and with an increasingly loud growl in my stomach I needed to chow down now.

I love dumplings in just about any format so I had to go for the tofu and avocado gyoza as the combo was intriguing. This gyoza on the menu was fried rather than the usual griddled. Four pieces arrived with a few salad greens and the usual gyoza sipping sauce. I wondered how the
mix of avo and tofu would be in general and how frying would affect the taste and texture. The outside was a perfectly golden fried parcel of crunchy fun. Inside were tiny diced pieces of tofu and avocado obviously warm from the frying but they held their shape. While I couldn't really taste the tofu (can you ever really when it's plain?) I found it a bit nursery like. This is a compliment. The taste took me back to my childhood love of avocado heated in a flour tortilla. It
was creamy with a nice salty hit from the dipping sauce. Needless to say I was so hungry that I couldn't pause to take a photo.

Picking a main ingredient for my okonomiyaki from the list was tough but I've been having kimchi cravings so the moment my eyes glanced down the menu and saw pork and kimchi there was no other option. (On a side note why do some Japanese restaurants put kimchi on the menu and some don't? I know that kimchi is Korean but some Japanese places I go to put it on the menu which is good times but the ones that don't get pissed if you ask for it. Last weekend I was ill and the boy went to our local Japanese robata place and I said to him if you see kimchi on the menu get me some. So when he didn't see it, and aiming to make a sickly pregnant wife happy, he asked if they had kimchi and was treated to a snappy "this is Japanese restaurant NOT Korean". By the number of Japanese restaurants that I've seem kimchi on the menu I'd hazard a guess and say the Japanese must have a penchant for the stuff but why get mad if you ask for it? Ok rant over.)

So once the waiter realised the speed in which the gyoza disappeared off my plate, he rocked up with a tray that looked to be the start of my lunch. The plate had several strips of what I at first thought was bacon but remembered that I hadn't given in to the bacon option so it was most likely thinly sliced pork belly. Then there was the mystery bowl.

In it lie the makings of my funky omelette. As the waiter stirred it into a frenzy I could make out the cabbage, the wet- which was eggs, the kimchi was evident by that pink red hue you get with traditional kimchi, beyond that it looked like a lot of mush in a bowl. Once waiter was happy with the mix, he drizzled just a touch of oil on the griddle built into the middle of my table. The mush was poured onto it and shaped into a round flatish mound; this was followed by my bacony pork belly bits being flash grilled and then placed on top of my mound o' mush. Then a dome cover was placed on top and I waited for the magic to happen. A few minutes later he came back, raised the cover, flipped it over and covered it back up. The next time he returned he came bearing gifts in the shape of condiments. It was as if he knew me.

I am a self confessed condi-mental. With my pork and kimchee combo he recommended soy sauce and chili but I could also choose from Mayo, BBQ, seaweed and bonito flakes. So I said yes. To all of it. Make mine a 50/50 then.

I have to say that I loved it. It was fluffy, not too heavy, with the odd chunk of crunchy spicy kimchee and the odd bit of pork. In the next bite the taste would be more eggy or cabbagey or with a crunch of tempura bits. The soy and chili really worked and while I preferred it but for sheer gluttony go whole hog and get the Mayo and BBQ option.

Once I'd decided that as I was ignored at the beginning I was going to eat slower than usual and I'd worked my way through my meal, I was sure that I didn't want dessert. But I always love to look at the options and got suckered into the homemade matcha green tea ice cream. I love ice cream and if I see the words home and made than there is no other choice in my book. I'm rarely bowled over matcha flavoured sweets but boy was I surprised. My scoop of it arrived with a side spoonful of sweet red adzuki beans which usually just remind me of odd sweet frijoles but I ate them hoping that it had some sort of nutritional value being a bean and all. The ice cream however was delicious. Creamy but not too rich, sweet but with a slightly savoury balance from the green tea. Tops.

So the damage for three courses with a juice- £20.90. Which for a long leisurely lunch that filled me up on a cold day without wanting to send me straight for a nap, was not too bad. So my verdict on lunch at Abeno- lunch for one at Abeno can be done with a portion size that is enough for the single diner. It was tasty but the downside is that you will be so tempted to order a lot because the options are numerous. I've been back as a table for two and sharing the fun of table grilling made the meal more enjoyable and less gluttonous. But whether I go alone or as a plus one, I will be back.

Maple Bar None!

I loves me some donuts. A nice glass of ice cold milk or strong black coffee and a maple bar. That oh so healthy sugar high that makes you so hyper that you spout utter nonsense that only another person in the same state can comprehend. It's the sort of thing that if you've ever had to keep a food diary you omit lest the wrath of the nutritionist fall upon you. But deep down you smile because it was moment of bliss. I don't do donuts often but when I do it's always the same. Maple Bar (but I've been known to dabble in the realm of the apple fritter from time to time). But if I'm going to send my blood sugar sky high I want a great donut. Not too greasy, not too sugary (like the Krispy Kreme version that has the glaze with a sort of maple smock on top). It needs the right balance of dough to maple glaze.

Since I have yet to find such a specimen in London- and I've looked for ten years- when I went to Portland, Oregon to see my sister I was determined to indulge. She wanted to go to Voodoo Donuts for a Maple Bacon Bar. It sounded disgusting but found it ok. If you love salty sweet combos then it's king. But I'm a purist when it comes to my donuts. Traditional reigns supreme. A good raised yeast dough plus a not too thick layer of maple glaze equals perfection. I happened to stumble across an article on donuts in Portland that rated the maple bar at Annie's Donuts tops.

I had to go. Stat.

It's a totally unassuming donut shop that if you didn't know better you might pass by. As soon as you walk it the sweet sweet smell of donuts high fives your face. I placed my order and sat down.

Oh. My. Goodness. D-I-V-I-N-E. It was just what I missed about donuts. Fluffy soft dough. The perfect amount of glaze that had the sort glossy sheen to it that's normally reserved for shampoo ads. I think I actually cried a tear of joy. I had to stop myself from eating a third one it was that good. So the moral of the story? When in Portland get thee to Annie's. And eat a second maple bar for me.
Annie's Donuts, 3449 Northeast 72nd Avenue, Portland, OR 97213-5817
Telephone - (503) 284-2752

P.S. If anyone has scouted other top donut shops, please pass the details along.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Where in the world is Xochitlcooks?

Yes it really is me. It's been a while yes, but I swear I didn't forget about you little blog. Life and work and all that other stuff just got in the way. All the time. Seriously. Ok so maybe two years is a bit much but the last year especially was such a whirlwind of a year that I am constantly amazed by where the time went.

Although I wasn't writing, I was still definitely into food. My love of cooking and baking never waned but there has been a big phase of going out. There was the angel on one shoulder saying "You know, you really should be making notes on this. It would be a great post.". While the little devil on the other side whispered, "If you pick up a pen, you'll miss out on that last tasty morsel of dessert because The Boy will swoop in there and take it." Needless to say, that little devil won a lot of those battles. Especially when I was a ravenous eight months pregnant woman. No one was going to get between me and delicious goodness.

So that was one recent distraction that has taken up the last year. The Boy and I became three. Mr D (as I refer to him has) made his long awaited appearance last summer and is definitely a handful. But what culinary adventures have I had over the last two years? What's managed to keep me away from you? There has been some travelling. Portland, San Francisco, Barcelona, San Sebastien,the South of France- all filled with fantastic eats that I will try my hardest to remember the fine details of to pass along.

More recently though, cooking has become fun again. I have managed to start a new year with some time on my hands (a baby is not so much time on my hands but it is thanks to the joys of maternity leave) and hungry friends to feed. Although I went on hiatus, the ideas never stopped and the food memories I wanted to share never ceased. As I embark on this new balancing act in my life, the importance of making and sharing good food with those I love is reinforced. So, in a medium sized nutshell, there you have it.

It wasn't a break up. It was just a trial separation. It wasn't you; it was me. But boy did I miss you and I'm going to try to make it up to you.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Egg McXochitl

As I slowly inch my way back into the kitchen after a four month hiatus (seriously- my kitchen has never been so clean) and slowly get my life back, you know the one that involves me cooking and writing about it, a long scheduled dinner with Johanna, Jeanne and Jenni offered me an easy way back in the guise of this month's Waiter, there's something in my...Breakfast.

I'm more a brunch person rather than a breakfast person so whenever I go back to San Diego I hit my favourite brunch spot, Parkhouse Eatery, at least twice a visit. I have blogged about pancakes in the past but wanted to do something different (and relatively easy). Something I use to keep any visiting kidlets and husbands happy. Plus it's great for those sorts of hangovers where you want a 'dirty' meal to soothe the self-inflicted pain, the kind of food from places that you know you shouldn't really eat at but in a weary state they seem like a good idea. This is my version of a certain breakfast sandwich you get from a certain red haired, big shoed frontman for a fast food joint but it's more chic, more polished and a hell of a lot tastier.

You can tailor it how ever you want. This time I poshed it up a bit and used Manchego and Jamon Serrano; in the past bacon, cheddar and the odd slice of processed cheese have made an appearance. So the easiest way to describe this post is to say that I've set up the basics and it's yours for the taking.


Egg plus whatever Breakfast Sandwich

Makes 1 sandwich

1 egg
1 muffin (English muffin in the States), split
2 slices of jamon serrano, cooked in a frying pan to crisp it up
1 slice of cheese, optional

1 cooking ring (the kind used for that pro chef touch or, if like me, you need to cut out scones)

Heat a nonstick frying pan over medium heat.

Grease the cooking ring with butter. Put the cooking ring in the pan and crack the egg into the ring; prick the yolk. Turn the heat down low. You should see the egg white changing colour.

While the egg cooks, put the muffin in the toaster and toast to your preferred taste.

When the egg is nearly white, turn the ring over to cook it on the other side. The ring will be hot so be careful when flipping it over. Because the rings I have are deep, I find it easiest to use a spatula and a pair of tongs to flip it over. Once flipped over, if the egg sticks, run a knife along the edge to unstick it.

Remove the ring and cook another minute more.

If using cheese, place on the egg to gently melt it. The jamon serrano/ other meat product can be reheated in the pan as well.

Place the egg on the bottom half of the muffin. Top with the bacon and the other muffin half.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Menu for Hope 2007

Around this time of year, every year, while most of us (myself included) are busy thinking about our Christmas shopping lists, Pim of Chez Pim reigns over the fundraising raffle that is Menu for Hope. 2007 marks for fourth year that food bloggers (and others) the world over donate items for an online raffle. Most of the gifts are food related but the odd non foodie gift makes it's way in. However, this isn;t a raffle just for the sake of it. Money spent on tickets goes to the World Food Programme (WFP); last year's raffle raised over $60,000 for the WFP. This year we've been allowed to earmark the money for a specific programme, a school feeding program in Lesotho.

Lesotho has one of the highest rates of HIV/AIDS in the world and the U.N. describes 40% of the population as 'ultra poor' and cannot afford basic supplies. The country has had its worst drought in nearly 30 years and the WFP estimates that 410,00- out of a population of only 1.9 million- will face basic food shortages. It is estimated that malnutrition in Lesotho claim the lives of one in 12 children before they reach the age of five. 56% of the population live on less then $2 per day. The school feeding programme provides a nutritious meal to almost 150,000 children every day.

This year, children from Lesotho schools will be photo-blogging alongside us and bringing their stories to an international audience.

So, why am I bringing this up on my blog? Well in addition to wanting to support a good cause, Johanna and Jeanne (the UK hosts) have asked me to participate. I had wanted to take part last year but was about to go on holiday so I jumped at the chance to do some good during the season of giving.

I've teamed up with my buddy Clare (formerly of Lemon Soul but I'm working on bringing her back!) to bring a couple of prizes to the fold that you will want to purchase a raffle ticket for.

Behind door number one-
A Taste of Mexico - Bring out your inner Mexican with this spicy little care package. This will bring a smile to anyone missing home or that lovely holiday you had in Mexico. It included a selection of Mexican treats from my personal box of Mexican tricks that I replenish when I go home. Included in this package are a collection of dried chiles, dried Mexican Oregano, a tin of tomatillos (great for salsa), a tin of chipotle peppers (so many uses, so little time), some El Pato sauce (a back up enchilada sauce in many a home) and I will also throw in half a dozen corn tortillas (the real deal- I don't share these with just anyone!) plus to drink you get Abuelita hot chocolate and dried hibiscus flower used to make the drink Jamaica. Suggestion recipes for all the ingredients will be included too. This prize is for the UK and Europe only.

And behind door number two-
Tea for Two - Are you a homesick Brit? Do you miss Marmite on toast or a cup of proper tea and a good ol' Chocolate Hob Nob? Then this is for you. Clare and I have started a collection of a few British favourites and we will give you another £20 to spend in the shops so you can add HP sauce, Colman's english mustard or a few bars of Dairy Milk t(or Sherbert Dib Dab to take you back) to the shopping list that YOU give us. Please bear in mind that they need to be items that we can legally ship into your country and please remember that we will also have to cover the cost of shipping so not too many glass bottles!

Hopefully this little treasure trove of delights has whetted your appetite and made you eager to buy a raffle ticket. The ticket office CLOSES on DEC 21st. A link for all the prizes and to the donating site is here.

Remember that this is for a good cause, the $10 you spend will go to feed a child. And don't forget- your giving may well get you some receiving!

If you have any questions, leave a note and I will get back to you as soon as I can.

Happy Holidays!

Xochitl xx

Sunday, December 16, 2007

My new obsession-smoked oatcakes

Yesterday I nipped into my local Waitrose to pick up a few bits to get myself through yet another Post-Christmas party hangover (this one had the best food yet so it was well worth it). One of the hosts is Irish and on our cheese plate was a wedge of Cashel Blue- an Irish blue cheese. I had seen it in the shops before but I'm so enamoured with French blues that I get sidetracked and forgo most British blue cheeses. The exception being glorious Stilton that each Christmas I sneak a wedge from Neal's Yard to my Father-in-law who is barred from having in the fridge. His eyes light up when we sneak into a corner, drinks in hand to devour it without getting caught.

So after completely enjoying the Cashel Blue, I was having withdrawals and went to buy some and nipped down the cracker aisle to get some Carr's Water Biscuits when something caught my eye. Ditty's Irish Smoked Oatcakes. So I gave them a try and now I'm hooked. The package says it's 'handmade with rolled oats from County Armagh and smoked by Frank Hederman at the Belvelly Smoke House, County Cork.' The oatcake triangles are thicker that other ones on the market and at the initial bite are slightly sweeter that other ones I've had. You get a soft hit of smoke at the start but it's the after taste where you get the deeper hit of smokiness.

It went well with my Cashel Blue (I have yet to try it with a slice of cheddar) as it adds another dimension to your plain ol' cheese and biscuits and I find myself eating them plain too. If you see it at a shop near you- try it.