Monday, May 29, 2006

Chicken, Beer and Belgium - Part 1

As the Bank Holiday weekend drew closer and the weather report grew increasingly grim, The Boy and I came to the conclusion that surely it must be better to be in shit weather away from home than shit weather at home. New philosophy in hand, The Boy wrangled a ferry ticket for under£20 for an overnight trip to the Continent. Where to go, what to do?

For us, a quick overnight excursion usually means a trip to Oostende in Belgium. This started out as his choice of location as he spent a lot of time there in his windsurfing days and so is rather fond of the place. It isn't a very attractive or quaint town; its main redeeming factor, apart from the friendly locals, is a nice sandy beach (I miss sandy beaches- I can't seem to get used to the idea of pebble beaches). At first I wanted to go to see if the legend was true but in time though the place has grown on me and while it isn't a large city I somehow manage to find something new there each time we go.

What's this legend of Oostende you ask? For years before finally going there, The Boy used to talk about the "Best rotisserie chicken in the world" and of a place where the menu consisted of chicken, bread and beer. He swore that the chicken was so good that vegetarian friends used to pull a sort of "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas" attitude and turn carnivore before reverting back to their austere veggie ways. We use to humour him and pretend to believe him.

When we finally moved to England and Belgium was no longer a long haul flight away, we finally went one weekend. As we approached the Taverne Koekoek, I chuckled to myself that there was no way that a place in a random location could survive in business serving only chicken and beer. We walked into the smoky den and took our seats. By now the smell of the chicken was strong, my mouth watering in anticipation. I had a look at the menu to verify that chicken really was my only option. I kid you not. The menu was printed on a A4 sheet of paper and the menu took up four or so lines. It really did read- 1/2 chicken and bread, 1/2 chicken to takeaway, ketchup, mayo, mustard and apple sauce and was followed by a list of drink choices that took up 95% of menu. Using his finest limited Dutch, The Boy ordered our feast of chicken and beer. Five minutes later, a basket of sliced bread and two bowls of chicken were thrown down in front of us. No garnish, no fancy presentation and no utensils. This was caveman dining at it's finest (and you don't even have to go to the dreadful Medieval Times for a faux jousting tournament). This didn't stop the place being pack with students, families, drunks and posh old ladies from digging in with both hands.

I looked up at The Boy with a look that must've read "You've got to be fucking with me- we have driven four hours for half a damn chicken to be thrown down at me." With a knowing smile, he asked me to eat before passing judgement. I didn't say another word for 30 minutes; when The Boy tried starting a little dinner conversation, he was greeted with a new look that he knew meant he better shut up now. I did not think I could possibly eat half a chicken and I try to avoid eating the skin in an attempt to be vaguely healthy but it was too good not to eat. The meat was moist and succulent with skin that was thin and crispy with a coating of the restaurant's closely guarded secret seasoning. The bread was a wheat bread that was thinly sliced- nothing fancy but it was perfect for mopping up the juices in the bottom of the bowl.

I looked down at the remains of my chicken carcass and felt like a porker for eating so much meat. That's when it occured to me that it was that good that all restraint had been thrown out the window. As I wiped my fingers with my lemony wet wipe, The Boy looked at me with the smuggest look I have ever seen. That evening I phoned up all the non-believers. I was a chicken and beer convert.

Now I back him up whenever talk of rotisserie comes up. Now I get the occassional craving and proceed to pack up the car for a four hour drive. For chicken. That costs 5 euros.

It isn't glamourous, it ain't pretty but damn it really is the finest rotisserie chicken in the world.

Taverne Koekoek, Langestraat 388-40, 8400 Oostende, Belgium
Open 24/7 (I've been at 3pm and 3am and it's always good.)
If heading to Belgium it is worth a day trip to taste the stuff. If in Bruges it's only 30 minutes by train.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Summer Chops

I still had a pack of lamb chops leftover from The Boy's birthday barbecue and since I knew it would be an uphill battle to convince him to eat the same chops three days on the trot I was in need of a new marinade. What I came up with is herby and Mediterranean and would be delicious to have in the early Autumn when you want something to remind you of warmer days as you soak up the last rays before the cold.

Summer Chops

Serves 2-3 (depending on hunger levels and size of chops)

6 lamb chops
1 tbsp. herbes de Provence
1/2 tsp. cumin seed
juice of 1 lemon (keep the lemons)
handful of lemon thyme sprigs
4 tbsp. olive oil

Put the chops in a sealable container or in a Ziploc (or other resealable bag). Add the remaining ingredients in the bag. Marinate overnight in the fridge.

Allow the chops to come to room temperature before grilling. Grill to your preferred liking.

Sprinkle with sea salt for a little crunch before serving.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Casa Moro lamb chops

Another day, another excuse to barbecue. I feel like every time I blog lately there's grilling involved. This time it was a belated beach do for The Boy's birthday. On the menu were burgers and lamb chops in equally huge quantities even though there were only five of us. There was a fair amount of leftovers and needless to say, I'm off lamb chops for a while.

The chops on the grill were from a recipe from the second Moro cookbook, Casa Moro- a great cookbook I have mentioned before. The recipe is quick, simple and is worth adding to your barbecue repertoire. Beware of over-salting these. It is quite easy to do so.

Try them over this holiday weekend. My picture doesn't do them any justice since they just look like red-orange slabs of meat but I promise you they are delicious.

Lamb Mechoui with Cumin and Paprika Salt
from Casa Moro cookbook

Serves 4

2 tbsp. whole cumin seeds, freshly ground
1 tsp. sweet paprika
1/2 tsp. hot paprika
1 tbsp. sea salt, roughly crumbled
12-16 lamb chops, depending on size
40 g. butter, melted

Mix the spices and the salt together in a bowl. Just before you are ready to grill the chops, brush them with the melted butter, sprinkle liberally with half the cumin mixture and grill 5-8 minutes either side for pink. Serve immediately with some of the remaining cumin salt on the side.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Brown Sugar Pound Cake

I was in the mood for cake. Nothing fancy or covered in cream. Just good old fashioned cake to have with a cup of tea. I turned to my, now well worn, copy of Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook for ideas. That Martha, she never fails to come up with something good. Her Brown Sugar Pound Cake hit the spot. To wet it a bit, I poached some plums I had lying around otherwise they would never get eaten since I dislike plums unless they're cooked. I took a loaf to work the next day for our tea break and it went down well with the girls.

It's a heavy cake and a little goes a long way. I was concerned it might be to sweet so I altered the recipe slightly and replaced part of the brown sugar with dark muscovado sugar.

Brown Sugar Pound Cake
from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook

Makes 2 loafs

1 c. unsalted butter, softened
3 c. sifted plain flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
2 1/4 c. packed light brown sugar
5 large eggs
3/4 c. buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 170C. Butter two 8 1/2-by-4 1/2inch loaf tins; set aside. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside.

In a bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add eggs one at a time, beating until combined.

Add the reserved flour mixture in three batches, alternating with the buttermilk and beginning and ending with the flour; beat until combined. Divide the batter between the buttered pans, and smooth with an offset spatula.

Bake, rotating the pans halfway through, until cakes are golden brown and a cake tester inserted in the centers comes out clean, about 1 hour. Transfer pans to a wire rack to cool 10 minutes. Turn out cakes onto the rack to cool completely. Cakes can be kept at room temperature, wrapped in plastic, for up to 3 days.

Birthday bites

What a week for food in Xochitl-land (the term The Boy lovingly uses to describe the home of my random thoughts). After a weekend in the kitchen, I had a week of dining out. Lunch at Leon, meze at Ranoush and the crown jewel in my week o' food? Dinner at Maze. I decided to treat The Boy for his birthday and take him out for a meal that didn't involve me cuttign out a 2 for 1 voucher for a change. However, I should rephrase that. Saying I want to take The Boy out is really code for- I'm going to make a reservation at an expensive restaurant that I want to go to and I'm going to butter you up with compliments about how dashing you like in your suit (as it gets its annual airing out). And slowly, with a cheeky little grin and a twinkle in my eye, I'm going to nudge the bill in your direction when it arrives.

Somehow I managed to score a table at Maze with less than 24 hours notice. The praise has been heaped on the place from the start and although I haven't had a bad time yet at any Gordon Ramsay restaurant, I was worried that the El Bulli inspired dishes would be too freaky for The Boy. There was no need to worry. I can once again bow down to the Temple of Gordon.

We started with a couple of cocktails (Fig Sour for me) and took an eternity to decide our dishes. We decided to go with the tapas size dishes and order a few. I ordered Pressed Foie Gras and smoked duck with spiced pineapple and sweet n sour onions; Salad of violet artichoke with fresh truffle and truffle mayonnaise; Grilled lamb with braised lamb neck, cos lettuce, bacon and onions, ras el hanout and lastly, the BLT. Which was a tomato jelly (jello), a mayonnaise-y cream on top, bacon cubes as garnish with a lettuce puree poured over. My favourite for flavour was the lamb that was cooked perfectly, was the perfect serving size and just melted in your mouth. My fave for shits and giggles has to be the BLT which was quite tasty if a bit too mayonnaise-y for my liking.

The Boy had Carpaccio of tuna and swordfish with lime and cucumber marinade, soya dressing; Jerusalem artichoke veloute with duck ragout; Risotto of carnaroli with peas, broad beans and wood sorrel and Bouillabaisse of red mullet with tapenade, fennel puree and fennel shoots. His favourite was the Carpaccio, which he found refreshing and light.

Four to six were recommended; we went for four each and were stuffed. Even though the dishes are small they are very filling. We couldn't fathom eating more than that unless the plan was to bypass dessert. Not a plan that we recommend. As it was a special occasion, we splurged and had three mini desserts. Mango parfait with orange and anise jelly with sugared coriander; Apple and caramel trifle with cider granite and cinnamon doughnut and the Peanut butter and cherry jam sandwich with salted nuts and cherry sorbet. The mango parfait was refreshing since it wasn't overly sugary sweet and was mainly fresh mango. The Boy loved the cinnamon doughnut (with apple filling) while I preferred the apple jelly (jello) and would have been happy to eat a bowl of just that. It tasted like the juiciest, tartest green apple you have ever had. As for the Peanut Butter sandwich, well we had to get that since it is always written about. This is another dessert to write home about. The PB is in the form of ice cream and tastes like fresh made PB not like a jar of Skippy while the cherry cuts the richness of the ice cream.

Would I go back? Absolutely. Since you can eat at the bar without a reservation, it should be fairly easy to walk in for a quick bite before hitting the shops of Oxford Street.

PS- In case you wondered, I didn't pay.

Monday, May 01, 2006

On your marks, get set, BBQ!

Ah yes, it's a Bank Holiday weekend. The weather forecast is predictably crap. It must be time for a barbecue. The Boy's childhood pal Jason was throwing a House De-warming party. He figured he better make the most of having a garden and a large barbecue before he was relegated to apartment living like the majority of Londoners. He first mentioned the idea of a Sunday bbq to The Boy a few weeks ago when they went out for a curry. My darling spouse volunteered me to do some salads- mind you that wasn't a problem because I like Jason and would give him a hand anytime- it's just that The Boy only remembered to tell me on Wednesday.

In the end, I settled on three salads. A couscous salad with pomegranate, a Moroccan chickpea salad and Potato Salad. It was a barbecue- there has to be potato salad! I will admit that I am not a fan of potato salad and all the gloopy, mayonnaise-y taste. However, a couple of bottles of Rose later and I can't help sneaking a spoonful to make sure that it is as gross as the last time I sneaking a spoonful. Most people I find don't have the same dislike so I made a potato salad that I could actually eat. I also found a use for the green tops from a bunch of salad onions; however, you could use the whole thing if available.

If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.

My Potato Salad
Serves 4-6

1 kg Baby New Potatoes (or any waxy potato)
1 bunch of green onion, thinly sliced
for the dressing:
1 1/2 tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 1/2 tbsp dried tarragon
2 tbsp. plain yogurt
4 tbsp. mayonnaise

Boil the potatoes in a stockpot until cooked through. Once cooked, drain and rinse in cold water until the potatoes are cool.

While the potatoes cool, mix all the ingredients for the dressing in a jar or small bowl. Place to one side.

Cut the potatoes into halves or quarters depending on their size.

Put the potatoes and green onions into a large bowl. Pour half the dressing over, stirring to mix and adding more dressing if needed.